2021: a manifesto

2021, are you ready for me?

There’s no ‘new normal’ for me. There’s no ‘going back to how it used to be’. Nope. I’m starting right here, in this moment, with all that is happening, right now. As I promised in my last post, I’m going with a full manifesto.

I’m making some public pledges: To hold myself to account in 2021.

Writing 

After finding myself dabbling more and more with poetry and snippets of creative nonfiction during 2020, I’d like to keep this going. 

I’m going to submit a minimum of one piece of writing to a literary journal every single week during 2021.

I was chuffed as a chuffed thing to find poems of mine in Unpublishable Zine and Neuro Logical. One was even read out on a podcast. Have confidence Kevin, have confidence.

And to achieve the above, I’m going to write one new piece of poetry, flash fiction or other vignette. Every. Single. Week.

Da da daaaaaaa, the novel. Well, what can I say. The idea came to me about 4 years ago. The working title has been there from the start. The two protagonists are very well formed and researched. As is ‘the big thing’ from the past which defines one of them.

Sadly there’s probably only 10,000 words of the first draft written. And, to be honest they’re in danger of being completely rewritten anyway. BUT, the story is always with me, I’m learning more about my characters every day. They talk to me you know!

If I want it badly enough, I’ll write it. My target is 2500 words a week of the first draft. This should comfortably complete the draft by the end of 2021. Do it Kevin, just feckin’ do it.

What about The Blog? This here blog. There are so many ideas I have as I’m driving around delivering. Time to put some of these light bulb moments into action. I feel another pledge coming on:

I’m going to email at least one ‘trail running character’ every 14 days to see if they fancy being featured (more about this later). I’m going to add new content to the blog. Every Single Week. I’m going to review at least one book a month.

I already keep a journal, or note book, with me pretty much all of the time. When inspiration comes, a voice on the radio, a headline, a quip from a colleague, a shade of green, I try and scribble it down. How many flashes of ideas pass us by unnoticed otherwise? My pen and paper act as the keepnet as I fish for the words.

I shall write in my journal. Every. Single. Day. Just thoughts. Observations. Even a note to say nothing of note. Never dismiss a thought – it will end up being used somewhere.

So that’s writing. Why am I going to do all of that? Because I bloomin’ well love writing. I may or may not be any good at it. I’m certainly not going to make any money from it. People either will or won’t read it. But even the odd comment about a piece, telling me that what I’ve written resonates, that really is the chocolate on the log.

Reading

Yup. Going to do lots of this too. I actually have quite a large ‘to read’ pile, but you can never have too many books right? In fact I’ve just placed a sneaky order for a novel with the book token I got given for going the extra mile at work in the build up to Christmas. Nicky and I also have a rather impressively sized book token waiting to be unleashed. This was also a ‘thank you’. Almost like these people know us…..

There’ll be novels, biographies, short stories, AND…..

I’ll read at least one poem every single day. 

I’m going to buy one book a month from an independent publisher, by an author I haven’t read before. And I’m going to read a minimum of 6 books during 2021 which were published at least ten years ago.

It’s would be easy just to lazily follow the new releases and read the most popular books, the best sellers. Nicky and I are already quite proud of the diversity of the tomes we tackle (here’s my list from 2020), but there’s always more out there. It used to be the same with music, listening to John Peel and Tommy Vance back in the day gave me a window into artists beyond Radio One and the top 40. Now, of course there are podcasts (like the excellent A Good Read on Radio 4) and book bloggers (there some brilliant examples, try John Fish’s The Last Word Book Review as a pretty good starter), as well the usual reviews in the mainstream press.

Don’t forget these occasional ramblings about some of the books I’ve read.

I’m going to read rather than ‘phone’. Particularly when I get gaps in my schedule at work, or on breaks. It’s so, so much more rewarding than wasting time scrolling through Facebook. 

There is no target for the amount of books I’m going to read. There are big books, small books, slow burners and page turners. Who knows how many it will be….. Will it be more than in 2020?

Running And Fitness And Health

Here we go then: firstly, I’m making no predictions for any events which I may or may not complete. As I write (New Year’s Eve) the current regulations and guidance would mean no events taking place.

As regular readers will know, I’m writing occasional pieces about some of the characters behind trail running events. Tough times for everybody and particularly hard for these guys and girls to not know when they’ll be hosting again. 

