Posted in Personal life, Travel

What’s in a Name? Plenty, When It Comes to Gloucestershire Sporting Events

Runner in the Tetbury Woolsack race
It’s an uphill struggle at the Tetbury Woolsack race (Image:

With the end of May heralding the Cotswolds’ most idiosyncratic sporting events – the Tetbury Woolsack Races and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling –  I’ve been thinking about the inextricable link between event and setting. These two ancient rites would not attract the same following if removed to other places. Hefting a Woolsack the length of Chipping Sodbury’s level high street or rolling a cheese through Bourton-on-the-Water would be nowhere near as exciting. 

Artist's impression of the first every Marathon runner
The original Marathon – not a happy ending for the runner (Image: Wikipedia)

You can stage a marathon anywhere in the world, but it will never be the same race. Ask anyone who has run in London, Paris, New York, or, er, Marathon.

This fact first dawned on me when, in my pre-baby running days, my husband and I signed up to enter the Cheltenham 10K.

This will be a sedate little number, we thought, passing elegant Georgian facades and corporation planting. We warmed up with a few shorter runs: a pleasant 5K jaunt around Bourton-on-the-Water, followed by the Chippenham River Run, both events equally defined by their setting. The post-race refreshments left a bit to be desired, but we were looking forward to Cheltenham’s more genteel offering: cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey, perhaps?

Running for Our Lives

Reconstruction of a fire service rescue scene
Where’s the fire? (Image:

But it was not to be. A week before the race, a letter announced that due to unforeseen circumstances (a row between the Town Council and the event organisers), the race would now take place at the Moreton-in-Marsh Fire Service College. Ok, we thought, Moreton-in-Marsh is pretty too. Not a problem.

Only on arrival did we discover that the College is set well away from the town and offers quite a different scenario: surreal mock-ups of emergencies in which firefighters may hone their skills. We ran past crashed aeroplanes, burnt-out buildings, overturned railway carriages and motorway pile-ups. It was like fleeing from the apocalypse. Well, that’s one way to cut minutes off your personal best.

Introducing the HU5K Run

Photo of the stretch of the Cotswold Way that will be part of the HU5K route (Photo: Steve Green Photography)
Follow HU5K’s Yellow Brick Road

Which is why I’m particularly pleased to be organising a race this month in a much more peaceful setting: what’s dubbed by local runners “The Yellow Brick Road” – the level stretch of the Cotswold Way that skirts Hawkesbury Upton, with fine views down to the Severn Valley. On a clear day, both Severn Bridges wink back at you in the sunshine. The HU5K Run will take place on Saturday 15th June, starting at 10am, giving woolsack-toting, cheese-rolling racers a couple of weeks to get their puff back first. All ages (7+) and abilities are welcome. Leading the way will be former Team GB Olympic runner Nick Rose, veteran of the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984. Now there’s a man who can tell you what a difference a venue makes.

Former Olympic runner Nick Rose and Dave of the Hogweed Trotters
Former Team GB Olympic runner Nick Rose is an inspiration to runners of all ages

Registrations in advance are preferred, to make sure we’ve got enough medals to go round. For more information, visit our the official HU5K website or call 01454 238401. I’ll race you to the starting line!

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser’s June 2013 edition.

Posted in Family, Reading, Writing

Cheltenham Literature Festival: It’s A Family Affair

Cover of Michael Palin's new travel book, Brazil
I’m not sure why it says “Ogres” on the cover behind him.

(A new post inspired by my recent trips to Cheltenham Literature Festival and Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. How cultured am I?!)

Sitting with my sister in a Cheltenham cafe on Saturday with the cheerful hubbub of the Literary Festival all around us, I’m scanning the room to catch a waiter’s eye when a mother and daughter at the next table distract me from placing my order.

Like us, they are clearly here to enjoy one or more of the many authors’ talks in today’s Festival programme. We’ve just come from hearing Michael Palin talk about Brazil, his new travelogue, at Cheltenham Racecourse, and we’re shortly to catch an audience with Alexander McCall Smith. I wonder which events this mother and daughter will attend. There’s certainly something on offer for every age and literary taste.

But it’s not their itinerary that holds my attention. What mesmerises me is their mature, measured mother-daughter relationship, conducted over a very grown-up lunch – a sharing platter of French hors-d’hoeuvres.

The daughter has the sleek, healthy hair of a young woman in her prime. It’s still long enough to be girlish but it’s firmly under control, the top layer swept back and held impeccably in place by a patterned clasp. She wears well-tailored, elegant clothing, but carries a ridiculously tiny handbag – the mark of a woman who thinks she’s grown up but has, as yet, no need to accommodate the inevitable luggage that accompanies motherhood.

Laura's favourite Hello Kitty handbag
Laura’s favourite handbag of the moment

Her mother, with steely grey hair, is equally well groomed. They share manners and mannerisms as they sample the food before them, chatting companionably. The lack of urgency about their meeting suggests they see each other often. This is no major catch-up or landmark meeting. Sometimes they don’t speak at all, but neither seems to mind. They are just comfortable in each other’s company, mutually respectful and at ease. They finish their modest meal, and when the daughter slips off to the ladies, clutching her small handbag, the mother picks up the tab.

I fast-forward 15 years, to when my daughter Laura, now aged nine, will be about the same age as this young woman. I try to picture her grown up, docked of the plaits with which we currently try to subdue her unruly thick hair. I imagine her with smooth, loose, tangle-free locks resting on the shoulders of a woman’s carefully chosen, matching clothes, rather than on the mad mix of patterns and colours that she’ll wear if left to choose her own clothes for the day.

Opposite her, in my mind’s eye, I see myself – older, greyer, but contented. I hope I will be as healthy and in as good shape as this mother is before me.  I fall again to wondering which event they’re heading for next. Which events will Laura and I attend, in fifteen years time? Where will her interests lie? Will she even be interested in the Literature Festival, or will she prefer the Cheltenham Festivals in other disciplines: Music, Science and Jazz? I’ll have to wait and see.

Laura in conversation with  Gruffalo author and illustrator Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Discussing the finer points of their new book, “Superworm”.

But my money’s on the Literature Festival. Just a week before, Laura and I were lucky enough to attend the launch event of the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, featuring  Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.

Getting ready to go to it, Laura had chosen her own clothes: a pink and grey velvet and tulle floral party frock, with vertically striped sun-top beneath it and on her feet violently coloured stripey socks that remind me of liquorice allsorts.  Coaxing her out of the socks into plain tights and boots, I felt guilty for censoring her style for the sake of what others in the audience might think.

When we arrived at the talk, she was shy at first, but soon gained enough confidence to put her hand up to ask Julia and Axel a  question and to speak directly to them afterwards when we queued to have a book signed. I was proud – but then I’m always proud of my daughter – and I was glad that she doesn’t yet feel too old to openly enjoy good picture books. I wanted the moment to last.

But now, just a week later in Cheltenham, I realised that I don’t really want her life to stand still at all. Watching the mother and daughter leave the cafe, I discovered a small part inside of me that’s looking forward to every next step. But please, not just yet. I’ll even let her wear her stripey socks in public if it clinches the deal.

Laura's stripey socks

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other accounts inspired by days out with my daughter:

All Aboard for A Trip Back In Time

Never Too Old For A Trip To The Zoo