My second parkrun

In May 2013, I found out about Parkrun, in April 2014, I did my first timed 5k at the Forest Rec. So now it’s clearly time for my annual three mile run!

Last week I planned to go to Colwick, which somehow technically is my home run, even though the Forest is closer. I got my running clothes ready so I could grab them quickly and get out of the house; I made sure I didn’t drink too much, I got an early night, and I set an alarm for the only day of the week I can usually get a lie-in. I then spent the whole night tossing and turning and being woken by cats and at about 6am I felt so miserable I turned the alarm off and resolved to sleep through the morning.

This week I was still watching TV at midnight, I had had at least two large gins, but felt properly tired after an extremely busy week and as soon as I hit the sack I was in deep sleep. Which meant I woke without an alarm just before 8am feeling refreshed and able to bound out of bed, find the clothes I had not set out and head off to Colwick with plenty of time to spare.

I have once recce’d Colwick to try and work out the parking and start line arrangements as it is much less clear than the Forest Rec and might involve paying for parking. But although I vaguely knew where I was going the free car park I was trying for had a locked barrier on it and I had to park in the street by the racecourse. Walking around the park I got completely disoriented and ended up walking past the 2km marker with 15 minutes till the start time – in other words, I was halfway around the course and had to turn back. I ended up having to run a bit to get to the start in time. The whole point of Colwick is that you run around a lake – so the only short cut back to the start is a little bit damp!

The event is huge – well over 200 runners. Lots of very thin, very well equipped people. I’m not sure if I was grumpier by the time I got to the start, but it didn’t quite feel as nice as the Forest. The team and officials were welcoming and professional but no other runner spoke to me. At the Forest, there were lots of chats at the start line, and I had a nice talk to a lovely lady in the later part of life who told me about her continuing battle to get under 30mins, even though she ran every week.

My reason for trying Colwick as well as the Forest, even though the Forest is closer, cheaper and easier, is that the Forest has a very hilly section you have to run twice! Colwick is definitely flat. This week it was windy and dry and the paths were compact. It is apparently famously muddy.

My focus in the 5k is running further at the start – keeping going for longer before I break into a walk. I can now routinely run a whole mile on the treadmill, sometimes in around 8mins. I can run a 10-minute mile without really losing my breath. But yesterday in the field I didn’t quite get back to the 2km marker without stopping for a bit of a walk, mainly because I had already run a bit in the other direction!

I did complete, in 37’21”. Despite the lack of hills, my time increased slightly, but I definitely comfortably beat my awful Spooky Sprint time. I can’t possibly see myself ready to do a 10k if the Parkinsons event happens again.

Parkrun has lots of interesting ways to crunch the data, so I know: I came 209th out of 229. Only four men were slower than me, most of the people who finished at the same time as me were older women. There was one nice moment when I overtook a walking woman close to the end and called out “only 400m to go!” (which I knew because I also had the RunKeeper app running, the curve of the course means you can’t see the finish from the last KM) she replied “Oh really? is that all?” and managed a sprint finish. 373 men my age have run that course, and only four of them have EVER run it slower than me.

Now my knees are giving me grief and I’m not sure if this amount of knee pain means a) I have just used them a bit and it will be fine or b) I am on track for a sports injury and should stop running. I don’t meet the threshold for seeing my GP about it, according to the NHS website.

I will definitely run Parkrun again. I can’t guarantee it will be next week and I can’t promise it won’t be a year till I get around to it again!

One piece of interesting news the team passed on: yesterday was the day Park Run ran in France for the first time.

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Fun things happen on snowy walk

When I get home these days, my Fitbit connects to my computer. On a good day, that then makes my phone go ping and say “You have nearly reached 10,000 steps! Just 2,000 more!”

2,000 steps is about a 20 minute walk, so that’s fairly achievable, and that phone ping is usually all the motivation I need to go for a quick walk to get me over the magic number as recommended by the NHS.

On Friday I got the ping quite late at night, after a slightly hairy drive home from ringing, and I was really reluctant about whether going out was a good idea.

I’m so glad I did.

Firstly I was out in the heaviest snow I have ever seen. Big, fat, Christmas card snowflakes falling at a million a minute.

Heavy snow 25/1/13

Secondly it gave me the chance to walk by Woodthorpe Park and take photos of an igloo I’d seen right by the railings on the Mansfield Road.