Like most events, the big winter ultra marathon I was hoping to tackle is postponed for a year. This shouldn’t stop me, I bloomin’ love those big trail runs – I am going to continue to prepare for the distance. A route is being planned nearer to home, an attempt to tackle the distance on the day anyway. I am also going to prepare for the 100 mile event I have planned for May. I shall keep training for this assuming it will take place.

There’s very little which will stop Nicky! She is my absolute inspiration.

I’ll never be as organised as Nicky…….. she has every session pencilled in for the next 8 months. Then again, she is attempting something HUGE which involves swimming, cycling and running a very, very long way! She needs to be balancing her training. Whereas I am naturally more chaotic. I will make sure I get my long runs done out there on the trails. Other than that, I’ll run when I feel like it, wherever the the mood takes me. If I’m tired from work, I’ve found there’s no point in forcing myself. I just want to carry on enjoying every step.

In fact, I will pledge to NOT attempt to follow a training plan.

I’ve got my first triathlon, a couple of cycling events and a few running events planned. I shall prepare for them all as if they are going ahead.

My goal for ALL of these events is to do as much as I can to give myself the best chance of completing them. I will not train if I’m over tired from the combination of working, training and any other aspect of life, I will rest if rest is what’s required.

BUT, I will pledge this: I will, every single day, do either some conditioning work, strength exercises, stretches or other body maintenance.

This will hopefully give me the best chance of keeping healthy as my aging body builds towards these challenges.

And so to the aspect of my fitness and health which I neglect rather, my food! I tend to eat healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners and spoil it all by scoffing random bags of donuts or fighting Nicky for the last liquorice allsort. My commitment needs to be one I’m buying into. I need to tell myself every time I shovel a pile of chocolate fingers into my gob that I’m undoing the good work of all the other commitments I’ve made up to now. 

So, I am going to not snack at work. I’m going to only snack during evenings after big (as in 2 hours plus) training days. Puddings will still be the law after roast dinners of course. 

Sleep. Ahhh, the dreaded sleep (or dreaded lack of it!). There was a great piece about sleep recently on the excellent Over The Fells blog. They spoke to ultra-marathon coach and nutritionist, Joe Wenman as well as marathoner Tish Jones and trail running legend, John Kelly. It was reassuring that Kelly’s life is as chaotic as most of the rest of us! Like him, my life will in no way suit me making any pledges for hours of sleep I’m going to get. I’ll just say that I’m going to keep turning in early, hoping for plenty of zzzzz’s!

And Finally

Everybody is living this day. Right here. Right now. There is no right, no wrong and no perfect way to negotiate through this life. I want to continue to respect the fact that, in the best way they can, everybody is (to quote AL Kennedy) “attempting to survive our time”. Hopefully, this respect will be reciprocated and we can all just get on together. Being kind. If not, I have discovered the ‘mute’ function this year, in real life and online, it’s bloody brilliant!

If anyone has got to the end of this, I’ll be mightily impressed. With that sort of grit and resolve, you should definitely be the type of character who will stick to their New Years resolutions.

2021. Bring. It. On.

In Praise Of 2020 #4 My Favourite Reads Of The Year

The more I read, the more I enjoy reading

My clumsy attempt to explain how I feel about books.

With my beautiful lady wife Nicky being such a book fanatic (and her having rejuvenated my own love of both reading and writing) it is hardly surprising that the conversation regularly turns to books.

I’m currently deep into the 750 ish pages of Barak Obama’s A Promised Land. This is my 41st book of the year and I’m quite proud of the diverse range of titles I’ve challenged myself to tackle. Nicky has gone further and currently has the ‘do not disturb’ sign up as she laps up Emma Donoghue’s The Pull Of The Stars, her 52nd book of 2020.

See here for a list of the 40 I’ve read.

BEST FICTION BOOKS I’VE READ THIS YEAR

When it comes to fiction, I’m struggling to look beyond Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize winning Shuggie Bain when choosing my favourite read of the year. Nicky read it earlier in the year and was periodically overwhelmed the power, the lyricism and brutal truth of Shuggie’s upbringing at the hand’s of his damaged mother in an alcohol soaked 80’s Glasgow. I also found myself having to lower the book and take a breather from the emotions the book recalls. Loved it.

There’s some hot competition here, of the fiction I’ve read, there’s probably only one which makes me ‘meh’ as I scan the whole list.

