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

There’s No Time Like The Present……. (My 2013 Birthday Post)

My new millefiori watch
And at the third stroke, the time will be: forget-me-not past daisy.

When this year’s birthday presents remind me of the passage of time, the irony is not lost on me. Who wants to contemplate their own mortality on a day that brings them closer to it? Oh yes, I know that every day does that really – but not with the same dramatic impact as a birthday.

Unwrapping boxed DVD sets of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games makes me realise with a jolt that although these events were still in the distant future when I celebrated my previous birthday, now they are simply history. For future generations, unable to say “I was there when Mo Farah took his double gold!”, they will be the  stuff of legend. Just as for me, the end of World War II is defined by snapshots of crowds rejoicing in Piccadilly Circus and a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, for my descendants, the 2012 Games will be defined by shots of Mo Farah’s astonishment as he crosses the finishing line to take gold (twice) and by soundbites of  Chad Le Clos‘s ecstatic father celebrating the young swimmer’s victory.

DVD Boxed Set of London 2012 Olympic Games from the BBC
History, captured and put in a box.

Fastening around my wrist the hyacinth blue strap of my beautiful new watch bordered with Venetian millefiore glass, I mentally award top marks to my parents for their psychic powers. I’d never mentioned to them that I’ve had my eye on this watch in the Museum Selection catalogue for several seasons. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re so closely attuned to my tastes, when they’ve known me longer than anyone else has. For a moment, I gaze at the secondhand ticking round from one tiny glass flower to the next. It’s like some sort of ancient rural device for telling when it’s milking time. And then I think: there goes another minute of my life that won’t come again. Better stop clock watching and make the most of it. As I’ve said before (and I hope I’ll say many times again), “Seize the (birth)day!”

L'Occitane bottle of Elxiir of Youth
And they said it didn’t exist…

But later that evening, I stop worrying. Rummaging in the bathroom for a new bottle of nightcream (yes, I’m now old enough to qualify for nightcream), my hand alights upon a small, blue Occitane bottle that may have the answer to my prayers. It’s an elixir of immortality, according to the label, at least for the face and neck. I wonder what would happen if I splashed it on all over? I think I’m going to need a bigger bottle.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Seize the Birthday And Celebrate Yourself! (2012 birthday post)

Birthday Thoughts and Diabetes (2010 birthday post)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Meeting Our (Rugby) Match Provides A Family Outing

Rugby match viewed from our stands. I'd rather we'd been able to view it from our seats.
Somehow the pitch looked smaller and squarer than I’d expected

Recently I did something I’ve never done before: I watched my first live rugby match. Actually, forget the live – it was my first rugby match of any kind.

A city centre stadium would not normally lure me away from our cottage fireside on a chilly Sunday afternoon, but I was subject to a force of nature: Hurricane Laura, aka my nine-year-old daughter.

Laura had been taking part in a tag rugby course at school, run by an outreach coach from Bristol Rugby Club. Always keen to try a new sport, Laura threw herself into the game in a style all of her own. Rather than jostling  competitively with the other children, she trotted round picking up the tags as they were dropped, politely handing them back to the players who’d lost them. She does like things to be tidy.

At the end of the course, the Rugby Club kindly gave a free match ticket to every child who had taken part. Ah, those outreach folk are smart: how many junior school children are likely to go to a rugby match unaccompanied? Consequently every child’s family had to buy at least one adult ticket. As the match fell on a Sunday afternoon, when most families like to do something together, most of the rugby-playing children had more than one parent in tow. One little girl even took her grandparents and baby brother too.

Photo of Gordon doing his puzzle during the rubgy
This is Daddy watching the rugby. Not.

And so it was that on Sunday afternoon, with woolly hats, thermos flask and gritted teeth, we dutifully took our place in the stands. (Stands? What’s that about? Why not seats? I thought rugby was meant to be a civilised game.) Our spirits lifted a little when we spotted the stadium’s cafe selling piping hot pasties. Well, rugby does burn off a lot of calories. But to my surprise, I soon found myself distracted from my pasty by the game. This I did not expect.

As the match got under way, I discovered that it was like watching ballet without music, in which all the ballet dancers are on 6,000 calories a day. Although the players had legs like tree trunks and the physical resilience of a tank, they had real balletic grace. As they surged across the pitch, entirely focused on seizing the ball, their raw power reminded me of lions hunting gazelles on an African plain. Actually, it was more like lions hunting lions. I especially liked it when, for some reason I did not understand, a smaller player was pitched up above the scrum, half leaping, half hurled into the air. The only damper on my enjoyment was worrying about whether they’d hurt themselves.

Laura and friends engrossed in a sticker book
Laura (with colourful hairtie) and friends busy watching the, er, rugby.

By half time, my grasp of the rules was still slim. It was a breakthrough moment when I realised that the total on the right of the scoreboard was not the second team’s score but the number of minutes that had been played. No wonder the team I’d thought was losing was looking so cheerful.

As the game drew to a close, I looked down at my daughter. She had spent the first half playing on the steps with her friends, before sharing a portion of chips with them at the interval. For the whole of the second half, she had been completely engrossed in a sticker book, neatly dressing up dolls in foreign costumes. The closest she’d come to watching the match was getting the autograph of a man in a bear costume serving as the home team’s mascot.

But never mind, I think she got her money’s worth for her ticket.

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser (December 2012/January 2013).

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other ones about my daughter’s attitude to sports:

Keeping Up With My Sporty Daughter        Mermaids, Magic and Medals     

2020 Vision: Predicting the Future for Hawkesbury’s Sporting Children

Posted in Uncategorized

Which New Olympic Sport Would You Choose?

