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My “Cancelled” First Half Marathon

I had completed my first ten mile run. I had walked some of it but a half marathon was only a couple of extra miles, I’d give it a go.

I wanted to support one of the run’s charities, a local Multiple Sclerosis rehab cent017re – I work with a friend that has it.

I had three weeks to prepare. I ran, cycled or swam a couple of times a week anyway, but I spent a week before it running every day, starting at 5k and working up to 16k, mostly on the treadmill. I prefer exercising outdoors because it gives you a sense of freedom, you actually go somewhere and you can enjoy nature.

My brother asked what time I was aiming for. I reckoned 2 hours and a half. It had taken me an hour to run 10 miles. He did his first full marathon last year in Copenhagen. We have a photo of him finishing, looking pale and ill. He reckons you need at least 8 weeks training.

He also cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats (the length of England) in 10 days (doing about 100 miles a day) when he was in sixth form and this year he canoed round all the major lochs in Scotland (52km).

Race Day

On race day I had some porridge with bananas for breakfast, great for slow energy release. I wore trainers I’d bought the week before, ones to stop pronation, or your foot rolling in towards your ankle when you run. They were specially fitted from “gait analysis” – I was filmed on a treadmill and action snapshots documented how my feet fell. I have used the same pronation trainers for years and never had any injury – I think because of the way they are made.

When I got to the stadium I had a cereal bar and picked up my charity t-shirt from where the finish was. Announcements were blaring out about the location of key areas. There was quite a queue for the toilets and I worried I’d miss the race. There was no indication of where the start was and quite a few people were asking around. Nothing was signed, but then I spotted the crowd and the time markers. I was surprised that I couldn’t hear any announcements. I wondered why I could hear them at the finish area but not at the start. When I did a 10k last year there were loudspeakers covering the whole of the start line and a guy with a megaphone on a platform getting everyone warming up.

Chaos and Confusion

The communication in this case was someone yelling repeatedly: “The race is delayed by 30 minutes”. He wasn’t wearing anything identifying him as an official so not everybody listened. Not everybody heard either but most people passed the message on.

About 15 minutes later the man returned, yelling “police are removing obstacles from the course“. I wondered what sort of obstacles and why.

My brother had recommended that I start ahead of the time I thought I’d run it in. The markers were all set out the same distance apart. This meant that there wasn’t enough space for the time the majority of runners were aiming for. I queued to enter the 2 hour section, which was only possible when runners left to warm up. I went back until I found a bit of space so that I wouldn’t be crushed when the crowd started to move. The earlier markers then went round a corner ahead of two hours, so we couldn’t see or hear what was happening at the start.

“Cancelled”

We waited to start for about an hour. At least it was warm in the crowd, but we had no idea what was happening as during that time we heard no announcements and there was not one official in sight. Eventually there was slow clapping from the 2 hour 15 section which rippled forward, followed about 15 minutes later by booing.

Then a rumour went back that the race was cancelled. Everyone stood there in disbelief. There had been no announcements, it must be some kind of joke, I said. Luckily a lady next to me, Sue, had an in-law who was one of the race volunteers. She had discovered by text that the water had not arrived for the race and that they were dashing round supermarkets buying more. I thought that wouldn’t happen somewhere like London.

We waited another 15 minutes or so and then someone in front showed us breaking BBC news on his phone – it was official. There was anger and disbelief. A lot of us were sponsored. Family, friends and colleagues had been generous. I didn’t want to let them down and besides, this was supposed to be my first half marathon. But in that moment, the whole crowd of over 4,000 just set off.

I saw Sue and we settled into a nice pace where we could just about chat. She was running for Macmillan and lived nearby. We passed two water stations, one after about 5 miles and one at about 7.

Superhero Spectators

The supporters were fantastic, there were people lining the route almost everywhere, with one group blowing whistles and horns. They were almost all holding out bottles. Runners passed these among themselves. I was touched by the kindness of strangers and moved by the community spirit. Others had bowls of sweets, which helped keep sugar levels up at the half-way point. I saw people I knew and the cheers from them and the rest of the crowd gave me bursts of energy.

With the first sugar hit wearing off, I suddenly felt a bit tired and had the rest of the sweets I’d been carrying for this point. There had been spectators until about 6 miles. I hadn’t drunk more than about a bottle of water as I hadn’t wanted to get the stitch. At 8 miles there were no more as we were in the inner city industrial area. This meant there was no more water.

Casualties

When I hit 10 miles my legs decided they wanted to stop running and went heavy. A grey-haired runner had just collapsed at the side of the road and an official was bringing him round. Then I passed a young runner who was unconscious with blood on his mouth, paramedics around him. I felt like I was running in a war zone. I could be next I thought, with my parched mouth and heavy legs.