But, I can’t get past how much I enjoyed and was moved by Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole (which I reviewed here). And this would narrowly beat the most beautiful dementia novel I’ve had the heart-breaking pleasure to read, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

BEST NON FICTION BOOKS I’VE READ THIS YEAR

Lemn Sissay’s My Name Is Why is a book that will probably never leave me. A memoir of his growing up in an ever more brutal and cruel care system. Having been born in Wigan to an Ethiopian mother, Sissay went into foster care. The slow deterioration of his placement there, and the subsequent placements, make reading almost unbearably painful at times. Shocking, honest and a labour of love for Sissay – it took him 34 years to get the records of his care from the authorities. What he discovered hidden in these documents was as damaging (and damning) as any of his memories which were already haunting him. Stunning .

I’ve delved more into creative non fiction and memoir this year. Choosing just two more as runners up is tough. The great combination of being characters whose work entertains me, who I greatly admire and who then turn out to be great writers too has led me to Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson (reviewed here) and 26.2 Miles To Happiness by Paul Tonkinson.

It is none of my business where you buy your books from but consider using HIVE which runs a scheme to support a local independent book shop (you get to choose who you support with your purchase). Lots of book shops are doing mail order or click and collect schemes. I used one to get a surprise book package to Nicky during the first lockdown.

Foyles and Waterstones are much more highly regarded in the world of writers and readers than Amazon and so maybe consider them and only use Amazon if you really can’t find the books you want elsewhere. Similarly, the supermarkets are naughtily undercutting the more traditional book retailers by displaying popular titles at a massive discount. Again, none of my business and we’re all in need of a bargain, but this punishes the publisher and the author who are on a small enough percentage of royalties at full price. A bit like with music streaming, any sale is better than no sale I guess. The independent sector is in a fragile state, despite an increase in popularity of reading, small shops and independent publishers are clinging on at the moment.

Anyway, here’s to a 2021 full of good news and great reads.

In Praise of 2020 #3 Maps and Apps

First they tell me my entire record collection is in my telephone, now it seems there are maps inside my watch.

I know I’m old school, but surely there is witchcraft at play here!

Weeks spent exercising close to home, months spent shielding, avoiding contact with everyone, events cancelled, holidays postponed, shocking and anxiety inducing news day after day. We were ready for some adventure.

Charlie joins us for the shorter runs

We are lucky that we get so, so much pleasure from simply being outdoors. Walking the dog, running and once the weather and regulations allowed, swimming and cycling.

One thing we found helped us massively was to have an adventure once a week. On my day off work, we would create a route and drive to somewhere relatively local. After a longish run exploring some new trails we would treat ourselves to a snack of Double Deckers and cold Diet Coke (we take our sports nutrition very seriously!)

A city boy by birth, I am not a natural map reader. It hasn’t been unheard of for us to not actually be where my finger is pointing to on a map! In fact I’ve made a few navigation errors since I’ve been attempting these longer trail ultra marathons. I remember coming up behind some runners I’d already overtaken once in the Gower 50!

Elite athletes’ recovery nutrition

What a boon then, when I upgraded my running watch to one which can tell me which way to go! It felt like an extravagance. But not being into cars, flashy clothes etc, I reckoned I should use the extra pennies I’ve earned this year to invest in something which I would actually use.

And with it we’ve been on so many adventures………….

Nicky said it feels like being on holiday. After weeks of confining herself to very short trips from home, what a joy to go somewhere else and explore.

It’s so simple, even I can create a route!

Here’s how we do it – we find the trails and lanes on the paper map in the comfort of home, then create a route on the app which accompanies the watch, following the trails we’ve found. Then we sent it to the watch. I shit you not!

So Nicky and I get to joyfully skip around the countryside knowing that my watch will vibrate (honestly, I’m not making this up!) to warn me if we’ve gone off route. We’ve been caught out a couple of times: once we ended up wandering across somebody’s lawn. On another occasion, a landowner had build an ugly block wall across the entrance to a right of way!

Mostly, it’s been a succession of joyous adventures washed down with increasingly elaborate post run nutrition. What started as a drink and snack started to become a full on picnic as autumn arrived!

