In my last blog entry, which to my shame was on 22nd February, I mentioned that my aberrant son was breaking with a lifetime of family tradition and getting himself off the couch, donning actual running shoes and training himself up to a level of physical fitness that would enable him to take part in a half-marathon!
I never thought I would see the day, but last Sunday, there I was witnessing the whole thing in Sheffield!
Linda and I were out in good time on the Sunday morning. The race was due to start at 9.30am and at 9.30am sharp there we were, about a mile outside town, armed with our bright pink noise-making implements, ready to cheer our boy on. We felt a bit lonely.
It seems that everyone else knew that nothing would be happening until 9.45am at the earliest, so they were still sitting in the comfort of their homes drinking tea. Fifteen minutes later, just before we started to see movement on the horizon, the crowds started to gather.
I tried to send subliminal messages to encourage our son to get a move on.
Two, four, six, eight. Come on, Tom. Let’s conjugate!
Eventually we saw the blue flashing lights of the police outriders, and shortly behind them the ‘elite’ runners. An terrifying amount of testosterone on display.
Then the throng started to surge up the road and we began to despair about ever getting a decent photo of our son In his very fetching Sheffield Children’s hospital running gear. There were over 11,000 runners streaming past us. Where was he?
No, that’s not him.
And please don’t let that be him!
Hang on, isn’t that him with the camera strapped to his forehead?
Yep! That’s m’ boy! Number 7830!
Looking good. Only 11.5 miles to go!
From her home in Battersea, our little granddaughter, Martha, who hasn’t actually learned to talk yet, added her own words of encouragement
Time for the parental support team to walk into town and find a coffee shop.
Well before noon I made my way to the finishing line and tried to fight my way through the crowd, so that I could get a picture of No 1 son crossing the line.
There were about four or five rows of people between me and the actual barrier, so I stood on tip-toe for about half an hour hoping that my camera would pick Tom out as he came across the line.
Hundreds of tired runners started to arrive, and eventually the crowd in front of me began to thin out as support teams saw their runners arrive. I finally got to the barrier itself and so could get a clear view of the finishing line. Just in time! Tom was due any minute.
At this point a woman, carrying a huge balloon, also reached the barrier just in front of me. My line of vision to the finishing post was completely blocked. I tried to stand even taller on my aching toes but it was no use. Eventually I asked the women in front of me to ask the woman in front of her to ask the woman in front of her to move her balloon, which she duly did with her apologies. All very nicely done, I thought.
I continued to wait for my heroic son to reach the finishing line. My camera was poised to take the ultimate victory photo of Tom with his finishing time emblazoned on the digital clock in two foot high letters.
The next thing I knew was that my phone was going off in my pocket. It was Linda. She was asking me where I was. “I’m at the finishing line,” I said, “waiting for Tom!”
“He’s with me!” she said. “He came through a few minutes ago!”
The lady with the balloon had robbed me of my photo.
Tom had crossed the line in 2 hours and 13 minutes, seven minutes faster than he had expected! He was still upright! Exhausted but still standing.
More than that, within ten minutes, he was chatting to his friends looking as if he had just had a brisk walk into town.
Proud Mum and Dad disappeared quietly to find themselves a celebratory lunch.
If you fancy a gentle walk in the park on a Saturday morning in Brighton, forget it! You run the risk of being trampled to death by the hundreds of crazy people, who forsake their beds or their breakfast tables in order to go running round and round the park in endless pursuit of nothing in particular.
I thought that this kind of collective madness was just a Brighton phenomenon, but no! It’s happening everywhere! All over the country! As if Brexit wasn’t bad enough!
It’s all part of the “Couch to 5K” movement, that was set up a couple of years to encourage people to get up off their couches and get some exercise. What a ghastly idea! I can think of nothing worse than having to put on gym shoes and get sweaty with a bunch of strangers in the park!
Imagine my surprise, nay, horror indeed, when I discovered that our own son, Tom, had not only taken up the “Couch to 5K” challenge but had actually started to enjoy the experience and had progressed way beyond the 5 kilometre target! Horrendous!