USA olympic team 1900 olympic games
The USA Team for the 1900 Olympics. The whole team. Ah, they were simpler days.

Is it an urban myth, or does the host nation really get to nominate a new sport to be added to the Olympic agenda?

If it’s true, it would explain how, over the years, the Modern Olympic Games have evolved from a handful of events (just nine in 1896)  into an extensive array requiring vast purpose-built facilities and a budget capable of crushing a national economy.

Arvid Spångberg winning the bronze medal.
Arvid Spångberg winning the bronze medal at the 1908 Olympics for levitation.

It must be tempting for the host country to designate a sport at which it, but preferably no other, excels. Next time the USA plays host, surely their choice must be baseball, whose so-called World Series extends no further afield than Canada. But they should take heed:  if the need arises, Team GB could send in a crack squad, trained on its school playing fields in the primary school summer favourite game of rounders. After all, what is rounders, except baseball without the fancy dress, annoying hats and hot dogs?

English: A fencer. Illustration from the repor...
“I say, which of those foreign blighters bent my sword?”

The unsuccessful Paris 2012 bid team must have mourned their missed opportunity to nominate boules. But if they had, we could have sent in, white-suited, the elderly of England, fresh from the bowling greens on which they while away a pleasurable retirement in between tea and cucumber sandwiches. A force to be reckoned with, indeed. Just remember Sir Francis Drake: called away from playing bowls at Plymouth Hoe, he dashed straight off to defeat the Spanish Armada.

Should the Olympics sojourn on Caribbean shores, we might all have to limber up for limbo. But what could be more British than bending over backwards, accommodating whatever life throws at us, without really wanting to make a fuss?

On tenterhooks, I’m waiting to see which sport Britain will add. I’m hoping for a tea-drinking marathon. With the amount of daily training that I put in, I think I could carry off the gold.

If, like me, you don’t want the London 2012 Olympics to end, you can relive some of the fun that they’ve brought us by reading my other Olympics-inspired blog posts:

In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia

Sharing The Olympic Glory – or How I Learned to Love The London2012 Logo

What Makes An Activity An Olympic Sport?

Posted in Uncategorized

What Makes An Activity An Olympic Sport?

The opening ceremony for the London 1908 Olympic Games
“Let’s get this party started” – stepping out for the opening ceremony for the London 1908 Olympic Games

Towards the end of last term, my nine-year-old daughter Laura’s class topic culminated in a five-week long homework  to write a comprehensive guide to the sport of each child’s choosing. This imaginative assignment encouraged every child to step outside of the normal school sports curriculum and take ownership of one discipline with which they felt a particular affinity. Their chosen sport didn’t even have to be an Olympic one.

“Seb thinks he might do car rallying,” Laura reports. “That’s no surprise.”

Pre-parenthood, Seb’s parents were seasoned and accomplished ralliers who have now segued, interestingly, into running a taxi firm. (I guess there’s no need to worry about missing your flight when they’re booked to take you to the airport.)

“Alexis thinks she might do air hockey.”

I try not to look askance, but Laura spots my raised eyebrows.

“Miss Hawker says it counts as a sport.”

What Miss Hawker says, goes. (Unlike Mummy.)

English: Commemorative stamp of Greece, The Fi...
Commemorating the original Olympic spirit with a Greek stamp for the Athens 1896 games

I reign in my cynicism when I remember my own predilection for a similar game at which I am pretty damn good: table football. Though more likely to be found in a bar-room than an Olympic stadium, this sport can work in perfect tandem with the Olympic spirit of uniting nations through athletic endeavour. I once enjoyed an excellent impromptu international tournament in an Amsterdam bar. My husband and I took on a crowd of youths of indeterminate nationality, who at first glance I had judged to be a bunch of louts. I can’t remember who won, but we ended the last match with smiles, handshakes and a new sense of international fellowship, despite not sharing a common language.

Laura sticks with a more traditional sport for her homework and in no time at all is an authority on the javelin. But my dubious attitude has rubbed off on her.

“Why is THAT a sport?” she queries scathingly as we catch a few minutes of an Olympic shooting competition on the television.

I try to subdue my abhorrence of guns to make a convincing case.

“Why is horseriding a sport?” she asks next. “Surely it’s the horse that’s doing all the work? The person just sits there. And what about sailing? Why do they let sailing into the Olympics?”

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the mode...
If in doubt, ask: “What would Baron Pierre de Coubertin do?”

Horses are beyond the realm of my experience, but with sailing I’m on safer ground, remembering the aching arm muscles, bruised thighs and blistered hands of our pre-baby sailing holidays.

Laura’s questioning prompts me to ponder what exactly turns an activity into a sport, as does the popular joke already wearing thin that the British are best at sports that involve sitting down. (Thanks, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, for putting the cynics in their place.) I come up with some defining British activities in which success could easily be interpreted as an athletic achievement:

  • Running for a bus – with handicap points given in inverse proportion to the number of shopping bags that you are carrying
  • Queuing – a subtle endurance sport, for example at the supermarket, strategically timed tannoy announcements can be enough to make the strongest competitor crumple
  • Irony – surely the mental strain of Ironyman and Ironywoman contests would earn Team GB accolades from around the world: we don’t need gold medals to prove the British are undisputed masters of irony

For the first time in my life, I think I could be an Olympic contender.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia)

Here are my other posts inspired by our fabulous London2012 Olympics:

In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo    

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia    

Sharing the Olympic Glory – or How I Learned to Love the London2012 Logo