BJ, a more appropriate name for this PM i struggle to imagine, has garbled out his far too late diatribe about not being complete twats by spreading Covid-19 so stay at home. The same twats who voted him in would, over the course of the next year, prove that the morality of this green and pleasant land is bankrupt,
It was never going to be a normal day.
The alarm blasted out as normal at 6am, tea and breakfast consumed as normal, lunch made as normal, cats fed as normal, wife kissed and kids wished a cheerful goodbye and see you later as normal, home exited at 7am as normal for the normal chaotic 23 mile drive to the office in North west Norwich.
An essential worker with a lovely email printed and ready to wave at the rozzers should they pull me over, I enter the building through the entrance you never usually use, enter the office to be greeted by the sanctimonious prick who pays your wages pointing out the two metre spacings on the floor, don’t stand too close to anyone else, only make a drink when nobody is within a mile, put your hand up if you need the toilet. OK the last couple of examples are slightly over egged. The boss was a sanctimonious prick though.
Apart from the restrictions in movement, sustenance and toileting the day progressed in it’s normal manner. At 9:57am my phone apparently rang. I missed the call but spotted it a minute or so later and rang the caller, my wife, back. The girls were coughing, perhaps that might be a slight worry given the paranoia sweeping the nation but likely to be, well, young girls coughing with an early spring bug. As a precaution I tell Mr Sanctimonious, he tells his deputy who advises me to go home and self isolate for two weeks. I shut down my workstation, tidy up my paperwork, put my work tools and books in the draw and leave the building.
Sitting in my car in the company car park I called S and told her that I was about to leave the office.
The soothing tone of my voice coupled with gentle stroking of her head and silky ears encouraged calmness. Moments later, with a familiar snore, thirteen and a half years of life ended. Indie expired peacefully under the anaesthetic administered with the compassionate skill of a young vetinary surgeon.
Two: A bad start
Her appearance shocked me. Not necessarily a specimen of serious mis-treatment, I have a suspicion that there HAD been an element of mis-treatment, but certainly not a dog who had experienced the start in life that one would have expected. Rather than having the bright eyes and lustrous coat that a two year Labrador bitch should have displayed she had a look of wariness and a damp urine smelling dusty coat. Our prospective new pet wandered down the corridor at her owners’ (breeders…) home, (she paid no notice to us and barely paid attention to her owners) whereupon the lady owner made a comment about a small cut over Indie’s left eye, ooh that looks nasty she said whilst subconsciously twiddling with a large ring on her finger, a ring containing a stone large enough to produce, say, a cut over a dog’s eye… She had no concept of obedience and had no idea of what this playing malarkey was all about. The wife and I looked at each other, without saying it we knew that this beautiful creature needed a proper home. A tough start to life needed some rectification and, with a deal agreed, her first two years of life could be consigned to history. What would have happened to her if we had failed to follow up our interest will obviously never be known but i am sure that there wouldn’t be an article such as this being written in 2021, I doubt that her life would have been long, and happiness would have been largely unknown.
Three: A new start
It would be an understatement to suggest that Indie’s integration into a family home took a while to bed in. No immediate exploration of her new home, just sitting in the living room staring in confusion at people being nice, using words of encouragement, trying to play. All except Homer of course, my 10 year old cat could not give a toss. He took one look, gave her a look which bristled with “go on dog, try it…” and sat in the middle of the floor staring.
Her nervousness at the enormous change in lifestyle, surroundings and care was apparent so my first action was to grab her new lead, attach it to her new collar and take her for a walk around her new neighbourhood. A walk which lasted 30 seconds and approximately 25 yards, 20 of those seconds were getting her out of the front door, all of those yards were on our driveway. It never occurred to us that she had never been walked. I carried her back home and so the pattern for the first few weeks was set. The first three nights were soul destroying with Indie barking all night, knocking her water over the kitchen floor and using the floor as a toilet. I had never owned a dog before and was beginning to regret it already so I made a call to the former owners to introduce the prospect of taking her back, fortunately the call wasn’t answered and a disaster was avoided.
