Into the fourth day of my charity challenge “lose a stone” diet, I was thrilled, albeit surprised to step on the scales this morning six pounds lighter than at the start of the week. I don’t actually feel any thinner, but if I can keep going on what is a fairly extreme regime for a few days longer, I will hopefully feel... and maybe even start to see a difference.
The chosen diet definitely comes under the heading of “fad”, and is not something I’m intending to do for (much) more than a week. It’s called the “five bites” diet, and I reckon if you were forced to have a guess, you’d get pretty close to what it entails.
Essentially the rules are drink as much water, or sugar-free drinks as you want; you can’t have any breakfast, but whilst you can eat any food (especially protein) you want for dinner and tea, you can only have five bites per meal. Obviously, this is a major blow to someone with such a seemingly delicately-sized mouth, but in just three days, I’ve learned just how much I can actually shovel in – and it’s significantly more than I thought!
We’ll see how things look on Monday before deciding how to maintain the weight loss and work more steadily towards my target weight of 14st 7lbs. When I reach my goal, not only will I feel a bit healthier, but I will also be ready to attempt yet another challenge; that of appearing topless on my friend Louise Gallagher’s Facebook page.
There seem to be plenty of photos floating around of toned, bronzed, fit young men... Well let’s see how many “likes” the absolute opposite can get!
It’s interesting to note (actually it’s not, but bear with me) that today’s weighty blog coincides with the anniversary of an attempt to overthrow the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelos in Constantinople in 1201 – give or take a year.
The man who attempted the coup was John Komnenos, who was rather cruelly nicknamed “the Fat”. John and his conspirators took control of the Hagia Sophia Church, in which John was “crowned”, before taking partial control of the Great Palace. As his supporters looted the palace, John took his place on the imperial throne... which promptly collapsed under his weight!
Not such a cruel nickname then...
Meanwhile, Alexios was actually reasonably safe in another palace in another part of the city. As darkness fell, his troops took advantage of the fact that most of the conspirators had retired for the night; they sailed round the peninsular, entered the Great Palace and quickly apprehended John the Fat.
Within minutes, he was John the Dead, as loyal guards cut off his head, before putting it on display the following morning.
Now Richard the Portly readily accepts that the five bites diet is not the most sensible method of rapid weight loss ever invented, but surely it’s preferable to John’s slightly more extreme – albeit permanent - way of losing a few pounds...
Although I can see the number of visitors to this web site (already more than 11,000 in July), I never know how much time people have spent reading through the blogs, or looking at the other pages; so if what follows is “old ground”, I apologise.
As some (hopefully many) of you will know, I am devoting 2014 to raising awareness of mental health, and fundraising for the charity Mind, by undertaking a series of forty challenges. It’s not strictly a bucket list, although some of the tasks have certainly been ambitions fulfilled. Others were always going to prove very difficult personal challenges, whether that be mentally or physically (or both), and if I’d known just how scared I’d be on a rollercoaster then trust me it would have been rapidly replaced with something far more pleasant.
I’ve now completed 28 of the 40 tasks... which is good, but there’s still some way to go, and I will readily admit that I’ve struggled with some of the physical activities. To be told seven years ago to give up sports that I loved and had played since childhood because of a degenerative hip condition was a hard pill to swallow – likewise each of the numerous painkillers I’ve subsequently taken...
I was never the fittest, nor the fastest, but I tried to be the best I could be, whether that be on the cricket field, the badminton court, or simply when I was out running/jogging/plodding (delete as appropriate), and it was a real blow to lose all that in the time it took the consultant to deliver one sentence.
What makes it worse is that in my head I’m still that teenager who could and would spend hours enjoying playing or simply trying my hand at all the sports that were on offer – except gymnastics... God I hated gymnastics. But the fact is that my body now betrays me and it’s often a struggle walking down a flight of stairs, so more intense exercise is absolutely guaranteed to hurt.
But in many ways, that’s the point. If all the challenges were “easy”, then why do them? Running two miles might be the simplest thing in the world to some, but when it’s painful to run at all, then two miles seems a bloody long way; and it only makes it worse when you can still remember what it was like to train for, and complete, several half marathons, the last of which was only nine years ago.
