Sunday, 21 December 2008

Uncle Tim and this week's running

Today we had a visit from my brother Tim who drove over from London for the day. It was great to see him after what felt like a long time and we went for a walk to the swings - which is proving to be a popular location for photography... We had a big roast dinner and played with the boys while Rachel, who is off down to Devon for Christmas tomorrow, packed and packed and packed.

Ben and Sam are both a lot more mobile now. Sam has learned to crawl on hands and knees and they can both clap hands.

This week's running has been a bit hit and miss. I went out for a slow road jog with the Almost Athletes on wednesday night - about 5 miles - and did about 9.5 miles over Leckhampton Hill and round via Coberley on Friday night by headtorch. The momentum is wavering at the moment so I am hoping that the new zipplily entitled Inov8 Mudrocks that I ordered from Lakes Runner earlier this week will help to give me the incentive to get back out there - the old shoes are beginning to show signs of wear.

Bad news: this year's May Hill Massacre multi-terrain race clashes with the boys' first birthday party. Can't believe that I've already booked my number without realising, like the time when I couldn't remember their date of birth at the hospital and had to ring home to find out! This one may take quite a bit of negotiation...

Monday, 8 December 2008

Cardington Cracker

Enjoyed running the event on my lonesome. This is my trail of recollection.

There's a strung out line of brightly coloured shirts up the side of the The Lawley. Incredibly steep. Bent double. Children calling 'well done' at the checkpoint on the top. Touch the tall wooden pole then lurch back into a running pace after that thigh-inflating ascent. Along the long backbone of the ridge, remembering the phenomenal winds last time. It's clear frozen blue skies today; still windy, but not mouth-inflating like last year.

Looking around to see the landscape below, the last traces of the morning's mist still lingering over toward the Long Mynd. Trade places as the decline gets steeper, frozen ground makes each slapping footfall a potential slip and it's hard work to hold back until the point it's ok to let go.

Manic legs carry the momentum down through a gate and into the frozen shadow of Caer Caradoc, everything frost encrusted. A stag headed oak - permanent. My feet break the ice in a bog poached by cows' feet and then small steps up centre of a lane, trying to use the gravel there for grip in the black ice. Over the gate and onto the main climb.

A group of us move upwards together taking turns to dog each other's footsteps. The voice in my head saying, "don't overdo it. Don't overdo it." Someone's got a mobile phone in their bum bag which keeps ringing. Someone else says we should dial a pizza, they'd have to get an all-terrain moped.

Onto the old fortress of the summit, through rocks and the race checkpoint, marshalls call out numbers and then descent again over the bright hard ground. I let my strides lengthen where the slope lets me and make a long zig-zag which feels easier than the fast short steps of directness that others are taking. Motoring now, I overtake again then hit a gravel slope and realise I'm going too fast. I grab at the nearest thing that might help to slow me down - it's a gorse bush.

Through another frost pocket. Feet don't feel cold as they splash through a stream. Opening up a bit on the section of tracks down to Gaertones farm before going back into low gear again up past Three Fingers Rock. Over a series of turfy high points, pacing up the hills against the runners ahead, striding, hands on knees when they do. Stretch out on the slopes and make ground again. It's possible to avoid the ice you can see, but it's the stuff you can't see that you've got to watch out for.

Wind-cropped turf. Elongated shadows cast by bleached fenceposts and the low winter sun.

Steep descent off Willstone Hill, through dead bracken that would be fiery orange if it could catch any light. The legs of the runner in front slide from under him. Tell myself to watch that patch then fall on my arse too. There's a crashing and behind and someone comes flying past.

Hardened mud and another field hung with chill. The Wilderness, (great name) where I overtake once, maybe twice, but keep telling myself not to blow it. Stride the last long incline.

A track with sunlight strobing through the hedgerow and then it's a series of fields and stiles that go on for too long. I've caught up the bloke with the mobile phone. Close to the end now, Cardington and the finish out of the corner of my eye. Pick it up a bit and then someone goes belting past at a pace I'll never match. Through the last gate and onto the level. Footsteps behind? Buggered if they're going to overtake so I end up grimacing over the line.

Cups of water, meet a guy called Craig last seen at the Cleevewold race in February. Watch people coming in.

Get carrot and coriander soup from the village hall and wander back to the car park, dunking roll.