Four: Never more than a yard away
Naturally, Of course, Indie settled in quickly. Her teething troubles were just that and, as long as she got food & water, a comfortable place to sleep and most importantly a good sized area to deposit her mammoth piles of shit, she settled down into a routine which involved all of the afore mentioned activities and not much else. Play was a mystery to her, throw a ball and she just watched it with a look which implied “what’s that, don’t you want it anymore?” Walks improved massively from that early disaster however. Once the lead was attached her tail wagged so quickly that I assumed that she had a super fast burst of speed ready for the moment we got out of the door. Not a bit of it of course. She never strayed more than a yard away from me, the very definition of ‘at heal’. On open ground, especially Beccles Common, she was let off her lead but still kept close to me. On the occasions when a distance opened up, usually during a poo (by her I feel I must implore you to believe) or sticking her head into a rabbit hole then her sudden realisation of my absence produced the hilarious sight of a large black labrador sprinting full pelt at me. Her brakes were not in tip top order so i had to make sure that my legs were not in the way of that heavy black missile! Off lead she was well behaved, never chased after other dogs or people but did wander over for a sniff if encouraged. She only got over excited and decided to run amok when Ruby was in town, Ruby was the wife’s parent’s dog, a cocker spaniel, a total non stop dynamo with a permanently happy face. Those two together were the dog version of best mates, when Ruby passed away last year we got the impression that it wouldn’t be long before Indie followed.
Five: Ready to depart
Her health decline was a gradual process but inevitable given the life expectancy for dogs. Her eyes began to cloud, her hearing started to fail, her joints began causing her grief. Only when her appetite for food disappeared and she refused to move from one spot (except for toileting) did it become necessary to make a decision about her ultimate welfare. Saying goodbye was a sad experience, the family dispensed tears then i carried her to the car for her for her final journey. I talked to her for the whole journey and sat in the back of the car at the vets talking to, and cuddling, her whilst waiting for the vet to return with an assistant and stretcher.
Six: Home again
Physically Indie now sits on the mantlepiece behind the TV in our living room. She is much smaller and lighter, less smelly, doesn’t eat or drink.
Spirituality she runs around on the fields of the canine afterlife, digging up bones and chasing Ruby.
On the 90th anniversary of my maternal Grandmother’s birth, after 6 months of furlough, I returned to the company I had loyally served for 31 years and 8 months to receive final confirmation of my redundancy following a decision to ‘restructure’ the business. The irony of the date was not lost on me as she had passed away in May, perhaps this sad loss, in a way, provided a morbid metaphor for my 2020 working life as will become apparent over the course of the following paragraphs.
Being told in writing and subsequently in a face to face meeting that no suitable position within the company was available to me felt rather lazy and empty. My experience was unquestionable, my knowledge was excellent and my adaptability unrivalled given the number and variety of roles my long service had proven. Purely focusing on the most recent role I had performed without considering anything else was highly disrespectful and not a little hurtful.
You might think that the level and length of service I had provided would be gratefully rewarded but, of course, when there are helicopters, Porsches and Jags to support, the bean counters would rather hang on to the cash. Statutory redundancy (entitled to), payment in lieu of notice (entitled to), holiday pay (entitled to) and ONE month’s untaxed salary ex-gratia. I’ll give you a moment to let that last ‘award’ sink in… 31 years, 8 months and 25 days is worth, drum roll…, FUCK ALL to a company whose motto on their delivery vans reads “For service”.
PART TWO: WILDERNESS?
My redundancy came into effect at the end of the working day on October 31st 2020, I would challenge anybody to come up with a more suitable date for such a situation, but my news was already out in the wild from sources within my former employers. Only one source had my express permission and that source asked for it following a comment from a sales rep who had ‘heard a rumour…’. Loyalty is a one way street sadly. That rep contacted me and very kindly gave me the contact details of similar businesses in the area, 2 of which were in my immediate vicinity so I sent introduction letters via email to both but was ignored. My confidence was knocked, should I have been so confident that a job was waiting for me or was this the beginning of a long term of essentially aping David Carradine by wandering in the metaphorical wilderness…?
