Monday, 14 August 2017

I need to fall in love again.

Have you been reading my blog for a while?  It is probably quite obvious that I like running.  I've planned my holidays around races and some would say that I am quite obsessed with running.  I've made so many friends through running and have been evangelical in extolling the virtues of running in general and parkrun in particular.

But, in the last couple of weeks I haven't been feeling the love.  My trip to Tanzania was something that I had looked forward to and planned towards for almost two years.  While far from being a holiday it was an epic adventure.  I'm left feeling a little bit flat now.  I am well used to the 'post marathon blues' that tend to hit on the Wednesday after a weekend marathon, this is similar but on a somewhat larger scale!

The post marathon blues can be cured by an extra slice of cake or glass of wine (or possibly both!) an internet connection and a quick browse of the races available.  15 minutes with a credit card means that the next race is booked and there is something to aim for... which is just as well given that cake and wine have been consumed!  The post expedition blues call for something more exciting.  Given that no one else in my family thinks that camping and walking up mountains is remotely enjoyable - Husbando is not known as the 'five star canary' without good cause - I will have to wait for the next chance to jump on an aeroplane with a group of teenagers!

Normally, when I feel glum, I put on my trainers and head out for a run.  Now running when we were in Africa was not really an option.  I had a couple of runs along the beach - about half a mile out and back because that is where I was stopped by security.  Out and back running, even on the edge of the Indian Ocean at sunrise, is dull!  It just wasn't safe to run in most of the places we stayed.  So, despite walking miles and gaining much altitude, I did virtually no running.  I didn't really run for four and a half weeks!

On the 'plane on the way home I commented to SW that I was really looking forward to running again.  The day after we got back I pulled on my running shorts and headed on out and up the hill outside our house.  Oh my word, what was going on?  I could barely make it a quarter of a mile before having to stop.  I persevered - completing a very slow 3 mile run with lots of stopping and swearing.  I began to dread going out for a run.  What was going on?

It has taken me over two weeks to realise that expecting to take a month's break from running and then to expect to be able to run as fast as I had before was unrealistic.  I ran a chatty parkrun with a friend on Saturday, she had a marathon the next day, so was happy to bimble around with me.  33 minutes for a 5k is never going to set the world on fire, but it was the first time I had run 5k without stopping since June!

Sunday saw me up in London as Husbando had a book fair.  We leave home just after 5am which means that, once he's unloaded the car, I'm free to go for a run.  The weather was beautiful.  I set off with no real goal in mind other than enjoying myself.   I would run when I wanted to, stop if I felt like it, walk if I need to.  At one point I was running along the Embankment while a Polish walk racing athlete (I think he was one of the Blocki brothers) was training.  No prizes for guessing who was moving faster!

But, something was different.  Despite the fact that I was running slower than a race walker (!) - it took me an hour and a quarter to run about 7.5 miles - I was enjoying it.  The aches and pains (dodgy piriformis) were not hugely in evidence.  I wasn't really thinking about the fact that I was 'running' (one of the benefits of London being so flat), I was just enjoying being out in my home town in the sunshine, without the place being crammed with tourists.

So, I need to take it easy and ease back into running.  I haven't got any races planned until The Royal Parks Half in October.  I ran that race in 1hr 43mins a couple of years ago.  I doubt I will ever beat that time, even if I trained for it.  As is is, I'll try to remember that running is fun and concentrate on that rather than on pace and times.

And while I run I will plot my next big adventure...  

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Looking back...

Before, after and during our recent trip we heard comments about our 'holiday.'  The trip was many things, but it was not a holiday.  In my former career I got to travel widely and always sought to ring every possible ounce of excitement out of each trip - whether that trip be to South America or Cardiff -  I love travel and adore the chance to try something new.  Four and a half weeks in Tanzania was harder work than any other trip I have ever done.  Being 'on duty' 24/7 is exhausting.  If you are a parent, think back to those early days when you had a baby that didn't sleep through the night.  It was a bit like that - I never felt that I could sleep deeply and the unbroken nights were as rare as rocking horse poo.  And while I probably, on occasion, ignored my own child crying there is no way I could ignore one of my students.

Behaviour, in the main was excellent - but I still have a couple of 'tricky emails' to send to parents.  I'd not looking forward to that.  Most of the boys grew and developed over the 4.5 weeks, but decision making was still painfully slow.  The whole point of the expedition was that they boys take responsibility as much as possible, but this meant that it could take most of a day to organise a hotel, transport and places to eat.

