Thursday, 30 December 2010

Some highlights of this Christmas

Christmas 2010

Some of the highlights....

It snowed.  A lot.  I have now totally blown any weather forecasting credibility with B & H.  Whenever we hear on the weather forecast that we're going to expect snow, I always say "it'll never come to anything, it never does these days".  For the second year running, I've been totally wrong......

Becky giving me that precious gift which she made herself at school

Hannah being Hannah!

That silly game of cards when the McRoys came 'round
So lovely and snowy

A delighted Hannah

Becky with her artist's model

    Wednesday, 29 December 2010

    Christmas 2010

    Christmas just wouldn't be right without a candle-lit carol service, once again very moving indeed.  This year's lump-in-the-throat was a rendition of Silent Night.  I couldn't help but be reminded of those stories about soldiers in the First World War singing Silent Night, playing football with the Germans during that brief time when men could just, for a brief time, rise above the evils of the World and accept each other.

    We're reminded how Christ came into the world, not as a King in a palace but as a Saviour in a manger. What does Jesus make of all the cards, presents and so on at this time of year?  Probably not much, so let us think of him as a family and look towards Easter to make sense of it all once again.

    Our Christmas, once again this year, hasn't gone exactly to plan with us not all being able to be with each other.  Nevertheless all is (mostly) well with the wider family. One of the real bonuses is that we can all take a good rest, for each one of us there is the real need to do that.  For B & H the autumn term always seems long and this was again the same, though I wonder, if they've been more aware this year of how long its been.  It seems so long ago - early September - still summer time really when they started back in their summer dresses and now here we are in the middle of the winter.  Each one of us has just kept going and now we have all mentally stopped and flopped.  The opportunity for us to recharge our batteries is important.  For me, mentally recharging those batteries is important and even now I still have things on my mind from work.  No great worries, just wondering how I will solve this or that issue.

    Here we are with Grandma, just starting the Christmas afternoon frenzy of opening presents.  Rachel always tries to string it out for as long as she can, savouring every moment.  The rest of us are simply not patient enough!

    It's also a delight to play a few silly games.  This was "chase the ace" an Hannah always going about it in her normal funny, cute way.

    As part of helping me relax mentally, I have happily been on a few runs, including about 30 minutes on Christmas morning, and over an hour on the following two days.  It works wonders!  Sometimes I run for a mile or so on a kind of auto-pilot, not really concentrating on the running with my feet just doing what they need to do, while I completely loose myself in though.

    I naturally wonder what 2011 will bring.  Almost certainly life will continue to tick over and I'm certainly not seeking anything more.  My challenge continues to be in dealing with the pressures of life and particularly work which links nicely into running as the antidote.  Although it's tough going at times, I know I must carry on.  I need the challenge of doing my job, seeing how it continues to develop.  Again I think I'm the luckiest person there in having a unique job that evolves generally in positive ways.  The more I immerse myself in work, the more I'm likely to stay there and in turn the greater the pressures.  With that is the need to have that escape, that safety valve of getting out thre for a good run.  Cycling this year will also be a part of that as a means of keeping fit.

    I remember going through a phase of rising the 13 miles each way to work and my weight almost dropping by the day.  Sometimes I'd even go for a run in the gym after that ride.  I'm out of the habit of cycling but through running I understand more about how my body works.  However, running and cycling appear more inter linked than ever nowadays.  I've taken the plunge and decided to get a Thorn Audax mk3 for 2011....

    Tuesday, 28 December 2010

    The kids are getting the message now....

    This might look like any ordinary tube of toothpaste having reached the end of its' life.  In many ways that is exactly right and yet to me it represents much more.

    For B & H its a little ritual in the morning, after breakfast with "Daddy, please can you squeeeeeze the toothpaste out for me pleeeeease".To them it was a little game to see who would have the last bit of toothpaste.  For days I'd be saying that was it, surely no more and yet they'd persuade me to have another go and to my astonishment, I'd manage to get a little more out.

    For me, its all about those little routines that mean so much.  A chance in the day to have some fun within a pretty mundane chore of brushing teeth while we were all in a dreadful rush in dashing off to school, work etc.

    It also has come to symbolise our efforts in not wanting to be wasteful; squeezing that very last drop out of something has become a little more important.  Why?  Well, we're in a wasteful world with much extravagance and needless waste.  Waste of resources, money and effort, often at someone else's expense.

    Our old sofa, is now no more.
    We bought it second hand in about 1997 and we remember our friend Paul helping out with transporting it in his trailer.  Getting it into the sitting room was quite a challenge with almost having to bend it to get it in through the door.  Over the 13 years we've had it, all kind of things have happened to it as B & H have grown up.  When Rachel and I decided it was time to update it, they were quite sad but we all like the replacement.  Such good memories.... when we bought it, tried to get it in, the times when we've pulled it up close to the TV in our make-do cinema

    Thursday, 2 December 2010


    Frosty watercress growing in our pond; it all started a few years ago when Rachel said one day "that looks just like watercress" as we sat on the side.

    "try tasting it" I suggested.

    "Errr no thanks, not my cup of tea"

    And so I tasted it and sure enough, watercress it was.  Lots of it, taking over in fact.

    Rachel had a while beforehand, planted some cress in a near by pot and all we can guess is that some of those tiny seeds had drifted across and got established before our very eyes.

    So it seems that our watercress is really good for us.  Having circulating water helps by means of the pond pump and its always nice in a salad, or as Rachel puts it so nicely, a compost sandwich.