All I could think about was finishing. I remembered my brother’s advice that when you’re tired you shouldn’t run as if you’re tired, as that makes it worse. So I lightened my pace and managed to keep going, but exhaustion made it a massive effort. It was time for sheer willpower to keep my legs moving.

I finally came into the stadium and saw a sign “800m to go”. I sped up a little, not realising how far 800m feels when you’ve been running for 13 miles.

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Overtaken

Then I saw the “400m to go” and remembered how I felt in a school sports day race. I had no energy and was flagging but then someone cheered “it’s now or never!”.  I looked at my watch. I had to do it in under two hours. There wouldn’t be a repeat of this, this was my one chance. I accelerated and sprinted the last 400m.

I collected my “medium” race pack and looked for a water bottle. There had been one in my 10k race pack. Nothing. Someone at the finish line had pointed out a water table further down so I went there. A lady looked helplessly at me “sorry”, she said. To the left of the table were four empty 2 litre water bottles.

As I finished I saw someone being attended to on a stretcher in the middle of the stadium, who was then rushed off in an ambulance.

The Long Walk Home

I was dehydrated but managed to get public transport to town. Then the bus didn’t turn up as the roads were still closed from the delayed race. So I took it on myself to walk the 3 miles home. It would be a challenge but I could do it. It was worth it, as on the way I met and chatted to a neighbour, who kindly sponsored me.

After walking uphill for the last two miles I was exhausted and had a migraine the rest of the day, but when I woke the next morning I was fine. A bit of a tender hip and left leg but the day after that I was fine.

Outrage

The event made the national news. Our local MP, Nick Clegg, said that lessons needed to be learnt. The winner said that it was the “first and last race” he would run in Sheffield.

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We were still timed and knew that without sufficient water, we ran the race at our own risk, but I think the organisers should learn from the organisers of the BUPA 10k race, which was flawless in every detail.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me and if anyone still wants to, the page is:

https://www.justgiving.com/firsthalfmarathon2014

Finally, a big thank you to all those who handed out water and saved the day.

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The Naked Rambler Revealed

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Yesterday I watched a BBC documentary on Peter Gough’s latest activism. Released from HMP Edinburgh, he was walking over 425 miles to Eastleigh, Southampton, once again trying to persuade us that nudity is freedom.

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A decade of intolerance and imprisonment has not deterred Peter. He even had to be put in solitary confinement for his own safety. People seemed to find him hilarious, as I did or offensive, with one Scotsman saying it was inappropriate given the Jimmy Savile enquiry. I don’t really see the link myself. If people find it offensive why don’t they look away, rather than wasting taxpayers’ money reporting him to the police. Time and time again he was arrested and then released.

oblong-the-naked-rambler-stills-3What is so awful about being in our natural state anyway? If anyone has the balls to do it in public and in British temperatures I say why not. He even walked in the snow without getting hypothermia.

The real reason the public find Peter so offensive is because he is being “deviant” – that is, subverting societal norms.

You could see he was on a collision course for disaster when he walked towards a primary school at closing time. The cameraman was getting more and more agitated, warning him of impending police action but Peter kept insisting “my compass says this is South so I’m going South”. Sure enough he was arrested, with charges mysteriously dropped after months of custody. I suspect Peter’s fan club paid them off. One of them, Augustus,  joined him part of the way with an improvised loin cloth. It was like a bizarre version of the Emperor’s Clothes.

255503881.thumbHe hadn’t seen his children for seven years. Personally I’d be mortified if that was my father. It’s embarrassing enough when he wears his multicoloured “clown” pants. He says he’s showing his love of Fauvism but it offends my sense of taste. Peter’s mum couldn’t understand his “cause” and even Peter himself was rather muddled about it, merely repeating the words “democracy” and “freedom”. When he finally got down to Eastleigh he was given an Anti Social Behaviour Order again for going to the dentists naked. I had wondered why his teeth were so bad. He breached the ASBO twice and is currently serving a 16 month sentence.

MoS2 Template MasterIt was sad seeing the man he was before – an ex-marine and family man who took care of himself, to a nudist living on a family commune to now, almost the definition of a tramp with his scraggly wild beard and hair, his crooked teeth, a manic look and not an ounce of fat.

Apparently he was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a trial and no issues were found. His mental state was quite intriguing. Almost a thousand readers of an English newspaper agreed with a comment about him being mentally ill. The Scots seem more accepting however – Peter had no trouble on his latest stint there and comments on The Scotsman newspaper appeared largely supportive, with one reader daring him to do battle with the midges.