PART THREE: A SPECTACULAR DISCOVERY AND A SHINING LIGHT
The modern convention is to announce personal news through social media so a well worded, non controversial article was posted with a concise, to the point, narrative explaining my situation. I was flattered and humbled to receive a huge number of messages from family, friends, former colleagues, former customers and reps of companies I had dealt with over the years. One of those people sent me a private message telling me that his company might be interested in talking to me and had a feeling that my years of experience would add weight to his recommendation. A couple of weeks later, after an ‘informal chat’ with the interested party, I received an email with a job offer attached.
I have a pretty good strike rate with my interview to job conversion rate. Three applications, three jobs from 1987 to 1989, then one informal chat and a job offer so technically three applications and four jobs. My new job, starting 1st December 2020, as a trade counter sales manager, promised an exciting new challenge in a small family run business but in the same industry that i had dedicated the last 3 decades to. I have never been a trade counter person per se but I have, in my humble opinion, a friendly and personable personality so, coupled with my experience, it is a role which poses no horrors for me. A point which my former employer may wish to reflect upon and perhaps feel suitably shamed.
Starting a new job is a daunting prospect especially as it was the first time since early 1989 but with patient instruction and a welcoming attitude I found, and still find, it to be a relatively easy and comfortable experience. The attitude shown to me was first class and they seemed genuinely excited to have me on board. The number of well wishes i received from industry peers was humbling, many saying to me that i had landed on my feet with a great company with others telling my employer that they had made a spectacular discovery…
Early, very early, mornings with a 20 mile drive in the dark on quiet roads which flood easily and with the ever present danger of deer encroaching onto the carriageway. A change from the past but worth it for the friendly welcome on arrival, the genuine concern that my journey was safe and interest in me as a person. Proper people skills without any forced ‘better talk to the fuckwits as I’m the boss and they probably expect it’.
PART FOUR: RESURRECTION
Roll forward to early January 2021, a sales meeting at the office with 4 people in the conference room and 7 people on zoom. All opinions are valid, none are shot down in flames after intense interrogation, nobody is pissed off to be there or constantly looking at their watches. 2020 held challenges for the company, the negatives were the drop off in sales brought about by Covid-19 restrictions, furloughing of staff and subsequent loss of a couple of them who found alternative employment whilst on furlough. The positives were that they had comfortably kept the business afloat and, this genuinely took my breath away for a few seconds, the most positive event in their opinion was… A photograph of your truly appeared on the screen…
A working year that began as more of the same ended in an unexpected but welcome and refreshing manner, I sincerely hope that 2021 is a boring one.
There is a joke attributed to runners, often with a roll of the eyes or told with a slightly acerbic tone:
Q: ‘How will you know if a runner has done a half marathon/marathon?’
A: ‘Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you’
With the 5km challenge dragon slain and Parkrun now a regular fixture in my diary my mind turned to new challenges. There are lots of running events in the East of England but they all appeared to involve insane sounding distances such as 10km or 13.1 miles, as a rookie runner with a 5km ceiling thus far they were obviously out of my reach. So in October 2017, whilst munching on a huge burger at the 5 Guys restaurant in central Norwich and flicking through Facebook on my phone, I spotted a likely candidate for an event and duly entered it. It is fair to say that the wife was a tad surprised when I phoned her to say that I’d just entered April 2018’s City of Norwich Half Marathon, 13.1 miles of agony from the Norfolk Showground in Costessey on the western edge of Norwich and looping back to the Showground via several villages. Once I got back home and began my research into training regimes, nutrition, hydration, equipment, rules & regulations etc etc a moment of panic hit me. What an idiot I was, 5km under my belt and I’m talking about over 21km, madness. Once that Tsunami of uncertainty had swept over me I got the determination/belligerence chip out of the draw, stuck it into my brain and knuckled down to the task at hand.
