Sunday, 28 August 2016

I am not Mo Farah, or Team GB. I am Parkrun!

I did my 76th Parkrun yesterday.  It was a beautiful day and in a beautiful location (Nostell Priory). If there was ever a better day to be alive, I wasn’t there.  But for some reason I wasn't in the mood for all the #IamTeamGB flag waving that was going on.

It could be simple Olympics overkill. Back in the days of Daley Thompson and Sebastian Coe I could remember every gold medal we won because there were only about 4 or 5 each Olympics and they were for proper Olympic Sports like running fast. Now I'm waking up at 5 am every Olympics morning to discover that people I've never heard of have won golds for shooting and kayaking.

Maybe it's because we now get interviews on TV with every gold medal winner's dad and brother and dog and PE teacher, and because Claire Balding is permanently so ecstatic about it all.   

I don't like the name TeamGB either. Can't we just be called Great Britain? Anyway, I'm not Team GB because I'm not and never have been good enough to go to the Olympics. Congratulations to all those people who are. Unfortunately I am not one of them. I am most definitely not Mo Farah, and I'm unlikely ever to be mistaken for him in the street. 

Luckily for us non-Olympians, somebody dreamt up Parkrun, and anyone can join in, so those of us that aren't good enough to go to the Olympics can go to the Park instead.

On the day when Mo Farah won his gold medal in the 5000 metres last week, I broke my PB at the Park by 1 second, and although he was running almost twice as fast as me and he got a medal for it, I can’t imagine he enjoyed his day anymore than I enjoyed mine. 

If you were to draw a Venn Diagram and the two circles were the Olympics and Parkun, Mo Farah and I would probably overlap.  I know the Brownlee brothers would be in the overlap, because I’ve seen pictures of them at Parkrun. 

I was genuinely inspired watching Mo Farah winning his two gold medals in 2012, I even shouted at the telly.  I was also inspired meeting the Brownlee brothers in a cafe in Burnsall the same summer (although I was completely ungracious and I totally blanked Jonny).

But I didn't start running until 2014, so the Olympics didn't exactly spark me into immediate action. 

The main reason I started running was because I moved back to Leeds in 2014 after 20 years away and I didn't have any friends there.  Also, my mum was immobile and indoors all the time, and that made me want to be the opposite. 

So basically I started running because I was lonely, and I needed some people to talk to, and because I didn’t want to be trapped in a house with someone who was dying.  

Some weeks during the last 2 years I’ve felt really miserable and like my life is coming apart but that 30 minutes or so at the park has always made sense to me. 

Parkun helps me a lot more than the Olympics does, because it’s every week and it’s for everyone.  And the Olympics is not.  Well done Olympians, but I am not you.  I am not Mo Farah and I am not TeamGB.  But for half an hour or less each week, I am Parkrun.  

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Leeds Half Marathon - Am I a runner yet?

I did my first half marathon on Sunday.  I've run plenty of 10Ks in preparation, so I told myself it's just two 10Ks back to back and then a bit more.  But it really wasn't.  

Normally I run in the early mornings when it's about 5 degrees if I'm lucky, but on Sunday it was hot enough to prepare a cooked breakfast on my own head on the way round.  

I don't like forced jollity, so listening to the DJs from Radio Aire (or it might have been Radio Leeds, they're all the same) being super jolly for 45 minutes before the start put me in a bad mood.  I suppose they were only trying to do their jobs and whip up some enthusiasm, and they were good enough to remind us about every 20 seconds that it was hot and to remember to drink loads, but then they handed over to some aerobics instructor who tried to get us all to wave and pretend to ski in unison, and I thought 'Bollocks to that, I'm here to run, not to do the Birdie Song'.  

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt
As I was standing round at the beginning, I saw some people being interviewed and I imagined that someone was interviewing me and saying 'So, Jonathan, why are you running the Leeds Half Marathon?'.  And I thought about what I'd say.  

I thought I might say 'I'm doing it for lots of reasons, but I'm also doing it for no reason at all.  I'm not doing it in memory of anyone, or to raise money for anything.  I'm only doing it for myself, to see if I can.  I did a lot of cycling for 10 years, until I got sick of it, and so I decided to run instead, because it's simpler and you need less equipment'.

Until recently I wasn't a proper runner.  Despite 60 odd Parkruns over 2 years, I haven't quite adapted yet.  I've still been wearing cycling shorts and carrying a bike computer, as if I was only pretending.  But for my birthday Joy bought me a proper runner's Garmin that goes on my wrist, and then on Saturday I finally got rid of my falling to bits 11 year old cycling shorts.  And also on Saturday, I went and bought a runner's bumbag so that I wouldn't have to have an inhaler and a phone and keys digging into my legs through the pockets of my flimsy new running shorts during the run.  And Joy also lent me a hat, to keep the sun off.  I've never been so close to being a runner.

If I was in a DJ induced bad mood before the start of the run, I was transformed during the first couple of miles by seeing all the well wishers at the roadside who'd come out of their houses to cheer on the 8000 plus runners. Some were kind enough to set their garden hoses on us (hopefully they're not on a water meter), and many had prepared bowls full of jelly babies and Haribo and oranges and an old lady was holding out some grapes towards me, but I was too tired to reach them.

A couple of the residential homes along the way had brought some of their residents out in wheelchairs to wave at us. There's nothing makes me feel so grateful for running as seeing people who don't have the option.  And there was a Sikh man playing a big trumpet (fairly badly it seemed) and a steel band. 

There were lots of kids on the route too, stood in lines trying to high five as many runners as possible.  If they were close enough to reach I was happy to oblige.

It may have been nerves, but even though I went for a pee just before the run started, I was desperate for another one as soon as we got going.  I really didn't want to lose any time by stopping to use a toilet, and I did toy with the idea of just peeing myself deliberately at one point, but then I saw some bushes alongside Meanwood Road, and so I ran in there and things were much better after that.  

I knew that the route was uphill a lot in the first half, and in theory I thought it would be easier in the second half, but that's not how it turned out.  I did the first 10K in 58 minutes which is the same time as I ran the Abbey Dash in November. At the halfway point I was still optimistic (for about two minutes) that I could do the whole thing in under 2 hours, but then between the 8 and 9 mile point I could feel my legs just fading away.    

I don't normally drink when I run, but because it was such a hot day I took on water whenever possible.  A lot of it I tipped over my head.  There's an old film called the Games with Michael Crawford in that I saw about 30 years ago where he's trying to run the Marathon in less than 2 hours in the heat, but he goes a bit mad in the attempt and starts stumbling around in the road falling into spectators and I tried not to end up like him.  When I realised I couldn't do it in 2 hours I decided to try and run it in around 2 hours 3.  I was inspired watching the serenity and fluency of Eliud Kipchoge in the London Marathon a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it would be nice to run half as far as him in the same time, even if it was with a lot less style.  But even that became too much.  

I got some nipple chafing from 10 miles, and the last 3 miles were really hard and very stop / start.  I heard some people around me saying 'Never again!', but even though I was suffering I just kept thinking 'Yes, I'll do it again, but hopefully on a flatter route and in the cold and I might then be able to break 2 hours.  

If the stats aren't recorded, it didn't happen
As it was I did 2 hours 6 minutes which was pretty good in the circumstances. Because I was very tired, I didn't fully appreciate all the good stuff that was happening at the roadside as I was running, and although I thanked the ones who gave me sweets and used hosepipes on me, I wasn't able to thank everyone, even though I wanted to.

It was lovely that so many people turned out to make it a really good event, and it made me feel pretty good about the City of Leeds.  The last half mile or so was probably the best, because there were so many people cheering us home.  And thankfully Joy came to meet me, and drive me home, and that was lovely too, not just because it stopped me from having to walk too far or look at bus timetables. 

At the end, when I was slumped on the ground drinking Powerade a man said to me that it was the hardest half marathon he'd ever done, and I asked him how many was that out of and he said a hundred, and so I didn't feel so bad for finding it hard, when it was my first time. But hopefully not the last.

They gave me a T-shirt and a medal at the end, and the medal was so big it nearly smashed the screen on my mobile phone, and it says something like 'I finished the journey' on it.  I think in some ways it would be better if it said 'I survived the journey'.  And unlike people on reality TV who say they've been on a journey even when they've never left the studio, it was nice to have actually been on one.  

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Parkrun - There's a clue in the name but it's more than just a run in the park

Although I grew up in Leeds, I didn't live here for 24 years between 1990 and 2014.  I came back here in April 2014 to offer some support to my mum, because she was seriously ill.

