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Baffled by this topsy-turvy (running) life

Relief:  another 10,000m race completed

Dilemma upon dilemma.

Indecision resolved by decisions, which next day are quickly reversed. Back to square one.

Is this the mental turmoil that all sportspeople face as the body slows and energy fades?  The deciding when to quit.

Common wisdom says the clever ones know when to stop. They accept the situation for what it is: the closing of one door and the opening of another. Not a dead stop but simply a change of direction.

Or, in running terms, the passing of the baton to those who can still go the distance with comparative ease.

The question would appear to be a simple one: is it time to quit?

Last weekend, after weeks of internal debate, it was answered by wimping out of a ten-mile race along Cornwall’s hilly country lanes.

The body heaved a grateful sigh, the brain poured scorn upon such weakness. And so another day of debate ensued that made even the Brexit dialogues look constructive.

In the end, a bottle of bubbly was put to chill, a chook was marinated ready for the oven and dinner became a boozy celebration of the past alternating with commiseration for what was to come.

By bottle’s end, the decision had been made. After some seventy years  of competitive running (give or take a break or two) I had hit the final hurdle, and mind and body would simply have to cope.

After all, I had quit before. Several times. The Nellie Melba of running, said some.

There were those f**k it moments when the pressures of family, work and a job that offered an excess of five-star living put paid to any athletic activity.

And it was “no contest” when the choice lay between a long weekend freebie in Beirut, Barbados or Beirut, or churning out the wintry miles on the South Downs of Sussex.

Finally there was the promise I made (to others as well as to self) to quit when I could no longer run a sub three-hour marathon – a deadline that occurred in my sixty-seventh year on a tropically hot and humid day in Brisbane when I staggered home in 3:16.30.

But, like all addictions, the running habit was too hard to kick. It provided too much of a high to be able simply to say “No more” and walk (or even jog) away.

So here I am, sixteen years on from my last “retirement” and still battling  the voices that say enough is enough.

Judged purely by comparing times posted by fellow addicts in the same age bracket, I can still be considered in my prime, an elite.  Those times, however,  ensure my finishing place is way down the bottom of the results sheet.

They also mean I have probably walked, or even stopped, somewhere along the route.

That’s not running as I have always known it. And is it something I really want, or need, to do?

Would the body not be better served by a good brisk yomp along the ever-enticing wonder of the coastal path or high up on the moorlands of Bodmin or Dartmoor?

All too often the older competitors in masters’ athletics are portrayed by the media as oddities and curiosities; wizened bags of bones staggering towards the tape, hoping to get there before their heart shuts down.

It’s not a photo-shoot I wish to be a part of.

And yet I am still looking at the race calendar for 2018 and sending in my entry fees. The dilemma persists.

These words were begun with the intention of saying farewell and thank you to my immediate running community, and also to all those far and wide who have provided support, encouragement and companionship through the running years.

But, as I write, I find they also give voice to my inner turmoil, setting out the pros and cons, and the  dilemma others will face, whether through age or injury or other circumstance. And I still cannot bring myself to make the decision that is demanding to be made.

So it seems it’s not quite the intended goodbye after all; but I’m afraid it’s getting close. Very close. How many more hills can I climb?

Keep running, and enjoy it while you can.



Let’s be clear about this …

Now, I want to make myself perfectly clear  …

There must be no misunderstanding …

Make no mistake about this …

Blah, blah, blah.  Such well-worn phrases. So overused. Every day, someone, somewhere is prefacing their remarks with such statements of clarity and precision.

And they are usually people of great (self-)importance whose pronouncements are keenly awaited; that are meant to be heard because of the influence they can have on events and the thinking and actions of other similarly (self-)important people.

Sadly, that rarely happens. Words that are promised as leaving no room for error or misunderstanding, merely confuse and bewilder those for who they are intended.

So very few of all the millions of words that tumble forth from the world’s opinion makers possess the clarity that is promised. And considering that much of this verbal torrent is painstakingly crafted by skilled wordsmiths, it has to be assumed that this is no accident.

This does not occur because of unlimited vocabulary or lack of grammatical skill. It is cold-blooded manipulation of the language to distort meaning and cloud understanding.

To describe the practitioners of this black art merely as spin doctors is mealy-mouthed and far too gentle; like calling the Great Plague a bit of a virus.