Hmm, places to eat... teenagers don't tend to be the most adventurous souls when it comes to food.  Our food budget was meagre - purposely so in order, in theory, to encourage the students to try local food rather than more expensive western food.  I love food, I would quite happily eat street food at lunch time to allow space in the budget so that we could eat somewhere more exotic in the evening.  The boys were interested in food they could recognise, burgers, fried chicken, pizza... So that whole lovely holiday vibe of lingering over a good meal was not part of our trip.  We were much more likely to be dealing with a vomiting student.  NB One student who has necked 2 bottles of Fanta and a plate of chips in record time can empty a restaurant in record time by vomiting copiously at the table!

All this could drive one to drink... except that this is not an option on a school trip.  School rules state that at all times there must be two members of staff who have not drunk in the last 24 hrs - we had three members of staff, and the organisation running out expedition had a blanket 'no alcohol' policy.  So no relaxing evenings, sitting on the beech with a beer.  No chilled glass of wine with a meal.  I'm not an alcoholic but... Part of me wonders if an opportunity to model 'adults enjoying an alcoholic drink in a responsible manner' was missed.

So no, it wasn't a holiday.  It was hard, hard work.  Amazingly rewarding at times, incredibly frustrating at others, I experienced some of the (literal and metaphorical) highest of highs but also the lowest, bleakest and most lonely times too.  The days when I could not get in touch with home - but wanted to talk to Husbando or my children more than anything else.  The late nights when we stood in the pitch black in a remote bit of field (because it was the only place we could get a phone signal) spending hours on a conference call to discuss our concerns about certain boys and situations.  

Would I go back?  In a heartbeat.  I'd do this type of trip regularly if given half the chance.  The benefit to the boys is immense.  I've had emails from parents saying how much their son has changed, for the better, because of the experience.  I'd love to be able to run this type of trip with children from disadvantaged backgrounds - I have a hunch that they would benefit even more than our relatively privileged pupils.

I was amazed at how much of a circus Kilimanjaro was - I hadn't expected it to be quite so busy, which is naive of me I know. Hopefully my next long expedition with school will be to somewhere equally as exciting but very different.  Outside school, I've got a few ideas about mountains I'd like to climb, which is just as well as my running mojo seems to have deserted me at the moment.

It won't be with SW, which is a shame.  I am still struggling to come to terms with him sacrificing his summit attempt so that I could summit.  It was always going to be a very hard decision - I wanted him to summit as much as I wanted to summit myself, but going down, and choosing to go down rather than tossing a coin, must have been so hard.  I know that the day after he went down was one of the lowest days of the entire trip for me - I can't imagine how tough it must have been for him.  Maybe he realises that, at my great age, time is running out for me to get back to Tanzania!  I'll  miss him next term - work won't be quite the same without him there, but I know that he will be hugely successful and popular in his new school and wish him all the best.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

Coming home!


After 4.5 weeks we were on our way home!

At Abu Dhabi
There's not much to say about a 5hr and an 8hr flight separated by a 6.5hr wait at Abu Dhabi airport, although Etihad Airways should be complimented for their excellent service. The cabin crew on our first flight new exactly what three adults who hadn't seen alcohol for a month needed.... and provided it in paper coffee cups, including some delicious bubbles that were brought back from business class - that on top of the other beverages they'd supplied meant that we were pretty giggly!
We had one boy lose his boarding pass within 10 metres of the check in desk, but apart from that the journey was stress free.

Arriving at Heathrow we were all excited to see our relatives again.  It had been so long since we had seen them and we all had so much to tell them.  But a little part of me was sad that the time we had all spent together was over.  It is true that there are bits of the trip I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, but the boys have amazed and astounded me in by what they have achieved.  

I have also had the great good fortune to have spent the time in the company of Shit Weasel and Big Al, Stu - our summit leader - must also get a special mention.  To have spent so much time together could have been an absolute nightmare but they were all amazing.  We have laughed and joked our way through the month away and I will miss them!  Thanks guys - you're the best!


The final countdown

I'd been in two minds about the R&R phase of our expedition for a while.  On one hand the idea of being able to laze around at the beach was mildly appealing, on the other hand I never 'laze around at the beach' and the idea of unstructured time with demob happy boys filled me with a degree of trepidation.

I've already blogged about our arrival at Kipepeo Beach Village and the poor food we were served on our first night.  Suffice to say the food didn't improve and, to make matters many times worse, we were all bitten by bed bugs.  The management were most unhelpful - saying that no one else had complained about bed bugs (which is patently untrue if TripAdvisor is to be believed) and therefore it was our fault!