To enable me to come back, I gave up my job and moved away from my circle of friends.  I'd built a network of friends on Teesside, which largely grew out of St Francis Church Ingleby Barwick. People I'd been on holiday with, and on crazy cycling expeditions, and spent Christmas at their houses, and had countless Sunday dinners with (and Saturday mornings and Friday and Saturday nights).

When you go somewhere new, it's hard to replace those kind of connections overnight.  But you have to start somewhere.  Going to places where other people are is a start.  Especially when you live on your own.

Apart from the mum-helping part, I felt a bit lacking in purpose in Leeds.  I can't remember now why I looked up Temple Newsam on the internet, maybe I was trying to reconnect with familiar places. Anyway, I noticed this thing called Parkrun.

I hadn't run for over 12 years.  The last time I remember running was around 2002, after entering the Great North Run.  I started training for it, but found it really hard to improve, and so I gave up.  Later that year I started getting swollen feet after walking my dog, which turned out to be Rheumatoid Arthritis.  At first my symptoms were really bad, and even walking downstairs was painful.  Running was out of the question.  Just getting out off the bath, unscrewing the lids off jars, and tipping water out of a saucepan were challenges enough.  The hospital did put me on some drugs and that improved things a lot, but I still never considered I'd be able to run again.  I just thought the impact would be too much.

Anyway, from about 2009 I started taking some bigger and better drugs (Methotrexate) and the pain in my joints wasn't so bad after that.  But I still hadn't considered running again, until I moved to Leeds.

The first Parkrun I did was over the first May Bank Holiday in 2014.  I thought about training for it, but I only got my Parkrun barcode printed at the very last minute, and so I never got round to it.  I was amazed that I managed to run (I say run, that may be false advertising) the whole 5K without stopping.  My time was 35 minutes and 46 seconds.  It was a hot day, and on the finishing straight a girl called Sarah shouted to me 'Try doing it without a jumper next time'.  Good advice, I thought.  I went for a coffee afterwards at the Park cafe, and I got chatting to Sarah.  It turned out she lived in the same place as me, and she offered me a lift home.  She was training for a marathon, and subsequently she gave me some good advice about local routes to get some practice in.

Here's me almost beating a young girl at running.  These days I can't catch her anymore, she's really improved...
So far so good, except for at least 3 days after that first Parkrun, I couldn't move.  My muscles and joints felt like they'd been smashed to pieces.

However, because I'd opted for the cunning plan of doing a really slow time on my first attempt, once I started putting in a bit of midweek training, I found that I could beat my PB each week by about 30 seconds.  So my first 9 Parkruns at Temple Newsam were all PBs.  That's the kind of statistic that has to plateau eventually...

One week in July 2014, Temple Newsam wasn't on, and so I looked for the next closest run.  It was at Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, a place I'm familiar with because I went to school right next door to it for 7 years (when Leeds Grammar School was still in central Leeds).

Leeds Grammar School Under 16 Rugby Team - 1983-1984.  Graham Tyler (front row, third from left is now my Parkrun nemesis)
I have lots of memories associated with Woodhouse Moor from those schooldays.  Most of them involve balls and violence.  I once went Crown Green Bowling there with George Yap in 1979, before he emigrated to Toronto.  We couldn't be bothered with any of that using the magnets on the side of the balls to curve them in to their targets, we just preferred to thrown them as hard as we could, and try and knock the jack completely off the green.

I also once got kicked really hard in the unmentionables by Rakesh Anand during a game of British Bulldog on Woodhouse Moor, but more satisfyingly, I also hit Duncan Owen in the back of the head with the perfect snowball there too.  Life is full of ups and downs.  In my sixth form years, I used to meet girls from Leeds Girls' High School there at lunchtime, (or rather I used to go there with people who were meeting girls and try to somehow get noticed in my own right.  With limited success).

I left school in 1986, and until that July Parkrun I hadn't been back since.  Coming back to Woodhouse Moor after all those years, it felt like coming home.  Anne and Sam and the other Parkrun organisers give it such a welcoming feel, that it always cheers me up being there.  It also has the massive plus that it's a flat course.  Temple Newsam has the so-called Hill of Boom, which you have to run up twice, and it's a killer.

Another plus about Woodhouse Moor Parkrun is the involvement of Wrangthorn Church (St Augustine's), which borders the park.  They put on free teas and coffees (real coffee too, you know like in cafetieres, not just instant) and cake on the first Saturday of each month, and this has turned out to mean much more to me than just a hot drink and a sitdown after the run.

Garmin - Never leave home without it!
The first time I went there was in July and as well as talking to the Vicar Joanna Seabourne for about 5 minutes, which would prove important months later, I also got chatting to a Polish girl called Marta.  She'd only just moved to Leeds, so I offered to show her round, to help her settle in.  We met up quite a lot over the summer, and at one point she even did a small amount of housesitting for me while I was away at Youth Camp.  The only thing that changed over time was my perspective.  I realised I was probably the one who was most in need of the friendship, and the help settling in, even though I was the one in my own country and home town.

In November 2014 my mum died, very late at night one Thursday.  Although still in shock I still went to Parkrun as usual on the Saturday, and I remember it being a beautiful day, and I felt so glad to be not just alive, but able to run.  Over coffee afterwards I chatted to Anne and Roy and Daisy, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, and again Parkrun did its magic, and I realised that life goes on.

During the week that followed I was trying to arrange my mum's funeral.  Because she wasn't part of any religious faith my brother and I thought it would be appropriate to hire a humanist minister to do the funeral.  We couldn't have been more wrong.  We told him what we wanted, and he went away and he must have copied out the verses from about 100 Helen Steiner Rice greetings cards, and cut and pasted them all into this ridiculous order of service which bore no relation to the mum we remembered (the only saving grace was that he sent us the draft for approval).  We were separately appalled, and with less than 48 hours to go before the funeral, we decided unanimously to sack him, whatever the consequences.  We said we'd rather just do it ourselves if it came to it.

I know lots of priests, but I didn't know any in the Leeds area.  Oh, except for one.  Joanna Seabourne, who I'd met after Parkrun 4 months earlier, for 5 minutes.  At Wrangthorn.  5 minutes was long enough to know that I'd trust her with the funeral.  By some fluke (or possibly miracle), she had a vacant slot at just the time we needed her, and she gave us exactly the funeral we'd wanted all along.

I've now done 51 Parkruns.  There was a double header on New Year's Day, where I managed to do numbers 49 and 50 back to back, and I did my 50th back at Temple Newsam, where it all started, which pleased me no end, since I'm such a fan of symmetry when it comes to numbers.  29 of them have been at Woodhouse Moor, 11 at Temple Newsam, 9 at Wakefield, including a Valentine's Day run with Joy, and 1 each at Huddersfield and Roundhay Park.  

For quite a while, I got obsessed with how fast I was at Parkrun, and from that initial limp-a-round that I did in nearly 36 minutes, I did get my time down to under 25.  It has gone up again recently, but these days I'm happy to go around in 27.  It might be two minutes longer, but I save the time I used to spend being doubled up at the end.

I recently completed a 10K (The Leeds Abbey Dash).  For a long while, I held out the hope that I could run it as fast as the 10K I did in 1986 (around 47 minutes) but in the end I was satisfied with 57.  I didn't think 10 minutes longer was bad considering I've added 30 years to my age.

I'm not as fast as I used to be.... But then I'm not as slow as I used to be either
I sometimes think I'm too driven, and too single minded about Parkrun, but then I'm so wishy washy in so many areas of life, that it's nice to have something I'm so certain about wanting.  I got properly obsessed with getting to 50 and as a result I've done every one available since early September. Some weeks between then and now have been properly rubbish for me, to the point where I've had whole weeks where the only half an hour that made any sense to me was the Parkrun half an hour.

Although it's coming up for 2 years since I moved back to this area, my life still lacks direction, and I'm still finding it hard to put down solid foundations.  But Parkrun is one of the few things that gives me a purpose and some stability in my life here.

I've moved around a lot since 2013, and struggled to find anywhere that really feels like home.  A few weeks ago I thought about going back to Teesside, and trying to pick up parts of that life I left behind, but I don't want to give up on Leeds just yet.  It takes a really long time to build up a network of friends and contacts in a new place, and to put down roots, but that square of green at Woodhouse Moor, next to where I spent so much time between ages 11 and 18, and where I now run round and round at almost the right age to book a Saga Holiday feels as much like home as anywhere these days.