Take the following as but two examples plucked from the morass of meaningless mutterings that assails us:

“As I have said, and others have said, consistently, it would be irresponsible for the British Government not to look across at the changes that would be necessary regardless of the eventuality, and indeed some of the changes that would be necessary in the event of a no deal would be the same as changes that would be made in relation to us achieving a deal.”

Phew! Understood? All clear? No room for doubt or questions?  Hmm, thought so. Maybe this will help:

“Given the way that things operate, it is highly unlikely that anything will be brought forward during that period that has not already started discussions through the European Union to which we are being party of until we leave and on which we would have been able to say whether or not there would be a rule that we would sign up to or a rule that we would not wish to sign up to.”

So there you have it; no wavering or room for doubt. As clear as the Great Bog of Allen on a dark night.

Both quotes come from Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, a world leader famed for wanting “to make this clear” and then doing exactly the opposite.

But she is far from alone, merely one of the mob building the Great Wall of Obfuscation to shut out any who seek meaning, common sense and clarity from those who shape our pitiful little world.

The Great Wall of China is crumbling, likewise Hadrian’s lesser edifice; people power ripped apart the Berlin Wall and the Trump’s misguided Mexican Wall will hopefully remain in limbo.

This latest barrier needs to befall the same fate before its foundations are too firmly cemented in. And there is but one weapon to use: words, words, words.  But used sparingly and wisely, not sprayed mindlessly like confetti.

Let battle commence.

“The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding”Francis Bacon





Old bones fail to make the grade

Okay folks, I hear you. The hint has been made loud and clear. As the Walrus famously said: “The time has come …”

Your message was writ big and bold in the sands and shingle of Marazion this past Sunday (and earlier in the year at St Levan): there is no recognition for geriatrics who persist in pushing their frail frames in pursuit of athletic success once past the age of 80. Or even 75.

While others of lesser years seek out and celebrate their rankings within their peer groups, such simple gratification is denied those of more senior vintage.

We are simply lumped together in a single catch-all category that ignores the rankings that have long existed in Masters athletics, nationally and internationally.

Down here in Cornwall, we are simply the Oldies who flaunt their withered bones and bring shame to the many youngsters who trail in their wake.

There is no glory to be had in battling against an icy wind through sand, shingle and the surging tides of a sloping pebbled shore.

Fellow club-mates fill Facebook posts with requests for details of their placings within their various grades, keen to see their progress and success. They swap congratulations and encouragement. It’s heady stuff to see the enthusiasm and that is growing within the club.

But for this old dodderer it is as if I wasn’t there. No ranking for me – beaten by three runners in their early 70s, some ten years younger.

Nor does constant competitor Norris receive acknowledgement for ploughing on through that ankle-twisting terrain. His age grade, too, has been wiped and he also has to accede to those many years younger.

Bitter? No, there’s no place for that. Simply sad and deflated in the face of bureaucratic decisions which, as so often happens, ride roughshod over the human element.

Saving on trophies and medals, they say. But those – not even the bottles of wine – are not why we run. Scrap them, by all means.

Simply acknowledge we were there, ignoring the armchair and slippers in favour of pushing our bodies over several miles of unforgiving terrain for some inexplicable reason.

We are often embarrassingly tagged as “inspirations” and encouragement for younger and less active members of a community that is growing lazier and more obese by the hour.

It is a role we are happy to play if it is going to lead to a healthier community and ease the unwarranted pressures on the NHS.

But it won’t happen if our efforts are to be ignored and hidden.

Close to 500 dogged people completed Sunday’s run and more than half of them finished behind me. Statistically, that shouldn’t happen but by acknowledging that it did, perhaps a few more sloths will be encouraged to get active and healthy.

And that hard slog will have all been worthwhile.

But by refusing to give such results their due place, it does nothing but create depression and dejection. Which, until now, is not what running has provided.

No more MTR for me; lawn bowls, here I come.

My trans-Atlantic Cousin Jacks – Part 2


Some sixty or so years after John Jose set out to try his luck on the other side of the Atlantic from his home on the Lizard, another teenager from the Jose clan was planning to follow in his footsteps. And for much the same reason, as he tried to explain to his hapless mother.