We went out side the resort for lunch and supper one day - much to the consternation of the staff who kept issuing dire warnings about how unsafe it was.  We were also, wrongly, told that 3 people had been 'robbed at knife point' just after we had walked back from our evening meal.

On our second full day we went snorkelling.  I have never been snorkelling!  We took a dhow out to a beautiful, uninhabited island where we walked around the coast looking into rock pools and collecting see shells.  We saw crabs and sea urchins and sea cucumbers as well as lots of fish.  We then got back onto the boat to go out to sea for snorkelling.  I was one of the first into the water... and one of the first out!  I am sure it is wonderful, and I know that with a bit of practice in shallow water (not 3m deep!) I could get used to not being able to breath through my nose, but swimming with 11 boisterous boys was neither the time nor the place!  I panicked and got out as quickly as my flippers would allow me to climb the ladder!

We then had lunch back on the island, before spending a pleasant afternoon 'chilling' on the most idyllic beach.  There are days, or parts of days, when being a teacher is a great job!

It was a bit of a come down to return to the resort and be served undercooked prawns for supper!

Some of the boys were struggling with the lack of structure in these final few day.  We tried to mitigate this by meeting for meals and having planned activities - whether it be swimming, beach volley ball or tent cleaning.  We were all looking forward to getting home.

On our final night we walked along the beach to the neighbouring resort for our final meal.  The resort was virtually deserted on the Monday evening, despite being hugely busy at the weekend, and we were the only people in the restaurant.  We had our best meal of the entire trip.  They had no burgers or pizzas, so the boys had to be a bit more adventurous in in their choices.  I had a crab curry which contained so much crab that I had to share it and naan bread.  I went to bed with a very full tummy that evening!


Happy 18th birthday darling girl!



Got up early this morning to go for a run along the beech and a quick dip in the ocean.  I didn't leave a card for my older daughter - so I hope this photo will do the job for me.

Kipepeo Beach


Tonight, it is safe to say, our boys feel a wee bit aggrieved.  

There are two teams from our school in Tanzania.  We have the same start and end date, but the only time we are at the same place is for the final few days of R&R. The teachers with the other team have done this trip before and block booked accommodation on the Swahili Coast for both teams.  They booked all the available rooms for our dates. Most of the accommodation would be in 2 and 3 man beach bandas, but there would be one 6 bed dorm and we would work out who went in there nearer the time.  

This is what we had told our team.  So arriving today to find that the other team where here already, arriving a day before us, and that not only had the bagged all the bandas but our boys were all in dorms was less than ideal.  We spoke with the other teachers who said that they made the decision as our boys are older and need less supervision - which is nonsense as one of our team is in a banda right next to the dorms.  Anyway, we repeated this explanation to our team and refused to be drawn into discussion.  The boys aren't daft though....

After settling into rooms (the view from mine is lovely) everyone went down to the beach.  The Indian Ocean is beautifully warm, and if I was a beach lover I am sure it would be heaven!

We were excited about dinner.  The menu looked good with plenty of fish and seafood.  This close to the sea it has to be fantastic didn't it?  The only choice that anyone other than a teenage boy would make - they all picked pizzas and burgers.  We got tiny, flavourless prawns that looked like they had come out of a bag from Iceland, and my red snapper was so dried up and overcooked as to be unrecognisable as any type of fish. The veg (mixed from a frozen bag) was undercooked and the spice rice had a distinct absence of spice!  I didn't eat mine.  The boys seemed happy with their food (the pizzas did look distinctly as though they came from Iceland too), and had organised a small ceremony for after our meal.

One of the boys on our team is Deputy Head Boy - so he read out the speech he would have made on Founder's Day, adding on a few words of thanks to SW, Al and me.  We got presents too!  I got a glass that has 'pole pole' on it -  not only a souvenir of Kilimanjaro but a reminder not to drink my gin too quickly!  SW got a loud African shirt and Al a poncho style thingy.

So tonight I go to bed listening to the waves - which is wonderful, and a bar playing loud music - which is not quite so wonderful, but hopefully will stop soon!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Ice creams for breakfast...


SW and I had popped out to the supermarket to try to find nail varnish remover and nail varnish - SW is keen on a nice pedicure but only at the weekends.  We totally failed in this mission, but couldn't resist an ice cream.  At 8,500 TZS (approx. £2.90) this ice cream was more expensive than a lot of the meals we have eaten while here, but we enjoyed them.

My enjoyment was short lived - when we got back to the hotel the ice cream decided to part company with my stomach, so all the enjoyment with none of the guilt!