Despite my inability to settle down in other ways in life, when I'm running in the Park I always feel like I belong there, and that I'm part of something bigger than myself.  And it stops me navel gazing for a while, and keeps me looking at the bigger picture.

This Christmas Day I walked to the Park on a beautiful clear but cold winter morning, did the run, then I stood around chatting with a hundred people in Santa hats and dressed as elves, who like me were drinking coffee and eating chocolates that had been brought by volunteers and set up on a makeshift table in the middle of the Park.  And at that moment, I felt that I was in the best place in the world.

And that's how I felt the other 50 times too.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Moon on a stick - 101 things I was attached to before I died - Part Two

This is a follow up post to 101 things I was attached to before I died, which was a blog post I gave to people for Christmas instead of going to the shops and buying them anything.  I only got as far as 39 things in that first post.

If I learned anything from doing the first 39 items on this list, it was mainly that the items themselves in many cases were very ordinary and of very little inherent value.

The tray is just a tray but that particular trays fixes me very firmly to Edale and YHA and August 2014.  The New Testament I own is a mass produced one given out by the Gideons, but that copy in particular fixes me to a specific period between 1988 to 1990.

As I wrote about more and more things, I realised that it's not the possessions themselves that are important, but the stories and experiences I associate with them.  Each physical thing is just a signpost pointing inwards.

I also realised that even though I thought I’d downsized quite a lot, I am still holding on to a lot of things, and in many cases I’m a lot more sentimental towards stuff than other people are.

The third thing I realised (or which I already knew) is that apart from things that I keep for purely sentimental reasons, I like to keep things which get used regularly, or which are useful in some way. And, as I've said before, I've got an irrational fear of dying in a pair of new shoes before I've had chance to wear them in.

Fourthly, as well as things that remind me of particular episodes in my life, I also keep lots of books and DVDs that are full of stories not written by me, but which have cast light onto my life in some way.  Or illuminated some truth to me that I wasn't aware of before. Or failing that, purely because they have entertained and inspired me.

So, anyway, here are the other 62 things I kept, and why.

Walney to Saltburn cycling jersey.  The cycling jersey I wore on a trip in 2010 in which a load of lycra-clad 40 somethings decided whilst drunk to cycle from Coast to Coast to raise money for the Air Ambulance (the decision making was affected by drink, not the actual riding, at least I don't think so). Unfortuately the trip involved cycling through the Death Star that is Kendal, where two of the fittest members of the group were hospitalised in absolutely non-cycling related ways, resulting in us having to call out two land ambulances. The moral of this story is, Be Average. If you're too fit, you might just keel over (see Bruce Lee).

A wild sheep chase. Some things I've bought twice. because I got rid of them and then realised I still wanted them. Reading Murakami always reminds me of holidays in Cornwall. Most specifically sitting on Mevagissey Harbour wall in 2003 / 2004, and almost relaxing, except for the slight worry that I might have my eye taken out by my stepson Michael while he was fishing next to me.  A bit like the films of Christopher Nolan, I never understand what the bloody hell is going on in Murakami's books, but then, as he freely admitted in a book he wrote about his own writing, neither does he.

A saucepan with a stolen lid. Like my mum, I'm terribly indecisive, and I once went shopping with her in Middlesbrough for a saucepan. I think we considered every pan in the shop before we decided on one design (it was one with a see through glass lid, and they only had one left). After what seemed like days of deciding we managed to drop and smash the glass lid on the way to the counter. Of course, the lid smashed into about a thousand pieces, and staff had to come running with dustpans and brushes to clear up all the fragments. I still really like the pan, she said, but it's no good without a lid. While the staff were busy with the glass we took the lid off a different pan, and took it to the checkout and bought it, as if they belonged together. Then we made a run for it. We were like two kids who'd got away with stealing sweets from the corner shop.

A book about Gandhi and Einstein. I don't cry much. I've got dry eyes anyway, so even if I could be bothered to cry, it would just be dry sobbing, so there's no point really. I did cry on my first full day in India though at the Gandhi Museum in Delhi. When you go in, there's a big sign on the wall that says 'Violence is Suicide'. And it is.

There was also a plaque on the wall about 'Gandhi's Talisman'. It had been a long and emotional journey to get to India, and not the kind of thing I normally do, and maybe that contributed to me breaking down, or maybe it was just Gandhi holding a mirror up to my soul, and I didn't entirely like the parts of me that were revealed, but I cried anyway.

As well as Gandhi, I've also always been fascinated by Einstein. How the hell did he figure all that stuff out about relativity while he was just sitting around in the Patent Office? Anyway, the two of them wrote to each other a bit. And I found this book in the gift shop in the museum.

Buying it was a hassle though, as I had to fill about 9 forms in. Even though I had it in my hand, I had to order it from one desk and then take it to another desk to pay for it. There was probably a third desk that was responsible for putting it in a paper bag, I forget now.

India guidebook.  I don't really do 'spur of the moment'.  I prefer to plan things, which is why deciding on a whim to go to India at the start of 2012 was quite unusual behaviour for me.  This guidebook helped me, amongst other things, to find my way from the Ajanta Hotel on Arakashan Road to Connaught Place.

I love walking but in India as a Westerner no-one wants you to walk anywhere.  Everyone wants you to go into their Tourist Information place where they can order you a taxi, every tuktuk driver wants you to hire him (one guy followed us for hours we had to get the army to get rid of him), every rickshaw driver wants a piece of you, some young lads who want to sell you postcards and drugs like to tell you that it's not safe to walk.  But like a nutter I mostly did walk around in India, and also cycled a bit (equally nuts).  This book helped me to find my way, even if I wasn't allowed to take it into the Taj Mahal (having a guidebook would render the tour guides useless, so you're not allowed to take one in).

London guidebook. My first proper trip to London was in 2008 with Ruth, with some money my mum gave us (I think she cashed in her endowment from the mortgage she'd previously had, and because she gave Phil and his wife some money for their wedding that year, she decided to give Ruth and I some too, because she was very fair like that (unlike Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, please keep reading), and so we spent it on two holidays for our 40th birthdays, one to London in January and a cycle tour in April). Despite living in England my whole life, I'd never been to London to see the sights, like Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben, and St Paul's and Buckingham Palace etc. So that was my first time. I've been back since, and I always use this guidebook.

An IKEA lamp. I don't see too well. My eyes are like the Sahara Desert, and sometimes my eyeballs don't move around like they should. In poor light I can barely read, but this lamp's very bright. It's also got an uplighter for those times when I don't want to put 'The Big Light' on.

I'm always nervous about putting the big light on, because when I do I can hear the ghost of my mum telling me 'It's like Blackpool Illuminations in here'. As a result I never wanted to go to Blackpool Illuminations when I was a kid, because I thought if it was just one white light bulb it must be shite.  I was raised on a diet of sayings and cliches, and I just wish I'd thought of some clever answers to them at the time. Like when I left a door open and she asked me 'Were you born in a barn?' I wish I'd answered 'I don't know, Mother, was I? You should know, you were there, as I recall I was only minutes old at the time, I have no accurate reflection of the layout of the birthing room'. In fact, and I've only just thought of it, I probably should have just said 'No, mum, I was born in the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, at least that's what you've always told me.

Inception  I don't even think the creators of Inception have a bloody clue what's going on it, but to me it's all about one thing. It's about Leonardo di Caprio's character dealing with his feelings of guilt and loss over the death of his wife. It's about being able to let go of painful episodes from the past, and keep moving forward. I've written more fully about Inception before (see link above).

Deja Vu  I love time travel movies. They're full of plotholes if you look carefully enough, and some people devote whole websites to identifying the logical flaws in these types of film, but I think they're overlooking one major fact. 'It's a made-up story, you idiot, don't take it all so seriously'. I've written about Deja Vu before (see the link above if you want to see the full review)

Unstoppable.  I love films set on buses and trains. I could equally have chosen Under Siege 2 or Speed. Like Deja Vu, Unstoppable is a movie by Tony Scott (brother of Ridley), a very talented man who died recently by jumping off a bridge.  Rumour has it he had cancer, and that's why he jumped. Maybe the thought of it drove him to despair.  Not sure it would have made any difference to him if he'd known how much I like his films, but I like them all the same.