To make things a little more interesting I added an insurance policy to my training. No I didn’t trawl the internet looking for the best deal for my family in the event of me keeling over after 5 miles or so. This type of insurance policy involved signing up with the MacMillan cancer care charity to raise some money for them by taking part in the event therefore giving me no wriggle room to chicken out. I would wear their green running tee shirt and have HUGGY on the chest. It turned out to be a smart move as in the end I managed to grab over £500 from people who were amazed that this former big fat unhealthy lardy Huggy was actually doing something as crazy as this.
The training regime I chose was fairly simple, on paper anyway. At the beginning of January 2018 I started running 4 times a week, getting up at 4:45am or 5am twice a week during workdays for a 5km run, doing the usual 9am Saturday Parkrun and a longer morning run on a Sunday, Increasing the distance on a Sunday incrementally week on week. The best practice rule I’d discovered was that you don’t add more that 10% onto the previous week’s distance, I stuck to that principle and by early April had got my distance up to 19.5km (1 mile short of full HM distance).
Without too many boring details (I know it’s boring enough already…) by the time 15th April arrived: I had covered a total of 400km in over 48 hours of running, spent many dark lonely mornings scaring myself witless (word exchanged from my original thought…) after hearing strange noises from hedges or seeing cat’s eyes (real ones not the road ones) in the beam of my head torch, getting a regular face full of freezing rain, scared lone pedestrians by suddenly wishing a good morning as I ran past them in the dark at 5:30am and run in the ice and snow during the beast from the east mini ice age! My preparation had gone as well as I could have hoped, the only thing left to do was actually turn up at the Showground and run the thing.
On Sunday April 15th 2018 the Huggins family decamped from the family car at the Royal Norfolk Showground and walked through the cool misty air to the farm buildings which acted as the event HQ. Competitor 2027 was, as usual, ridiculously early (9am for a 10:30am start) but that’s me, I hate being late. I really didn’t know what to expect, my preparation had gone well, my food and drink had worked well in training, the weather was perfect but I’d never run in such a large field (2000 people not the size of the grassy area nearby). Parkrun regularly had 400 people but this was different gravy. I need not have concerned myself because the organisation of the event was perfect, no doubts as to where I needed to be and when so when the starting gun fired at 10:30am my mind was clear and my confidence was high. As it turned out the training can only take you so far, herd mentality got me running with the pack at a quicker pace than I had trained for and by half way I was pretty tired. I got chatting to a woman who kept me company for a while and spurred me on, it happened that she lived around half a mile from us so a case of ‘it’s a small world’ and that took my mind of the task at hand for a few miles. The spectators lining the route in the villages, the volunteers and marshals (including one of my sisters in law) were superb with loud encouragement but with 5km to go I began to suffer, my companion pulled away, with 3km to go a steep hill loomed and sapped the remaining physical and mental energy from me. I was suffering badly but knew that I needed to keep going, the last couple of kilometres were back in the Showground and it was a mighty heartening sight to see my family as I approached the 12 mile marker, an added bonus was the appearance of my aunty and uncle who were with one of my cousins whose sister in law was also taking part. That spurred me on and I even managed a sprint finish across the line with the course commentator calling out my name as I approached. My time was a touch over 2 and a half hours but I wasn’t overly bothered about that, it would be a target for another race. For now I had achieved what many people, myself included, had though impossible. A half marathon was conquered, I had a medal to prove it, an official time and official course photos to prove it.
Over the course of the next 18 months I ran another 3 half marathons with my personal best time improving for the Lowestoft event in October 2018 and again at the April 2019 Norwich event taking it down to a touch over 2 hours 16 minutes. The Lowestoft 2019 event was held in the worst weather conditions I have ever experienced. Rain poured down from the early hours of the morning and continued unabated for the rest of the day. The race itself heads out along the sea wall so you can imagine what that was like with heavy rain, strong winds, poor visibility and the sea crashing into the wall adding salt water to the already uncomfortable conditions. As always in times of strife the camaraderie amongst the runners was superb and the supporters lining the route were heroes. After a while you barely notice the rain, you forget about the discomfort and just concentrate on the race, the supporters are just standing there (admittedly with flasks of tea) but getting thoroughly soaked. The conditions meant that my time was 6 minutes outside my pb set in Norwich but still almost 10 minutes faster than my first effort.