‘But Ma, life here is so depressing,’ whinged young Percy Nicholas as he helped his mother in the kitchen of the solid grey-washed four-square Green Cottage facing the windswept village green at Landewednack. ‘It’s all death and gloom.’

                                                                                                 Green Cottage, Landewednack, The Lizard

‘Learn your books and get a trade,’ she chided him. ‘You’re young, things will get better.’

‘How can you of all people say that?’

His mother didn’t need to ask what he meant.

Sidonia Jose, as she was before marrying lighthouse-keeper Charles Nicholas, had found life to be a tough struggle since those heady, happy days of courtship and the grand wedding. There had been three births, two boys and a girl, in three years and the daughter had died after nine months. She produced two more sons but they, too, died within months before she at last gave birth to a healthy daughter. And for much of this time her husband’s job meant he was often absent on distant postings, usually when he was most needed.

But the crunch had come when he decided to join the newly-formed lighthouse service in faraway Hong Kong. ‘It’s for the better,’ he tried to convince her. ‘Better money and I’ll get long leave breaks, so it won’t be much different from if I was being posted to lights around England.’

Sidonia reluctantly agreed. She had once tried accompanying her husband on one of his postings – to the lighthouse on the shingled shore of the windswept Romney Marshes at Dungeness but had soon scuttled back home, depressed by the remote and barren location. At least she had her family and a strong community on the Lizard, no matter how isolated it might be from the rest of Cornwall.

With her husband far away in Hong Kong, Sidonia and her children, Francis, Percy and Elaine, now lived in her parents’ home, Green Cottage, recovering from yet another infant death, her fifth son, and bemoaning the absence of Charles. She knew well enough what young Percy meant, and could understand his unhappiness, some of which stemmed from being a reluctant boarder at the nascent Hayle Grammar School several miles away on the north Cornwall coast at Phillack.

There Percy lived in the home of an Irish couple, the school’s headmaster William Wagner and his wife Elizabeth. Living under the same roof were the Wagners’ three teenage children, assistant teacher William James Griff and three fellow ‘scholars’ who came from Ireland, Yorkshire and Wales. It was situation of ‘them and us’, with the four students very much on the downside of a rigorous routine and harsh living conditions.

‘I’ve got to get away, there’s nothing here for me,’ Percy insisted. ‘It’s cutting and polishing the stone, or fishing or farming.’

Sidonia sighed. Her family were all stone-cutters, spending hours at the wheel to shape and polish the unique local blue-grey Serpentine rock. It was all they ever knew.

But her eldest son, Francis, had already rejected such a future and decided he would be better off elsewhere. He had made his way to London and soon settled into regular employment as an instrument maker. Now it was happening all over again. She knew there was little she could say to persuade Percy to stay.

‘But why so far? Why America?’ It was the playing of a last desperate card. If he had to go, perhaps he could at least remain in England.

But he was not to be persuaded. Eventually, Sidonia faced the inevitable and, in 1906, at the age of 19, my cousin Percy boarded the SS Baltic in Liverpool and joined hundreds of other hopefuls making the trans-Atlantic crossing to the USA and thus grafted another branch on to my family tree.

Percy didn’t hang about. Within a few years he had taken on the role of father to Victor Wilbur Runyon, born on 14 January 1909 to unmarried Dollie Gladys Runyon. Dollie was working as a servant in the household of a widowed farmer deep in Amish country in the farming community of West Union, Minnesota.

In the 1910 US Census, Victor Walter is recorded as “son of Miss Dolly [sic] Runyon” and that his father’s home state was North Dakota. Although Dollie was born in North Dakota, her parents were from Minnesota and the family had returned there some time before the birth of Victor Wilbur.

How and where she and Percy met remains a mystery as that same US census makes no mention of Percy. He was then in Canada, working sixty hours a week as a carpenter while living in a boarding house in Strathcona, Alberta, run by Fred and Elizabeth Archer and crammed with migrant workers.

But at some stage love eventually triumphed and Dollie and Victor Wilbur travelled from Minnesota – the verdant border state of 10,000 lakes ¬ to share Percy’s rugged lifestyle on Canada’s frontier land.