Deep Impact. I love disaster movies. They contain logical paradoxes like the fact that millions of people worldwide are allowed to be killed by aliens, but the main character's pet Labrador always has to survive (see Independence Day amongst others). Deep Impact is a really good disaster movie. It has two of the best lines in any film. ‘I know you’re just a reporter, but you used to be a person’ and ‘They’re not scared of dying, they’re just scared of looking bad on TV’. I could have equally chosen Armageddon, or the Core.

Grosse Point Blank. My favourite line from this film is when John Cusack says 'I’ve always felt very temporary about myself'. I guess I've often felt the same. He's joined the army and become a hitman and he comes back to his school reunion, and he can't handle the contrast between himself and the people who have seemingly settled down to so-called normal life, with regular jobs and children and families. I sometimes have the same problem, although so far I haven't become a hitman. Also, Alan Arkin is in it. He's one of my favourite actors and he is wonderful as Cusack's psychiatrist.

Little Miss Sunshine. Alan Arkin's in this one too, as the swearing sex-obsessed grandad. A dysfunctional family go on a road trip together, and learn to love and understand and tolerate each other just a little bit more after spending some time together. Like all the best comedies, it can make you laugh and yet break your heart at the same time. Just like real life.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Book and DVD. An unbelievably moving story about searching for answers and not stopping looking for them, and about learning to live again, even in the face of incredible loss. Don't read the book or watch the film unless you're feeling pretty solid that day, otherwise you could end up in pieces.

Here's some stuff I keep about going to the Moon.  Because it inspires me.  For me 'For all mankind' isn't just a saying.  They really did go for me too.
Some things that remind me of going to the Moon.  I recently watched 'It's a Wonderful Life' and there's a part in it, where James Stewart offers to put a lasso around the Moon for his girlfriend. Which reminded me of a sketch in Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun where they were always going on about wanting the Moon on a stick.  As anyone with even a basic grasp of science knows, both of these ideas are fairly impractical.  But, if you're willing to spend a decade and billions of dollars and employ about 400,000 people, it is possible to go and land on the Moon instead of trying to bring it down here.

Surely, that's got to be the greatest thing human beings have ever done.  That is unless you believe those people who think that going to the Moon was all faked in a TV studio.  Those sceptics find it hard to believe that we went to the Moon, riding in boxes made of tin foil, and powered by computers with less computing power than a pocket calculator.  But I think the lack of computer power was probably a good thing, because if they'd been using Windows, the screen might have frozen on the descent and by the time they'd switched the thing off and on again, they'd have been picking their asses out of the most expensive crater in history.  .

But they didn't go to the Moon using Windows, or on a Nintendo, they sent pilots.  You know, proper pilots who knew about flying and stuff, and not just any old pilots, they got the best pilots currently available.

And even though they were already the best, they still had to train them for years and years before they were ready to go.  And it was all new, sort of advanced 'make it up as you go along' stuff, so some of the pilots died, like in the fire on Apollo 1.  And some of the others nearly died, like in Apollo 13.

It would have been much easier for those pilots to not bother, to play it safe.  They could have stayed at home on the sofa eating Doritos and saying 'I don't think I'll bother going to the Moon, it all looks a bit dangerous'.  I myself haven't been to the Moon, and even though I'm trying to be more positive these days, I think it's unlikely I ever will.  But I do try and get off the sofa once in while and do some things that challenge me a bit more than eating Doritos.  I don't always manage it, but sometimes I do.

The thing I can't get over is that they were up there for a few days at a time.  I've been away to a Travelodge and woken up in the middle of the night needing a pee and felt disorientated.  Imagine waking up in the night and looking out the window and thinking 'Holy shit, I'm on the Moon!'.

I'm in there somewhere, just very small
One great thing about being as old as I am, is that in 1968 when Apollo 8 went to the Moon (not to land that time) they took the first ever pictures of the whole Earth from space.  And somewhere on that little Earth was me.  Still a baby, but that small myself is somewhere on that first blue green image taken from space.  What a great year to be born!

Here's me riding through a lake
A mountain bike.  I've not built up as many memories of riding this bike, as I have of the other one I own, but I did do a crazy Coast to Coast on it in 2014, as well as riding round the Isle of Arran on it last year, and also I once set off and accidentally rode a hundred miles in a day on it, which considering the knobbly tyres and the fact that I hadn't prepared for it, nearly caused my legs to implode.  Unlike the road bike where you can even feel it if you run over a grain of sand, this one is much better at riding over lumps and bumps.  Which is what I keep it for.

Here's me looking incredibly sophisticated at my brother's wedding, and like I do this kind of thing all the time
One multi-purpose suit. I've used it for my brother's wedding, my mum's funeral and also when going for interviews for lots of jobs I didn't get. I don't think the suit was to blame.

In praise of Slow. I've tended to be slow and steady in jobs I've done in the past, but very careful with it. Often I've been hammered for this by bosses I've had who only cared about Speed. I guess this book reminds me that sometimes, it's okay to take your time (although not necessarity at work).

Lost Worlds. The older I get, the more stuff there is that I can remember, but which other, mostly younger people can't. It's never a good idea to whine on about how things were better in the olden days, because every era has its plusses and minuses, and although, yes, it was good in the seventies that there were no DVDs and computer games, and people had to talk to each other instead of looking at their I-phones, I also had to wear shit clothes and I had to wear a tie in all photographs and on Sunday the only thing on TV was westerns, and I was never allowed a haircut until it was 3 months overdue. So, it was at best a mixed bag. But, saying that, there are still things I miss, and which were better then. This book talks about quite a few of them.

The Memory of Running.  A story about a wounded Vietnam veteran who lives on the East Coast of America (East Providence, Rhode Island) whose parents’ die in a car smash, and shortly after this, he finds out his missing mentally ill sister has been found dead in Los Angeles. He used to be a runner in his youth, but now he’s massively overweight and in every way there is, he’s let himself go. He finds an old Raleigh bicycle and he decides to cycle across America to claim his sister’s body. The novel is about not just his physical journey, but about his inner journey as he examines the broken pieces of his life, and how he got where he is today.

I couldn't be bothered to root around for my copy of this, but I do own one, I promise
Then we came to the End.  A very funny and touching book about working in an office, and about redundancy and being downsized and being just a number on a spreadsheet to someone whose job it is to save the company money.  And about the people we work with, and the relationships we have with them, and what they mean to us.  I don't generally read many novels, because how can I care about things that didn't happen, and people who don't exist?  But I guess the point of novels is to point to universal truths, and this book does plenty of that.

5 pairs of shoes (who needs more?).  The brown pair, top left, I bought during a trip to York in 2013 when I was trying to prove that I could think for myself. The blue running shoes I bought a few months ago from Up and Running in Wakefield on the joint recommendation of Joy and Micah, because I was getting knee knack in the green ones (bottom right) which were in turn a present from my mum in 2014 when I started running again after 12 years off. The black boots (top right) are from Clarks in Darlington, and I've walked hundreds of miles in them. For the last 6 months I worked at Student Loans in Darlington I walked to work and back (3 miles each way) every day all through the winter to help me lose the 2 stone I wanted to lose before cycling from Land's End to John o' Groats. The walking boots are walking boots I use when I go somewhere muddy where I might not want to twist my ankle. Unlike my mum, who also liked to keep 45 pairs of extra unnecessary shoes hidden away in the bottom of the wardrobe, these are all the shoes I own.

Despite whisky, golf, kilts, tartan and bagpipes, I do still love Scotland.
I love Scotland mug.  I've had about 20 holidays in Scotland, yet everything that is synonymous with Scotland I don’t like. Tartan, Whisky, Bagpipes or Kilts, or Golf.  But yet, in spite of all that they did hit the jackpot as regards scenery, so I keep going there.  I once went to the Isle of Arran without a guidebook, and I thought it wouldn't be a problem, because I'd pick one up when I got there....

Except there was a problem, because the bookshop had about a million books on Scotland, but they were all absolute shite. They were all things like '150 years of Scottish boat painting styles'. Or 'Tartans throughout the ages' , or '365 Whiskies throughout the year', or 'A guide to where to play golf in Scotland' or 'Knit your own Arran sweater/.. No actual proper guide books at all. And this was the same in almost every shop. Fucking hell, I thought, surely I'm not the only person in the world who has ever come to the Isle of Arran without pre-purchasing a guide book. No I don't want to learn how to knit my own tartan, I just want to know where the fuck I am? In one shop, there was a conversation going on between what sounded like Lorraine Kelly and Jimmy Krankie. And to be honest, although I love Scotland, I was stood in there, with my head pounding away, surrounded by books on tartan and whisky and castles, wondering what the hell I was even doing here.