Heavy snow 25/1/13

My route then took me up Woodthorpe Drive, which is pretty steep and would tick off some more boxes on Fitbit’s “how many flights of stairs have you climbed today” measure. As I was doing this, I crossed over a bridge that was for a railway line that closed in the 1960s. In the park below, poking out of the bricked up tunnel, is a model train, along with a board recounting the railway history of the park. And third fun thing – for some reason known only to them, there was a group of lads, late teens, early twenties, gathered around the train smoking and drinking out of insulated travel mugs. What they were doing, only they know. They didn’t really seem dressed for the weather! They seemed to be having a good time, so I waved, and they waved back. Then… I made a theatrical show of making a snow ball out of snow gathered on the brick bridge and taking aim at one of them to squeals of No, mate, no, before deciding not to throw it, waving again, and continuing up the hill.

The weather was still coming in thick and fast, the pavements were now under 3″ of snow and even with my Yaktrax strapped to my feet, the snow was sticky and very hard to walk in. Cars were getting into trouble making it up the hill, snow was getting in my eyes and I was sorely tempted to stop off at the Bread and Bitter at the top of the hill. Having a pint halfway round your walk for health seems a little perverse, so I persevered on round the corner into the downhill stretch.

Heavy snow 25/1/13

When I got to Winchester Street, the fourth fun thing happened: one of the few cars to make it all the way up the hill was a 4×4 going at quite some speed – enough to make me look up from my feet to watch it go, only to see that running at full pelt behind it was an athletically built guy in marathon gear – trainers, shorts and t-shirt! (At this point I was in vest, shirt, hoodie, coat, thermal socks, and murderer gloves) What a strange time to go for a run.

I had a jolly leisure walk in the snow that all ended well. But it continued to chuck it down, and there were consequences. The night buses were all cancelled, and not long after, taxis were unable to get up the hillier parts of Nottingham. A friend who arrived home from London on the 2am train had to walk back to Sherwood and recounts the Mansfield Road as full of abandoned cars and buses in the wrong position on the road.

Anyway, must dash. It’s raining tonight rather than snowing, but my step count stands at 9,481 and we can easily fix this.

Dining in the dark #TLRblindsupperparty

Every now and again something weird drops into my email and I just shrug and think that sounds interesting, lets do it. Vanishingly rarely I’m offered something to review, or an event to go to, or something to write about. Much more often, it’s poorly written and sometimes downright discourteous PR posts from people hoping to use my blog’s tiny amount of SEO clout and I just ignore them. But sometimes it’s an offer of something tangible.

And so last week I was invited to a soirée to sample a new menu at the Living Room in Hockley, Nottingham.

This is a place I have been to twice before. Once to film day after reaction pieces and menu unveilings for Come Dine With Me, and a second time last year for our PGCE Christmas meal. The first time I boggled that they had a bottle of cognac for £2500 on their menu, and the second – well, as an impecunious student I wasn’t hugely impressed at the value for money of their Christmas party offering.

This time I plus one was invited to a Blind Tasting of some new menu items, which sounded rather interesting, never having done anything like that before. It was on a school night, but it was early and promised only to last an hour, so I thought I could just about cope with balancing the work and the opportunity to go and do something a little different.

We arrived a little late as my Plus One got held up in traffic and I dashed straight from work to home to the event in my school tie and suit. Arriving, we went into the bar and found in progress a cocktail making class with a large group of people huddled round the bar learning how to make an amaretto sour from a barman keen to show off his flair. Unsure whether that was part of the event we hung around behind them watching until my companion wisely suggested we check upstairs in their main dining room to see if they were there.

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Indeed they were, and they were champing at the bit to start, we by then being ten minutes late to something they’d urged us to be punctual for. We were hurried to seats, time to barely exchange names with the people next to us, and then put on our blindfolds.

The evening was fascinating. We were given tasters of lots of different food across the menu. Blindfolds on, food served, empty spoons / pots / glasses whipped away and then we could take off the blindfolds and answer in writing a quick quiz with very specific questions: what is the sauce with the duck? What meat is in the shepherd’s pie? Name three ingredients in our Glamorgan sausages.

The technicality of eating what you can’t see was fab, and half the times our hands had to be guided by our unseen waiting staff right onto our food. “Hold your hand in a cupping motion!” and then they placed a shot glass with a cocktail taster right into your fingers.