Listen to MArmite on the drive home - sheer indulgence.

Results: I was the 37th Senior Male and 76th overall out of 250 with a time of 1.37.43. Last year's time was 1.47.13.

Sorry about the table bit below - can't work out how to delete it.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

On the swings

Rachel headed off to Bath to see Christian and Jenny and to go to the Christmas market. I gave the boys some lunch and then we went out for a buggy wander to the swings behind the library. It was a cold and nodescript day somewhere towards the end of November. Uninspiring, English, wintery, pinched and just generally unremarkable. The kind of days that remind me of being a student in Birmingham.

The boys did not seem to have inherited their father's pessimism and watched the world they were wheeled to with level impassiveness. We looked at a birch tree damply holding on to its autumn colour and accidently bggied through some dog dirt.

At the playground, we had a go on the swings.

They had such a good time that we made a little movie

Afterwards we stopped off at the library and got out Elmer the Elephant and them got the Saturday Guardian at Morrisons. The boys were quite tired by the time we got back

They had a snooze and we watched TV and Wales beat Australia at the Millenium Stadium. A great afternoon of bonding. Sam's just about clapping and both are waving - nearly 10 months old.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A grand day out

This morning I made a couple of site visits to look at trees located at desirable residences in the Cotswolds. Autumn is gaining momentum and the leaf colours in the bright sunshine and morning mists were intense. Sometimes I lose perspective of the fact that I make decisions about trees in an area of outstanding natural beauty for a living. It was a memorable morning, but unfortunately I didn't take any photographs except of two Robinias outside the public toilets at Bibury.

Rachel has a monster bug and she called me up at work to say that she was really ill, so I came home to spend the rest of the day looking after the boys so that she could recoup. I gave them some lunch

and then loaded them up into the car and took them up to Crickley Hill which is an old neolithic fort on the Cotswold escarpment with vast views over the landscape to the west. It was possible to make out the Brecon Beacons beyond May Hill with its distinctive tree clump. We took a stoll out to the 'nose' reading and promptly failing to memorise the information boards along the way. It was a beautiful day - clear and bright with a cold wind. A white glider, maybe from Stroud, worked its way over the thermals and a kestrel hunted, windhovering and diving down to the tussock grass. The boys looked angelic with the sun on their soft faces as they slept. I lay down on the grass beside the buggy and listened to the sounds of the day. It was very restful, the natural sound of the wind above the constant background noise of the bypass in the valley below. We took a walk through The Scrubs, an area of 300 year old woodland, admired the monilithed standing deadwood and the carpet of scrunchy orange leaves on the floor.

Sunday, 12 October 2008


We recently spent a week family holidaying in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, staying in a many-layered, tall and thin house overlooking the harbour. The views out across the sea were uninterrupted (as an estate agent might say) and the constant presence of the sea and the beach being exposed and covered by the tides will be one of the lasting memories for me. We were staying with Mum and Dad, who had rented the house and we were joined by brother Tim and Jo for a couple of days.

Tenby has a charming combination of heritage, style and tack which becomes more apparant during the off season. Apparantly it is the hen party capital of the country. Walking around on the build up to an evening you could sense the collective mood swinging towards boozing with intent. But it seemed fairly good natured.

We visited a National Trust garden further up the coast and saw the tallest Crypromeria japonica in the country.

Sadly the week was affected by colds and worries about the boys' health. Rachel and Sam spent the night in Haverfordwest hospital because of Sam's breath rate and I had a nasty chesty cough which left me feeling wiped out for most of the time.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Man flu, baby photos and a plane tree

The onset of the first cold of the winter seems likely and I am determined to take it like a man. Losing your voice is novel turning to fun as the gravel in the throat begins to rise. There is a macabre fascination with the solidity and colour of sputum and secret exitement about being ill enough to justify a sickie whilst being compus mentus enough to indulge in a day of 'cash in the attic' and 'homes under the hammer'. But all this is offset against the ill bit, the pressure in the temples and the angry inflammation at the back of your throat. I'm sooo illl......

Ben and Sam were put on show at work today in the form of a studio photo that Rach got for free through some deal. Reactions from the colleagues was varied and ranged from the usual comments about cuteness and asking which one was which, to comparisons with a fruit pastel lolly - pretty accurate really, there is a kind of Glorious Technicolor aspect to it.

