Sunday, 26 November 2017

Festive Frolic

 Today was a reminder that a) the end of November can be really rather chilly, b) running a marathon without training for it is possible, c) running a marathon without training for it is hard work!

We woke up to a beautiful late autumn morning, clear skies and frost.  I de-iced the car, threw a couple of extra layers of clothing and some gloves into my race bag and set out to Staunton Country Park.  It felt odd to be setting off by myself, but I didn't know of anyone else local to me who was taking part in this event.  The day started well with me getting my favourite race number which I pinned onto my t-shirt underneath a couple of long sleeved layers.  I was sure it would warm up as soon as we got running.

After a brief 'Elf & Safety' announcement we were under starters orders and raring to go at 9.30am.   I'd remembered this course as being flat, which just goes to show that my memory is useless.  We set off down a definite hill, on the sort of track that seems so popular in country parks, you know the sort with stones and bricks sticking out at odd, ankle twisting angles.  Strangely these paths seem lovely when your legs and feet are just setting out, so long as you avoid the ankle twisting (I didn't), but get really painful to run on after 15 miles!

The start was busy.  We were all in high spirits and the muddy bit about a third of a mile in was frozen solid at this stage.  We soon spread out.  I had no real plan for what I wanted to achieve today, I hadn't run more than 15 miles since Endure 24 back in June.  I thought that I would run a half marathon and then see how I felt.  That is three 4.6mile long laps at this event and I have to admit that I was pretty bored of the course by that point!  I'd completed them in just over 2 hours, so had loads of time left (it is a 6hr challenge).  I faffed around at the well stocked aid station and remembered that I had headphones in my race bag.  That meant that I could listen to my audio book while I carried on. I'll be honest, as the day went on and people dropped out there were fewer and fewer people to chat with, the people I knew well enough to run with were either too fast for me or not there today so I was on my own for a lot of time.

I walked a lot.  I ran the obviously downhill bits and then just enough to stop me from getting too cold.  It never got warm enough to take off my extra layer although the repeated footfall through the muddy sections meant that they did thaw out and get nice and sticky!  My feet and legs were complaining about this unexpected amount of work, they particularly hated the uphill section at the end of each lap and were more than happy to stop for Haribos and coke at the aid station before I coaxed them into another lap.  My last lap was painfully slow, but running slowly means that you see amazing fungi that you missed on the first 5 laps, and because you are going so slowly anyway it doesn't matter if you faff around for 5 minutes trying to extract your phone from your pocket to grab a photo of the fungi.

At the end of my 6th lap, with 27.8 miles behind me, I had a brief, irrational thought that I had plenty of time to run another lap.  Luckily it was fleeting and I rang the bell to announce that I was done before attempting to eat all the remaining food at the aid station and collect my medal and ginger bread man!

I am hoping that by taking it slow for the second half I won't suffer too much tomorrow.  I'm doing a mental checklist of all the classes I have to teach and wondering how much I will be able to do while sitting down, the tutor team meeting at the bottom of the hill is going to be a tough one - I may have to get a head start to get to that one on time!

 Great organisation, as ever, from On The Whistle!  Low key and friendly with gorgeous bling at the end.  Thanks guys!




Sunday, 12 November 2017

Dark Valley Half

I signed up for this race way back in the summer.  It sold out within a couple of hours in an internet frenzy in the running world that was reminiscent of the hype that surrounds ticket sales for a Stone Roses concert.  There was a 10k option but. when I signed up, a half marathon wasn't really what I considered to be a long run - so the half it was.  I didn't do anything as sensible as checking the start time, but for some reason had it in my head that we would be running late at night.  I blame British Summer Time!  It is hard to imagine that it can be dark by 5pm while sitting in the garden in full daylight at 9.30pm!

The race was organised by Andy and his excellent team at White Star Running.  There's nothing not to like about a WSR event, this view is shared by so many people that turning up feels a bit like turning up at a party where everyone knows your name.  The party atmosphere was much in evidence as we gathered at the start - fabulous fancy dress, tonnes of tutus, plenty of poppies and lots of fairy lights!  The start was at the visitor centre in Moors Valley Country Park and after a quick race briefing and a chef that we all had our head torches on we were off.  

It was very crowded at the start, but that was fine.  I got to listen to lots of conversations around me, which is often very amusing.  It also meant that I didn't set off too fast and took care with where I was putting my feet on the forest path.  One conversation, probably about 3 miles in, went as follows (-ish - my memory isn't great)

Runner 1:  I'll run with you - I don't want to run too fast
Runner 2: I'm actually enjoying running by myself, I wouldn't want to slow you down
Runner 1: Oh, that's fine, I need a slow run 
Runner 2: Er, I just find that when we run together you tend to run just a wee bit faster than I want to run, so I push myself to keep up
Runner 1: But it is good to push yourself a bit, anyway, I'm out for a slow one

How long this went on for I don't know, as I was running a wee bit faster than they were so was out of earshot, but Runner 2 was trying, so politely, to tell the other runner that they weren't interested in running together and Runner 1 wasn't having any of it!  