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a son of mine would ever show an interest in, let alone an aptitude towards, any kind of sporting activity. After all my efforts over the years to steer him away from any hobby that would require me to stand outside in the cold and show enthusiastic support for anything that involved mud or sweat, let alone running shoes! After all those conversations extolling the virtues of music or theatre or any activity that takes place indoors and doesn’t have the words ‘touch-line’ or ‘referee’ in its vocabulary, it was quite a shock to discover that my own son had gone over to the dark side and become a sportsman.
So why am I unashamedly asking for donations through the medium of this blog? No, it’s not to pay for Tom to go into some expensive clinic to be cured of his aberrant behaviour. Believe me, if I thought that that were still a possibility I would not be ashamed to beg for money, on bended knee if necessary. But it’s too late for that now!
On April 8th, (and I never thought I would write a sentence like this), my son will be taking part in the Sheffield Half Marathon! The very idea makes me feel weak at the knees, – even though I have to admit to just a tiny frisson of admiration.
So where does the £20 come in? (Or indeed £10 or even £5)
Well, Tom is using his attempt at the Half Marathon to raise funds for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, which provides the little ‘extras’ that the NHS cannot fund but which can make children’s experience of hospital just a little bit less distressing.
Tom has set himself a target of £300 and I’d like to see him burst that target wide open. So if you’ve got a little spare cash and are wondering what you can do with it, can I suggest that you help Tom to reach his target and encourage him to get over the finishing line in Sheffield on April 8th.
Today is a depressing day, a very depressing day.
OXFAM, an organisation for which I have enormous respect, is headline news today because of the disgraceful behaviour of a number of OXFAM staff during the relief efforts following the earthquakes Haiti in 2010.
Stories have emerged of ‘sex parties’ and the use of prostitutes, involving a group of OXFAM employees, including the Country Director, who was subsequently allowed to resign and went on the join a French NGO, presumably on the basis of forged references. Several other individuals were either allowed to resign or were sacked.
Further digging on the part of The Times newspaper has uncovered evidence of similar behaviour by the same Country Director during a previous posting in Chad. OXFAM stands accused of trying to sweep the affair under the carpet for fear of reputational damage and subsequent loss of donations.
The Times broke the story on Thursday, coincidentally on the same day as its sister paper launched the banner headline ‘Stop This Foreign Aid Madness.’ All part of a campaign on the part of some elements of the press to cut the foreign aid budget.
Since then all of the media, newspapers as well as radio and television, have been headlining the story. It is all very saddening.
I need to declare an interest here. I used to be an OXFAM Country Director. Indeed I worked for OXFAM, in the UK and then in Africa, for a total of 15 years. I saw the organisation from both sides during that time, from the fundraising, the OXFAM shop network and public opinion work in the UK to the work on the ground with the recipients of the funds, both as Deputy Country Director in Kenya and then Country Director in Coastal West Africa.
My involvement with OXFAM, however, goes back much further, more than 50 years further, in fact. I parted company with the Church, indirectly, because of OXFAM. I don’t suppose that at the age of 13 or 14 I was a particularly devout Christian, but I was in the church choir, until my voice broke.
At around that time, a few weeks before Christmas, a little cardboard money collecting box from OXFAM appeared on the mantle-piece of our dining room. My mother had put it there because she felt guilty about the fact that we would soon be having a proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, whilst half the world was starving.
We were not a particularly wealthy family. My father held a middle management position in an aluminium factory and had five kids to feed. My mother didn’t work, so money was always an issue. Nevertheless, in the weeks before Christmas, my mother faithfully squirrelled bits of money away into the little cardboard box , so that, in her mind, she could eat her Christmas dinner with a clear conscience. In the New Year, she sent whatever she had collected to OXFAM.
At the same time by an unfortunate coincidence, our local vicar decided to spend £3,000 on a ‘reredos’, a decorative screen to beautify the back of his altar. This was about 1963/1964. In those days £3000 was a huge sum of money. I left the Church.
I got my first job with OXFAM after five soulless years with the Metal Box Company, for the last two of which I held the exalted position of Export Salesman. I was, without question, the worst salesman in the long history of the company and, even today, I wonder at the fact that I was never found out.
My new OXFAM job was brilliant. I was the local organiser in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and parts of Buckinghamshire. I had about 30 shops and several non-shop groups in my area. The job was never dull.