Such is the passage of time I guess – but I’m not complaining. In fact, if anyone was to offer me a pain-free body at fifty, in return for never having played cricket etc, then I’d refuse on the spot because my life was made so much better because of the people I met and the experiences I enjoyed.
I just want(ed) to try and make a difference, however small, by setting myself these goals. I realise there are plenty of genuinely special people out there doing truly amazing things to support deserving causes right around the globe: I’m not special at all, but I’m still proud of what I’ve managed to achieve – and equally proud of not giving up.
That said, I couldn’t have done any of this without Elaine’s love and unfailing support, and the fantastic help I’ve had from so many wonderful people (from inspiring Olympians and international sportsmen and women, via Boris the Golden Eagle, to a Doctor Who companion and a school friend I hadn’t seen for over thirty years). I really can’t thank them enough – and the same goes for everyone who has donated...
I had an e-mail from Mind last week. Here is a short extract: “It sounds like it’s been an incredible experience so far, and your total is fantastic, it will make a real difference, as will all the brilliant exposure that you will be bringing Mind with your activities, we’re truly grateful. It’s incredible you’ve kept going through an uncertain time too, so thank you again.”
The “uncertain time” relates to the closure of our department in January. I have been lucky enough to secure ongoing employment, but it certainly has been – and is – a difficult time for a lot of people, but the charity challenge has undoubtedly given me some focus (and energy too), and it was a real boost to receive that message.
Underpinning everything is the issue of mental health. Through my blog, I have shared some of my experiences of anxiety and past depression, and my innermost thoughts and feelings: not because I want anybody’s sympathy; because I absolutely don’t. Yes I have difficult moments... difficult days... but I’m pretty strong most of the time, and I honestly believe that being open about the often debilitating effects of an unseen illness is a positive thing to do.
I realise that talking about such personal issues in a public forum is not for everybody, but even though there are times when I don’t like the person I am; I’m not ashamed. I just want to be the best husband, father, son, friend etc that I can to those I love and care for. I don’t get it right all the time (looking back, that’s definitely an understatement), but that doesn’t mean I have to stop trying. Equally I will endeavour to complete all my challenges (including dieting to lose a stone in weight, recording a song, and playing goal shooter in a netball team), to prove something to myself, and to know that I tried to make even the smallest difference - because I remember just how it feels to have someone make that difference to me.
All being well the next blog will be come under the general heading of “light-hearted”, but if you’ve read this from start to finish (and stayed awake throughout)... then thank you.
Yesterday was very much a Commonwealth Games day, but despite there being plenty of action in the pool and velodrome, as well as the start of the track and field competition, I chose to watch a couple of team sports that may not be as high profile as some of the more “mainstream” events, but are no less compelling.
First of all though, it would be remiss not to mention the wonderful performance of the thirteen year-old Shetland Islander Erraid Davies, who finished third in the 100m breaststroke (SB9 category). Apparently her schoolmates didn’t even know she was competing, but the teenager produced a personal best swim to win the bronze medal – along with cake and Irn Bru to celebrate!
A brilliant achievement!
Anyway, back to my day in front of the television (although I would stress it wasn’t a full day... I did 20km on the exercise bike during the afternoon – mainly out of guilt) and a fairly early start to watch the fantastic Jamaican netball team outclass the host nation. I had recently seen an excellent BBC feature on the Jamaican squad – who are known as The Sunshine Girls – and with my charity challenge goal shooter debut hopefully not too far away, I am officially supporting the Jamaican girls, and picking up as many hints and tips as I can along the way.
I must admit that even when I was at the peak of my athletic powers (roughly around the age of eight!), I could only have marvelled at the speed of thought and movement, as well as the sublime skills on show in top-level netball; and any attempt to replicate what I’ve seen will be done in slow motion, with many a painful wince along the way.
The shooters I have watched (Romelda Aiken in particular) make scoring look ridiculously easy at times, but I reckon when it’s my turn to have a go, the hoop will surely get smaller and higher as soon as I take aim.