And with no sight of what you’re eating, it is really disconcerting. There were a number of times when I was chewing a mouthful with no thought really other than this is pretty tasty but I have no idea what it is. I did find myself pondering colours. What colour is this mystery food? Because the plates were removed before we could take off the blindfolds we didn’t even know that!

diningindark3

When the quizzes were marked and we got to know the answers, one thing that really did surprise me was that I had been unable to identify or even notice that at least two of the things I had eaten had things I think I really don’t like in them. “What are the ingredients in this tart?” was one question. I had identified the huge sloppy splash of something that came out of the tart and landed on my tie when I bit into it as honey, but had been oblivious to the fact that the main ingredient was butternut squash, which I thought I hated. The fish course was served with broccoli; I had no idea and thought it was cabbage!

diningindark

Somehow I managed to end up with more points than my fellow guests – although many of the points I got not from being able to taste ingredients, but having prior knowledge of what is in things. I have made Glamorgan sausages, so I know what is typically in them; I know you make a daiquiri with rum; I know what to expect on a cheeseboard so if I’m stumped for ideas I will write brie, cheddar, stilton… and somehow this clocked up to a winning score, which netted me a dinky little trophy and the adulation of my fellow diners.

diningindark4

After it was all over we invited downstairs for a free drink and then there was an opportunity to actually talk to our fellow diners, who turned out to be representing Experience Nottinghamshire, Noshingham and Nottingham Confidential. Quite how I ended up in such illustrious company is anyone’s guess. Talk turned to our experience of the Nottingham restaurant scene and we had quite a few minutes on whether Hart’s is better than World Service. (they thought yes, I think no. Both have amazing lunch time offers as well as the expensive à la carte evening offer) It’s a shame talk didn’t turn more comprehensively to the mid-range Nottingham restaurant scene rather than the high-end, as I think that’s a much more diverse market.

All in all, it was a very agreeable evening and the taster foods we had from Living Room were definitely delicious. Highlights for me in particular were the duck in plum sauce, the Glamorgan sausages and their delicious new pudding the Basil Grand, a sort of Eton mess with Grand Marnier and, yes, basil. Basil. In a pudding. Sounds crazy but was delicious.

Bells out!

Daybrook bells

I did manage to pop along to church on Monday night for a brief look see of the bells out of the tower before they were taken to the foundry for attention.

There were a few other ringers there including our youngest recruit who had been there since (primary) school kicking out time and had been having a whale of a time having a hands-on go at the heavy engineering, and actually got to help lower the bells from the tower.

Now they are out, they look tiny to me. I have seen them a few times as I have done some basic maintenance on them in situ, including botch repairing to shrouding and fitting muffles. In their frame, when they are hard to access and you have to do a lot of clambering to get to them, they seemed much more imposing than when they sat, mute and clapperless, on sheets on the church floor.

The 10cwt tenor (and the bells have handled so badly for so long it is always surprising to see the tenor is only 10cwt!) is barely waist high when removed from its person-sized wheel.

As the bells were being worked on, the wheels showed just what poor condition they were in, almost collapsing as they were removed. It really was probably only months before one of them broke whilst being used.

A few other things: these bells are surprisingly cracked around the rims.

We were there during choir practice, and the choir was getting going on Christmas carols, which made the evening a little surreal.

And the musicians were also keen to hear the bells when they were down. Whacking the 8 bells with a big spanner in sequence leaves you in no doubt at all just how out of tune they are with each other!

My experience hosting a supperclub

(File this one under “things I should have blogged months ago!”)

In November last year, just over a year after I opened our doors for CDWM, we hosted a supper club in our house.

We weren’t cooking, we were hosting for my vegan chef friend who used to blog here but is presently on hiatus.

I think it was a good evening. We had an interesting blend of people, who enjoyed our chef’s food. Our guests were a mix of vegans and not. For an evening, we had a house full of people who had never been here before.

In order to get the house ready we had spent about a week tidying clutter away, and I spent the Saturday hoovering, dusting and laying tables. Our guests didn’t seem disgusted by the state of our house, but then, as we learned on Come Dine With Me, they don’t usually express their disgust to your face! (And they weren’t allowed in as many rooms as the CDWM guys!)