Just as I left The Lovestation (a most wonderful aid station with cake, beer and hugs) I heard my name being called - I turned round and saw a sea of head torches and had to ask who was there!  A group of 3 friends from Trotters Independent Trail Runners.  'We knew it was you,' said one of them, 'because of your running style and the funky leggings!'  (Tikkibo - you can see them here!) They are all really good runners, I ran with them for a bit, but felt that I was holding them back, so slowed down and let them go on, only to catch them up about half a mile later.  We ran as a loose group until I needed a wee stop (the queues at that start had been too long!)  I turned off my head torch and headed off the path.  I forgot that I had glow stick bracelets - and as I pulled up my leggings I looked up to see a group of runners waving at me!  
I ran with them for a bit, while we discussed places we had peed, before running on.  I caught up the Trotters guys again, we fell into conversation (predictably about bodily functions but also about Remembrance Day, the iPhone X and missed career opportunities), ran through and round puddles.  Some of the puddles were huge, and quite deep, there was plenty of mud and I heard of people who took tumbles.  At one point I was avoiding a puddle, while my running companion adopted a 'straight through the middle' approach.  I think I was wetter than he was as he splashed the entire contents of the puddle over me!  By this time, we'd split into two pairs rather than running as a four.  I could hear the other two chatting away behind us and was sure that we'd be back together again soon - especially as I was not even going to attempt running up the very steep, very off road (i.e. not even a proper path) hill!

We were so lucky with the weather.  The awful rain that had greeted us on Saturday morning had stopped during the afternoon, the ground was pleasingly soft and squishy underfoot. and when it did start to drizzle it felt refreshing and looked pretty in the beams of our head torches.

Coming to the end of the second lap we were delighted to peel off the course and onto the finish approach.  Due to a dip in the ground we could hear, but couldn't see, the finish until we were right on top of it.  Looking at watches for distance didn't help - the vagaries of GPS meant that we had 2 quite different distances recorded.  We crossed the line, were given our gorgeous medals and collected a packet of yummy biscuits (which I have hidden from the children) and a buff.  We reunited with friends, put on some extra layers - it gets cold really quickly at night - and then went off to eat chilli!  The cafe at the visitor centre had stayed open specially for us and we had pre-ordered our food.  We were delighted to find we could also buy a beer (Cocky Piddle is very nice).  The chilli was good, the company was great and it was lovely to get warm again.  

As we made our way back to the car there were still runners crossing the finish line - in an ideal world I'd have liked to stay around and cheer them all over the line, but it was getting colder now, and getting cold in damp clothing is not a good idea.  

All in all a great event.  Not a fast one, trail running in the dark was never going to be fast, but very enjoyable with great company, awesome bling, tasty food and beer!  


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Playing away again!

Having said in my last post that I don't get to indulge in much parkrun tourism, here comes another blog post about me going to a different parkrun!

This weekend Husbando had to be in London overnight for a book fair in Chelsea.  No. 1 son was popping down from university in Manchester to help him, so I hopped on the train after school on Friday and spent a very pleasant evening with the two of them.

On Saturday morning I had a huge number of parkruns I could choose from.  I used the excellent Tourist Tool to narrow down the choices to Burgess parkrun and Southwark parkrun - both were within 3 miles of where we were staying, but the route to Burgess Park looked simpler, and with my capacity to get lost while running that can only be a good thing.  Just as well - Southwark parkrun was cancelled today due to setting up for a fireworks display later in the day.

I've never run to a parkrun before.  I've had a mad panic sprint from a tube station to the start line, but  I have never set out to run to a parkrun and back again before.  Three miles there, pretty much in a straight line - simples!  Shame about the rain.  It wasn't really part of my plan to arrive at the start line soaking wet - but never mind - skin is waterproof.

The start was easy to find.  Wearing my 250 shirt guarantees that someone will say hello to you at a parkrun (in my experience anyway).  Most of the time they want to know where the start is/where they can leave the bags/where the loos are - none of which I can help them with as I've not been there either!

Just before 9am the 'new runners' briefing was announced and I dutifully went along.  I was pleased to hear that this was a one lap course - I like a one lapper!  The new runner briefing was held at the back of the starting pack.  A word of advice to  any tourists wanting to run a fast time would be 'skip the briefing!'  Unless you are planning to be the very fastest person there you know the drill and can follow the person in front.  In fact even if you are planning to be the first finisher the marshals will point you in the right direction!  I did go the briefing, and so had to start at the back of 350+ runners!  I wasn't too worried - I'd already run 3 miles and was just wanting to have a pleasant run in the park.

Unbeknownst to me, the runners were assemble on paths either side of a flower bed and there was a fine array of park furniture and bins to negotiate - I felt as though I was in a game of Super Mario Bros as I tried to go over or round the benches!  Once clear of this - it was plain sailing.  Relatively flat, on paths around a really interesting park.  There was a lovely fishing lake, complete with fishermen, a bridge to nowhere and intriguing glimpses of various buildings.  If the weather had been nicer I'd have hung around to explore a bit! I was surprised at how easy it felt to run today.  I ran the first mile faster than I expected to, and sped up a bit faster each mile.   I chatted with fellow runners as we ran, enjoyed the feeling over overtaking a fair few people as I ran to the finish funnel.  The funnel manager managed to congratulate every runner as they came through to collect their finish token!

After getting my token scanned, and chatting with some tourists from Fulham Palace parkrun, I started off back to the hotel.  It was raining properly now, there were a lot more pedestrians and puddles to negotiate and I managed to take a wrong turn somewhere along the way but got back eventually for a very welcome hot shower!  Soon after I got back to the hotel, while I was sitting with a cup of tea and a couple of slices of buttered toast, my results text came through.  I'd finished first in my age category - for the first time in a very long time!