Strathcona was a rough and newly-settled town. It had grown rapidly thanks to a sudden influx of land speculators, fur traders, pioneer farmers, hunters, general hangers-on and hopeful contractors such as Percy. Its polyglot community consisted mainly of immigrants from Britain (especially the Orkney Isles), almost every European country, the USA and other parts of Canada.

Residents lived in hastily-built primitive shacks and log cabins which were gradually replaced by more substantial two-storey wood or even brick buildings, many of which exist today.

Ever in pursuit of work, Percy soon moved a few miles from Strathcona to lakeside Le Duc, a similar but even younger township, which saw its first settlers in the 1890s. It was here, in November 1913, that Dollie gave birth to their first daughter, who they significantly named Sidonia.

It was here, too, that they were for the first time recorded as a family unit, all bearing the surname Nicholas and with Percy and Dollie listed as “married”. So far, no record has been found of where or when this union took place. Or even if there was a marriage and the unifying of names was done to ease the path of cross-border travel.

Adding further intrigue to support this theory of naming convenience, all are also stated to be of Canadian nationality and of English birth. The document where these details are listed – recording a US border crossing in November 1913 – has all the signs of being hastily completed by a less than scrupulous official; a far cry from today’s rigorous procedures.

Conditions in Canada’s pioneering backwoods were all too much for Dollie. Too parched and dry in summer, too cold and windswept in winter, more brown than green despite the forests edging the wide plains. But most of all, she was homesick.

‘Can we go back home?’ pleaded Dollie. ‘Back to Mom and Pop. They haven’t seen Sidonia.’

‘But there’s work here,’ countered Percy.

He was keenly aware that Canada, especially out here in Alberta, was a young and growing country. As venturers pushed ever further into remoter territory there was a guarantee of plentiful work for tradesmen such as carpenters, and especially for those prepared to tolerate the pioneering lifestyle.

But Dollie prevailed. Together with Victor, Sidonia and Percy she was back in Minnesota in time to give birth to Douglas F Nicholas on Boxing Day 1916.

From then on, Percy Nicholas, the Cornish son of a serpentine cutter’s daughter and a keeper of the Lizard lighthouse, made his life among the communities settled around Minnesota’s multitude of lakes. My Celtic roots had again crossed the Atlantic, this time to flourish in the fertile lands of rural north-eastern America.
Records indicate Percy and Dollie went on to have eight children, including Dollie’s illegitimate first-born, Victor. There was, however, a lengthy gap between the birth of Douglas in 1915 and the arrival of Valleere in 1921 which, in view of the large families usual in those pre-Pill days, suggests they may have suffered a run of stillborn and infant deaths similar to that experienced by Percy’s mother.

Percy’s only absence during this period was during the final stages of the First World War when he belatedly answered the call to arms and went to the recruiting office in Minneapolis on 18 June 1918 to enlist in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force.

A year later, he returned unscathed into Toronto on the Mauretania and when he crossed back into the States he told the US Border Force he intended taking out American citizenship, although this was not compulsory. Naturalisation was a two-step process and by the time of the 1930 census Percy had obtained his “first papers” by filing a declaration of intent to become a US citizen.

Ten years later, however, he had progressed no further and was still noted as “having first papers”. Once again, the picture is of a man who told the authorities what they wanted to know rather than state the reality of the situation.

His most pressing need was to remain employed. At various times Percy is officially described as a carpenter, a bridge carpenter, a house carpenter and, for a while, as a painter. He chases work and adapts to suit employers’ needs.

These were the turbulent years of the Depression and Prohibition, with high unemployment, rampant poverty and poor living conditions for the millions of have-nots. Like many other struggling families, the Nicholas brood were doing it tough, a situation not helped by the death on 1 December 1926, of son Douglas at the age of 10, nor by subsequent events.

By the time of the 1930 US census, which coincided with the death of his father back in England, Percy is living in rented accommodation at 1702, 6th Street North, Hennepin County, Minneapolis, with no trace anywhere of Dollie. Sharing the house with him are children Sidonia, Vallerie, Gerald and Audrey plus eldest son Victor and his new wife Beulah.

Precisely nine months later, Dollie gives birth to daughter Patricia Ann, an event likely responsible for her disappearance and leading to her divorce from Percy a couple of years later.