At 5 o’clock, it was the turn of the England girls to take on South Africa. It was a crucial encounter and the first two quarters were both close and far more physical than you’d expect from a “non-contact” sport. The netball court is certainly no place for a Premier League footballer, that’s for sure.
England dominated the third quarter, and built a lead that they held relatively comfortably during the final fifteen minutes. There were quite a few errors, hardly surprising given the tension that comes from such an important game, but it was a gripping contest nonetheless.
In between the netball, it was the turn of England’s women hockey squad to take on Malaysia. The tournament gives Kate-Richardson-Walsh’s side the ideal opportunity to put a disappointing World Cup campaign behind them, and they duly won their second pool game by a comfortable 5-0 margin. Their opponents seemed defensively well-organised, but showed no real attacking flair, and the final scoreline reflected not only England’s dominance, but also a fine performance from the Malaysian goalkeeper.
Once again, you could not fail to be impressed by the skills and incredible fitness levels on show. I know it’s not always fair to single out individuals, but in my opinion the respective “women of the match” were Geva Mentor (netball goal keeper) and Alex Danson (a hockey forward, who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet). They must surely be two of the most exceptional athletes currently playing any team sport (male or female) for England, but I wonder how many of you would actually have been able to put names to these faces?
It’s great that the BBC is streaming sports like netball and hockey to the public at large. They might not get a great deal of primetime coverage on BBC1 or BBC3, but right now they are only one press of the red button away – not really that much of an effort to see some outstanding athletes and top quality sporting action is it?
Towards the end of 1992, I decided that I really wanted to have a go at the Great North Run. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t a long distance runner (or a short distance come to think of it), and the prospect of completing 13.1 miles was daunting to say the least.
I can clearly remember my first “training” run, when I managed about four hundred yards before my chest started burning, and I started to wheeze like an octogenarian smoker. It was embarrassing; even the blue-rinsers dashing for the bingo could comfortably outpace me.
But I persevered. I got fitter and stronger, and come the day I completed the 1993 Great North Run in 2 hours 23 minutes. Not earth-shattering – in fact I nearly got lapped by some Kenyan bloke (an impressive feat given the course simply runs from Newcastle to South Shields) – but something I was proud to have worked for and achieved.
I went on to complete another four half marathons; the last in 2005. By this time, running wasn’t just difficult, it was bloody painful, and a couple of years later I was diagnosed with FAI (you can look up the full name), a condition that involves badly worn and misaligned hip joints.
Which therefore explains my QE2 turning circle in the cricket outfield!
I was instructed to stop playing cricket (some would say I never actually started), badminton as well as running, as basically my hips were deteriorating to the extent that I’d need both replacing within a couple of years if I carried on. Not surprisingly I did as I was told, although it was incredibly tough realising that I would never again be smashed out of a cricket ground, stand by and watch a shuttlecock whizzing past my racket, or have a foot race with the Bingo brigade again.
I know I am only delaying the inevitable, but nearly seven years on, my hips are relatively stable, although I do get a fair amount of pain referred through my knees (especially – and bizarrely – when going downstairs).
So it was with some trepidation that I stepped out onto the running track at Gateshead International Stadium yesterday afternoon. We have an exercise bike that I use reasonably regularly, but I’d not tried to run any kind of distance in a long, long time; so much as two miles doesn’t sound very far, I knew that every step could be the one when one (or more) joint gave out and the challenge would be over.
I did some stretches, walked half a lap and jogged a few yards to see if the old magic was still there.
For about three hundred yards!!
In fairness, my legs and hips lasted better than I expected; it was very much shades of ’92 and the breathlessness that comes from being totally unfit. It was baking hot too, which didn’t help, but I made sure I was sensible, drinking and pouring water over my head at regular intervals.
The last time I’d run on this track, I was training for the 2005 run – and did twenty laps in 42 minutes. I’ve heard it said that the Stadium is a “fast track” – well that certainly doesn’t apply to the lane I was in! I deliberately didn’t time yesterday’s effort, but those eight laps felt like they took every bit as long! There were no adoring crowds to cheer me across the finishing line, but equally there were no shouts of: “Just shove him out of the way Beryl; the number 24’s coming and it’s ‘eyes down’ in twenty minutes”.