That's an excerpt from another blog entry.  As you can probably tell, I was in quite a bad mood by the time I exited that shop.  I did have a headache before I went in though, to be fair.   

The Parole Officer.  A group of misfits attempt to rob a bank to steal an incriminating videotape. It's very funny, but it's also a cautionary tale about the dangers of eating curry before going on a rollercoaster full of Brownies.  Projectile vomiting has never been so amusing.

Interstellar.  A great film, which genuinely had me on the edge of my seat in parts, but one which highlights how difficult it can be to communicate with your children.  It's also not a great advertisement for treating your children equally.  Matthew McConaughey is desperate to travel across time and space to be reunited with his daughter, but doesn't seem all that bothered about his son who could do with a bit of parental support himself, because his own kids keep dying of asthma, and he's trying to run the family farm in the middle of a dust bowl, while his sister's off doing advanced mathematics on a giant blackboard at NASA.  Interstellar, like Inception is another Christopher Nolan film, and similar to Inception, you might as well take your brain out and hit it with a hammer as try and understand the plot, but it's still a masterpiece of cinema.  And like Inception, Hans Zimmer does the music and the music itself is out of this world, all by itself, even without the pictures that go with it.

Alan Partridge, Alpha Papa.  So many comedies are not funny, but this one I laughed all the way through, and then I went to see if a second time and laughed just as much.  I then decided for Christmas to buy everyone who was getting a present that year a copy of it. whether they wanted one or not.  There are so many obscure references and Englishisms (Ski Sunday, Air Crash Investigation, Cowabunga) that I once utterly failed to get a single laugh out of a foreigner I tried to make watch it with me, but for me every line is both quotable and hilarious.

In many ways Alan Partridge is a despicable and cowardly character, with a fragile ego, desperate to make himself look good.  He spends the majority of the film running away and / or hiding from things that scare him, and trying to cover up his many shortcomings... All of which makes him very easy to relate to.

Ruthless People.  Danny DeVito is planning to murder his wife Bette Midler, but then she gets kidnapped, which kind of solves his problem for him, especially when the kidnappers threaten to kill her if he doesn't pay the ransom (which he has no intention of doing).  But the situation is about to get a whole lot more complicated.... One of my favourite 80s movies.  Reminds me of 1987.

Timescape. Another time travel movie. Jeff Daniels is minding his own business when a load of time tourists turn up at his hotel. It turns out they are on a guided tour through time mostly watching shit get blown up, earthquakes and the like. After some of the local residents get killed in an asteroid strike, he gets pretty annoyed with this voyeuristic gang of tourists zipping in and out of time just to witness human misery, and he takes matters into his own hands, and does a bit of time travelling himself, to try and iron out a few kinks of his own.  It's got one of my all-time favourite film lines in, about time.  'Time is what keeps everything from happening at once'.  I'm sure the film-makers' probably stole that line off a scientist, but it's still a good one.

Joe Versus the Volcano. Tom Hanks works in a terrible badly lit office for a horrible humourless boss, and his life is so rubbish that it actually comes as a relief to him when he finds out that he's got an incurable brain cloud and that he's only got 30 days to live. Before he drops dead, he gets a decent haircut and goes in a limousine ride, and then goes and chucks himself in a Volcano to appease an angry God on the island of Waponi Wu. Along the way, he remembers what it feels like to be alive. Just a lovely film.

My favourite scene in Joe Versus the Volcano is when Tom Hanks is floating alone on the ocean on top of 4 packing trunks tied together, and he's probably about to die of thirst, and he sees the moon rise over the ocean, and he stands up and says 'Dear God, whose name I do not know, thank you for my life. I forgot how big, thank you'.  Whenever I watch it, it reminds me that despite whatever difficulties I face in life, I need to remember to be thankful for my life too.

A collection of tickets and receipts from November 2014 to February 2015.  November 2014 was a month of very mixed feelings.  My mum died, and I had to arrange the funeral, and clear out her flat, but I also went on some wonderful dates with Joy.  I kept a lot of mementoes of the dates (a train ticket from Huddersfield, a hotel bill from Edinburgh, a cinema ticket from the Everyman in Leeds, a bar bill from the Lowry in Manchester, a receipt from the Pizza Express next door to it after we couldn't get a table in the seemingly empty restaurant at the Lowry, a receipt for some Valentine's chocolates from Hotel Chocolat).

It was a time when sadness and joy (for joy read Joy) were mixed, but for anyone who's not too numb to actually feel anything, that's probably true of every day we're alive.  The last conversation I had with my mum was to tell her what a lovely time I'd had on my second date with Joy.  I was as excited and happy as a child.  It was the last time I saw my mum alive, but more importantly it was the last time she saw me.  She always said all she ever wanted was for me to be happy.  Seeing me that day, I hope that's how she remembers me.

I think I'm going to stop there.  I've no idea if I've reached 101 yet, but I've decided it doesn't matter anymore.  I could have chosen other books, other DVDs, other hotel bills and other train tickets. Other receipts, other items of clothing.  I could have told you stories just about knives and forks and spoons, or about any of the random objects that I chose to keep when I moved to where I live now. I could have also told you a million other stories about things I once owned, but that I don't have anymore.  There are a million separate things which have been meaningful to me in my life so far, and without any one of them I wouldn't be complete.  It would take for ever to tell the story of every one.

Something unexpected happened while writing about these 101 items.  When I started writing it I was living in my own place, with only stuff that was mine surrounding me.  I was very conscious of the idea of ownership.  But, moving to a shared house, with lots of things that don't belong to any one person, I started to relax about the ownership of my own things.  My plates and cups and pans and knives and forks and glasses I've now put into communal areas, and just like I'm happy to be using shared things, I'm happier about people sharing things of mine.  And the holding onto things, and the counting them up, seems to matter less.  Whatever we own, we can't take it with us anyway.

Some people say they have no regrets in life.  Maybe they haven't thought about it for long enough. The things I regret are unkind words I said to people and also thoughtlessness, and not doing enough for people, and not trying to understand their point of view.

Ultimately I know that nothing we own really counts for much.  Instead, it's every kind thing we do, and say, and sharing laughter, and loving one another, and trying to understand each other that counts.

In the end, things are just things.  And no thing can mean as much as a person, or a memory, or a shared experience can.

The things I talked about in these two blogs posts, and the hours I spent writing about them, and photographing them, are just an attempt to explain my life.  That's what all my blog posts are.  It's all just an approximation though.  It's as if I made a copy of Moon and put it on a stick for you to look at.

I know it's not the real Moon, but it's the closest I can get.  

Thursday, 24 December 2015

101 things I was attached to before I died

I used to be one of those people who got a really good credit score because he was the essence of stability.  I once lived in the same house for 13 years and between the ages of 19 and 39 I had only two jobs that lasted 10 years each.  From the point of view of a risk analyst or a statistician, I was predictable and safe. Not any more.

I've moved 4 times in the last 2 and a half years and the last one of those was yesterday.  This time I've moved somewhere temporary, until I can decide what to do next.  I'm only renting one room and it's already furnished, so I've no room for furniture, or for very much other stuff for that matter. But that's okay, because I'm not a big fan of stuff anyway.  See Germany 1987

I started Ebaying the big bits of my life a couple of weeks ago.  I didn't want to hire removal men, because I didn't want to have to pay them, and I didn't want to have to order a bulky waste collection from the Council, so I decided to sell everything that was too big to go in the car (and it's only a small car)  I sold my bed, sofa, chest of drawers, bedside tables, chairs, a desk, tumble dryer etc.  It took till the very last minute to get rid of everything, and ultimately I had to panic sell my sofa for less than the price of a Domino's Pizza, but hey ho.

Here's me with two of my favourite cyclists, downsizers and bloggers Gill and Tony.  My goal was to try and end up with less stuff in storage than they had when they cycled round Britain for 6 months
Over the last month, since I decided to downsize my life to what would fit in the back seat of my car with the seats down, I've been spending a lot of time sifting through things to keep and things to sell, and also things to just throw away, and I started to wonder if there's a pattern to what I'm keeping. Besides the obvious, that I'm mostly keeping stuff that's small enough to carry, I started to wonder what else connects the things I can't or won't let go of?