I think I may have caught the tourism bug.  I may have lived in London for years, but Burgess Park is 'south of the river' and in an area that I have never been to before.  I wonder where my next 'new' parkrun will be....


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Pomphrey Hill

It has been a long time since I have written about visiting a different parkrun, purely because I haven't visited any new to me parkruns for ages.  I love a bit of parkrun tourism but I try to resist the temptation to travel miles and miles on a Saturday morning just to visit a parkrun I haven't been to before.  I try to save tourism for if I happen to be somewhere new on a Saturday morning.

Today was such a morning.  Husbando had to be in Bath for a book fair so I looked for a nearby parkrun that I hadn't yet visited.  I'd done Bath Sky Line a couple of times in the past (back in 2014)- it has fantastic views, so plumped for a short drive over to Bristol to visit Pomphrey Hill parkrun.  I was somewhat concerned about the word 'Hill' in the name, more concerned about having to get up at 4.30am at the weekend, but decided to give it a go.

What a great parkrun it is!  I don't normally like three lap courses, but this one is so varied and is twisty turny enough to maintain interest.  The hill is short and sharp, but compensated for by plenty of gentle downhills.  The finish is on an uphill slope - which makes a sprint finish that bit more challenging.  The start and finish area is right next to a sports pavilion - so loos are really convenient. Teas, coffees, flap jacks and bacon rolls are available at the pavilion too.  This meant that there were loads of people hanging around after they had finished their run to support the other runners.

I was very grateful of the support today.  About three quarters of a mile into the run my calf really started to hurt.  Not the sort of dull ache I've had over the last few days but a really painful, tear inducing type of hurt!  I walked for a bit, I considered not finishing the run - but when was I going to get back down to Bristol to run here again?  I shuffled around the second two laps.  The marshals were very supportive - mostly with lovely west country accents.  I managed to put on a bit of pace as I approached the finish - and then could barely walk through the finish funnel!  I got my barcode scanned and chatted with a few people, bought a drink, signed the visitor book (what a lovely idea - I had a leaf through it and saw messages from people I know) before heading back to Bath.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers and the regular runners who made me feel so welcome.

I am going to have to get my legs sorted out.  Luckily it is half term, so hopefully I can get to see my wonderful chiropracter and sports physiotherapist.  So pain and marking is what I have to look forward to this week!  Happy half term everyone!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Royal Parks Half

This race defies my law of threes.  In general I have found that revisiting any race for a third time greatly reduces my enjoyment of the event.  This has happened at several races - I won't name them here as it isn't the race organisers' fault it is just one of those things.  But the Royal Parks Half defies this rule.  I've run it every year since it was my first half marathon back in 2011 and have loved it every year.

This year I was approaching it with trepidation.  I have something wrong with my leg.  I'm not sure what.  It just fails to work properly sometimes, normally after I have been sitting down for a while.  The other evening I stood up and could not walk across the sitting room - I think it may be a trapped nerve and I will need to get it sorted at some point soon.  This, added to my general lack of fitness, meant that I didn't hold out much hope for this race.  But deferrals aren't possible and the ballot is quite hard to get into so I thought that I might as well pitch up.  And it was the 10th anniversary of this race.

So, up early to get a lift into London with Husbando.  We left the house at 4.45am, which left plenty of time for a second breakfast when we got into London, plenty of time for pre race faffing around before heading to Hyde Park.  This race has grown a lot since I first ran it and there were long queues for loos and the baggage drop, but I had loads of time.  I had enough time to buy a packet of Shot Blocks to replace the ones I'd left on the kitchen table.  I was looking around for familiar faces.  I didn't see anyone I knew - which is quite unusual!  I didn't even spot the one person I knew who was running the race.

I made my way to my starting pen with a target of 2hrs in my mind.  Scarily near the front.  Just the super fast runners in the tiny pen in front of us.  This may not have been the wisest idea in terms of race strategy - but there wasn't much I could really do about that!  We set off a couple of minutes after 9am - just as the Sun decided to poke out from the clouds.

About 30 seconds later I needed the loo!  I tried to convince myself that it was psychological - because I never need to pee during races - and ran past the first set of loos.  By the time I got to Buckingham Palace I knew that I really did need a wee, thankfully there were loos at the Horseguards end of Birdcage walk!  It was a double blessing, because that minute meant I was with slightly slower runners and was not quite so tempted to try to keep pace with them.

The route took us down Whitehall, as we drew level with Downing Street there was a sign saying 'U-turn ahead.'  It is a measure of the youth of all those around me that I had to explain the irony of this! It was a very much younger crowd than I encounter at most races!   And it was a crowd!  It was always busy but most of the runners were good natured and there was very little jostling.   After a quick jog around the Alwych, Trafalgar Square and up Pall Mall we were back in Hyde Park.  The wall of noise here was phenomenal!  This is always a well supported section of the race, but it was even louder than normal, and the support in the park was much better than in previous years where there has been a dead zone around the 11 mile point.  The support more than mitigated the aggravation caused by people trying to cross the path of the runners with toddlers, buggies, dogs etc.