    Tuesday, 30 November 2010

    Reasons to Run

    Ivinghoe Beacon
    • Raised heartbeat - I know it goes much higher than my Doctor recommends.  Looking at him I doubt he's a runner and he certainly doesn't understand why anyone why I want to run saying "it's not as if you're training to be a top class athlete so I don't understand why you want to run"
    • Strengthening my bones - there's no way I want to have fragile bones when I'm older
    • Strengthening my ligaments, tendons around my ankles when I run over rough ground - when I ran with Dave McRoy in Snowdonia I remember having to work hard keeping balance over that rocky ground
    • Weight control - a nice steady 10st 7lbs seems about right
    • Better, deeper sleep - this is blissful!  Sometimes I almost seem to know when I'm in a really deep sleep and my body is repairing itself
    • Listening to my body breathing, working, being in tune - perhaps this is what people who do yoga talk about
    • I am more healthy than I was 20 years ago - I wasn't in bad shape but my diet wasn't very good and I did smoke.  I certainly couldn't run far.
    • The Runner's High - wow what can I say?  I sometimes feel so elated, so much on top of the world, happy and able to handle anything
    • Feel unbeatable
    • Problem solving; working through problems - the only snag is not being able to remember what I had worked out
    • Seeing things clearly
    • Makes me feel alive! Especially if its been raining, or cold or maybe after a really fast fluid kind of run
    • I feel great all day if I run early in the morning
    • Keeping things in perspective
    • De-stressing myself - the main motivation that got me going originally
    The joy of it
    • Listening to the sound of gravel dancing behind me, following my footsteps
    • Listening to the rhythm of my footsteps - almost hypnotic and a great way of maintaining a steady pace
    • Listening to music on my ipod - Invitation to the Blues by either Tom Waits (the best) or Jennifer Warnes (pretty good), Young at Heart by the Bluebells
    • Being the first to run through the new day - such an immense privilege that is utterly priceless especially when I'm the first to run through the dew covered grass
    • The challenge of it - I have only once cut a run short and gone back home early
    • The satisfaction of it
    • Where does this path lead...?
    • Every run is different
    • The clouds
    • The smells in the woods, the pockets of cool air on a summer's evening
    • The different seasons
    • Running along the edge of fields and noticing how crops have grown, changed colour
    • Running through puddles, feeling the water splash my legs and make my feet wet for a bit

    Wednesday, 24 November 2010

    The "tallest" person in Wales

    Hannah, tallest person in Wales, Mount Snowdon, October 2010
    I was so proud of our girls as we made it to the top of Mount Snowdon.  They were like mountain goats as they clambered effortlessly up the rocky track.

    Amazingly, no complaints, just got on and enjoyed the challenge.

    Afterwards I asked Becky what she thought of Mount Snowdon.  She said it was nothing like what she's expected.  She went onto explain that she thought it would be a flat landscape with a triangular mountain sticking up, with snow on the top.

    Thursday, 11 November 2010

    Another great day in the Cotwolds

    Just about every thing went to plan on this bike ride.  We did this on 10th November 2010.

    We arranged to meet at Burford again, a really nice car park, free and the same as the night ride earlier in the year.  The clouds were clearing to allow the sun to shine through just enough for us to feel the warmth when we stopped.  It was pretty cold but Wallie, as ever, thought it was great.

    We pedalled off going east from Burford in an anti clockwise circle, arriving back in Burford at around 4.00pm.

    It was really funny listening to Wallie talk about bike rides with Angela; the slow speed, the need to constantly stop to put more clothes on or off etc.  We drew comparisons with Rachel frequently announcing "this is definitely the last time I'm going on a bike".

    The whole day was such a well needed tonic for work induced stress, something to look forward to, something to get me thinking about other adventures.

    Monday, 1 November 2010

    Geo Bar Rant

    We're trying to do "the right thing" but it's a bit frustrating and sometimes wonder whether it is really worth the bother.  Notwithstanding this, here's a little product review cum rant.

    As a family we are being more proactive and making more effort in buying responsibly these days, accepting it will sometimes cost a little more.  For some time we have been buying more organic food and more recently, we have purchased much less meat.  A while back I tried a Geo Bar and really liked it - moist, chewy and very fruity so I thought I'd maybe keep some in stock.

    Then today a mail order box arrived, from Goodness Foods, containing quite a variety of foods and the above box of Geo Bars were included.  I was amazed at how light the box felt (pictured) so I opened it and it's obvious why - just look at the tiny size of that bar in relation to the box!  So much packaging is misleading and very unnecessary.  You can see from the above photo that the Geo Bar is roughly half the box and I just can't see the justification for this, or can I?

    Costing 37p each or £2.22 for a box of 6, you'd expect to get something fairly substantial for that, wouldn't you?  Why do they do this, how can they possibly justify this?

    The actual bars taste fine.  They're quite moist and don't appear to be fragile - staying stuck together very well.  The first ingredient is Glucose Syrup which clearly helps the structure stay together but I wonder if the bar were more substantial, perhaps less syrup would be needed.  There is a nice combination of nuts, wheat, fruit and different flavours available - perhaps I ought to try these for a fuller picture.  For the above bar, the actual ingredient list looks fine from my perspective.  According to the box, the Fairtrade elements amount to 50.8% which isn't bad at all but could certainly be better.  With 142 kcal per bar, that's sufficient fuel for about 2 miles running, again, not too bad.  With only 1.4g of fibre in each bar, perhaps it could do better in that department!