This may not have looked much of a challenge on paper - trust me it was. But I did it, and that’s all that matters. Twenty-eight down; twelve to go – I’m aching, but chuffed!
It’s been ages since I did an “on this day in history” blog, but I’m writing that wrong with a little tale from July 23rd 1943.
Archibald Brown lived in Rayleigh, a small market town in Essex. A serious motorcycle accident (when he was just 24) had left him permanently paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, but even though he was dependent on his family (wife Doris and elder son, 19 year-old Eric) and three full-time nurses, Brown was a bitter and violent bully.
With the Second World War underway, Eric had been conscripted, but in view of his father’s situation, the young soldier was given regular leave and posted to barracks situated relatively close to the family home.
During one period of leave, in July 1943, Private Brown spent a number of days witnessing first hand the consistently appalling treatment handed down to his mother by his wheelchair-bound father: Eric himself was regularly taunted and provoked.
As part of Archibald Brown’s routine, one of the nurses would take him out and wheel him round the town. The chair itself was usually kept in the family’s air raid shelter. The shelter was usually left open, but on 23rd July, Nurse Mitchell went to fetch the chair, but found the shelter door to be locked. Several minutes later, a nervous-looking Eric emerged and brought out the chair. Archibald was helped into the chair and he and Nurse Mitchell headed off into town.
There seemed to be nothing untoward; just a normal daily outing. But that changed when Archibald shuffled in his seat to try and find his cigarettes.
A huge explosion blasted both the chair and Archibald Brown to smithereens. Pieces of chair were found hanging in trees and scattered around the nearby area (the remnants are pictured here). Brown’s body was dispersed even further afield; his right foot (still inside its shoe) was found in the garden of a house over a quarter of a mile from the blast.
Miraculously Nurse Mitchell sustained only minor injuries.
Initially, police suspected the incident may have been the result of an anti-personnel mine dropped by the Germans, but once this was ruled out, a murder investigation was soon underway.
The device that caused the explosion was found to be a Hawkins Mine, measuring roughly nine by seven inches, containing one and a half pounds of explosive that was often used as an anti-tank weapon and was detonated by pressure. The pressure plate had been altered so that the weight of a man, as opposed to a tank would be enough to set-off the mine.
Investigations uncovered that Eric Brown had attended a lecture on this particular mine just three months earlier, and an inventory of the local barracks armoury revealed that there should have been 175 Hawkins Mines...
There were 174.
The lecture, the missing mine from Eric’s barracks and the circumstances of his appearance from the locked shelter combined to give police enough evidence to arrest Eric and charge him with murder.
The youngster confessed and readily provided police with the explanations as to how and why. He stood trial for murder in the November, with the defendant pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial only lasted a few days, and the jury took less than an hour to return their verdict: guilty, but insane. The acceptance of the insanity plea ensured that Eric Brown could not be given the death penalty, but although he avoided the hangman’s noose, Eric was detained indefinitely in a psychiatric hospital.
Brown “indefinitely” lasted over three decades, before he was eventually released in 1975, over three decades after his father’s death. As for what became of the man who blew up his father, nobody knows; he disappeared into total anonymity, meaning that today’s most interesting of stories ends here...
Last night Elaine and I went along to Manjaros restaurant in Middlesbrough to join members of the local Muslim community, along with fellow non-Muslims in celebrating Iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast.
In my previous blog, I mentioned that out of respect I would observe the fast, which runs from dawn to sunset, and speak about my experiences to those gathered together on the night.
My first mistake was waking up at 5am to find the sun was already shining and it was therefore too late to drink copious amounts of water, and stuff my face with pretty much anything I could lay my hands on. Bit of a schoolboy error, as I would basically have to now go twenty-four hours without food. The Ramadan fast extends to drinking as well, although there are a few exceptions; one of which being travelling. As I had to drive the hundred mile round trip to Newcastle, I did allow myself a couple of gulps of water on the way home, to ensure that if my body suffered any adverse reaction, it wouldn’t be whilst I was doing 70mph down the A19.