If I wanted to hit my 2hr target I had to run 9 minute miles.  I was doing that. In fact I was doing a bit better than that, but my goodness it was really hard work.  I haven't run many races entirely on 'road' for a long time, and my undertrained legs really felt the impact.  I think I worked harder for this race than I have in any race in a very long time.  The course is pretty flat, but there were a few welcome downhills, which means there must have been corresponding uphills but I didn't notice those!  Unusually for me I ran pretty consistently - and was overtaking people in the second half who had over taken me in the early stages.  Nevertheless,  I was really glad to turn the final corner and run past the Albert Memorial towards the finish line.

My finish time is over 10 minutes slower than my PB, but I don't think my legs could have taken me any faster today.  My Garmin tells me that my recovery time is 67hours!  I started this recovery after I had collected my bag from the bag tent... I was waiting for a friend who had started in a later pen, so I took advantage of the sunny weather, plonked my back pack on the ground to use as a pillow and had a snooze in the sunshine before we met up for a well earned lunch and a glass of wine.   The lovely waiter gave us free coffees!

I've already registered my interest for next year's race....



Sunday, 1 October 2017

Too much trail for road shoes, too much road for trail shoes!

We had nothing booked this weekend.  I'd like to say it was because I am taking the taper for the Royal Parks Half seriously but in reality it is because I just hadn't got around to thinking about races for the autumn!  Part way through last week a friend told me that Basingstoke Half Marathon was on today and that it was possible to sign up on the day.  I was tempted.  But, getting there and back again would be a pain (they close the road from our house to Basingstoke) and the route is reputed to be very hilly (853ft of elevation in 13.1 miles).  I also know that the minute you stick a race number on my shirt I tend to get a bit competitive - especially if it is a road race.   I could happily run my 1hr 31 min training run on my own.

And then... I saw on Facebook that the Alton 10k Downland Challenge was on today.   Again, we could enter on the day and the start line was a 10 minute drive from our front door.  OK, so it was only 10k, and I needed to run for an hour and a half, but that meant I could just carry on after the finish.  Husbando was up for it too, as were several people we know from the children's school.

We left the house at 9.40am for a race that started at 10.30am - bliss!  Parking was easy and well signposted, signing up for the race was hassle free and we got to watch the children's races while we were waiting to start our race.  The Mayor blew the horn to start the race on the dot of 10.30 and we were off, across the park and then onto the pavement for the first 2k through Holybourne before turning off onto tracks across the Bonham Estate.  A lot of these tracks were tarmac - which was hard going in trail shoes, a steady drag up to 2 miles followed by a brief respite of gentle downhill slopes.  We were then off the roads and onto the trails, the muddy trails!

I do love a bit of trail running, and was just thinking 'It has been a long time since I've fallen over while running down muddy hills!' when I did just that!  No serious damage was done - just rather a lot of mud and a rather more cautious approach for the rest of the race, which was probably just as well - I'd gone off a bit faster than I'd wanted to at the start and needed to be a bit mindful of the extra time I'd need to run after the race.

At about 8km we were back on the road again, I had no goal for this race because I hadn't done any research into how hilly/muddy it would be, but at this point I realised that I'd have to get my skates on if I wanted to finish in under an hour.  I picked up my pace a little and started picking off runners.  The last section of the race was one of those soul destroying circuits of a park (Anstey Park) where you can see the finish line but you have to run all the way around the park, past all the children playing rugby, over long, muddy grass (and I am always watchful for doggy land mines!) until, eventually, you get to the finish.  I overtook 5 or 6 people in the park, I was on a mission for my sub 60!  I made it, just, crossing the line in 59:56!

A brief stop to drink some water, collect my medal and goodie bag (a lovely 'Alton Runners' buff and some vouchers that are actually useful!) and then I was off for another 30 minutes of running around Alton.  You can see the video of the run here - I quite like these 'Relive' videos as it helps me to work out where I have actually been!

The race was well organised, low key and enjoyable.  A lovely opportunity to run on land that is normally not open to the public.  The hills were challenging - I may have found the Basingstoke Half less taxing as at least they were on roads!  In 6.2 miles we clocked up 538 ft of elevation gain, that's 94ft for every mile as opposed to 65ft for every mile at Basingstoke - which makes a bit of a nonsense of me choosing to do an 'easier' route!  Still I am glad to have supported a local race and it was great to bump into some friends I haven't seen for a wee while.

Next Sunday is the Royal Parks Half Marathon.  The only race I have done repeatedly and still enjoyed it as much each time as the first time.  It is where I have my half marathon PB (1hr 43mins), that PB is not under threat this year!  I've been lucky enough to get a ballot place for the last 2 years, the race is massively oversubscribed, not quite on a London Marathon scale but not far off and, while charity places are always available, it is lovely to be able to just turn up and run without having to struggle to get sponsorship.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Woodland Way

Embracing my TrainAsOne training programme did wonders for encouraging me to get out and run again.  I loved the variety - it got me out of the routine I had been in for a while and made me run honestly, by which I mean that I ran the distance the programme told me to run without stopping, rather than making excuses to stop and take photos!

I am not nearly back to where I was before I went away. In my mind I didn't need to worry as I hadn't entered any races until mid October... so it was something of a shock when a friend pointed out that I had entered an On The Whistle event.  In fact, on checking, it transpired that I had been so keen to do the Woodland Way Challenge that I had entered twice.  This was soon rectified - one of the entries was changed to a later event, and I didn't think much more about it.

I love On The Whistle events and not just because I love the people behind the name!  The events are small, low key and loads of my running family take part.  The out and back or looping nature means that you get to see people again and again - so if you don't know anyone at the start you will by the finish.