    To conclude:

    • Taste-wise they're nice
    • At 37p they are not cheap
    • Fairtrade portion is 50.8%
    • Ridiculous packaging
    • Healthy

    Thursday, 28 October 2010

    Today, back to work

    Just a quickie... went back to work after a week off.  Always get jumpy and nervous beforehand - what's happened, gone wrong?  I always try to delay logging on to the screen of unread emails and today, somewhat fortunately, I had a 10am meeting in Headquarters with my Manager.  Perfect excuse.

    I arrived a few minutes early and just as I was walking in my phone bleep saying I had a message.  Tempting as it was to answer, I let it go to voicemail.  Adrian was a little tied up, seeing the HR Manager about the latest round of staff cuts, so the question was whether I would mind waiting a little.

    "Fine, no problem" I said "Gives me a chance to deal with some emails"
    Why did I say that, the last thing I wanted to do.

    Meeting was pleasant, drove back to my office.  Went into town to get my Mother-in-Law's watch from the watchmaker, as it was being repaired.  "Closed on Thursday" said the sign.  How quaint.  How annoying.

    After a little more procrastination and a few more excuses, I logged on for a proper look at the 284 emails.  Quite a few could be deleted straight away; daily arrests who's who, car park, central heating pump.  A few could be read and replied instantly, plenty of others will have to wait.

    So not too bad.  Phew.  Training event tomorrow.

    Came home.  After dinner we all watched a recording of World's Strictest Parents.  Becky likes having strict parents, Hannah understands why she only has Chocolate spread on a Sunday.

    All's well.

    Tuesday, 26 October 2010

    Pete's Eats

    Pete's Eats, 40 High Street
    Llanberis, Gwynedd, N.Wales
    Without wanting to tempt fate, I often find myself wondering what I'd do if I ever lost my job.  Without knowing the real impact of the nice Mr Osbourn's Comprehensive Spending Review (aka Those Savage Cuts leading to the R word) it's hard to know if ever this would become a reality.  If ever it did become a reality, something like Pete's Eats could be just the thing.....

    Our friend Dave was really keen on Pete's Eats.  Even when we were having our "Snowdonia" planning meeting at their house, he said that it would be a great place to go - and he was right!  Apparently a place, he explained, where there were good sized portions and ideal for carb loading in preparing for a day slogging up and down Snowdon.  In my mind's eye I built this mental picture of Pete's Eats having lots of rugged looking hikers and climbers as customers, consuming pasta and lentil everything in a YHA setting.

    I wasn't too far off, allowing for a little stereotyping.  Finding it was a piece of (organic carrot) cake  "just turn left and it'll be obvious Doug, you can't miss it, not even you".  Sure enough it was easy to find, along with somewhere to park, just along the street.  Isn't it fantastic to just park somewhere for free nowadays!

    We settled ourselves - all eight of us - in what might be the back room.  Elsewhere there were a good handful of others at various stages of their meals.  One by one we went and ordered our meals.  Naturally the kids all went for Chips and Something Ugh while us grown-ups went for grown-up meals.  Though not cheap, the prices were fair and reasonable.  Rachel had a Lasagne with a side salad.  It was huge!  Naturally as the loving hubby I about to offer to help but before I could utter a word olives were coming my way followed by tomatoes.

    I ordered mine - Lentil & Bean Curry with Rice from the specials board.  "Is it hot?" I asked.
    The Assistant said it would be nice and warm and then realised what I was asking.
    "Nah, it's not too hot or spicy, quite mild really, OK?"
    This, it turned out could have been a tad misleading, reminiscent of those student days when we'd all out-do each other with the hot curries we would eat without flinching.  It was fine, healthy and filling.  So filling I just couldn't manage that last bit of rice and it's not often I ever do that!
    Becky & Hannah

    Monday, 25 October 2010

    Ridgeway Run 2010

    Last year, I enjoyed the Ridgeway Run so much I decided to do it again this year; it's the only time I've run a race more than once.  Last year my time was 1 hr 18mins, or thereabouts.  Position 118 out of 474 runners.  This year I managed to beat that and came in at 1hr 17 mins which I was really pleased with.

    The race itself was good humoured, well organised and had a fairly small, local feel which I really liked.

    The route went from the edge of Tring along a lane, over a road to the edge of the Ashridge Estate.  A mostly gentle climb took us past the golf club and eventually out to the Bridgewater monument which was probably the highest point.  I remember smiling as I approached the monument as there was a bunch of young kids banging away on all kind of pots and pans - that was a lovely encouragement!

    I was determined not to make the same mistake as I did last year.  Towards the end of the race I figured I was getting fairly close to the finish line and then made a real dash for it - only to find the start line was NOT the finish line.  The finish line (obvious when I thought about it) was back at the Cricket Club, maybe half a mile further on!  It served me right, all those people I overtook as I made my dashed, then cruised pass me as I panted away.  So, no, I didn't make the same mistake, especially as someone had thoughtfully put up a "One Mile to Go" sign.

    After the race, no time to linger beyond getting my goody bag as Rachel and I were hosting a Sunday lunch at Church - so a quick drive home, shower and jog into Church - just in the nick of time.  I really was on yet another Runners High and so I decided to wear the tee-shirt - a naff green with printed on it, denoting the 10.10am start on the 10th of the 10th month, 2010.  Nobody noticed or commented on it, shame I though but served me right!

    I really liked the race overall, nice distance, beautiful scenery and fair weather.  Perhaps one thing that sticks in my mind: as much as I feel pleased with myself, lets keep it in perspective.  Don't gloat.  Besides, there was a man, clearly older than myself who ran the last few miles either just in front or behind.  He got across the finish line before me - and according to the results, he's in his 60s.  Wow, that is impressive!