One day I would find myself in a meeting of shop volunteers trying to convince them that using an electronic till did not equate to going over to the Dark Side and, speaking of the dark side, putting the lights on in the shop might encourage more people to come in.
The next day I might be addressing the local Rotary Club at lunchtime and then rushing off in the afternoon to try to stop the rain coming in through the roof of the Pangbourne shop.
Following a number of ‘reorganisations, ‘ I eventually found myself one of four Regional Coordinators, responsible for an area that had over 240 shops and a quarter of OXFAM’s total shop income.
I then moved to Africa and spent the next seven years basically dispensing the funds that I spent the previous seven years raising, and monitoring the effectiveness of those funds.
I saw the effects of OXFAM’s staff and funds at work in remote areas of Kenya, Senegal and Mauritania where, for the first time ever, water suddenly became available to ordinary people, who were able to grow their own crops and feed their families and where, for the first time in in anyone’s memory, women and girls did not have to walk miles each day to fetch water for their families.
I saw women’s groups using small loans from OXFAM to fund petty trading activities, buying tomatoes in bulk, distributing them to their members, who would sell them in local markets. The loan would then be paid back to OXFAM so that the same funds could be passed on to other groups.
I saw health posts being built in remote areas so that the local people could petition their government to send health care personnel to treat diseases that otherwise would have gone untreated.
During my 15 years with OXFAM, I worked with literally hundreds of volunteers and staff at all levels. Some of them, I liked. Some of them, I didn’t. Some of them I agreed with, some I didn’t. But the thread that ran through all the people with whom I worked was that they were committed to their work and to the ideals that OXFAM represents and were, almost exclusively, thoroughly decent people, working, in whatever way they could, towards a goal, the reduction of world poverty, that was greater than they were.
OXFAM has grown enormously since I left in early 1990s. It now employs around 5000 people in the UK and all over the world. It receives funds not only from individuals who want to support its work but also from governments and other agencies who have seen what OXFAM achieves with poor communities and are confident that the funds channelled through OXFAM will reach the people they are intended to support.
I believed when I worked for them, and I believe now, that OXFAM is an excellent organisation, run by exceptional people, who do unbelievably valuable work amongst communities who are, for the most part, desperately poor and, in a civilised world, deserve to be helped.
The news splashed across the headlines this week is devastating. The behaviour of those involved was appalling, degrading and utterly unacceptable in any decent organisation. The action taken by OXFAM management at the time may have been insufficient and misguided. The damage to OXFAM’s hard-earned and thoroughly deserved reputation will be immense.
An open goal has been presented to those who exploit that damage in the name of cutting overseas aid. The losers in all this will be those people from whom aid will be withdrawn and whose chances of working their way out of poverty will be reduced even further.
A truly depressing day.
I know I said I had nothing left to write about, but the BBC coverage of the events at the Dorchester this week have encouraged me out of my self-imposed exile from my blog.
Numerous commentators, on radio and TV, have been describing the appalling behaviour of a bunch of sleazy, over-privileged, misogynistic, insanely wealthy men in a discredited London hotel as ‘horrific’.
There are many words that could be employed to describe the behaviour of some members of the obnoxious Presidents’ Club. How about ‘disgusting’, or ‘degrading’ or ‘demeaning’, or ‘de-humanising’ or ‘disgraceful’? And we still haven’t exhausted the ‘d’s’.
But bandying around the word ‘horrific’ is just wrong.
Rough-sleepers in Britain being kicked to death by thugs is horrific. Babies being thrown into burning buildings in Burma is horrific. One and half million people suffering famine in South Sudan is horrific.
The fact that these pathetic, but powerful, men feel entitled to harass young women is worthy of examination, censure and serious debate.
Over-using words like ‘horrific’ does not help.
With the turning of the year, I took a look back at the statistics of my blog and treated myself to a quiet smile.
I started writing it way back in the middle of 2012, as we started our preparations to retire from paid work and embark on what turned out to be a four-year VSO adventure.
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and Linda will tell you that it was the blog that kept me sane during the darker times of our time in South Sudan, when I found myself, for several months, with practically nothing to do.
