Category Archives: Family Life

Running in overtime

It’s now thirteen months since I embarked on a personal challenge to run 200 officially timed race miles before my 51st birthday. Despite a great start and being well ahead of target at the midpoint of 2016, a major change in my life circumstances in August brought an abrupt end to my running. Having lived in Cardiff all my life, and having reached the stage where I thought it unlikely that I’d ever leave, I was presented with an opportunity to take on a new role as the Pastoral Team Leader for two halls of residence at the University of Bristol. The role comes with accommodation, and so in September last year, Charlotte and I packed up some key essentials and moved our home to the southern side of the Severn Estuary. As if that wasn’t upheaval enough, we also then fell in love with a house in a new development that was being built not far away from ours in Cardiff, so promptly put our existing property on the market, sold it, and are now waiting for the new one to be completed in May of this year!

Whilst all this was going on, I was left with the guilt of knowing that many people had sponsored me to complete the 200 mile challenge, and that I was still some 60 miles short of the target. And so, on the first Saturday of January, I found myself once more lining up for a parkrun – this time in the beautiful (though foggy that day) surroundings of the Ashton Court Estate on the edge of Bristol. What they don’t tell you about the Ashton Court parkrun until you arrive for the pre-run briefing, is that it’s run up the side of a very steep hill. This makes for extremely asymmetric mile times – typically, in my experience, the third mile (on the way back down) takes about 4 minutes less to complete than the first one! Nevertheless, you do get used to it with practice, and I am now back to completing the 3.1 miles (5 km) in under 30 minutes, and I hope to make further improvements in the coming months. Just for a change, I’m actually going to be visiting the Llanelli parkrun this coming weekend, and I am reliably informed that this is as flat as it gets. I can’t wait.

In terms of the challenge, I estimate that (with weekly parkruns and some 10k races booked in at the start of March and April), I will complete the 200 miles in time for the Easter holiday. Just to be on the safe side, I’m also going to be running the Great Bristol and Great Manchester 10k races in May. The challenge will eventually be complete, but my running habit is hopefully here to stay now.

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The positive impact of worrying

I used to have a poster on my bedroom wall which read : ” Don’t tell me that worrying doesn’t work, most of the things I worry about don’t happen!”

The reality of this has been brought home to me this week, when a number of potentially stressful situations – sources of severe worry at different times – have all been negotiated more or less successfully. Of course, the psychologists will point to the fact that a moderate amount of stress is a necessary precursor to successful completion of difficult tasks. We need to be ‘up for it’ and ‘on top of our game’ to be able to perform to our full potential. That has been true for me this week, but to be honest, it’s also quite wearing. There is a need to balance the stressful times with some rest and relaxation. Batteries need time to recharge. Stress enzyme levels need to be rebalanced. It’s not possible to keep operating at full speed all of the time.

So – sorry – no : there’s no chance of me making any progress on that list of jobs in the flat this weekend! 😉

Retail therapy? Torture more like

Why on earth do people go into city centres at this time of year? Today, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Charlotte and Joanna, and that’s been great. But we spent it in the centre of Manchester with what seemed like millions of others all ostensibly Christmas shopping. In reality, we were mostly shuffling from shop to shop, elbowing our way through the throng to get close enough to the items that we were interesting in buying, and then queueing in long lines for the privilege of sealing the deal. Our trip was mostly successful, and we’ve managed to tick a few things off the list of presents that need to be bought before 25th December. But it’s hardly a relaxing and life-affirming experience. As someone who tends to go shopping only when I have a clear idea of what’s needed, from where, and at what price, ‘browsing’ doesn’t come naturally (surely that’s what the internet is for?). But the concept of browsing when the things you’re looking at don’t feature at all on any list of things needed (scented candles at £43 a pop, anyone?) is so alien to me that I don’t think I’ll ever completely understand it. On the plus side, we are at least back in the hotel in time for the Spanish football… 😉

One door closes…

It’s been an odd couple of weeks. Tomorrow we will complete the sale of the house that we have called home for the past 16 years. To be honest, when we moved in at the start of the new millennium, I thought that it would be house in which I would see out my days. At the time, our children were six and four years of age, and the four bed detached at the end of the cul de sac with the huge back garden, was everything that we were looking for in a family home. We’ve made a few improvements over the years (new kitchen; new en suite bathroom to the master bedroom; changes to the front and rear gardens) and we’ve had some great times in the house. It’s pleasing that the people who are buying from us also have a young family. The same things that attracted us to the house were also instrumental in their decision to buy. We know that they have great plans to refurbish and update the house, and that is something that generates very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it seems like a criticism of our stewardship of the house over the years; but more rationally, of course, it’s simply a reflection that time and fashions change.