We can be naked at home, in changing rooms, in communal showers and even as a model in an art class but not anywhere else. It seems ridiculous that porn is accepted while naturism is seen as a cult. We’ve all seen it before, so what’s the big deal?

I do think it’s selfish to pursue the cause at the expense of seeing his children grow up. What do you think? Personally my only qualm is hygiene…

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Thieving “carers”

Firstly, apologies that I haven’t written for a while – my creative energies are currently being directed towards a novel I’m writing. It’ll take several years to complete but I will let you know if it gets published.

From 2012-2013 there were just under a million cases of personal property theft according to the British Crime Survey. Yesterday I saw CCTV footage of a stealing personal assistant in the news and it upset me. It was even worse that the victim had only just come out of hospital. Sadly when I searched for the topic “CCTV stealing carer” many videos came up, including someone caught red handed and the mobile phone footage of the parent. Both ladies I’ve worked for have been victims of this crime. Unless the amounts are large, compensation is the most common outcome. However I think a jail sentence is necessary to teach them a lesson. This was given to a carer who stole £35,000 over four years from a couple.

They make an example out of cannabis growers, why shouldn’t they make an example out of those who steal from the people they are supposed to help? However, the criminals will not be able to work in the care industry and will probably struggle to get a job now, which is something. This is why if you think it is happening to you you must get video evidence and report it. Don’t leave them with a blank Criminal Records Bureau check so they can target someone else. The psychological scars it causes can be long-lasting.

Sadly it is difficult to stop this from happening – to scratch beneath the surface of someone at interview and see whether they have a good conscience. I wonder what makes these people feel entitled to stealing money from those who need it most. Some have suggested that if carers were paid more this might not happen. But I don’t think this is the case. It’s not desperation that leads these people to steal, it’s something that psychologists term “neutralisation” – thieves override their conscience with a justification that neutralises the guilt. In a 1984 study of American shoplifters researchers found that this was how they justified their criminal activity:

– If I am careful and smart, I will not get caught.
– Even if I do get caught, I will not be turned in and prosecuted.
– Even if I am prosecuted, the punishment will not be severe. – (when compensation is all that is ordered, I expect this is a motivation)
– The merchants deserve what they get.
– Everybody, at some time or another, has shoplifted; therefore it’s ok for me to do it.
– Shoplifting is not a major crime.
– I must have the item I want to shoplift or if I want it, I should have it.
– It is okay to shoplift because the merchants expect it.

The carer may have taken £20 per week rather than the whole amount in her employer’s purse because she thought that in small amounts it would not be spotted. The thieves obviously see those who they care for as soft targets. Perhaps she was also greedy – the Chanel handbag on the thief’s arm as she walked out of court seemed to suggest that. When I worked as a legal secretary we advised a girl who had stolen from her parents. She showed no remorse and merely worried what the sentence would be. Both the lady who stole £35,000 and this girl bought luxury items with the proceeds, leading one to think that, again, self-indulgence is a strong motivation.

My moral conscience is secure. I would never think that stealing was acceptable. When I looked after an elderly lady I was shocked to hear about her experiences. She was naturally very distrustful of anyone new and was worried whenever I had to run errands in her bedroom without her there. She had been the victim of hoax callers pretending to check her television was working who then stole from her. She had also been the victim of a carer who had stolen things while in her bedroom. When she was in hospital she had her wedding ring taken. She had resorted to carrying a pouch around her wrist with her valuables in and when she went into hospital she wouldn’t let anyone take it off her. She wouldn’t let me have a front door key, so when her door jammed and she couldn’t get out of her bedroom, I had to ring her son, frightened that something had happened to her during the night.

I dread to think of the care I will receive if I ever have to have home help, after hearing what she continuously went through. I asked her why she didn’t report it and she said she had no evidence and didn’t want to cause trouble. This was of course the reason that Lynette Nardone had to pay £1,000 for a CCTV security system as she didn’t feel safe in her own home. A CRB check won’t necessarily help either – whilst they do deter those that have been caught, they will not stop those who have escaped the law or first-time opportunists.

Shopping Errands – Preventing Access To Your Cash

Must we all have CCTV fitted in our homes? If you do have home help I would recommend doing this if a carer has to do shopping for you:

– tell them you will pay them afterwards and make it clear that you will only pay them back if they show the receipt. If they have a contract try and make sure there is a clause covering this in it or get them to sign a statement to this effect if possible

– ask for their bank details so you can make a transfer online when they are away

or if this is not possible:

– have some money ready

– ask to see the receipt

– ask them to leave the room and shut the door while you get the money out

Unfortunately it is impossible to tell who you can trust and who you can’t. It took many months for my employer to trust me after what she had been through. It is probably best to assume the worst.