But today I wasn't feeling the love for going out and running 'a race.'  Technically this wasn't a race - it was a six hour challenge, I only needed to complete one of the 3.8 mile laps to get a medal, but at every other On The Whistle event I had clocked up at least a marathon distance.  I didn't think I could  run a marathon - not when I hadn't run more than 9.25 miles since Endure 24 back in early June.  I wondered if I could get my mum to write a note to say I was off PE - heck - I was pretty sure I could forge her signature.  I decided that I would run a half marathon, then come home and make some jam.  In a choice between lesson planning and jam making it is nearly always jam that wins!

Arriving at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park I realised that although I knew a lot of people, two of the On The Whistle regulars whose company I really enjoy were not there.  I don't see them often as they live the other side of the county - but we've nattered our way through many a mile.  To be honest, due to his speed I normally have to resort to throwing insults at RH as he passes me, but poor PJ is probably sick of my company after running with me at Endure24!    We assembled and waited for the whistle.

The first 2/3rds of a mile is uphill.  Not hugely steep, but nowhere near flat.  I made a decision that I would run it at least once without stopping or walking - so off I went.  It hasn't got any flatter since last year!  We were all pretty bunched up at the start but the hill soon ensured that we spread out a bit!  The route was lollipop shaped, along gravel and chalk paths through the woodland areas of QECP, the sun was shining and I should have been having a great time.  But it was such hard work.

During my first lap I was thrilled to see PJ running towards me.  He wasn't taking part in the event, but was running around the route just to check it was properly marked before going to spend the rest of the day doing something more constructive.  We stopped and had a bit of a chat.  When I shouted that 'seeing him had made my day' I wasn't lying.

Halfway through the second lap I felt a blister develop on my left foot.  I've never really been prone to running blisters.  I've had awful blisters from silly high heeled shoes - but not from trainers.  At the end of the lap I changed my trainers and taped up the blister, but it was still rather painful to run on.  I set off up the hill adopting a walk 40 run 50 strides strategy.  I caught up with a few runners this way, but felt very sorry for the poor person behind me who kept almost catching me up when I was walking, only for me to pull away as I started running.  I can't count and talk at the same time - so couldn't explain that I wasn't really waiting for her to be on my shoulder just to start running!

Mid way through lap 3 (fuelled by Haribos, fudge and cocktail sausages no doubt) I began to think I could probably run the 7 laps needed for a marathon.  Heck, I could probably walk a couple of laps and still make it in under 6hrs.  Thankfully it then began to rain and I decided running in the rain for 3+ more hours was not fun.  The rain didn't last long, but my mind was made up.  I had other things to do, and I wasn't so desperate to run a marathon that I was going to spend over 6hrs doing it on untrained legs.  I wanted to be able to walk tomorrow - meeting new parents at school while looking as though I need a walking stick is not likely to inspire confidence.  I was doing 4 laps and that was that!

Once that decision was made it seemed much easier.  I could put a bit of effort in as I wouldn't be running for too much longer.  The last downhill was glorious!  My legs weren't shredded the way they would be at the end of a marathon or an ultra and I could really run down to the finish.  I rang the bell and finished the race - clocking up 15.5 miles.  I hung around for a while to stuff my face with more Haribos and see some friends finish/wish them well as they continued on for another 3+hrs.

I came home and made plum jam!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Back to school resolutions

Back to school takes a while in this house.  We are 'multi schooled,' even if we had just one child we would have to tie up two school calendars as I can't see me teaching my own child, but currently we have four different schools to consider.  Five educational establishments if you consider the eldest at university - just as well my older daughter is taking a gap year, we won't have to contend with six different places until next year!   So the back to school madness started on Monday, but doesn't finish until tomorrow.  I'm not 100% sure when the university student goes back... but he is, at least in the right city!

This year has seen my youngest start secondary school.  She had her first day today and seems very happy.  For the first time ever, I am the last one to go back to work.  This meant that I could go with her and watch her march off, heavily laden with her back pack and PE kit, to embark on the next stage of her life.  I also got to pick up a very happy girl who had made new friends and is excited about going back tomorrow.  It hasn't been a big change for her - she has been at the same school since she was 2yrs and 4mths old, but there have been just enough differences to make it an occasion.

It has been lovely to be at home when they get home from school and to talk about their day and their homework.  It has also been lovely to be at home with an ever reducing number of people demanding lifts and snacks.

Tonight the two youngest were sitting at the kitchen table and one of them said 'Oh no - Mum's going back to work tomorrow!' and the other replied 'She'll be all stressy and tired in the evenings.'  I nearly cried.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to say 'I won't go back, I'll stay home.'  There is certainly enough to keep me occupied around the house and garden there, but I like my job.

I love my job.  I always knew that I would miss some things that my children did.  Sometimes a parents' evening for my students would clash with a school play at one of my children's schools.  Sometimes I'd end up sitting at a parents' evening, trying to remain resolutely positive and upbeat about my students' performance while worrying about what my children's teachers were telling Husband about them at their parent - teacher review....

I love my job.  But I wish it didn't take over so much of my life.  Maybe part time teaching is the long term solution, but at the moment finances dictate that we beed both the incomes.  So my resolution this school year is to work harder on getting the work-life balance right.  I will try to work more efficiently at school and not bring as much work home with me.  But more importantly I need to learn to leave emotional load at work.