For us, ‘home’ for at least the next five months will be in Bristol. Our new house in Cardiff won’t be finished until some time after March 2017. We have the excitement of specifying the finishes for that new home, and the privilege of being able to get to know a whole new city in the meantime. Change is both disruptive and enabling. We are sad to walk away from the ‘old’ house. But having completed that process, we can now commit properly to moving into a new phase of our lives. Watch out Bristol : we’re coming for you!

Simply Gorge-ous

It was a beautiful autumn morning in Bristol today. The sky was a Mediterranean blue, and the October sunshine was still the right side of warm as we set off just before 10am in the direction of Clifton village. The fountains and façade of the Victoria Rooms were doing an excellent impression of an Italian town hall, and the water was positively sparkling in the sunlight.

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The Victoria Rooms

Our destination was the suspension bridge across the Avon river gorge that links the Severn Estuary to the docks in the centre of the city. Although built to a design originally drafted by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the suspension bridge linking Clifton on the Bristol side, to land originally owned by the Ashton Court estate on the North Somerset side, was actually completed as a tribute to the Victorian engineering genius after his death.

It’s an amazing feat of engineering, spanning the gorge suspended from a series of chains and iron connecting bars that in turn carry the iron plates that form the deck of the bridge.

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Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Observatory

And if the views OF the bridge are amazing, then the views FROM it are even more spectacular.

If you do visit the Bridge, then make sure that you allow half an hour to have a look around the visitor centre just past the ticket barriers on the north side of the gorge. The volunteers who run it are helpful and informative and the displays and video presentation give a fascinating insight into the chequered history of the construction project up to the point when it was finally finished in the second half of the 19th century.

 

If Carlsberg did Saturdays

“Saying is one thing and doing is another”. A quote from de Montaigne. The father of the Enlightenment and a resident of Bordeaux. I don’t know how much de Montaigne Chris Coleman has read (I don’t think it’s on the UEFA ‘A’ License curriculum), but his team executed the ‘doing’ in simply wonderful fashion.

There are defining moments in modern history : the declaration of war in 1939; the moon landings; the shooting of John F. Kennedy; the attack on the Twin Towers. People remember where they were at the exact moment that these things happened. To that list must now be added the moment when Hal Robson Kanu beautifully, exquisitely, agonisingly, scuffed a left footed shot into the corner of the Slovakian net 84 minutes into Wales’ opening game in the European Championships in France, 2016.

Hal Robson Kanu : as Welsh as a zebra, but he’ll f*****g do. My new favourite football song ever.

I can’t do justice here to the events of a day that started in a restaurant in the main square in Bordeaux with the kind of burger and chips that only happens in France (“How would you like the burger cooked, sir?”); and ended at 3am on Sunday morning outside a bar in the same square, singing with Slovakian fans as the local police stood, watched, smoked, and eventually went home bored.

In between, there was the journey to the stadium on the outskirts of Bordeaux in a bus designed for 60 but easily accommodating 200 Welsh fans and a French family on their way home who started off a little concerned, but ended up singing “Watch out Europe, the Welsh boys are back” by the time their stop came around. I still don’t think they quite knew what to make of the 18 stone Valleys lad who plucked their anxious six year old up into his arms and clear of the crush so that the boy was safe and out of harm’s way. But it was that sort of day.

