Morning Walk

It has gone, the snow.

Leaving in its wake vast puddles of muddy water, turning the fields into lakes and ponds. The ditch and the lane along which we walk are now a river and stream. The real river is a deep torrent of muddy brown and threatens to wash away resident ducks.

Wellies are a must when walking the dogs. Wellies and dogs, magnets for mud. Which, when brought home, trails through the house. Wagging tails facilitate its spread, splattering spots across walls and floors, and smudging furniture. Mopping, wiping and sponging become a full time occupation.


Why I marched

Some of my fellow marchers. 
This time last week I was preparing to travel down to London to join, as was thought at the time, around 10,000 people on the Women’s March London. That turned out to be quite an underestimate! I walked with 100,000 people. It was a fantastic experience and I’m very pleased to have been part of it. 

Since Saturday there has been a good deal in the press and on TV about the needs and merit of such a march in the UK. I mean, we are a tolerant and equal society, aren’t we? 
In the past week I’ve had quite a lot of “good for you” and “well done comments”, which is very gratifying, but only one person has asked me why I marched. Everyone else has ignored the fact that I did march. So why did I March? I grew up in the 1970s, a time of overt sexism and racism and I am worried that we are turning the clock back. I’m worried that intolerance and disrespect is becoming mainstream. 
Over the past few years I’ve seen a steady rise in the number of jingoistic and sexist comments in my Facebook feed which has made me feel very uncomfortable. Initially most came in the form of “ecards” and posts shared from sites such as Britain First, which were easy to block from my newsfeed. Then, as the EU referendum got underway, the rise in racism, intolerance and misogyny in newspapers, TVs news and my newsfeed became impossible to ignore. 
The number of racist hate crimes was reported to have gone up by 58% in the week after Brexit! The increase over the month of July 2016 was 41%. Initially the reported crimes were against EU nationals, some of whom had lived in Britain for decades. I struggle to forget the harrowing phone call one German lady made to LBC, where she described having dog excrement thrown at her door and her friends telling her they didn’t want to see her. She was too scared to leave her house, where she has lived since the 1970s. Or the death of Arek Jozwik, who was attacked because he was heard speaking polish. Brexit appeared to give some people permission to be overtly racist. I’m not making any judgement about the outcome of the referendum, I’m horrified that people think it gives them a right to be violent and abusive. However hate crime hasn’t been restricted to EU nationals. Muslim women are reporting that they are now routinely yelled at and abused, physically as well as verbally. Doctors are being asked “when are you going home” by patients. 
Gina Miller became the target of a hate campaign when she argued that Parliament, not the government, should invoke Article 50. Her arguments were upheld in court, twice. She received racial abuse and death threats. I fully admit that up until then I’d been burying my head in the sand and, although I knew about much of the vitriol that was being thrown at women who dared to be clever and successful, I hadn’t really engaged with it. Mary Beard gets abuse, rape threats and death threats because she presents history programmes on tv. Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned to have Jane Austen put on a bank note and received rape and death threats. Beth Tweddle, our most successful gymnast to date, has spoken about the abuse she receives about her appearance on social media. In September 2016 a House of Commons Select committee reported that 59% of girls and young women (aged 13 to 21) had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year and that sexual harassment has become part of school life. 
I marched because I don’t think that any of this should be tolerated. The incidents I have sited all occurred in our country – our Great Britain. Also I haven’t mentioned the bullying and abuse of disabled people or the horrendous domestic abuse statistics. Piers Morgan asked on itv breakfast why we weren’t marching against Saudi Arabia where women’s rights appear to be non existent. I feel that it’s a disingenuous question. I’m not for one minute suggesting that being a woman in the Middle East, or India, or anywhere else is comparable to our experiences, but we need to make sure that women and girls in our country – no matter their religion, race, sexual orientation- feel safe, feel their rights are taken seriously. It’s only a starting point. It’s true, women’s rights are equal rights. 

A crisp winter’s day

On the anniversary of his death, this extract from T S Eliot’s poem Little Gidding seems an appropriate way to describe today!
“Midwinter spring is its own season

Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown, 

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic. 