I had a practice run for this sort of thing last December, when I spent a month Ebaying and sifting through my mum's stuff after her long and slow decline and then sudden demise.  It got me thinking about what stuff of mine will need to be sifted after I've gone.

I got really annoyed at times sorting through mum's stuff.  Even in a tiny flat, she had loads of unnecessary crap.  Approximately 50 of the cheapest wine glasses imaginable, that you could break just by looking at, about a million light bulbs, a thousand pairs of tights, and although she only wore 2 different pairs of shoes in the last year of her life, she had another 48 pairs in the wardrobe, including 7 different shades of purple high heels.  And loads of clothes with the tags left on, that she'd bought because they were a bargain, and then never worn, which made them less so. Christmas cards not sent.

If you're the one who ends up sorting through my stuff after I'm gone, at least know that I tried my best to keep the death admin to a minimum, and anything I did keep, there was probably a good reason, or at least a sentimental one.  Some of the stuff I'm keeping, and some of the reasons why are outlined below.

How many pairs of shoes does one person need anyway?  I can only get one pair on at once
Almost exactly 3 years ago I did a list of 101 places I went before I died, so this year I started to wonder if I had enough stuff to compile a list of 101 things that I kept before I died.

I'm not sure but I'm going to give it a go.  When I did 101 places I went before I died, I had to do it in stages, because to write about 101 things all at once was too much, so I'll probably do the same here, so don't go counting them up and saying I've only done 29.  I will finish it eventually.

By the way I'm not saying I will always keep all of the 101 items, only that this is the stuff that has survived 4 house moves (or in the case of recently acquired things, at least one) and I was willing to make the effort required each time I moved to take it with me.

1) Brilliant Orange.  I love this book.  I bought it when it first came out in 2000 and then years later in some insane attempt to prove to myself that I could let go of even precious things, I gave it to my brother for Christmas.  He had it for a while, and then probably sold it.  For him it didn't have the same resonance.  He didn't fall in love with the Dutch football team during the 1978 World Cup like I did.  With Arie Haan and Johnny Rep and Ernie Brandts and Rob Rensenbrink.  With their beautiful football and their orange shirts and their long range shots which seemed to originate in space.  How could he understand?

But it has to be the hardback version, the paperback version is just not the same.  It might have the same words in, but there's something beautiful about the hardback, so much so that after going to Amsterdam a few weeks ago, I realised I had to find it again, and so I tracked down a copy on Ebay and I bought it for 50 pence!  Some things in life that you lose are gone forever, but it's nice to know that once in a while you can get some things back again.

2) Train tickets, map and guidebook to Edinburgh 2005.

I'm not sure if cycling from Newcastle to Edinburgh with Ruth in 2005 was the best holiday I've ever had, but it's probably the one I'm most proud of, because it was the first time I'd ever been on a holiday, on a bike, carrying my own luggage. As I recall, I took some convincing that this kind of thing was even possible, and despite the fact that I wanted to know the answer to every small detail in advance, and that I planned the whole trip to death, except for one of the most important things, which was how the hell to find the B&B in Edinburgh when we got there, it still took me out of my comfort zone, and into the unknown.  It led on to 10 years of doing that sort of thing.

3) An old passport with two stamps in it from a country that doesn't exist anymore.

I went to Berlin in 1985 when the wall was still up, and it's probably the strangest place I've ever been (even stranger than the Taj Mahal).  To get there we had to travel through East Germany, a country that I expected to be made of grey.  I remember being surprised that the trees were green just like in other places, and that children on the bridges above the Autobahn wave at people on coaches just like children in the West might wave.  Paul Edgar exploded a can of Coke on my passport on the coach on the way there, I think it's still a bit sticky from the sugar.  If you'd told me then that the wall would be down by 1990, I would never have believed it.  It looked to me like it would stay like that for a thousand years.  One of the best experiences of my life.

4) This bike.  If something this feeble and light can transport you the whole of the length of Britain, I don't see how you can get rid of it.  It never let me down, on Lejog or any other time, including that Finding Nemo job in 2012.  Even though I've not ridden it since Lejog and it's still got the Inverness to York train ticket attached to it, it carried me for thousands of miles between 2010 and 2014, including 3 Coast to Coasts.  On a couple of occasions I have literally kissed the frame in gratitude for getting me to where I was going. Technically I have done most of those miles on a woman's saddle, but it was comfortable so why not?

5) a 10 year old pair of cycling shorts that I've had some of my best adventures in.

I've had these cycling shorts for 10 years.  I wore them every day of my first proper cycling adventure in 2005, and every day of my last one in 2014.  In between I put so much weight on there was a few years when I couldn't fasten them.  They are now coming apart around the arse, and may not last much longer, but no replacement pair could ever be as good.  Until recently I didn't have any running shorts either, so I've probably done around 35 Parkruns in them too.  Possibly the best value for money thing I've ever had.

6) green eggs and ham cycling jersey

Oh look, it's some middle aged men wearing matching tops and pretending to be still alive
This was bought so that I could look the same as a load of other middle aged men as we tried in 2012 to prove that we were still alive by cycling Coast to Coast and back in just 2 days.  It was a great achievement overall but the only World Records I broke during the trip were 1) The World Record for the most rainwater collected in my own eyes 2) The World Record for the most muscles in history that have been pulled trying to remove my own socks (they were so wet after the first day)

7) A stupid ornamental horse that is a piece of crap to look at, but which is the absolute definition of sentimental value.  I'm not even sure if it is a horse, it might be a unicorn.  When I was about 9 and my brother was 4 mum decorated our bedrooms one summer holiday and to say thanks we walked to Garforth Main Street to buy her a thank you present.  We had to go twice because I'd left 50p of the 75p cost of the thing at home.  It's the crappiest little brown ornament imaginable, and I still don't even know what made us decide to buy it, but it meant a lot to mum, and she kept it by her bed for the rest of her life.  I've got it now, and it's wrapped in bubble wrap so I don't accidentally smash the thing.  And I'd never dare get rid of it.  And when I die, if Phil's still alive, he'll no doubt get it off me, and he won't have a clue what to do with it either.  And it will probably go on for ever.....

8) Speakers.  I'm not big into technology but I once got some speakers from Ruth as a present, after seeing Nick Green use them at St Francis Church youth group, and they're really good, because I can plug them in to either the TV, or the Ipod, or directly to the DVD player.  And they sound good.

9) Ruth's old Ipod.  Anyone who is familiar with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will know that the answer to The Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.  When it was coming up to Ruth's 42nd birthday I thought it would be amazing to get her an Ipod with 'Ruth - the Answer the life, the Universe and Everything engraved on the back.  But I was so overwhelmed with the awesomeness of the idea that I couldn't keep it a secret, and I told her in advance.  Anyway, she eventually got a bigger and better Ipod and even though I don't have Itunes so I have trouble editing what's on there, I keep it, because I still think the idea is fantastic, even if I spoiled it by giving the game away.

The docking station I also got via Ruth, because she couldn't pick up DAB radio on it, wherever she was when she was trying to tune it in.  It has a sleep mode on it, which I use for 30 minutes every night to help me fall asleep.  I rarely get past the first song.  The playlist is somewhat monotonous, since I don't have Itunes to actually edit what's on the Ipod, but hey ho, it's free!

10) A copy of the New Testament that came to me via the Gideons and my brother Phil (I think they were given out at his primary school)  In my early twenties, before I left home, and when I'd just started working in a bank, I used to read it in bed.  It was a time when I found the idea of selling old ladies who didn't have much stuff thousands of pounds worth of home insurance cover fairly troubling. Something about selling anything just doesn't agree with the inner me.  Even selling myself isn't easy.

11) My dog's ashes.  I had my dog Hudson between late 2002 and August Bank Holiday 2006, when he was lethally injected by Olympic Gold medallist Kat Copeland's mum (who is also a vet, and because I asked her to because his heart was failing and he was miserable).  I've been carrying the ashes round for nearly 10 years now (not continuously, that would be silly), I originally thought I would scatter them at Stewart's Park in Middlesbrough where he used to chase squirrels, or on his regular walking route round Ingleby Barwick, and I also thought about just putting them in with me when my time comes, but so far I have remained indecisive on the matter, and so I still have them.

Just a word on Hudson.  I loved him then, and I love him now.  Pets are not people, but I went through some bad times while I had him, and it always seemed to me that he loved me too.  Best of all, he loved me when I was behaving badly, and being in a mood, and sometimes shouting.  But it didn't make any difference to him, he never rejected me, he just wanted to be wherever I was.  He'd wait outside the toilet for me, and he'd get in the way in the kitchen doorway while I was occasionally cooking.  He always made me feel that for him, being with me was the best thing there was.  If I get to Heaven, I hope he's there.  