Those two gulps aside, I essentially went a full day without food or drink. There were some difficult moments – about twenty-three and a half out of the twenty four hours really. Actually, after about two o’clock, I was fine. The lunch period was definitely the worst time, as my colleagues devoured their various meals and snacks. It was more the smell of the food than watching them eat... but I watched them nonetheless.
Once I got home, and the clock ticked past five... six... seven o’clock, I knew I was going to complete the fast – and in a way I was quite proud of myself. There’s no comparison with those who can do this for a month at a time – I don’t think I could do that (I love cake too much) – but given that my body is not conditioned to going without food, and I missed the opportunity of an early morning binge, I thought I’d done okay...
In a feeble attempt at comedy, I did message my friends Imran and Zak to ask if the sun going behind a cloud counted as “sunset”. Apparently not... and with my last chance for a sneaky square of chocolate gone, Elaine and I duly headed into Middlesbrough.
Inside the restaurant, we caught up with some old friends, and had a chance to natter with a number of people we hadn’t met before, as well as listening to a few members of the Muslim community talk about the meaning of Ramadan and the effects (and apparent benefits) of fasting. A couple of non-Muslims who had observed the fast then chatted about their experiences, and every speaker had something interesting to say... until it was my turn.
One day I’ll learn that if you’re going to stand up with a microphone, it’s best to have some idea about what you’re going to say.
Never mind, I just tried to highlight how much I had enjoyed meeting, talking to, and getting to know people like Imran and Zak, and what was particularly important to me was how they completely respected the fact that we are from different cultural backgrounds, and have different beliefs. Did I initially have misconceptions? Yes I probably did. Not necessarily from accepting the media stereotype, but simply from my own ignorance.
The one way to put that right was simply to spend time with Imran and Zak, be honest about my beliefs, and ask questions; and I soon realised that in amongst the obvious differences were plenty of similarities and shared opinions. The end result? I respect them as men, admire their strength and determination (which must be sorely tested and challenged at times by events elsewhere), and value their friendship.
I then mentioned the person on whom I had reflected during the day. My great great grandmother Jane, who gave birth to her son (my great grandfather) in a workhouse and worked her fingers to the bone making matchboxes simply to survive. How she found the strength to keep going in such poverty I cannot possibly imagine, but the simple fact remains that I am only here because she did...
In her lifetime, Jane may have been the lowest of the low in terms of social class. To me she is an inspiration.
The time came to break the fast. Don’t be fooled... they looked like chocolates, but they were dates. Superfood maybe... chocolate sadly not. The Muslim brothers and sisters were called to prayer, as I sat back and let the ice cold water trickle down my throat, after quickly realising that I’m not actually all that keen on dates.
There was plenty of opportunity to get to know the guests on our table; they were all excellent company. In fact the whole night was fantastic, so through this blog, can I (on behalf of both Elaine and I) thank everyone involved with IDC North East? I consider it a privilege to have been invited, and I’m glad I “took part” by fasting and talking (or at least attempting to talk) about my day.
Oh and just for the record, I was awake before sunrise this morning! Typical...
Apparently, the Arabic word Iftar translates as “breakfast”—not the cereal and toast to set you up for the day—but literally the meal eaten by people of the Muslim faith to break their fast at sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.
Despite being non-Muslims, Elaine and I have been invited by friends within the local Islamic community to attend Monday’s Iftar at a restaurant in Middlesbrough, and (for one day only) I have agreed to follow the fast that is obligatory for all adult Muslims.
The fast is followed from dawn to sunset, and is more than simply not eating. The drinking of any liquid is not acceptable, nor is smoking. Those observing Ramadan will also refrain from sexual activity, and may even stop swearing and avoid arguments during these periods.
Obviously this has now put paid to the tirade of expletives I would have hurled at Elaine after she turned down my intended plan of spending an extra hour in bed, and grabbing a crafty Woodbine after a hearty full English on Monday morning...
There are some exceptions to the requirement to fast, essentially medical, although travel may also permit relaxation of the rules. I have to be honest and say that whilst I should be fine not eating, I will definitely struggle without any fluid, especially as I will have my customary one hundred mile commute. I am taking this seriously, and will try my best, but if I start to feel dizzy at the wheel, I might have to play the travel card.