It is either that or win the lottery.....

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Amsterdam.

Beer for breakfast
 While I was in Africa, Husbando and I discussed going away for a few days when I got back.  Much debate followed.  He mentioned Tromso, I fancied Snowdonia then Husbando countered with Amsterdam.  Amsterdam came with the added appeal of a book market on Fridays so that he could possibly do some business.  So flights and a hotel were booked, a guide book was bought (and swiftly misplaced) and we sat back and waited.

We'd booked to stay for 2 nights, but we aimed to make the most of our time by arriving early and leaving late.  This meant a 2.30am alarm call so that we could make a 6am flight and arrived at Schiphol at about 8am.  After checking in at the Amsterdam Hilton (that's right the one where John and Yoko stayed in bed for a week - you can stay in their room and even book it for wedding ceremonies) and grabbing a quick breakfast in the Executive Lounge we hit the internet and booked our first trip - because a tour round a brewery is what everyone needs at 9.30am on a Wednesday morning.  

Now I have to admit that I somehow always thought that Heineken was a German beer.  I have no idea why I thought that, but it may have had something to do with their advertising campaigns in the 1980s.  I was happy to be educated and to get to drink beer on the stunning roof terrace overlooking Amsterdam.  One of the things we could just about spy, and had passed on our way to the brewery, was a major engineering project - in need of more city centre parking they have decided to drain part of one of the canals and build a 2 story carpark underneath it before replacing the water.

The first afternoon saw us traipsing around the Rijksmuseum - Husbando loved it, I thought it was OK, but then I am the sort of philistine who wanders around the National Portrait Gallery trying to work out which modern day celebrities the portraits most closely resemble.  In the evening we split up.  Husbando took himself off to the casino and I went to the Anne Frank House.  I am probably the only person on the planet who hasn't read the diary, and there were bits of her story of which I was unaware.  I had no idea that her father had survived, and I was totally poleaxed by the site of the pencil marks on the wall indicating how the girls had grown.  We have those same marks on the door to our kitchen.

Almond Blossom 
Thursday saw two mad English people pounding the streets in the 1928 Olympic Village and around the Olympic stadium.  We discovered that the Amsterdam Marathon starts and finishes in the Olympic stadium - so that one might be on the cards for next year.  After that, it was on to the Van Gogh museum.  We'd pre-booked our tickets so avoiding a HUGE queue.  I am always blown away by his paintings and this was no exception, but we also learnt so much more about his life.  I can't recommend this place highly enough.

After all this culture we needed more alcohol.  The House of Bols had been recommended - so off we went.  Now I thought that Bols only made that disgusting Advocat that used to appear every Christmas - but they make a whole range of vividly coloured liqueurs as well as genever and gin which makes for some interesting cocktails!  

Begijnhof
Friday was spent meeting friends who have moved to Amsterdam and mooching around the Spui Book Market.  I will admit that I found this less than exciting (the book bit not the meeting friends bit - who doesn't like beers in the sunshine at 10am in the morning?)  and took myself off the the Begijnhof - these houses around a tranquil garden were built as a sactuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns, although they took no monastic vows.  I sat and read my book and wrote some postcards.  

The rest of our time was spent wandering around, popping in and out of shops and cafes and just enjoying the beautiful architecture.  Even the modern building seem to have a really strong design element and the glimpses we saw into people's homes seemed to show a love of books and art.  Amsterdam feels like the real world only a little bit nicer!  There is plenty that we didn't get to do, but that's find - it means we'll have to go back!  



View from our hotel window


Sunday, 20 August 2017

"I know a game that will change your life" (A final Tanzania related post - I think)

These were the portentous words of Al, our expedition leader, one warm afternoon when we were twiddling our thumbs in camp at Monduli Juu.  We were well into our second bottle of Stoney Tangawizi by this point and even the sugar rush provided by a drink that really deserves a blog entry of its own couldn't lift the torpor we were feeling after yet another broken night of sleep and another morning of trekking in the heat.

I looked over the edge of my book and decided to leave Al and SW to play their silly games.....


You start with a couple of bottle caps each.  Put them a flat surface - the boys improvised with a large book - with the picture side down, as shown in the first photograph.  Put them a couple of inches apart.  Exact measurements don't really matter.  From this point on they can only be moved with your thumb(*).  You can only touch your own bottle cap and you can only touch it once on each turn - no sneaky double tapping is allowed!





The aim is to flip your bottle cap so that it lands on top of your opponent's bottle cap with the picture side uppermost.   Any overlap, with the the pretty side of your cap showing is a win and means that you have won that round and so take possession of both bottle caps.  Play continues until one player has no more bottle caps left.  You can start with any number of bottle caps - but three each seems to make for a good game.

 If your bottle cap goes off the edge of the table (or other improvised playing surface) then you have lost your turn and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.




If you flip your bottle cap so it lands on your opponents cap as shown in this photo then you have lost your turn and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.
 If you flip and miss your opponents cap and end up with bottle caps that look like this then you have lost and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.










It takes a while to master the knack of flipping the cap but as I watched Al & SW play against each other it was noticeable that they were drawing a small crowd of boys who were watching avidly.  In the absence of smartphones the game spread like wildfire through the group.  Whenever we had a few boys, a few bottle caps, a few minutes to spare and a flat(ish) surface a game would be started.  It is a great way to pass a few minutes and does get quite competitive.