This is Hudson, who died before the widespread use of digital cameras.  I wish I had some better pictures of him but this is about the best one.  Here he is wide eyed and slack jawed with wonder in St Mawes in Cornwall.  

12) My first foreign language textbooks.  1979 - 1981  La Langue de Francais and Sprich Mal Deutsch. When I was trying to teach English last year, I wanted to remember how I learned languages myself in school, so I ordered my old secondary school textbooks.  It's amazing what you can find on Ebay.

13) Lowe Alpine Rucksack.  Not just a rucksack but my weekend bag whenever I go away anywhere for less than a week, eg. Moffat, Edinburgh, Glenridding, Amsterdam.  It's big enough to fit a spare pair of shoes in, and also it's big enough to allow me to always take one more pair of trousers away with me than I actually wear.  It's got a few handy pockets for books, inhalers, Garmin, eye drops, Passport etc.  I bought it when I lived in Darlington, and it cost about £40 and at the time that seemed a lot, but I really like it.  I have a smaller, crappier rucksack that I use for just going out for the day, so if I'm packing this one I know it's a proper adventure. 

14) Tent.  Cost about £100.  I once slept in it for 11 nights in a row.  I've had issues with camping over the years, and I've had some really terrible times in tents too, but on a beautiful morning there's no better feeling than zipping open your door and being immediately outside.  It's a feeling that doesn't last long though, because then you realise that instead of just boiling the kettle and making a cup of tea like at home, you've got to go off across a field to the tap to get some water, and then you're going to have to set up the Trangia and if you're really lucky you'll be able to find the matches, and then you'll have to try and remember which of the infinite number of pannier pockets the tea bags are in. And before you know it your morning cup of tea has taken two hours.  And then you've got to spend the two hours after that putting sleeping bags and mats and the tent itself back into tiny bags and cycling off 30 miles down the road to do it all again.  

15) Worksurface protector.  A wedding present to Ruth and me in 1999.  We once put a red hot pan down on it that had boiled dry and it left a huge burn on the left hand side of the glass.  Over the years the mark has faded and now it's barely visible.  It always reminds me that scars do fade over time, but also that they do leave a bit of a mark.  It's good for putting hot things down on too.  

16) Hot Fuzz the movie.  I was delighted to discover while watching this at the cinema that my honeymoon destination of Wells was the location for the shootout at the end.  The honeymoon wasn't a great success (emergency doctor, wrecking my own car, that sort of thing) and it gave me vicarious pleasure to watch Wells being shot to shit a few years later.  

17) Abbey Dash T shirt.  When I was 18 I ran a 10K in 47 minutes.  I was young and fit and I'd been playing rugby for the 6 months previously.  After a really long break, I took up running again last year, and for a while I convinced myself that I could still run 10K in 47 minutes, and to prove it I entered the Abbey Dash a few weeks ago.  Well, I can't.  I did run it in 57 minutes 42 and I got this nice blue T-shirt to prove it.  Overall, I don't think 10 minutes slower is a bad trade for 30 years older.

18) UKSA wristband.  I had to kayak like crazy around a lake near Lee Valley in London in a two person kayak with Jose Rivas trying to capture things that were tied to the top of barrels, and this was the only thing we were quick enough to get.  I put it on then and I didn't take it off for about 8 months afterwards.  I had some problems as a YHA Volunteer Team Leader that week, mainly clashes with my boss which I wish I'd handled better, but the actual week of activities (run by UKSA) were fantastic.

19) Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut.  It was Ruth who introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut, in Waterstone's Middlebrough one day (Breakfast of Champions circa 1998) and my favourite novel of his is Timequake, which I probably got for Christmas in 1999.  I've read it about 20 times and almost every line makes me think or makes me laugh.  Some of his stuff I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  If I could write like anyone, I'd write like him.

20) Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  In 1987 my favourite author was Hermann Hesse.  When I went to Germany that year to work in a paint factory and to pick a fight with a racist I took a copy of his book Wandering with me.  It's a beautiful book, but I read it so much the spine collapsed and all the pages fell out.  Years later I read Siddhartha.  It's about lots of things, but the main thing that struck a chord with me is the fact that we don't listen to our parents, and then our children don't listen to us. They just do their own thing, and ignore out advice.  I keep it as my Wandering substitute.

21) The Bourne Trilogy on DVD.  Jason Bourne is running around, not having a clue what's going on, people are out to get him, and he doesn't know what he's supposed to be doing or who he's hiding from, and all he really wants is just to left alone in peace to get on with things.  It's a metaphor for life.

22) City Slickers.  Billy Crystal gets to 40,  realises things aren't going so well.  His hair's thinning, his health is on the slide, he hates his job, his kids think he's an embarrassment, his wife is sick of the sight of his miserable face, so he goes on some adventures with his friends, and learns to find his smile again.  It's a comedy, but it's also beautifully moving in places, and whenever I watch it I can feel myself welling up.  I'm welling up now just thinking about it.  Maybe you have to be a man over 40 to really understand it.

23) About a million old photographs, including my parents' and my wedding albums, lot of photographs of me from the 70s with bad hair, and many others.

In the 70s I was never allowed a haircut until it was 3 months overdue, and I had to walk around with my eyes closed for the whole decade to avoid having my retinas burnt out by the patterns on the carpets.  Thank God that's over.
For some reason I've also kept lots of ride photos from theme parks.  Maybe because they're such a ripoff I didn't want to throw them away, also maybe because they represent a frozen moment in time when I was terrified or excited or a mixture of the two, but in each of them it was pretty clear to me that I was alive.

24) My Garmin.  Probably my most treasured possession these days.  As I used to say on Lejog, if the data's not on Strava, it didn't happen!  I've experienced a lot of loss in life, but the feeling of getting to the start of an event and then remembering that you've left the Garmin at home, it's hard to take.  For the last few weeks especially, my happiest times have been when I've been running.  What that says about me I don't know, particularly since the running itself contains its own share of suffering.

25) Grow a girlfriend.  Apparently if you put this thing in water, you can literally 'grow a girlfriend'. It was a present from Ste Clarkson and Dan Footy who I used to sit with at break time when I worked at Student Loans.  They spent a lot of our breaks trying to work out complex accumulator bets on William Hill online, in order to win themselves thousands of pounds in beer money, but on the odd occasion when they looked up from their mobile devices we used to have a laugh a minute, talking in riddles and word association about pretty much any old crap under the sun.  Most of what we said is unrepeatable and also fortunately unrememberable, and the main saving grace was that we were just as scathing to each other, as we were to anyone else.  Giving me this as a present was pretty typical of the stuff that went on.  Prior to that there was an even bigger gang of people who went for breaks together on the picnic benches, especially in the summer of 2012 when I was a new starter there. They were all half my age, but lovely with it, and that year or so (despite being fired once) was the best time I've had at work in the last 7 or 8 years, since the days of trying to kill myself with Helium in the packing room at Waterstone's Darlington (now a Poundland).

26) A bike pump
Having spent a lifetime using crappy little bike pumps and snapping the valves off tyres or hitting myself in the face with them, it was really good to spend some Halfords vouchers Ruth and I got for Christmas one year on this proper bike pump, complete with pressure gauge and everything.  And it's got two fittings for both types of valve, and it pretty much is idiot proof.  I know this because even I managed to blow some tyres up with it over the years.  My approach to touring holidays was to pump them up with this at the start of the week, and then never touch them again, unless I found myself in the dreaded roadside puncture conundrum, in which case I'd stomp around and moan for 45 minutes to an hour as if I was having a dark night of the soul, while someone else (mostly Ruth) got on with fixing the puncture.  I thought about taking it with me on Lejog, but I couldn't carry it.  Luckily Peter, one of the other riders, had brought the exact same pump with him.  So I used it every day to top up my tyres, sometimes when he was looking around for it in the bag of the van to use it himself.