As we make our plans for 2021 (with the obvious caveats), it would be too easy to stop our adventure runs, particularly as Nicky starts to build towards her Ironman triathlon near the end of the summer. The running in most triathlons is on flat and even surfaces and so 15 miles of rocky, muddy and hilly coast path is hardly specific training. BUT, it really is good for the soul and so we will be substituting some of her longer runs with a few trips out into the countryside.

Love is….

I heard a great phrase on my favourite running podcast, Running Commentary as the festive season approached. Rob Deering, when asked about whether he might have new year’s resolutions, said he was going further and more in depth with his plans for 2021. He is creating a manifesto for the year. I really like the idea of this. There is no ‘new normal’, no going back to ‘the way things used to be’, there is only what we have. Right here. Right now. It’s the only place we can live. So I’m thinking about what I’d like to achieve as ‘me’ in 2021 and setting out just how I’m going to go about that.

As I said, everything comes with caveats as the world tries to juggle ways to keep us all safe but keep us all moving too.

But that is all for another day, another blog………

We really are thankful for our health and the health of our loved ones. We are also grateful and aware that we are lucky enough not to have to worry about jobs being safe. With this in mind, we know that we can keep planning to be outside, taking every opportunity to enjoy the wonderful coast and countryside we are blessed with being surrounded by.

In Praise Of 2020 (#2)

A Tale Of Three Hoodies

March 2020 was a month of fear and food. When Sainsbury’s unleashed the 12 pack of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs onto the shelves, how could I refuse as I anxiously did our shopping after work. Everybody was fighting their own battles, shielding their loved ones, trying to understand the world as it shifted on its axis around us. And for some of us, Creme Eggs were a coping mechanism.

But we needed better, longer term and let’s face it, healthier ways to survive our times. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was after hoodies!

Oh, and challenges.

In stepped many of our favourite event and race organisers with ways of challenging us ‘virtually’ in our running. Huge races got involved, including the Great North Run and London Marathon. Even better though, local, less high profile companies were finding ways to keep our running mojo up.

I threw my hat in the ring of Cornish race organisers, Bys Vyken, as they created the wonderfully titled Dark Clyde Of The Moon virtual 100 or 50 mile challenge. It worked! I gave myself 14 days to complete the 100 miles. There was no time limit (you can still enter in fact) but I decided to really go for it. At that time I was more comfortable away from the more popular trails and sea fronts and found myself running quite obscure, and very hilly routes.

My goals are still to accomplish epic distances on the type of demanding terrain Bys Vyken are so renowned for. So hills are where I need to train,

Nicky completing the Cousin Jack, a Bys Vyken event, almost the last pre-lockdown race.

Hoody #1

Rather proud of this magnificent medal

Bys Vyken must have been reading my mind because the next virtual challenge on offer was The Goat. The task: to run the equivalent elevation gain as the highest 40 hills in Cornwall in a fixed time frame. Bloody made for me that challenge. As ever, my beautiful lady wife took up the challenge too and we’re both now proud members of the goat academy! Not only that, there was a rather lovely hoody as a souvenir.

With our love of Cornwall, being lucky enough to call Dave and Sally from Bys Vyken friends and the epic medal and hoody this challenge was a perfect distraction from the world around us.

Hoody #2

The last ten years have seen a deluge of running communities appear on the internet. Ways of recording our exercise and training transformed by the devices we wear and the apps we use. I was lucky when I started running back in 2007, I almost immediately stumbled upon the lovely running community Fetcheveryone.Com There I found a place to keep a track of my running of course, but also forums of fellow ‘newbies’, a directory of events taking place, blogs and inspirational stories and just the best bunch of people.

Me and my brother, both long standing ‘Fetchies’
I have spent much of 2020 following this advice!

Jump forward 13 years and despite all of the competition out there, Fetch goes from strength to strength. As many of us have found this year, the ‘performance’ based analysis and competitive nature of more bullish sites hasn’t really sat comfortably with our mental health. Founder, Ian Williams, has kept Fetch as almost a cottage industry. There is no charge for any feature and never will be. Fetch survives on its advertising income and the goodwill of those of us happy to make a monthly donation. Whilst it feels like sharing your running life with a couple of mates, there are actually 100,000+ users and 2020 has seen many come and join us.

And, of course, I’ve recently acquired a much needed Fetcheveryone hoody.

Visit Fetch for the best people, great running data stats, a comprehensive event guide, blogs, games, forums, podcasts……

Hoody #3

Here in the South West of England we are blessed with thousands of miles of paths, lanes and trails, plus every sort of terrain when it comes to choosing which gorgeous routes to run on. Any regular readers of the blog will know that I am at my happiest when running out in the open air, particularly on the coast path.