Since returning home, I've taught it to my family, in fact Husbando and I spent 10 minutes playing it this evening while waiting for our curry to be served.  He's got the hang of flipping at last and we are pretty evenly matched now.  I love the low tech nature of this game, easy to play anywhere with minimal resources... and it is surprisingly addictive!

* If you are playing against a small child then you can let them use a finger rather than their thumb.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

It seems that I like being told what to do after all!

I posted a couple of day ago that I needed to learn to love running again.  For the last few years I've followed the same pattern.  Rest day on Monday, shortish runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, rest day on Friday, parkrun on Saturday and then a long run on Sunday.  The only variation would be the length of my Sunday run.  Sometimes I'd do a trail run with friends of an evening, and occasionally I'd do some form of speed work (normally called 'keeping up with Husbando') but there was no real thought that went into what I did.   So maybe what I needed to do was look at what I was doing and do something different.

I'd noticed a couple of friends posting about 'TrainAsOne' workouts they had done so hit the internet to find out what it was all about.  Basically it is a program that analyses your activity and gives you a workout plan for your next run.    I signed up, linked it to my Strava account and waited to see what it would tell me to do.

My first run had two incredibly slow segments (I couldn't manage to run that slowly even going up hill) and then the instruction was to 'run 2 miles QUICK!' followed by more very slow running.  I thought it all looked a bit odd, but did it anyway.  And you know what?  I 'ran' without stopping for 30 minutes for the first time in ages.  Day 2 was similar, although the middle section called for me to run as far as I could in 6 minutes.  Yet again, it didn't feel difficult, but I completed it.  And I was quietly smug that I had run further than the programme suggested I would in the time available.

Today, after the small matter of collecting my daughter's A'level results, spending the morning at school with my students getting their A'level results and a nice pub lunch with my colleagues, I was looking forward to getting home and going for a run.  I was actually looking forward to going for a run!  I was, according to the email that had arrived in my inbox, due to do an 'Economy Run.'  This is defined as 'a run at a steady pace designed to maximise the improvement in your running economy (calories consumed per kilometre) The majority of your running is at a slow comfortable pace, where you run at an economical speed, consuming a relatively small number of calories per distance travelled. For most people this is a pace at which you can hold a conversation.'  And the detailed instructions asked me to run really slowly for 5 mins and then 37 mins at a steady (but slow) speed.  I struggled to run as slowly as requested, but it was nice to have a run where I was consciously trying to run slower rather than striving to run faster!  I probably ran a fair bit faster than I should have done - but I swear a could have maintained a conversation - as I covered just over 4 miles rather than the just over 3 miles the programme suggested.   Again, I ran without stopping for an entire 42 minutes.

I think a few things are going on here.  I've handed over the responsibility for deciding what I do to someone else, someone who I can't argue with because it is a computer algorithm.  I know I could ignore the suggested run advice - but what's the point in that?   I'm not worrying about how fast I am running for the majority of the time.  The short bursts of effort are achievable, I finish the runs feeling as though I have accomplished something.

So it appears that running and I were only on a break, we are not heading for a long separation.  I've even entered a couple of races.... A six hour challenge with On The Whistle in September and a night time half marathon with White Star Running.  I have no idea what distance I will run in the On The Whistle run as it is only a month away, but there are still places available if you want to come along and run with me!

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! 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Dash in a rush, run hurry or expect accident

20th July 2017

The title of this blog post is my favourite mnemonic.  The condition it spells out is possibly my least favourite.  The SW was poorly on our last day and night at Shia School and thoughtfully decided to share his bugs with me!  I started feeling a bit dodgy after breakfast, but was fine while packing up my tent and heading back into Moshi.  We went out for 'a quick lunch' but I didn't feel like eating, so just took photos of my entertaining companions while we waited, and waited, for food to be served.
It took over 3 hours!  By which time I felt decidedly ropey, so decided to return to the hotel, picking up my clean and dry laundry on the way.  Cool cotton sheets to snooze on and a conveniently ensuite loo were essential as I was soon hit by waves of the dreaded D&V!

I struggled up to the roof terrace to meet up with the group before they all went off for dinner, there was no way I was going to join them for food but it was pleasant to sit amongst groups of travellers all chatting about what they were doing.  I was at least 20 years older than most of them and nowhere near Australian enough to fit in.  I sat on for a while after the students had left, as Al and SW had bought me  a drink.  It has been a long time since I had just sat and relaxed in a bar without any students to supervise.

Today we had to catch the Dar Express back to Dar.  The journey was a bit shorter than the journey to Moshi, and we are obviously becoming accustomed to long journeys as it felt a lot shorter than 10 hours!  Mind you, no air con, vomiting and pooping boys did enliven the trip somewhat!

We are back at the Econo Lodge tonight - just for one night before heading off to the coast tomorrow.  The Econo Lodge is every bit as luxurious as the name implies!  At 28,000 TZS (about £9.60) a night for a single room I guess one should be grateful for an ensuite loo and shower, a working fan and a door that locks!


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Monday and Tuesday

18th July 2017
The boys have worked their socks off digging drainage channels, mixing concrete and washing down walls.  

The children swarm over us whenever we sit still.  They start to arrive for school at about 7.30 and classes start at 8am.  The children arrive with firewood for the school cook to use, some children are sent home with a bucket of millet in the afternoon which needs to be ground before being brought back to school the next day.