Once the half marathon distance had been achieved there was naturally only one thing left to accomplish. The Daddy event, the one which many seasoned runners have never tackled and those who have said never again. The full marathon. The problem was which one and once I’d decided would I get a place and would I be able to afford it. I briefly researched it then benched the idea. Then, not long before the Lowestoft half marathon of 2019, the long talked about North Norfolk Marathon finally got the green light and opened for entries. Perfect, a race in Norfolk starting at Sea Palling and following the coast road to Sheringham. The first road race marathon in the county for 30 years, there were only 400 places available so I took a punt and was surprised/delighted/terrified* (*delete as appropriate) to be successful in gaining a place. Er, oops. What do I do now? What have I let myself in for? As with my first half marathon I decided to add an insurance policy (see earlier disclaimer) and decided to raise some money for one of the race (now renamed the Deep History Coast North Norfolk Mammoth Marathon) partner charities, The Big C. Again a cancer charity and again I would be donning the charity’s kit, this time light blue.
There are many training plans available online, there is a plethora of advice about everything from hydration and fuelling to how to keep the number on your shirt or whether or not I need Vaseline on my nipples… I chose a plan which was along the lines of my half marathon training only over a longer period and with much more work involving longer distances and varying paces, cross training was added to the list too but in truth I didn’t do any! The running aspect was progressing smoothly when the curse of 2020 struck. On the 19th March the race was cancelled (the same day as Parkrun was cancelled) but entries would be automatically moved to the new date of 16th May 2021 providing you didn’t want to use the cancellation as an excuse to chicken out. With the Covid-19 situation rapidly making changes to life in general it was an expected and ultimately sensible decision. My intention of continuing my training and running the distance anyway on the 17th May was also a forlorn hope with lockdown declared on 23rd March and our household in self-isolation with the two girls suffering from nasty coughs, it wasn’t covid-19 but it was a bloody nuisance nevertheless.
A James Bond film classic ending for you now:
The End of Huggy’s re-invented life – Part 4 – A Half Marathon and (almost) a Marathon
Huggy will return in May 2021 with Huggy’s re-invented life – Part 5 – Never again, Marathons are a nightmare, when’s the next one…
The whole point of this venture would be totally wasted if I didn’t continue with it. My holiday (see part three of part two…) allowed me to recover some energy and give me a little time to work out a strategy. Everybody is different and everybody’s body works in a unique fashion so, valuable as the advice I was given was, I decided on a suck it and see stratagem. If I wasn’t comfortable then try something else. As a seasoned bloke who abhors shopping trips and thus generally buys the first thing I see then it is no surprise to report that the first idea I had has been the one which I’ve stuck with ever since. Five kilometres three times a week didn’t over stretch my ability and varying the pace didn’t destroy my confidence. So how to measure the distance properly without having to rely on getting my phone out regularly? Added to that how would I know what the pace was without having to rely on my unreliable body; heavy breathing and heavy legs aside? After a little research I found that the Garmin Forerunner range ticked the relevant boxes and had generally favourable reviews. I found a basic model ‘Forerunner 10’ on ebay for fifty quid and armed with my new technology I headed out at five am on a warm late August morning for my first five km attempt.
Five kilometres on the face of it appears to be quite an arbitrary distance. There doesn’t appear to be any perceived wisdom as to why that distance causes people to use it as a benchmark. In old money it is three point two miles so pretty pointless I would, controversially, contend. However, it is what it is so I have rather manically made it my goal to run that distance as a minimum.
With the distance comfortably achieved and a regular route around Beccles sorted I felt that I needed to connect with other runners again, I had used the HealthUnlocked forum during my Couch to five k adventure to gain advice and share my journey with likeminded ‘runners’ (pseudo running partners essentially), and see what else was available to allow me to challenge myself further. I’m all for statistics (you wait until I get writing about cricket…) so just plodding five km around town, although very good for me, was likely to test my resolve. One word (well two but always assumed to be one) kept leaping out at me – Parkrun.