Throughout the 1930s, Dollie and Patricia frequently changed address – sometimes renting a place of their own, sometimes reduced to “rooming”. They were never far from Percy or the rest of the family, including youngest son John, a cook, who lived and worked at the East Hennepin Café on 12th Avenue South.

Victor, a shipper of paint and glass, and Beulah found their own place to live, also nearby but were having troubles of their own. By the time of the 1940 US census, Victor was an inmate of the St Cloud Reformatory and a couple of years later Beulah filed for divorce and married Harold August Schoeben, from the tight-knit Scandinavian Lutheran community of her parents.
There are still the lives of the other children of my Cornish cousin, Percy Nicholas, to explore but suffice to say our Celtic roots are now settled deep into the Minnesota landscape.

Dining disasters are plat du jour

There is no disputing that British restaurant food has lifted its game considerably in recent years. Search diligently, choose wisely and you can end up enjoying a reasonable meal and, if you are really lucky, one that represents value for money.

But, really, it’s not all that good. The choice is limited to “safe” dishes, lacks enticement and rarely extends beyond the basic fare endured for decades.

There are numerous talented chefs working the nation’s stoves. But when viewed as a percentage of the whole eat-out scene they are but a dribble of sauce in a culinary desert – or dessert.

There is nothing wrong with basic fare – fish and chips, roast and two veg, steak and chips, even sausage and mash. But surely, after decades of serving mundane, allegedly home-cooked fare, chefs could at least make it edible and enjoyable.

If they can’t get the basics right, what hope is there? How much longer must diners stomp up their hard-earned for food no better than they get at home?

Dining out is supposed to be an occasion, a moment to savour but not a replication of what could be much cheaper, and better, from their own kitchens.

Worse still, not only is the basic fare on offer so mundane but too often the diner is enticed into ordering a classic only to find it falls way short of the mark.

Three timesi in three days at three different eateries I have been lured into ordering dishes that should be part of any competent chef’s basic classic repertoire.

A seafood linguine was drier than the Sahara after a sandstorm; a Caesar salad would have been instantly disowned by its creator, and a moules mariniere with pommes frites was enough to justify the Norman Conquest all over again.

These are simple dishes, tried and true, and should be part of any professional chef’s repertoire. Anything less than an edible, tasty approximation of the original is simply not good enough.

The salad was a bowl of tired lettuce and croutons that would have withstood a nuclear blast. The linguine offered leathery prawns and a puddle of creamy nothingness in the bottom of the bowl. The moules were lukewarm rubbery bullets and the frites were simply not frites.

These were not exceptions.

Bromo solves murder among the family trees

Good news from Endeavour Press:

Twisted Trees, my latest crime fiction novel, is now online and available to purchase from Amazon as an e-book.

This is the fourth in the ongoing series of crime novels featuring reluctant sleuth Bromo Perkins.

The series began way back at the start of the 2000s with Done Deal, which was followed by Washed Up and Death by Diamonds.

A fifth tale is nearing completion and, if I get my act together, should be ready for fans well before the end of this year.

Watch this space.

A matter of (missing) memory – updated

Since my recent blog bemoaning the loss of memory a bit of work has been taking place on stimulating whatever part of the brain is responsible for storing and recalling past events.

I’ve been doing some ghosting. In other words, visiting old haunts.

No need to wrap the body in white sheets and utter some mournful moans of “whoo hoo” or any other spooky phrases.

Simply check the postcodes of places where I once lived, key them into the sat nav and the journey into the long ago could begin.

Fortunately, recalling these addresses presents no problem. They are the broad brushstrokes I mentioned earlier; it is the detail that

Closing the gap – the full running circle

Seventy years ago I lined up for my first running race, untrained and unaware of what it involved. Tomorrow, almost to the day of that step into the unknown, I will be on the start line yet again.

Significantly – at least to me – this will be an anniversary not only in terms of time, but also of place. By pure coincidence, the venue is almost the exact location of that first run.

Thus the circle will be complete – seventy years of athletic endeavour ending where it all began. And if by chance I happen to win,

Just remember this …

As I was saying before …

Before what? Before when?

Why did I come into the kitchen? What am I doing here?

Well, as I was saying …

What was I saying? Something about … er …

Hell, let’s start again.

There’s this problem I’m having with memory. I hear mention of such terms as