Well, a very old friend, Jamie (back in the day we both managed public houses in Totnes) was almost born on the trails of South Devon. Jamie decided a few years ago to combine his passion for trail running with his natural gregarious and philanthropic nature and create an online space for us all to share these wonderful trails.

Trail Running South West founder, Jamie Bullock
Every day the group page is filled with lovely images from the South West’s trails

And so Trail Running South West was born. A Facebook community which has grown to over 4000 members in nearly 4 years. Jamie is not just a keen runner, he is often found volunteering at trail events hosted in the region and even hosts the quirky, always sold out Stoke Gabriel Carnival 10k (I’ve volunteered at the event a couple of times – I even wrote all about it here)

The TRSW Facebook group is a great place to share in others’ runs as the feed is flooded with amazing photographs from around the peninsular.

Local organisers keep us up to speed with upcoming events and gatherings using the page too.

Bumping into Jamie at aid stations is a regular occurrence when running events.

As the group grows, Jamie is adding more ways of engaging and sharing the community he has created. Obviously, for me, the best of these is the introduction of some Trail Running South West merchandise, not least, the rather toasty hoody!!

Visit the Facebook group for the great merchandise but also to find out where to run and what events are (hopefully) planned around the South West.

And rest assured I’m going to be toasty this winter!

In Praise Of 2020 (#1)

Making The Grade

“I’m looking for a new hobby, a different challenge. Something I can pick up and put down and don’t necessarily have to go anywhere for.”

Nicky eventual settled on the piano. On the face of it not an obvious choice. Claiming a musical knowledge that sat somewhere between none and next-to-nothing. Then again nor was open water swimming an obvious choice when it was first mooted. Seeing as my amazing (and quite beautiful) lady wife has since twice swam the River Dart 10k, the Bantham Swoosh, the Great North Swim, completed two half iron distance triathlons (as well as the swim in a full Ironman before the bike was cancelled in a storm) and also Swim The Bay (2.5 miles in Weymouth).

At the start of the swimming challenge Nicky couldn’t swim a length of the pool. She used to get sea sick after a short time in the water. Seeing as she is now pretty much a mermaid, there was no reason to doubt she’d master the piano despite not knowing a middle C from a packet of crisps.

After a slow start and a tutor which didn’t quite work out, Nicky found Liz. Liz is a quiet, patient, friendly, considerate and talented teacher and has been just perfect for Nicky. We tend to wear our hobbies in our every day life – bikes hanging on the wall, trainers drying in the porch, kit everywhere, so we had no trouble in convincing ourselves we had room for a piano.

It was all going so well. Nicky would drive to her lessons once a week and come home to practice, practice, practice.

And then 2020 happened.

Face to face lessons were off. Piano gradings were off.

In stepped the internet.

By the witchcraft of mobile phone technology (I’m told they also contain maps, records, newspapers and if you ask nicely, they will tell you everything!), the lessons continued throughout the early spring and summer. Nicky’s phone stood at the end of the keyboard, Liz’s doing the same at her house. Progress was good.

The examining board have also embraced modern technology, Nicky was able to enter a performance grading by way of video.

The recording of the video needed to be continuous, with Nicky playing her four pieces back to back. Out came the little adventure camera normally reserved for running and swimming. We found that having the camera set up on a step ladder, looking over Nicky’s shoulder gave a view of the whole keyboard plus the pedals.

Time for much hilarity, interruptions from the dog, a couple of minor tantrums and a ‘few’ takes! Eventually settling on as recording which she felt most pleased with I then spent two whole evenings trying to figure out how to upload to the exam board’s site.

Perseverance paid off as eventually the status on Nicky’s account changed to ‘pending’.

And ‘pending’ is how it stayed. For one day, two, three, four, more…….

Until….

PASSED!!

I couldn’t be more proud, Nicky takes a challenge and just goes for it. We’ve both realised that the most important part of challenging yourself is knowing why and then we’ll be geared up to work out how. And with the intervention of technology to back up the amazing work that Liz and Nicky have both done, she has realised her goal. Obviously that is just the start of Nicky’s piano journey….

Next project is Christmas Carols!!

Whilst shepherds watch their flock by night……..