Parkrun is a weekly timed five km race held at a huge number of venues all over the world. After a little research I found that, luckily, my part of the world included an event in Lowestoft, the course being only a fifteen minute drive from my house, so it wouldn’t be a dispiriting long drive home if it turned out to be an overblown and crap event (spoiler alert: It is far from being those things!). The Parkrun website gives an insight into the course, the facilities, previous results, names of the volunteers (more about them later) and general information about what you need to do to have a great time at the event. I was frankly amazed at the number of people taking part, over three hundred regularly at Lowestoft so having never (physically) run with anybody else at all let alone so many other people i felt entirely out of my comfort zone and immediately thought about chickening out. Well Huggy being Huggy I wasn’t going to let that get the better of me so, armed with the necessary printed bar code required to qualify for an ‘official’ time I made the short trip to the coast and the beginning of what has become a weekly obsession.
The HealthUnlocked forum mentioned Parkrun frequently but with an almost hushed tone which made me believe that this was some kind of rite of passage into a secret underbelly world of running from which I would emerge with an elitist attitude. Once I’d run it once I would believe I was some sort of running demi God who had seen a whole new world which mere mortals were not privy to or worthy of. Well here’s a little analogy for you. Go to a beach and stare out to sea, that far off point which connects the sky to the sea’s surface is the horizon. The curvature of the Earth prevents you from seeing any further (unless you’re from Discworld or have other ‘interesting’ beliefs…) and that is the point of this ramble. That point beyond sight is the distance between my earlier belief and what the point of Parkrun is. As I nervously approached a couple of official looking people on that overcast Saturday morning (2nd September 2017) I still had an idea that this was going to lead to my humiliation in front of a group of Mo Farah wannabes. I parked up and walked over to the Claremont Pier entrance on Lowestoft’s south beach with my bar code in hand. I was politely greeted and advised that I wouldn’t need that until I had finished and that the starting point was around half a kilometre further up the Esplanade at East Coast Pavilion. The people walking up to that area appeared to be similar to me, no real stick thin bean poles with elitist running vests, just regular looking folks who were out for a little 5km canter at the seafront. A chap with a megaphone made an announcement, “This is the first shout out for Parkrun tourists and Parkrun debutants…” Rob, the ‘race director’ as it turned out, warmly greeted me and a few others, gave a briefing about the rules and regulations, the route and asked where we were from. After 4 shout outs in a similar vein he moved over to the side of the course by the start line and gave a general briefing which included rounds of applause for everybody taking part, all debutants, tourists (meaning Parkrun tourists, people who run parkrun events elsewhere but happen to be at an ‘away course’ on the day) with a listing of where they were from and finally special mentions for people who were celebrating something, particularly a Parkrun milestone such as their 50th, 100th, 250th event. Another brief run through of the rules and then it was a call for everybody to give the person to their left and right and big high five and wish them luck. At 9am(ish) it was 3,2,1 and a klaxon signalling the start of the race.
Up to the point when the klaxon sounded I had only ever run on my own before, on this day the field was 269. When you run on your own the pace is as comfortable as you want it to be, when you’re in a group for the first time the pace is rather dictated to you, well in your mind at any rate. Of course you can go at your own pace but it is incredibly difficult not to get carried away with the occasion and so I quickly gained an important piece of knowledge, you can’t win a 5000 metre race in the first kilometre but you can certainly lose one. The first 1000 metres proved to be a new personal best, as were the first mile and two miles. After that the old well-worn phrase that I was “breathing out of my arse” came into play. The last 2 kilometres were torture with the twice negotiated steep hill at the far end of the course proving to be a particular nemesis on the second occasion but the constant encouragement of the volunteers (people dotted around the course wearing ‘hi vis’ vests giving up their Saturday morning to help, regardless of the weather, including the earlier mentioned ‘official looking people’) and other participants whipped up my determination and it was what I needed to find an extra ounce energy to mount a sprint finish, well It felt like a sprint to me anyway. Panting somewhat and sweating profusely I crossed the finish line and was handed a small token with the number 204 and a bar code on it. Now was the time for me to whip out the bar code I’d brought with me and take that and my finishing token to the scanning zone, a text and email later told me that my time was 33 minutes 25 seconds, the finishing token was kept by the scanning volunteer who cheerily congratulated me on my first parkrun and hoped I would be back again…
At the time of writing the worldwide Parkrun community is under suspension with the ban on mass public gatherings taking its toll. When the UK suspension was announced on March the 19th I was preparing for my 122nd event. My average time for the 121 events to date, all at Lowestoft, is around 28 minutes, my best 25:31 set in September 2018 at my 51st event.