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire, 

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches, 

In windless cold that is the heart’s heat, 

Reflecting in a watery mirror 

A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon. 

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,

Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire 

In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing

The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell

Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time 

But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow

Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom 

Of snow, a bloom more sudden 

Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading, 

Not in the scheme of generation.

Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?”

I am a runner.

I can now call myself a runner…

… so says Laura, the coach on my Couch to 5k podcast. I completed Week 6 of the programme with a 25-minute run. I am now half way through Week 7, which consists of three more 25 minute runs.

I have changed my running route. The route I have been using until this week is along an old railway embankment. It is flat and reasonably straight, through pretty woodland. A lovely place to run, however it is only 3.5 k (just over 2 miles) – so not far enough for the final stages of the programme. I took some time last weekend to scope out a new route. My dog and I spent a very pleasant afternoon wandering over the fields and lanes to map out a 5k circuit. I was very excited to get started!

The new route is across much more open terrain, so a little more exposed to the elements. I’ve only had to contend with blazing sunshine so far, which has made the experience hot and sticky! There is also a significant incline about half way around, which seemed a good deal steeper when running than it had appeared whilst walking. In addition, I have to negotiate several gates and styles – but hey, they give me a breather, right?!

I have managed the circuit twice now. Both times I have run 3 k (2miles) in the 25 minutes. So my baseline is 12 minutes a mile. Slow I fear, but I have to start somewhere and the only way is up from here – literally as I’m running uphill…

Today I will attempt my second run of Week 7. My husband is going to run with me so I won’t be tempted to stop. My mantra is “keep moving” – no matter how slowly.

I’d love to hear from other runners and learn from your experience. The questions I’ve got at the moment are – What is a comfortable pace for you? How far do you run, and how often? How long did it take you to feel comfortable running your favourite distance? However, any thoughts, advice and encouragement you have will be gratefully received.

Learning to run…

I am learning to run…

I have just started week 6 of a couch to 5 K programme and I’m feeling quite chuffed. I’m also feeling it in my right hip and my knees!

At the end of last week, I ran for 20 minutes without stopping. If you had told me 5 weeks ago that I’d be able to run for 20 minutes without a break I would not have believed you! Today I ran for 18 minutes over three sessions – 5 minutes, 8 minutes and 5 minutes.

My motivation for following this programme? Well, in May/June this year I walked, with my husband, the Wainwright Coast to Coast route – 192 miles from St Bees on the west coast of England to Robin Hoods Bay on the east coast in 12 days. It is a challenging walk across beautiful landscapes; but we enjoyed every second of it, and felt fitter by the end. I wanted to build on the achievement and new levels of fitness but couldn’t justify spending 5 hours walking every day! I have always admired people who run, and even attempted to start running myself – on several occasions, all without success. I believed that I couldn’t run, and finding out that the blood supply to the lower half of my lungs doesn’t come from my heart (it comes from my abdomen!?) just perpetuated the myth that I can’t run. This is despite the fact that I used to play hockey at school – and thoroughly enjoy it.

I subscribed to the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts, put on my trainers and started – walking. Each session starts with a 5-minute walk. Everything is explained, and timed, and you build up very slowly so it is relatively easy to keep going. I am enjoying it, and feel a real sense of achievement and progress. My body does grumble – as I mentioned above, my right hip and knees are complaining tonight. I have taken some anti-inflammatories and hoping that after a good night’s sleep they will settle down. Finger crossed!

A very sad week

Things I have learnt this week, a very sad week: 

1: Doctors don’t trust the Government.