The WordPress statistics people feed back all sorts of information, including the number of entries since the beginning, (a total of 1529 posts and thousands of pictures), and then, day by day, month by month, the number of people who have visited the blog and the number of ‘views’. Over the past six years, this is how it looks:-
Year Visitors Views
2012 181 5243
2013 2413 10033
2014 1843 6618
2015 2443 7011
2016 3494 9001
2017 3261 6401
Total 13635 44307
So the question is, ‘What happens now?’
Life is certainly less spectacular that it was a couple of years ago. No crocodile farms, no faced-painted warriors, no machine-gun wielding youths herding cows., no clown fish, just a quiet retirement in an agreeable town on the South Coast. So, unless I can find a direction that justifies putting finger to keyboard, perhaps it’s time to hang up my sense of irony and my eye for quirkiness and draw a line under the blog.
Many thanks to all those who have followed the blog over the past six years. It’s been a blast.
The people who collect our recycling had a bit of a surprise a few weeks ago. It’s not every week that our glass recycling bin looks like this.
And what was our excuse for this outburst of unaccustomed alcoholic excess? It was nothing less than the arrival, some five weeks ago, of this young lady, our first granddaughter.
In the months leading up to her birth, no decisions could be taken about her name, because the parents decided not to be told the baby’s sex in advance.
Linda and I did, however, have a working title, thanks to a dream that Linda had several weeks before the little one’s arrival. She dreamed that our daughter had told her that they had decided on the baby’s name and that she would spell it out, so that we wouldn’t get it wrong.
The new baby was to be named W-O-R-B, Worb, to rhyme with ‘word’. And so the new infant became in all conversations relating to his or her imminent arrival and future prospects. We even developed a diminutive form of the name and started to talk about how life would be once little “Worble” had arrived.
And then she was finally born and we found ourselves elevated to the exalted status of new grandparents, a role that we found remarkably easy to adopt. Still no decision had been taken on the name, so ‘Worble’ it was.
Caption: Worble’s first outing to the park with doting grandparents.
Caption: Proud granddad with sleeping Worble.
And so the big day came when Worble had to present herself at the Registry Office to be officially registered. As befitted the occasion, she was dressed in her finest outfit, a testament to our daughter’s legendary understanding of contemporary fashion and her awareness of the delicate art of complementary colour combinations.
And so we were delighted to welcome into the citizenry of the United Kingdom the brand new, young Martha Florence, formerly known as Worble.
Great to have you in the family, kid!
To be honest, young Martha wasn’t too impressed with the registration process and found it difficult to get too excited about it.
And look what I got from Father Christmas to mark the beginning of my new career as Grandad. Something special to hang on the Christmas tree!
What a brilliant way to finish the year!
Yesterday was the shortest day of the year and the longest night. Which goes some way to explaining why, at eight o’clock in the evening, we found ourselves standing in a huge crowd on Brighton’s seafront gradually freezing to death, as the cold of the pavement made its way through our shoes and feet and on upwards, and the cold sea breeze started to chill our faces and make its way down.
For the last 21 years, Brighton has marked the solstice with a huge children’s parade. Hundreds of children gather in the town centre with paper lanterns that they have made in the weeks running up to the solstice, under the auspices and guidance of a charity called Same Sky.
Working all over the south east of England, Same Sky describe their mission as encouraging people to come together through involvement in parades, street drama, puppetry and light shows.
“We advise on community outreach and social cohesion, building connections with people who’ve never been involved with art before, and those in vulnerable or hard-to-reach groups in the community. We work with them to develop creative skills and talents, and show them how art can change their everyday life.”
The title of the parade, marking the winter solstice, is always “The Burning of the Clocks” and last night the parade took a full three quarters of an hour to pass in front of our vantage point overlooking the Marine Parade.
Thousands of Brighton residents and visitors lined the streets to witness the event as clocks of all shapes and sizes passed by on their way to a specially designated area of the beach, where the children and adults alike were asked to throw their lanterns, unceremoniously, into a big heap.
Big clocks, little clocks, well-constructed clocks and clocks that had been assembled by less expert hands were all piled up and committed to the flames.
Once the bonfire started to die down the seafront erupted into a splendid fireworks display to celebrate lowest point in the winter and the fact that from now on, the days will slowly start to get longer and we can look forward to spring being just around the corner.
We trudged home to thaw out our frozen feet, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. (Note to self: Must remember my hat next year!)
Well done, Same Sky. Well done, Brighton