27) Swaledale marathon cups and certificates.  In 2005 when I worked at Waterstone's Ian Simpson persuaded me to enter the Swaledale Marathon.  It's not a running marathon (well, some lunatic fell runners do run it in about 3 hours but that option wasn't for me).  It's set in Swaledale, and it's 24 miles long and it basically goes up and down just about every hill you can think of in that area.  The first year I ignored Ian's advice and wore big boots and two pairs of socks, and after 10 miles I was a dead man walking and he had to go off without me, and I finished in just over nine hours and I was about second from last with blisters on all four sides of my feet.  For a whole year I had this latent desire to do it again but better, and I did.  Lightweight trainers, one pair of socks, carrying Compeed to put on any blisters that started forming (thank you Rebecca Tempest).

28) Birthday Bear.  I didn't have the best relationship with my step daughter.  It's one of my life's big regrets that I never found a way to communicate properly with her.  Often we'd communicate by throwing things or shouting, neither of those things ever solve anything.  I think Father's Day is a waste of time, and if you're a Step Father, even more so, but I think one year, she was probably made to buy me a present by her mum, and it was a Beanie Bear.  To actually hand it to me would have been a bit too affectionate, so I think she threw it to or at me from the bedroom doorway.  The rather robust cardboard giftbag grazed my face as it landed.  It might be the only time I've ever been hit in the face with a present, but I still have the bear.

29) Spare door key from the last house I owned.  I used to be a homeowner and now I live in a rented room in a shared house.  Boo hoo.  Never mind, I've still got one of my old house keys.  It's discoloured because it's the spare I used to hide under a paving stone in the shed for those regular occasions when someone else in the house couldn't find their door keys, or had been locked out by one of the other people who lived there. Putting this spare key in the shed was just one of the ways I tried to prevent my domestic life falling into chaos.  Mostly I failed.

30) A tray from YHA Summer Camp at Edale.  August 2014.  Okay, so technically I stole this.  Let's get that out of the way right away.  There's a game at YHA Summer Camps at Edale called Random Object.  If someone hands you a random object without saying anything, and you take it off them and they then say 'Random object' you have to carry that object for the next 24 hours, wherever you go.  I actually carried this tray for 40 hours, including on our overnight camping expedition, which included a 10 mile hike in borrowed boots which destroyed my feet (I forgot to pack my own boots). I proved to myself during that 40 hours that many a disadvantage has an advantage hiding inside it, and I used the tray to break my fall when I fell over a few times, I sat on it instead of on the wet grass at camp, I used it to take the washing up to the sinks and back after our evening meal.

By the time we got back to the Youth Hostel the next day my team had even renamed itself The Tray Team (instead of the Apprentice sounding name we'd been given, Ignite or Aspire or something like that).  They also renamed the tray Tra-cy.  One of the first rules of Summer Camp is that you're not allowed to stay in contact with the young people you're supervising once the week is over, even if many of them are adults, like in this group. Anyway, I properly loved that team and the week I spent with them being scared to death on the High Ropes and abseiling off bridges and going potholing and sitting in the minibus listening to AC/DC (I think we bonded from the moment I let them dress me up as a woman on the first night) and I wanted something to remember them by, so I got them to sign the tray (I haven't photographed the signed side in case I'm breaching some privacy rule or other so you'll just have to take my word for it that it's signed) and it fell into my bag before I came home instead of going back to the dining room.  Who knew a tray could mean so much?

31) A frisbee.  Okay, it's a similar story with the frisbee, except I didn't take this from the dinner hall, I found it in the bushes near the Youth Hostel at Lee Valley.  I took it home as a souvenir after my week at Lee Valley, but it really came into its own during our camping expeditions at Edale.  Both with the Tray Team and team that followed them, we invented Head Torch Frisbee and we stood in a circle in the dark and tried to get the highest number of catches in a row, without a) getting blinded b) getting hit in the face or c) falling over the massive rock that was in the middle of the campsite.

Eventually on the second camp we tried this at, a medical student called Sam had the brilliant idea that if we turned the headtorches downwards to point at our own faces rather than blinding everyone else by having them pointed outwards we could get more consecutive throws.  I think our record was around 26, which was frankly miraculous considering we had one lad who had no coordination whatsoever.  But we practised relentlessly for hours until even he could catch the thing.

32) 2 sets of juggling balls

I taught myself to juggle around 2006.  I kept meeting people who could juggle and feeling inferior to them so I thought I'd teach myself.  I made things harder for myself by trying to learn with tennis balls instead of juggling balls.  These have the disadvantage that they bounce all over the place when you drop them, and also Hudson would chase after them and try to eat them.  Even if I got them back off him, they were all covered in dog saliva.  But despite these setbacks I did learn to juggle. Eventually I got proper balls.  One lot were a Christmas present from Ruth, and the other set I bought from a toy shop in Covent Garden.

33) my collection of Death Certificates.  So far I have six (2 grandparents, 2 parents, 1 step parent, 1 wife).  I don't want any more.

34) a green jug.  I've no idea why I keep this.  I never use it.  Maybe I just like the colour, maybe it's because when I still owned a house, if I was ever organised enough to set the table for breakfast, this was the jug that I used to put the milk in.  Now there's no house, or breakfast table inside a house, so maybe keeping the jug makes me feel better about that.

35) an IKEA paint it yourself bedside table / side table.  I've bought loads of furniture from IKEA over the years (bookcases, dining table, chairs etc as well as loads of little bits of crap too).  Most of it came ready painted but some of it needed varnishing.  Ruth spent ages varnishing stuff and most of it I don't have anymore, but I kept this table, because it would fit in the car.

36) My mum's only sharp knife.  My mum always had terrible cutlery with terrible scruffy looking wooden handles, which always seemed quite unhygienic to me.  In much the same way she always owned pens that wouldn't write, she always owned knives that wouldn't cut.  But in the last few years she acquired one sharp dinner knife, and whenever I used to go round for my tea, I'd use it.  Anyway, I've kept that.

37) Diary book / Travel journal.  A present from Joy.  I was going to use it as a travel journal, but then I wasn't sure I'd be going anywhere, so when I started getting overwhelmed by stuff a few weeks ago, I started using it as a diary to try and understand my own thought processes.  It always reminds me of that phrase 'Wherever you go, there you are'.  Sometimes the places I am I don't want to be, and I feel like I'm just waiting to go somewhere else.  But there's no escape from myself.  Each time I wake up, there I am.

38) Denby plates and cups.  I think it my first wife Beverley was the first woman I knew who went mental for Denby.  There were no other options, our plates and cups had to be Denby.  I had mountains of the stuff by the time she died.  Unfortunately Ruth wasn't keen on the pattern, so we gave all that lot away to a friend's daughter as a wedding present and had to start all over again with new patterns. We got a lot of it a bit cheaper because they were slight seconds from the Denby store in Street Shopping Village, but for a few years it was coming in from all angles.  Especially coffee cups, we had just about every pattern there is.  What's in this box is pretty much all I've got left of it. Despite the fact that a lot of the Denby I've owned over the years has been purchased under duress, it is genuinely really good stuff, and I won't drink my drinks out of or eat my dinner off anything else these days.

39) My ride notes from Lejog 2014, prepared for me by Chris Ellison.  I used to read these the night before, so I'd recognise the names of the places we were passing through, and the notes also contained details of where to stop for food, and approximate distances.  Also, to help me remember for Erwan's study what I was eating on the trip, I started annotating the notes with what I'd eaten at each cafe stop.  I carried them with me each day in my seatpack too, and they got a bit grubby with dirt along the way, but they never got wet, because it never rained.  For 17 days! Well, it rained very slightly once or twice but even putting a rainjacket on on those occasions was an overreaction.

So, I got as far as 39 before Christmas.  I'll have to do the other 62 later.  Is there a connection between all of the above?  I guess the obvious answer is Yes.  It's me.  All of these things are evidence to me that I once existed.  My attachments to these things are mostly just sentimental and would probably be meaningless to anyone who found them while doing Death Admin in the future.  But they all meant something to me while I was here, and each thing in its own way helped to connect me to the world.

I'm 47 now, and I still don't know where I'm going in life or what I'm doing most of the time.  I find ordinary real-life stuff like jobs and homes and relationships incredibly hard to deal with, which might explain why I'm living where I am now. Anyway, I went out for coffee recently with my oldest friend Shelagh (we were at primary school together) and I told her I still didn't know what to do with myself after all this time, and she said that whatever I do, I should write.

I guess when I write, my life makes the most sense to me it ever does.  So this is me writing.  I didn't get any of you anything for Christmas, and the time I saved on going round the shops looking for presents I spent selling or giving away most of my possessions and moving house and photographing the stuff I have left, and writing this.  So as far as presents go, this will have to do.