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On Mr Cameron’s “Small Island” generalisations

I was rather amused by Mr David Cameron’s Britain is Best speech at the G20 summit. This was not not just due to their similarity with the Prime Minister’s speech in British romantic comedy Love Actually, but by the glaring inconsistencies of it.

In response to an alleged comment by a Russian official that the United Kingdom was “just a small island” he responded “Britain may be a small island but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a 120802CameronPutin_6496554bigger heart or greater resilience”, continuing that:

“Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the Second World War.

“Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worthwhile inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world.

“We are very proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation.”

Despite the communal applause in the press, the flaws of these comments were all too obvious. In comparison to Russia, we are indeed a small island. Regarding our past, yes we have had great inventors and famous people who have changed history. But so have many other countries. As for our history, the way we occupied the colonies, slaughtering the natives and attempting to convert them all to Christianity is nothing to be proud of.

1. Mr Cameron claimed Britain cleared “the European continent of fascism”. Yes but not without the military might of America, without whom we may well have lost the Second World War.

2. The statement with the most holes is that Britain “helped to abolish slavery”. As The Guardian’s Stephen Moss AS 55 Anti-Slavery Britain then pointed out, we profited from it for 300 years before this happened. A BBC history website points out that of all countries, Britain profited most from the trade.

As the Abolition Project website points out, it was no longer in Britain’s economic interests to continue slavery. Since America had become independent, it had been able to obtain sugar elsewhere. Furthermore, following the Industrial Revolution, we had been able to produce our own goods. It was also no longer profitable because of the continuous revolts. These points may explain why many importers of plantation produce were also abolitioinists. In August 1833 the Emancipation Act was passed under pressure from religious groups and abolition campaigners. However this still did not go far enough as it still required slaves to be “apprentices” working for free for six years before becoming emancipated.

“Apprenticeship” was not outlawed until 1838. The 1833 Act was only a partial victory, only applying to the West Indies, Cape Town, Mauritius and Canada. The Empire continued to profit from slavery in other countries. The Act did slave-ship01s  not stop the practice – many simply ignored the ruling and although reported by campaigners, it was not enforced. Treaties were entered into with other countries, and an “Anti-Slavery squadron” was set up of old and derelict Naval vessels. However ship owners that were caught were tried in foreign countries. Those freed were sent to Freetown, a British colony. However when that became full they were forced into the army or “apprenticeships”. It took 100 years after the Emancipation Act for total abolition of the trade, during which time Britain continued to profit by importing and exporting slave-grown sugar and importing slave-grown cotton.

For freed slaves conditions were still horrendous with endemic racism, poor living conditions and lower pay, as a former slave and American statesman, Frederick Douglass commented:

“Though no longer a slave, he is in a thralldom grievous and intolerable, compelled to work for whatever his employer is pleased to pay him, swindled out of his hard earnings by money orders redeemed in stores, compelled to pay the price of an acre of ground for its use during a single year, to pay four times more than a fair price for a pound of bacon and to be kept upon the narrowest margin between life and starvation….”

3. To say that we invented “most of the things worthwhile inventing” is doing a great disservice to the great 1885Benzinventions of other countries. The invention of the car for example, was crucial to our sixth-largest economy, in which a £52 billion turnover is supplied by the automotive industry.

4. Mr Cameron then claimed we invented “every sport currently played”, what about rowing, which was first recorded in Egypt, basketball and sumo wrestling? (to name just a few). The comment suggests that the only sports worth including are British ones, thus devaluing the sports of other countries. Furthermore the reason for the widespread playing of British sport again relates to colonial rule. Game fields were used for “moral instruction” of the conquered,  following a rejection of local cultures and beliefs.

British army troop5. As for a well-funded military, we are the fourth-largest worldwide spender on military. Yet after cuts, the army will eventually number just 82,000 – a level one British lawmaker said was the lowest since the Napoleonic Wars. Even the new British Head of Armed Forces, General Nicholas Houghton commented: “We’ve got to get back into an ‘expeditionary mindset’ where we will not have perfect capability for every scenario.”

A political opportunity was seized to put good spin on the unproven comment by a Russian official, using sweeping generalisations. The majority of the press responded as was intended. However, as a result of the comments we appeared arrogant, misinformed and laughable as a nation. Yes, Britain has been the home of many great inventors and yes we do have parts of history we can be proud of. But lets not diminish the achievements of other countries.

As American poet and critic Ezra Pound said: ““Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.”

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