    Thursday, 14 October 2010

    Which challenge? Run or Cycle?

    My faithful Dawes Galaxy at Silverstone
    I have in mind a challenge for next year.  Saying that is the easy bit, making my mind up is the difficult part.  I want a challenge, perhaps a running challenge - which I'll really enjoy - or a long distance cycling challenge.  Perhaps a tour or an Audax event.  Could even use one to train for the other.

    So I need some suggestions.  I've looked at the Deloitte Ride Across Britain event and it looks tempting but I'm not sure I can hack 110 miles a day. What is even more challenging about this JOGLE (aka John O'Groats to Lands End) ride is that it would appear to be riding into the prevailing wind.  Surely LEJOG is kinder? Perhaps a lighter bike would help?  Then there's the good ol' CTC holidays  Near my office is a branch of Cotswold camping and a while back I took a look at their range of single tents.  Some were really impreesively light and compact (is this what they refer to as credit card touring?).

    The motivation for this falls into three camps:

    1. Staying in good shape and improving my fitness
    2. Having the satisfaction of pushing myself; an adventure, something new
    3. Not having too many regrets when I'm a grumpy old man

    Now it's October 2010 it's not too early to start training and planning.  Time scale to aim for is probably last week of July 2011 when Rachel and the girls are camping with friends.

    I like the idea of a new bike.  Fantastic as my c1985 Dawes Galaxy is, I fancy getting something updated.  So what's so bad about the Dawes, apart from a few bits of rust appearing?  The gears are so awful I tend to heave myself up a short hill rather than change gear.  The imperial 27" tyres are increasingly hard to find.

    I paid a visit to SJS Cycles to see their Thorn bikes particularly their Club Tour and their Audax bike  I've also been interested in Evans Cycles when we pop into Milton Keynes as they always have a good range of fast looking bike in stock

    So, what's it to be?  Aim for an endurance event or ride?  Aim for a marathon?

    Saturday, 9 October 2010

    A midsummer's night ride

    Wallie and myself.   Belas Knapp, Gloucestershire June 2010 - about 3.00am and just before dawn
    Wallie and I had promised ourselves a bike ride in May 2010 and had a date arranged for quite some time.  With various things at work taking place it meant I had to call it off.  Try as we might, we just couldn't find another date that suited us and it was then we hit on the idea of a night ride, when it wouldn't matter what was going on at work, providing we decided on a particular Friday in June.

    ON the day it went to plan; we met 10.15pm ish in the usual car park at Burford, had a cup of tea and then set off into the night with the last of a few raindrops falling.  Wallie had a route planned, around 50 miles mostly through backroads.  Quite a magical experience seeing the last glow from the sun fade almost to nothing on the horizon - interestingly it was always there, very faint but nonetheless it was there as a dull glow different from the occasional glimpse of sodium flavoured light pollution from a distant town.

    We pedalled along, sometimes chatting, sometimes just listening to the whir of our wheels and the countryside at night.  Occasionally we'd see a cat, or perhaps a badger come out onto the road, clock us coming and then run for it.  From time to time a car may pass but before too long there were no car s around and any bedroom lights were gradually being turned off one by one.  We felt like burglars, gliding almost silently around at night, albeit with hi-viz clothing and bright LED lights.  It must have been at around 2.00am when I suddenly felt tired; I'd been fine before.  Suddenly it was really hard to concentrate on what I was seeing and having to make a conscious decision to go a little slower on some of the downhill sweeps.  I think Wallie was just the same, though he didn't say.  After a little more, we seemed to have a second wind, another burst of energy and we got to Belas Knapp, an ancient burial mound.  Wallie had been there before, commentating that "...we'll need to push our bikes a little when we got off the road but only for a couple of minutes".  Well, that was an understatment as we plodded through a few fields, woods etc.

    When we got to the mound it was suddenly like being on top of the world.  We walked around and over it to get our bearings.  Then, standing there on the top at 3.10am I said to Wallie "look it's getting lighter".  That faint glow on the horizon, just a shade brighter.  A second later, a bird woke up with the start of the dawn chorus, or maybe a false start prompted by us stirring the night.

    Soon we were on our way through the same - but drastically different - landscape.  Roads that we'd cycled on an hour before were taking on a misty quality and it was wonderful seeing the surrounding hills, hedges, trees all appear in a misty faint light.  Looking down into the valleys I remember wondering whether I was witnessing a new fairly tale lake but there we were up above the mist in the gloomy valleys.

    I remember feeling incredibly cold at around 4.00am and time to stop for a snack and to put on an extra layer.  Neither of us were talking too much, a combination of feeling utterly tired and also through being in awe of those beautiful surroundings.  Wallie broke the silence by reminding me how he will avoid a main road like the plague.  No matter how remote or quiet, main roads and Wallie do not mix well.

    Wallie and his Claud Butler cycle and my Dawes Galaxy cycle
    "There's a green lane we can take, look here it is on the map, you can see in runs parallel to the A40 and straight back to Burford".  OK, deal done.  At first it was ok, we could both manage it alright although after a little while it was more hybrid bike territory rather than a skinny wheel tourer.  A little further on it was then more MTB land followed by 4WD and a tractor.  It was hilarious!  We got soaked and became even colder through pushing along through the tall wet grass and Wallie continuously apologising, which of course I milked it for all I could.  A few miles later Wallie hit the "wall" and suddenly started to really struggle saying how it was really the first ride he'd done since last year.  No problem, it's ok in trying to offer a bit of commoradary.  What kept us both going so well in those last few miles was the prospect of a fry-up breakfast.