We have been amazed at the difference in teaching styles between here and home.  The younger children, 4 year olds, are not exposed to any 'play based learning!'  From the earliest ages they sit in rows, reciting their alphabet and copying from the board.  Often teachers are to be found, huddled together, having coffee while their classes get on with copying out of a book.  

We are being cooked for by the school - the result of our epic shopping expedition, our food team provided menu suggestions, which seem to have been largely ignored!  For dinner each evening we have had a small piece of chicken, chips, over cooked pasta, cabbage and either pumpkin soup or baked beans.  Lunch and breakfast have been similarly repetitive.  Tonight it was a real effort to eat but at least it is better than us having to eat food cooked by the boys on trangias!  

SW is under the weather today.  He has a dodgy tummy and feels miserable.  I think he is really missing home.  We've got another week in Tanzania which can seem a long time, especially as it will be much less structured as we are on R&R.  He is doubly miserable as somehow one of his tent poles got broken today - in two places!  We've cobbled it together with gaffer tape and a bottle cap and he has gone to bed early.




Sunday at Shia School

After a slightly restless night, I couldn't settle due to the strange noises, we were awoken by the church bell. We had been told that there would be services at 7am and 10am - but the bell started tolling at 5am!  It only lasted for about 15 minutes, and somehow Al managed to sleep through the bell and me shouting at the boys that it was not time to get up yet!

I spent most of the morning on 'tent duty' as we cannot leave our tents unsupervised.  I finished one book, started and discarded two more, before settling on at third.  After lunch I swapped to help out with some of the tasks.  The boys are clearing a path of rock, digging a drainage trench and chiselling away at breeze blocks in a newly built classroom so that electrical wiring can be recessed.  

While clearing rocks I seem to have been bitten by loads of ants.  This has added to a few mosquito bites to make me feel really miserable.  One of the bites is just by my left eye and my eye is swollen almost closed.  My body seems to be producing histamine like it is going out of fashion.  I'm itchy and swollen and lumpy!

Moshi & Shia




14th & 15th July 2017
A couple of admin days!   This means lots of frustrating waiting around while the boys try to figure out how to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery.  I got clean clothes though - so not all bad!  

On Friday night we told one of the students the news that he had been chosen as head boy.  He was delighted - as were we as he is an excellent choice.  

On Saturday we travelled to the project phase of our expedition at the Shia School.  We had arranged with the school that they would cook for us is we provided food, so much of the day was taken up visiting markets and supermarkets trying to get the food we need for 5 days - there are no shops near the school.  

We set up our tents in a corner of the school playing field and were greeted by loads of local children.  We sent the boys out to litter pick the school grounds - the local children soon got the idea and helped too.  I struggled hard to overcome my aversion to being touched by strangers as all the children seemed to want to hold our hards or stroke our skin!

We'd been lead to believe that the toilet facilities here were extremely primitive - but they are actually far better than any of the toilets on Kilimanjaro or at our campsite in Monduli Juu!  

On returning to our tents after supper we encountered ants.  Or should I say ANTS?  They were HUGE - about 2cm long.... much fun was had identifying where they came from, stamping on them and working out that they were far too big to get into a tent through the mesh!

Our camp site is less secure than previous locations.  There is a security guard (he is walking around with a long white stick), but we are right next to a road on one side and forest on the other.  There is no fence.  As I type this I can hear SW and Al chatting as they keep an eye on the locals wandering up and down the road...

Thursday, 13 July 2017

What goes up...

If you walk all the way to the top of a mountain if follows that you also have to walk down it.  We'd come down a fair way yesterday afternoon, and this morning we descended 6900ft in about 8 miles.  That's quite tough on tired legs!  My quads and knees took a bit of a pounding.  We walked down through moorland vegetation and then into forest.  Dust changed to mud. I never thought I could be so pleased to see mud!  

Two of the boys came down on stretchers.  The one who had been really poorly on summit day was just too weak.  The other, we strongly suspect, has a case of swinging the lead!  He can't remember which leg his is supposed to have hurt etc.!   We checked out of Kilimanjaro National Park with the normal level of African bureaucracy - it took ages and then went for a final lunch provided by our tour company.  We were joined by two clean, non smelly people, SW and the recovering student.  It was so good to see them!  I'm getting soppy in my old age as I shed a tear or two - but that may have been due to the rib crushing hug SW gave me!  Honestly - we all smelt so bad I am surprised anyone could get within 10 paces of us!

We said goodbye to our team.  It took 37 guides, cooks, waterboys, porters and summit porters to get us up the mountain and we needed to tip them.  Some of the boys who had extra help to the summit tipped extra to specific guides and we were given our certificates.  

We got to the hotel the boys had picked (it is up to them to pick where we stay within reason and budget) and pure blind good luck seems to have hit upon a decent place!  Basic, but clean and with mosi nets!
The boys were given just over 2 hours to settle in and get themselves clean and warned that if they didn't look clean when we met at 6pm they'd be sent back to try again! During this time we only had one poo related emergency to contend with - so maybe now we are down from the mountain things are returning to normal.

I stood in the shower for ages - hot and cold running water and a loo that flushes!  I thought I had died and gone to heaven!  That coupled with clean clothes.... wow!  I even smelt like a girl until I covered myself with insect repellant.

After supper at a local veggie Indian place the adults sat in the bar, drinking coffee, catching up on gossip and planning the next stage.