Judgement day for a tree draws nearer. The lot of a tree officer....

Just checked the Almosts' website and I did ok in the Woodchester Park race coming in 19th in just under an hour. The running has been slipping recently due to recovering from the SW coast path trip as well as 'le grippe'.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The South West Coast Path slog blog

Thanks to Mark at work, I've begun to harbour a plan to walk the South Coast Path from Minehead in Somerset down and around Devon and Cornwall to end up in Poole, Dorset.

Looks like it might take a while...

Last weekend I set off straight from work to embark on the second stage of my walk, starting from my previous end point and basically going as far as I could get and back again. Rach was away at her parents' in Devon with the boys so I had friday night and the whole of Saturday before I had to get home.

When it comes to these kind of micro-expeditions (and let's face it I never do any major expeditions), what I lack in organisation tends to be compensated for by enthusiasm - Rachel calls me 'Affable Matt' when I'm in this mode and always remarks on the contrast to my usual dour defeatism. Giving the owner of Broomstreet Farm his due, he took my 'please can I park at your farm' congeniality in his stride.

From the gate that marked my last turning point and then through sheep fields and down to the woodlands that skirt the immediate coastline.

There was a group of stags on the skyline, I watched them regarding me whilst two of their number idly leant their antlers forward to absently headbut one another. I lost the light beneath the trees after a mile or so and began to question whether I should have stayed in the enclosed spot-that-would-have-done amongst the spruce and Dougies. Grey gateposts capped with wild boar heads emerged into the headtorch beam. There were definite tones of the Whicker Man here. The presence of the surrounding darkness of tree mass drew closer and then, around the corner, a brightly lit lodge house emiting the sounds of soap opera with the door just opening.

She'd come out to tip some cooking fat into the wood and told me that the coast path was not a place to be out on at night.

"It'll be alright," I said hefting my pack and trying to sound like I did this shit all the time. My affability must have let me down on this occasion because she didn't ask me to stop for tea or let me pitch up in her garden. Through the windows I saw many pairs of antlers mounted on the wall and pictures of hounds just about to rag the life out foxes.

"Stay on the path..." it was all getting a bit American Werewolf...

Ended up pitched on the path itself at the one point where the vegetation seemed to clear. I had panoramic views across the Bristol Channel to the level orange strings of lights in Wales and a clear mobile signal through to Rach. The evening meal was international: chille con carne, pilau rice and dutch lager. I am a profoundly simple soul - apart from a softer piece of ground, it takes no more than this to make me feel very complete.

Awoke in a forest of rhododendron and heavy dew. Clear skies.

Through woods with horizontal bands of sunlight and lichen sponges. Washed my face in a waterfall, surrounded by mosses blackened with saturation. Heard a raven's croak and the beat of its wings in the still air on the walk to the lighthouse at Foreland Point.

Lighthouses really were built to last. Granite steps that were barely worn after all this time. The place was deserted, so I took the opportunity to have a good nose round and a look through the windows into the rooms that had been converted by the National Trust into a holiday cottage. They looked a bit spartan, but then maybe that's the thing about lighthouses - the contrast between the romance of the setting and their sheer solidity and functionality.

Travelled through Lynton with its hill railway, past the mountain goats on the way to the valley fo the rocks. The hanging oak woodlands of woody bay and the subsequent coastline were perhaps the most attractive of the whole walk. I hit my furthest point at 3pm and realised that the walk back was going to be a bit of a killer. A pint of shand and some pork scratches were taken on board during refuelling...

On the bridge at Lynton and the hanging oak woods of Woody Bay

The last six or seven miles were done quickly and by head torch with only minor navigational problems caused because I couldn't recall the first 15 mins of the walk. Squelched through a bog for the first time in the whole walk and finally made it back to the car at 22.30.

The drive back home was less of a tiredness duel than I'd expected. Seized up spectacularly the next day.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

On the 3rd Feb 2008 it all changed.

No amount of white-knuckle self-help discussion evenings for prospective twins' parents, or group NCT sessions will ever prepare you for the profound realisation that the cries that you're hearing are coming from your babies.

Sam is on the left and Ben is on the right. Ben is the younger by one minute, Sam being born at ten past ten in the morning.

Identical boys.