    In my car I'd packed the camping stove with the usual sausages, bacon, eggs etc (all healthy, h'emmmm) but I could smell those mushrooms even before I started cooking!  Absolutely fantastic!  Breakfast and two gallons of tea later, we each set off in our opposite directions.  I drove in a kind-of sleepy autopilot way back home, revelling in what we'd just done.  Marvellous.

    Sunday, 3 October 2010

    Type A runner?

    Asics Gel 1150 with X Socks
    If someone can have a Type A personality, is it possible to be a Type A Runner?

    Possible traits....
    • In racing, am I in the first 20%, regardless of age?
    • How do I compare with other veterans of my age?
    • Be prepared to start well back in the pack and hang back for the first half and then "go for it"
    • What's my running form like?
    • I could have done better
    • I'm not going to take energy gels any more to help me run faster
    • My best is yet to come
    • I'm just not satisfied
    • I must train alone
    • I must always have a future race in my diary

      Running times....

      My worn out legs with the very hard wearing Asics Gel 1150 and fabulous X Socks

      ....before I totally forget:

      Feb 2009  Knebworth 10k about 55 mins
      June 2009 Whipsnade 10k about 53 mins
      Oct 2009 Ridgeway 15k about 1hr 18mins
      Mar 2010 Bath half 1hr 48mins
      June 2010 St Albans half 1hr 44mins
      October 2010 Ridgeway 15k 1hr 17 mins
      November 2010 Leighton Buzzard Dirt half 1hr 44mins (90th of 384) flippin' cold
      June 2011St Albans half 1 hr 42mins (424 out of 1941)
      October 2011 Ridgeway 15k 1hr 18mins (122 out of 517) could have done better
      April 2012 MK Marathon 4 hours 12 minutes (about middle of field) first marathon - cold and wet
      May 2013 MK Marathon 3 hours 58 minutes; second marathon - sunny, warm and very pleased

      Treadmill PB times:
      Sept 2010 10k 45mins 40s
      Sept 2010 1 mile 6mins 20s
      Nov 2010 10k 44mins 44s (knackered)
      Nov 2010 10 miles 1hr 26mins (tired but ok)

      Tuesday, 28 September 2010


      St Albans Half Marathon, June 2010.  Recovering after an enjoyable run, finishing 365th out of 1,975 runners with a time of 1hour 44 mins.

      After the last couple of days taken as sick leave, I'm reminding myself of a commitment I've already made.  I am going to stay fit to stay healthy in body and mind.

      I truly believe that it was God's hand at work in 2008 when I was led to experience much stress at work.  There was such a range of solutions that became apparent as I talked it over with Rachel and the HR Manager at work. I could have quit work altogether, taken an unpaid sabbatical, reduced my hours, go to the Doctor and so on.  I then remembered that in the past - in my twenties - I had derived such a thrill from running, I decided to give it a go, even though I couldn't really explain it.  Probably the nearest rational way of explaining it was knowing I needed to lose some weight.

      Since then I have largely achieved what I set out to achieve but have that nagging feeling of "what next?".  I need a challenge as so many friends will know (as I have fished for ideas, suggestions and inspiration).  While I haven't quite decided, it will almost certainly be either running or cycling.

      So, it's late September, the days are becoming noticeably shorter and cooler.  Soon it will be dark at the time I leave the office to come home - that is one of all kinds of "excuses" that I can come up with to justify not cycling to and from work.  I have reactivated my DW Sports Fitness membership after the summer break so on days when I don't cycle I can at least go to the gym (after family commitments, of course).  I probably need to stock up on some gear from Wiggle and having CTC membership gets a discount there and also at Cotswold Camping (very handy near the St Albans office!).

      My commitment - improve my fitness through the winter!  Why, well that's easy: staying healthy physically and mentally.  Being a husband, father and pushing things along in my work.  So help me.

      Our summer holiday, before I forget!

      Samuel, Justine, Hannah McR, Becky, Rachel, Ruth, Hannah, Bethany, Kate and me. We'd all been on holiday with each other (plus others who left early) somewhere in Warwickshire. It was late July, 2010.

      We like going on holiday with friends and this time it included friends of friends and their friends! The last few days was down to the ten of us, spread over three families.

      The three bits that I remember best are perhaps the bits that just do not cost anything at all.

      1. The weather wasn't brilliant and we did have some rain. One morning Rachel and I sat in our tent listening to the rain drops and enjoying each other's company when we were joined by Ruth and Justine, swapping places with our girls who'd just disappeared into another tent to be with the other kids (and howls of laughter and many giggles could be heard across the campsite). We sat there drinking endless mugs of tea and putting the world to right. Lovely company and all like minded - we all enjoy that kind of holiday, they're Christians too and we enjoyed getting to know each other.

      2. It was also Becky's 12th birthday while we there and the celebrations included "afternoon tea" at the campsite's tea garden. Real china was used and all the tea pots had individually knitted tea cosies for that "previous generation" look. All very charming.

      Some of us had been for a bike ride around the local area for an hour or so. The kids came too. Really nice ambling through quiet country lanes, followed by going single file along a canal towpath and back to the campsite.

      3. The other part that I did enjoy was the journey home - I decided to cycle! Riding from Warwickshire to Bedfordshire sounds like a long way, especially as it was via a little bit of Northamptonshire and a corner of Buckinghamshire. In fact it was about 50 miles and there was a helpful tail wind that made it so easy. For most of the ride I was on unclassified roads, often freewheeling through villages. Nice gentle hills, I only used a low gear once for a short slope between Tottenhoe and Dunstable.