I am incredibly grateful to Imran for the invitation to join him and other members of the Muslim community on Monday evening. I have said before that I do not class myself as religious, but as far as I’m concerned, you do not have to be any particular creed or colour to be a good person—and I have genuine respect for Imran, Zak and those others I have met whose lives are enriched by their faith.
It is that respect, along with the friendship that has subsequently grown, that makes me happy to take the chance to improve my understanding of the community (and world) I live in, and I will definitely also take some time for quiet reflection on Monday... although I reckon my contemplation could well be interrupted by the mental image of an ice-cold can of Coca-Cola!
I will write about my experience on Tuesday... for now there’s a massive bar of chocolate in the cupboard that’s got my name on it.
It’s quite some time (probably a couple of years) since I attempted to review a new album. At the time, I’m sure I would have mentioned something about not being an expert in music critique—and this blog must come with the same caveat.
At the moment, two bands are dominating my daily treks up and down the A19: Epic Problem and Sugar Stems. The former is the last band I went to see; top blokes and a distinctive sound that deserves to be heard... very loud... especially at 5:30am in the middle of a built-up area!!
But today’s blog is about Sugar Stems, and their third studio album Only Come Out at Night, which is due for release next week. Sadly, my chances of seeing this band live are fairly remote, as they hail from Milwaukee in Wisconsin (yep... like The Fonz). They start their west coast tour today, but unfortunately their definition of “west coast” incorporates Washington, Oregon and California, whereas mine would have included Blackpool or, closer still, Whitehaven.
Anyway, the band comprises Betsy Heibler (guitars and lead vocals), Drew Fredrichsen (guitars and vocals), Steph Swinney-Conard (bass) and Jon Heibler on drums—four very talented musicians and, just in case you’re wondering, Jon and Betsy are husband and wife.
In the normal course of events, I probably would never have come across Sugar Stems, but their name appeared during a Spotify related artist (of related artist etc) search. I clicked to listen to a couple of tracks from their album Can’t Wait—and I was hooked.
One thing that really annoys me about music as a whole is the constant need to pigeonhole a band into a certain genre, using more and more ridiculous labels. One of my all-time favourite tracks is My Empty Head by The Flatmates, an excellent “indie” band from the 80s, whose success certainly did not match their ability. Anyway, I once read a review that described this particular song as “proto-grunge”.
What the hell is “proto-grunge”? Can music really be classified as a prototype of a genre that, in theory, didn’t even exist (at least by name) at the time. Ah the benefit of hindsight...
So I’m going to neatly sidestep words like “power-pop” and, worse still, “bubblegum”, and tell you that Sugar Stems play a brand of music that is catchy, uplifting and, occasionally, genuinely moving. Betsy has a distinctive, clear voice (slight similarities to Beth Cosentino from Best Coast—if I was going to compare... which I’m not), and the male/female harmonies with Drew provide some of this new album’s high points.
I’m not sure if the streamed song order matches the album; if it does then Baby Teeth is an excellent opener. The title track and songs like (the brilliant) The One, and Tell the Truth epitomise what is great about Sugar Stems, but the album also includes the rock ‘n’ roll influenced Haunted, which gives Drew three minutes in charge of the microphone.
However the big surprise comes right at the end, with the ballad Million Miles. There is some backing, but this is essentially Betsy’s voice and an acoustic guitar, and the result is simply stunning. The first time I heard the song, I just stopped what I was doing and stared ahead, until I felt a tear trickling down my face. I wouldn’t presume to guess what influenced Million Miles, but impact is arguably more about how a song connects with, and affects the listener, and if you can create that kind of emotion with a voice and a guitar, then you’re pretty special.
If you think I’m going to succumb to the age old cliché of awarding a mark out of ten... then you’d be absolutely right. Sugar Stems know the formula for producing feelgood tunes; this record proves that several times over, but there are also some departures from the tried and trusted. Whether or not they all work is something you can decide by following the link and having a listen, but in amongst the toe-tapping riffs and hooks (The One being my favourite) is an absolute gem in Million Miles. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
Only Come Out at Night - 8½/10
Here is the final blog of our two-week holiday. It’s been great to be off work, and I think it’s safe to say that neither of us are exactly thrilled at the prospect of going back tomorrow; but as no major (in fact none full stop) lottery prizes have come our way, I don’t suppose we have a great deal of choice.