Some things I learned:

* if I borrow a table and six chairs, I can easily seat 16 people for dinner in our house.

* We already have enough cutlery, crockery, glassware, candles, table linen without borrowing any more (!)

* in November, we need to run the heating all day to get the house tolerably warm

* if you deadbolt the kitchen door and put a camping table up against it you can get an extra prep surface. But it will be uncomfortably low down.

Some things that were hiccoughs along the way:

Boiling enough water to feed gnocchi to 16 people takes a looong time. They had to be cooked in separate batches because some of them were gluten free, so we needed two pans of boiling water. The gnocchi had been made ahead and frozen and needed to be plunged into large pans of boiling water. Getting 20l of water to the boil in a domestic kitchen is a time consuming challenge.

The second thing that held us up was plate warming. This is all the more important in our house because our kitchen is unheated and the cupboards fix directly to the walls. In winter, some of our cupboards are colder than our fridge. Our plates are often icy. There’s no point getting the food good and warm if you then By the time we needed warm plates, the oven was very hot cooking puff pastry, and the sink was full of used pots and pans. We actually warmed plates in the end by wetting them and microwaving them, all the while worrying this might break them.

Two of our guests were the hosts of North Nott’s Clarkies Supperclub (last few spaces remaining at their April event!). We had been worried they might be hostile to competition, but that wasn’t the case at all. It seems there is plenty of market share available for another supper club in the Nottingham neck of the woods – in fact there doesn’t appear to be any other one currently running anywhere in the East Midlands. The Clarkies have said they are keen for others to set up just so they have an opportunity to go and eat out instead of hosting for a change.

They had suggestions for the platewarming problem – buy a hostess trolley. They’re pricey new, but there does seem to be a steady supply of really cheap ones on eBay.

Which leads me to my conclusion. Would I do this again? Is it worth buying a hostess trolley off eBay? So far, I only have experience of hosting and not cooking. At our last event, our chef partner did all the cooking, devised the menu, and did all the publicity, mostly through the very obliging Nottingham Vegan website. I’m not sure I could cook as well as our chef, nor present the food as well, nor work out such an interesting menu.

Certainly working as a teacher I could not run an event in term time, as the prep and publicity would take too long. Do I want to spend half terms hosting a restaurant in my house?

If you do it regularly, it does seem to take over your house a little. In her book, Kerstin Rodgers confesses she’s had to move her entire life into the bedroom of her flat as her sitting room is dominated now by tables and chairs. In conversation with the Clarkies, it seems they have had to give over a spare bedroom to holding the folding chairs, tables, extra dinner services and linen they need.

Do you ever make any money from it? We were on a profit share basis with our chef partner and at the end of the evening divvied up the takings. And we got a nice handful of tenners in return for our efforts. We had incurred some cost – heating, and professional help in cleaning up ready for our guests – so we comfortably broke even. But the temptation to buy ever more things to make the evening go better – cooking kit, serving kit, must mean if you do it regularly, you incur costs. Would it ever get to the point where you made money? I doubt it. I guess most people who do it, do it for the love of food and the interesting times you end up with.

Will we do it again? I have not ruled it out forever, but I am sure as heck going to try and get teaching a bit more sorted out before I have another go myself. So certainly ruling it out for PGCE year and (hopefully) NQT year to summer 2013.

Troubling news about TEDxNottingham

Great news! TED is coming to Nottingham!

TED is the awesome, highly regarded website with fabulous videos of world leading speakers talking about interesting things.

TEDx is their programme of running local events, which, it appears are run by volunteers across the globe.

TEDxNottingham brings all the fun of TED really locally to Nottingham on March 17th this year.

So where is the troubling news? Normally if someone gave me this information I would have no qualms about letting people know as widely as possible.

The trouble is I learned about it because the TEDxNottingham twitter account are spamming the heck out of anyone with a vaguely local twitter presence. Which I think is MORALLY WRONG. This is not how you do twitter! Stop it at once!

So I don’t know whether I should be spreading the news because it’s interesting and lots of people I know would like to hear about it, or to stand well back and let the EVIL SPAMMERZ FOAD.

I called them on it, and they apologised, saying they were running their spammy tweets late at night so as not to splurge people’s timelines, but I still think they should not be doing it at all. Still, I’m not PR savvy enough to suggest what they might be doing instead…