      Now we're starting to think about another trip away with one of the families - we've already booked some accommodation near Snowdon for the half term break. Sorting out walking gear on Friday!

      Dad's birthday

      Dad, with Becky and Hannah just before his 82nd birthday.

      I really love my Dad. My love for him - and Mum - grows deeper, perhaps through being a parent myself. I hope I'll grow to be more like Dad in terms of his patient gentle approach to life. His faithfulness and humility is such a good example for me.

      He really appreciated us taking him to the Horse & Jockey for a meal with us all around him. He enjoyed the food and our company, plus we were in one of their little rooms, so fairly private. Earlier that day, we'd go to Ashridge for a stroll but Dad not only wanted to use one of the National Trust's electric buggies but wanted Mum to drive it for him. Bless him, just not feeling up to handling the buggy himself but he was a gracious passenger.

      Next update....

      Here we are, Becky, Hannah and myself at the 2010 London Skyride event. Quite a fantastic event with central London being taken over by cyclists for a day. If only it could be like that all the time.

      I really like the odd trip into London, though Rachel doesn't care too much for it. I enjoy pointing out various Westminster buildings, hotels and so on that I've been to in connection with my work but B&H never quite get the drift of what I get up to.

      As I write this, I'm enjoying a sick leave day, the first for many years. An early dose of flu hasn't been too bad (and I've been to work with far worse) but I thought I was going to recover quicker by having time at home. No great pressures at work right now although there is a kind of under-lying stress I cannot quite put my finger on. It has worked and I've gained from the de-stressing nature of an armchair travel book (Take a seat, Dominic Gill) and time to reflect and watch the summer colours fade away in the garden.

      I like all the seasons nowadays, although I sometimes mourn one season fading in to another, especially as it seems to be speeding up. I said to my Dad earlier this month, that he chose well in having his birthday in September; such a beautiful month for us.

      Our garden pond is the source of some really nice organic watercress (aka pond weed, an essential ingredient of my compost sandwiches). It's also a source of endless enjoyment for the girls as they terrorise the frogs, much to the amusement of the other kids in the neighbourhood. Well, most of them.

      Thursday, 5 August 2010

      Catching up

      Here's a recap on things over recent months. You see, I've been really busy and deflected away from blogging. With this being written in August, there's quite a bit to remember and little chance.

      February 2010

      A quiet month in many ways. Met with Wallie in London for a day as we do from time to time. The image is from a relief I photographed at Kings Cross St Pancras station. As I do go into London from time to time on business, this reflects how I often look and feel.

      We had the delights of celebrating Hannah's 10th birthday on 31st January although she had her birthday party just into February - scrambling around at Dell Farm.

      Although February is probably the lowest part of the year for me, I had the impending Bath Half Marathon to concentrate on. I did some training, though not frequently enough.

      March 2010

      Bath Half on the 7th was great, very cold and painful towards the end but oh so worth it. My time was 1.48 so under my 2 hour target. At mile 9 my right groin became painful, just as it had during a long run the previous weekend - a good sign of pushing myself too hard.

      Towards the end of the month I hosted a stakeholder conference at work. I was so relieved when I clocked so many people had come. I remember Barbara our Communications Manager trying to interview me while the workshops were taking place - she just couldn't get any sense out of me at all, I was kind of punch drunk through the event going well.

      And then, our 14th wedding anniversary!

      Tuesday, 26 January 2010

      New running shoes and Rachel's iPod

      "Wow" said Becky, "Just look at the sky Dad, you've just gotta photograph that! Just look at those colours, do you think it'll snow tonight....?"

      Yesterday was a treat for us. Having taken a week from work we could go to the gym together but I needed to buy some more running shoes. Reckon my current ones are 75% worn out.

      We went to the gym later and I quite like following Rachel around while she does her things. Normally, she says, she has all of the Easy Line equipment to herself. It looks a bit OAP-like through being finished in shades of beige and you can't exactly load huge weights onto it. So, there was Rachel, going around with her white headphones in and jiggling around in tune to some music. By then I'd realised that it wasn't plugged into anything, the jackplug was just in her pocket, not connected to anything! This could only be Rachel; I can't think of anyone who would make such a cheapskate comment on other gym-goers (including myself) and yet this is just one of the many reasons why I love her - only Rachel could get away with this.

      I couldn't keep up wih Rachel who was flitting from one thing to another. Half way 'round the Easy Line stuff we were suddenly off onto the Treadwalkers. There's a maximum 20 minutes allowed on these machines, which always seem to be in demand. On mine I was holding the metal grip and watching my heart beat go up and down a little - but Rachel couldn't get hers to work so she switched onto a machine on the other side of me. That was nice. Then, as I was only half way through, she zoomed off going rowing. Then a few minutes later she was off going swimming! Quite an impressively varied workout and I couldn't keep up wih that and besides, I wanted to try out my running shoes by RUNNING.

      I decided to do a straight mile and achieved that in exactly 6.40. No Roger Bannister performance but it equaled my best to date. Felt really great afterwards and that I could have done it faster (need to get pacing myself better sorted). I tried to imagine what it would be like to run like those athelites who complete full marathons in a little over two hours. "Wow" I thought "that would mean averaging about 13mph" and I can only keep 10mph up for a few minutes. Some way to go....

      A scary bike ride

      With all the snow of late, its been hard trying to spot the right opportunity for a bike ride. That combined with family life has made it almost impossible.