The “junior” doctors have voted against accepting the new contract proposed by the government. The reason I’ve put the word junior in quotation marks is because the word suggests that the doctors involved are young and low in rank. However, many of them are, in fact, very experienced doctors. The term is used to describe any qualified doctor, practising medicine, who is not either a Consultant or a GP. We used to (and many of us still do) call them Foundation doctors and Registrars. Registrars have 5 and 15 years’ experience before they become a GP or Consultant. So many of these “junior” are very highly qualified individuals, in their mid-thirties – hardly the young, low in rank folk the term “junior” would appear to suggest. 58% voted to reject the contract. The chair of the BMA Junior Doctors’ committee resigned from his post because he feels his position is now “untenable”. He said the vote was a ‘demonstration of just how appallingly frontline staff have been treated and undermined’ and accused the Government of overseeing a ‘fundamental breakdown in trust’. Another example of the Government – in this case Jeremy Hunt – not listening to its electorate? In the words of one doctor, “there isn’t a doctor in the country who believes a word he [Jeremy Hunt] says anymore”.


2: Racism and hate crimes are increasing.

A Sikh radiologist in Birmingham was asked by a patient – “Shouldn’t you be on a plane back to Pakistan? We voted you out.” The doctor’s response? He smiled and got on with his job. What a gracious man. The BBC reported today that there has been a 42% rise in hate crimes during the last two weeks in June, compared to the same period last year.


3: Men are better than women.

The Windsor Fringe Festival is hosting the 13th Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing and asked for submissions of 30-minute one-act plays. Organisers sent an email to one of the applicants telling her “a male was better” for the role. In a statement the Windsor Fringe said it “apologised for the error in judgment of the e-mail content”.


4: Women are better than men.

Our next prime minister will be a woman. And its headline news! Despite the plotting of Mr Gove, the final two candidates for Leader of the Conservative party are Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.


5: Mr Blair should have listened to Robin Cook and Clare Short about going to war with Iraq.

The Chilcot Inquiry has been published.


6. Violence breeds violence.

The graphic scenes of policemen holding down and killing a black man were appalling. The policemen did not draw his weapon until the man had been restrained. It was tantamount to an execution. There is no excuse or justification for his actions. Likewise, there is no excuse for an ex-soldier, thereby trained killer, to kill police officers at a peaceful rally.


It’s been quite a week!

Things I have learnt this week: 

1. Britain voted to leave the EU last Thursday after a long and vitriolic campaign. The EU isn’t perfect, far from it – I have been appalled by the way it has treated Greece – but, after consulting my children and Father (who has lived in France for 24 years), I voted remain – well it was their future that I was voting on.

2. There was no plan in the event of the British people voting to leave.

3. The majority of the people who voted in Scotland and Northern Ireland don’t want us to leave the EU.

4. The referendum is not legally binding.

5. The vote was against the establishment. Record numbers of people voted, many of whom feel that politicians and the media do not listen to them.

6. Nigel Farage was not part of the official leave campaign and the leave campaign are now rushing to distance themselves from him and his rhetoric.

7. The leave campaign doesn’t believe any of the headline claims they made about immigration. During the campaign they stated time and again that immigration levels could be controlled if the UK left the EU and this would relieve pressure on public services. They are now claim “Immigration levels can’t be radically reduced by leaving the EU. Fears about immigration did not influence the way people voted.” 

8. The claim that we send £350 million to the EU was a mistake, and we will not be able to spend that much extra on the NHS.

9. Mr Cameron, who had promised to invoke article 50 immediately should the UK vote to leave, feels that he is not the man to lead the negotiations. So not only do we not have a plan, we don’t have a leader.

10. We now have to watch the Tory party squabble as it campaigns and elects us a new Prime Minister.

11. The labour party appears to be determined to rip itself apart. Most labour MP’s have shown Jeremy Corbyn a vote of “no confidence” despite grass roots labour members wanting him to lead the party – another example of the “establishment” not listening?

12. There has been a rise in the number reports of hate crime. Polish people in Huntington have been called scum and told to go home. A very distraught and frightened German lady – the widow of a British GP and she has lived her sine the 1970’s – described how she has had dog turds thrown at her front door and been told to leave. Countless videos of people shouting vile, racist comments to people on buses, trams and in the street are circulating on social media.

I am broken hearted and not a little concerned! I can only hope that we find a cohesive and productive way to make our country a successful, tolerant and happy place to live and work – for us all.