I’ve completed four challenges this past week. The final two were getting my head shaved, and climbing Roseberry Topping.
Our friend Dawn, who cuts hair for a living, agreed to shave my head—and in doing so, became the first person to cut (which includes “remove”) my hair since 1997. Seventeen years using one £35 pair of clippers... the equivalent of £2 a year for all my coiffeuring needs...
Some might say even that’s a tad too much.
Freshly shorn, I set off for Roseberry Topping on Friday. The North Face... I don’t mess about.
I did make it to the top, but I’ll readily admit it was steeper and tougher than I expected—and on the basis that discretion etc, I took a couple of breathers (but still pretended to look as if I was just taking in the view when someone passed). The truth was I was taking in oxygen by the lungful, but eventually I made it.
And I made it back down again. Quicker.
This morning, Elaine and I went to Gateshead to watch my younger daughter Rebecca take part in the Great North 10K. The weather was miserable, perfect for running, and Becca completed the course in an hour—an impressive effort given the lack of athletic genes available for her to inherit. For the record Becca finished 2,084th; 616th if you just count the female runners—and 1st if you ignore everyone that ran faster than her.
But the final word on a lovely fortnight must go to my darling wife Elaine. Earlier this afternoon, she was watching one of these crappy reality programmes when someone used the phrase “shabby chic”. I asked if she could explain the phrase...
And apparently, it’s “something that’s made to look older than it actually is... like my drawers...”
So now you know!
Blog number two for today, is to reveal that I have completed a second challenge this sunny Monday; that of getting a tattoo.
Before I start, I just want to say that the reason I added the tattoo to my list was to demonstrate how seriously I am taking the whole 40Fifty Challenge, and the importance I place in the work of the mental health charity, Mind.
Many of the tasks I’ve set myself are a sort of “moment in time”, a meeting or an event that passes with a photographic record for posterity, but this is totally different. This is permanent. And an area of my body now bears a tattoo that will be a constant reminder both of this whole adventure (if that’s the right word... I wasn’t going to say “journey”) and also of the person who has changed my life.
Ste Carne, who owns Brothers In-Ink on the High Street in Normanby, was kind enough to agree to carry out the work. Even more generous was his request to donate the cost of the tattoo to my fundraising page. A fantastic gesture, for which I am extremely grateful.
Strangely, as someone for whom a rollercoaster ride proved genuinely terrifying, I wasn’t nervous at all about visiting Ste’s studio. A small design had been prepared, and was duly transferred onto the top of my back, just under my right shoulder, after my manly hairs had been removed.
I chose that side because I’m left-handed and just in case something went badly wrong and my right arm fell off...
Ste chatted through everything, and made sure I was totally comfortable before getting underway. I was expecting it to hurt a bit, and although I could obviously feel the needle, it certainly wasn’t painful. Obviously having worked for the Blood Service for so many years, and having given nearly thirty pints of blood, I was well aware of the effect that a needle can have on some people. Ste had one or two tales to tell... let’s just say I am officially a very brave boy!!!
After the outline was completed, there was a change of needle to fill in the design, and then back to the first needle to finish off. And that was it. Probably no more than twenty minutes.
So what did I get done?
Mine and my darling wife Elaine’s initials in old English lettering. I know I should have put Elaine’s initial first, but then it would have looked like I’d got a tattoo commemorating the Queen!
Everyone at the studio was really friendly, and even if I had been nervous, they would have soon put me at ease. As a tattoo virgin, I’m glad that I chose to walk through Brothers In-Ink’s door because from start to finish I couldn’t have been treated any better.
For more details about Brothers In-Ink and their work, here is a link to their Facebook page...
And here is the link to my Justgiving page, which now includes Ste’s incredibly kind donation. I reckon I’ve gone the proverbial “extra mile” to prove how important this charity challenge is to me, and I hope that one or two of you may be willing to consider supporting me towards my target of £1,000. Massive thanks to Ste... thanks for reading the blog... I have to go now... tattoo to wash, cream to apply and all that!