      So last Saturday, we needed a few things from Sainsbury's so I decided to cycle there, but to go there via a running route. Just as I was out in the countryside I was suprised to find that there was still a little snow lying in a ditch; it must have been there since before Christmas. This ride is about 7 miles, not too far by any means.

      There were quite a few scary bits. My front light - normally very bright - was just not bright enough when bombing down some slopes. I just couldn't see clearly enough in front of me to avoid all those usual hazards - potholes, gravel etc. It seemed quite weird losing all sense of whether I was going on a flat road, up or downhill until the speed changed significantly. Suddenly finding yourself gathering speed on gravel was really scary. And then through the woods. Remember, completely dark, no other cars around. Normally when I run this stretch I can hear anything around me and just know what's going on. I'd forgotten you just don't get this the same way on a bike. Anyone could spot me a mile off and I wouldn't know.

      So the best bit was back on a main road and speeding down the road that comes from the Downs back into town. That's a nice smooth fast road and some lights around at the bottom. I was down on the dropped handlebars, tears streaming from my eyes and enjoying the feeling of the freezing cold blast on my face. I was almost in the middle of the road, just on myside of the white line (I figured that was the safest) and I couldn't resist that "Wa Heeeeeeeeee" when I was at top speed!

      Thursday, 14 January 2010

      Some pleasant training

      This is the village I ran to on Sunday, although this photograph was taken on Christmas Day, see below.

      Every now and then we have to do mandatory training, sometimes relevant, other times not so relevant. The not-so-relevant training is normally to allow the organisation to tick a helpful box somewhere and most are left wondering why.

      Today was almost one of those occasions with Child Protection training. As I'm not front line and the only manager on the list, I did wonder what box we were therefore corporately ticking, together with all of the other things I could be doing. That soon drifted away from my mind once the training was underway. The trainers were Will and Emma and I like their styles very much, they're nice people and together work well.

      The whole day was fairly easy going, nothing too taxing, quite a pleasant easy-going day. One of the exercises was about looking at a scenario and determining what kind of abuse was evident - physical, neglect, emotional or sexual. Most were fairly clear cut. There were, however, a couple that to me seemed more of a description who was in need of some help and this was in contrast to some colleagues who tend to be more conscious of risk, defensible decisions, expect the worst etc. I think during the day some of my points might have been agreed with afterall. It reminded me of sometime last summer when, in the same room I did some domestic violence awareness training (perhaps less of a tick-box event and more of a reminder). Whilst I can't quite remember all the ins and outs, I do recall saying that if only we could help people re-kindle love into some relationships. Clearly it's not for a Government agency as such to start running a dating service but getting people to understand what love and commitment really mean is something worthwhile.

      For now this kind of thing simply isn't on the agenda, which is a shame given the need that's there. There's so much harm caused by relationships not working and often a recognised factor in things going wrong. We as a criminal justice system recognise this but do very little about it. We are just not ready for that. Besides, it gets into the values and circumstances of people delivering the work. Reminds me of a time when a colleague mentioned to me that it was her 20th wedding anniversary that very day, followed up by saying that she felt inhibited at sharing this news with anyone else. I asked why, saying that seemed a shame not to share such a positive thing with the people working around us. She explained that nobody else in the team was anywhere near that stage. In fact, she went onto tell me, everyone else seemed to be unhappy relationship-wise. Everyone was either divorced, separated or unhappily single and wouldn't appreciate the significance of reaching a 20th wedding anniversary by a happily married couple.

      I haven't really thought of running much today, which is a real shame as I haven't had the chance to run over the last few days. Had a fair run in the snow on Sunday afternoon followed by a couple of fast one mile runs on the gym's treadmill. The fastest mile dash was 6 mins 50 seconds. That's 10 seconds off my personal best. The snow has thawed quite a bit today and will probably be OK for me to go running outside over the weekend, maybe Saturday morning. It'll seem strange for the first couple of miles but no doubt I'll be buzzing when I get home - how could I leave it that long, treadmills just aren't the same.

      Tuesday, 12 January 2010

      Back at work

      I always used to worry about going back to work. What's been happening? What's happended to my cases? Suppose something has gone wrong? Whose pouring over my work, reading my notes?

      Nothing much ever used to happen but it doesn't normally stop me worrying a bit. There was the time, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, when I strolled back into the office to be greeted by my manager who straight away asked me "how was the dentist, Doug?". That was a little confusing, to which I expressed that by asking "it was two weeks ago when I went to the Dentist but thank you for asking, oh it was fine, so why are you asking and isn't that one of my files you've got there?". Well something had happened that merited my manager digging out the file. I asked "so has he murdered someone?". The reply was no he hadn't but something had. It seemed a big deal to him at the time but it wasn't anything in particular but he'd been reading my last comment about seeing this man at a different time as I had to go to see the Dentist.

      I've kind of taught myself not to worry because nothing much ever seems to go wrong. Having much more autonomy nowadays also makes a difference because things going wrong are normally within my sphere and nobody else's. That doesn't stop the dread of logging on to see my emails, although sometimes I do try and see how long I can get away with it. Sometimes I've been able to avoid it for a day or so although sometimes people are perplexed when they get my out-of-office message after they've been in a meeting with me.

      So no great disasters while I was away. The first week back was an extraordinary week and where the Chief Officer correctly suggested we would remember for a long time to come. We were being inspected all week long with files being read, people being interviewed and focus groups galore. That coupled with the heaviest snow falls for many years all indeed led to an interesting week. We've had some inspection feedback with few suprises which will inevitably lead to various recommendations and action plans once the final conclusions have been finalised.