The Slovakian anthem was observed with impeccable silence and polite applause. And then Mae hen wlad fy nhadau rang out around the stadium with an intensity, volume and passion that must have been heard in Paris. When Ben Davies cleared a goal-bound shot off the Welsh line in the opening 5 minutes, we began to think that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be our day. And then Gareth Bale did what only Gareth Bale can. We were stood right behind that free kick at the other end of the ground. I swear that new laws of physics were written as the flight of the ball changed direction three times in the 25 metres that it flew from foot to net.

The Slovakian equaliser after half time was inevitable. We are Wales, for gods’ sake – this was never going to be easy. And then came the moment. Robson Kanu introduced to the fray to replace the excellent Johnny Williams. Hal Robson, Hal Robson Kanu. The chant went up. We knew. Hal knew. 84 minutes. Ramsay rocks and rolls to the edge of the Slovakian area – never quite in control of himself or the ball. Toe ends it past the despairing challenge of Skrtel (good with his elbows – not so good with his feet here). Time stands still. There is a moment of stillness. Peace. And then Hal. Not the best strike ever. A scuff really. And the ball rolling in slow motion over the goal line and nestling gently in the back of the net. Pandemonium in the stadium. 30,000 Welsh fans looking at each other in disbelief – can this really be happening? Grown men in tears, hugging the bloke next to them. Cheering, singing, and – in at least one case – dislocating a shoulder in the sheer joy of the moment (it’s ok – it popped back in and no analgesia was required!).

Back in the fan zone later in the evening, watching Russia v England on the big screen. Drink in hand. England winning one nil and into the final minute of added time at the end of the ninety. The equaliser. At least five thousand Welsh fans devastated for our English neighbours…

If Carlsberg did Saturdays…

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Bordeaux or Bust!

So – it’s finally arrived. That moment that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. Wales playing in a major football tournament. A real one. Not the Home Internationals. Not even the Nations Cup (remember that one?!). This is the real thing. The European Championships, for heavens’ sake. And to make things even better, it’s in France. The best place in the world to host a major sports event. The most beautiful people, cuisine to die for, wine which is the very nectar of the gods – and you can drive there from Wales!

Oh! And Dan and me have got tickets for Wales’ opening game against Slovakia on Saturday night.

So it was that we set out from Cardiff at 7.30pm on Thursday to catch the midnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. Brittany Ferries MV Normandie had the honour of delivering more Welshmen to the French coast in a single crossing than at any time in the last 72 years! You knew that something special was happening when the strains of Calon Lan were intermingled with that bloody awful “Football’s coming home” (I refuse to include a link – you’ll have to search for it yourself!) as we waited to board the ferry. Yes – there were one or two English supporters making the same crossing on their way to Marseille for their opener against Russia.

One of the things that being a Welsh football supporter teaches you is resilience. Resilience in the face of decades of near misses and crushing disappointment (Joe Jordan’s ‘hand of god’ moment, anybody?). But that resilience also converts in limitless optimism. This was exemplified in Portsmouth by the 30 year old VW Camper Van packed with six burly, north Walian football supporters, five of whom were already well on their way to alcohol-fuelled unconsciousness by the time we rolled onto the ferry. I genuinely hope for their sakes that that van was only for transport purposes. I dread to think what it would be like if they were planning to sleep in it too!

Arriving in Caen on a cloudy Friday morning, we set out on the 500km drive to the south west of France and Bordeaux. It took a long time on very straight roads and we didn’t see anything very interesting on the way. That’s all that needs to be said about that.

Having checked-in to our hotel, we set off for a walk along the river bank in the general direction of Bordeaux’s European Championships Fan Zone. Stopping off for some food on the way, we arrived at the fan zone in plenty of time for the local pre-match warm up entertainment on a stage in front of the biggest, sharpest giant television screen that I have ever seen.

In truth, the opening match between France and Romania wasn’t a classic. It did however, provide further evidence of the truth that football is like modern jazz. Long periods of formless cacophany punctuated by moments of the most exquisite harmony. Last night, the harmony was provided by Dimitri Payet with a goal worthy of winning the Championship, never mind the opening group game. To say that the French fans in Bordeaux were pleased would be a severe understatement!

I hope that we Wales fans get to savour a similar moment against Slovakia later today.

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Pre-opening match dinner – the French recognise that beer drinkers can’t be trusted with glass!