      The trick for me is to stay one step above all of this as a way of not being too preoccupied. Thinking of things outside of work combined with always needing something to look forward to is very helpful. The effect of this approach seems to be working, so thinking through some personal challenges is really a good thing to do. I've been toying with the idea for sometime of pushing myself with endurance. All about never being satisfied with myself, or comparing myself with someone else who is ahead and never behind, always knowing I can push myself further along. So, is it to be a long distance cycle ride or a run?

      Monday, 4 January 2010

      Back to work

      Went back to work today after the Christmas break but took the kids to school en-route, together with a lad who goes to the same school. Much speculation about whether we'll have more snow and, more to the point, whether the school will need to close with obvious excitement from the kids. Just as I was dropping the kids at school, Sarah asked me when I'd be home.
      "about teatime, I expect"
      "well what time do you think you'll actually be home" she pressed
      "about 6, maybe 6.30" I said and that was received by a comforted smile.

      I always know when I've had a decent time away from the office when I can't remember my password and this was almost the case today. In the time it took me to open a couple of internal mail envelopes, it came back to me, grrrrr. At home it always takes time to forget about work completely and it's often useful to have my things-to-do book in easy reach so I can jot down things as they occur to me. Thankfully I don't think I touched it once.

      A pretty easy day spent reading e-mails, a few phone calls and a couple of short pieces of work. There was an email from my friend Wallie saying his Mum had died just before Christmas. Not unexpected and then I remembered I'd been thinking of him over Christmas, wondering how things were.

      I had in mind going for a treadmill run in the gym this evening but it didn't happen. I sensed I needed to be at home this evening. I had a couple of short runs a few days ago, over the weekend. Maybe 1 or 2 miles each time, just enough to keep limbered up.

      Irrational I know but I worry I'm going to lose all my strength if I go a week without running. I can feel the muscles in my legs aren't as taught as I like them to be, so easy to go off the boil, so to speak. Must go tomorrow. I have entered the Bath Half on 7th March and need to stay in good shape and do a couple of runs of that length beforehand. Although this is the first time I've entered a half marathon, I feel pretty confident I can cover the distance. But I want to enjoy it and finish in a reasonable time.

      Sometimes, actually quite often, I give myself a hard time for easing off running, even though I'm still relatively new to the sport. I feel like I'm letting myself down, un-doing the progress I'd made and imagine I'm suffering some kind of withdrawal symptoms. Its almost like a kind of restlessness that can quickly go with the first buzz 10 minutes into an hour's run. On my regular run (about 6.75miles) there's a short but steep hill to climb and just over the other side is a gentle slope downwards, just right for picking up some more speed. Sometimes there's a bit of flooding across the road in a little dip. That's great to run through, feeling the (cold) water splash up my legs and instantly feel my shoes take on some water. If it's more than a few strides across I like to run as lightly as I can almost dancing across the water running on the outside edge of my feet. I look back afterwards hoping the water is still, it almost is still. So by that stage I feel like the run has welcomed me back again and rewarding me.

      Saturday, 2 January 2010

      Getting my rambling's started....

      This blog is an outlet for me, a way of sharing my thoughts, ideas, delights and challenges. I expect a lot of myself in many different ways, never quite satisfied with what I have achieved but always the optimist. Allegedly middle age but always believe the best is yet to come. The glass is never half empty but always half full and I cannot function without something to aim for or look forward to.

      Now at the start of 2010, I cannot help but wonder what this year will bring; but not just this year but the decade. The last decade - the noughties - has been pretty good; it's certainly flown by.

      The noughties started in such a memorable way. Rachel (8 months pregnant) and I were leaning out of our bedroom windows watching the fireworks light up the sky in our neighbourhood. Thirty-one days later our second daughter was born. Seeing her now, what a delight she is together with her elder sister.

      During the last 10 years I have felt the stress and pressure of work a great deal. Two episodes stand out. In late 2002 I was suffering much stress from work which led to taking sick leave for a month, the first time I'd ever had a Doctor's sick note. To cut a long story short, the solution was to go for promotion and no sooner than I'd returned to work and opportunity arose. I knew at the time God was at work in that situation; I gained the promotion against the odds although I had no idea where it was going to lead.

      The second stressful episode was in 2007-08 with work, once again, being the root cause. I should say that it wouldn't be fair to "blame" the (then) Home Office entirely but better to reflect on my own ability to handle various situations. Again I found myself facing a crossroad but whilst it seemed daunting, it was faith that provided the answer. Through asking "Lord, what can I do?" a whole range of options came flooding through. It is times like this that I do love Rachel so much in helping me work through these things. I remembered when I was in my early 20's getting a real kick out of being healthy and fit - especially pushing myself to breaking point when I ran and then going those extra few yards after the limit was reached. Wow that feeling of elation, nothing could stop me. So, with this in mind in 2008, I put aside thoughts of taking unpaid leave or even resigning and instead joined the local gym. Getting fit has provided a way of dealing with those pressures and strains. Those ridiculous targets and colleagues are still there but at least they're in perspective a bit better nowadays.

      Other things to look back on during the noughties....

      Our delightful daughters are growing. Our marriage is growing too. Many things have, perhaps surprisingly stayed the same. We still live in the same house, still go to the same Church, our lifestyle and standard of living is very similar. We went to Kenya in 2005 with YWAM and this might have planted a seed in our daughter's minds for later on in their lives. Again, we have faith that God has a plan for their lives.

      So, in starting this blog for 2010, we'll see how life continues to unfold.....