The camaraderie of the participants, the volunteers and spectators is the reason that Parkrun is such a phenomenal success. I’ve made many friends through it and met up with them before and after runs for a chinwag as well as meeting up at other running events. A few people, I’m delighted to say, have been inspired enough by my running journey and tales to come along and have a go themselves, in some cases they’ve encouraged more people.
Part 4 of this exciting ramble will follow in the not too distant future, expect half marathons, 10km races and (almost) a marathon…
On a desolate area of wasteland at the far end of the village from our house sat a rotting old sofa. Within its mouldering covering and disintegrating padding sat a rusting knife, trapped in-between the coil springs. For years it sat there undisturbed despite the gangs of young children playing games and young couples too overcome with passion to worry about a few filthy and evil smelling cushions.
The council were not interested in clearing the site, it posed no vermin problem and the rubbish strewn about the area was shielded from the general public by scruffy thick hedges with nasty long thorns and well placed stinging nettles. It had no value to developers and lay in an area unremarkable and ignored by all except the kids and lovers.
The low armed three cushioned sofa appeared in its current location without fanfare and attracted not a single comment and barely a glance from a local population only too used to such things. They thought that perhaps it would be taken by somebody desperate enough to have need of such a deplorable looking piece of furniture, perhaps not. Nobody cared.
The knife, six inches long from tip to tip and rusted along the first two inches of the sharpest edge, sat in a position which would not cause an issue for anybody who, for whatever insane reason, decided to test the sofa for comfort. Discovery would only occur with a steady dismantling of the frame; even then it could be overlooked with it being of a similar hue to the springs.
TWO: A SOFA
Pristine in its plastic protective wrapping, the new sofa sits in the centre of the small flat’s main living area. The delivery team have left, the documents are signed and the credit agreement is now live. It won’t stay where it was placed; there is a conversation to be had about that but that will be short, it always is.
With the television ruling the conversation, the sofa is pushed a few feet from its original position and angled to allow the perfect viewing position. One edge is pushed close to the wall near the large window; the other allows a pathway to the kitchen, dining area, bedrooms and ‘facilities’. There is plenty of stuff in the room though it’s not what you would call cluttered.
The seating cushions are soft and comfortable; the back allows you to sink in. It is not suitable for posture correction but perfect to laze around on. If you lay down whilst watching the TV you could easily drift off to sleep, a small cushion would stop you getting a crick in your neck as the arms are low but who remembers to do that?
After a few weeks the ‘no eating on the new sofa’ rule is long forgotten. A tea tray is on the lap with a delicious microwave meal of bangers and mash with gravy. A mug of steaming hot sugarless tea sits on one side; the cutlery is balanced precariously on the other side. Only a fork and spoon for Christ’s sake, where’s the bloody knife?
THREE: A KNIFE
The cutlery set was a wedding gift from her mother. A smart looking set of ‘eating irons’, with enough pieces to set the table for a modestly attended dinner party. For years they were kept in their original presentation case but were now, with her mother passed on, loose in a draw in the kitchen, part of the general cutlery population and seemingly unloved.
The arguments began over a trivial matter and escalated to physical conflict ridiculously quickly. A particularly accurate blow to the nose was the catalyst for a more extreme act of retaliation with a kitchen knife being grabbed. A reckless swish followed by a shrill scream and within two hours she was in custody and he was ‘on the slab’.
The police search of the flat soon found the killing tool, thrown carelessly to the floor with no attempt to conceal it. The detective donned a plastic glove and carefully pulled it from beneath the sofa and bagged it, exhibit ‘A’ me lud, an evil looking blade with shiny red liquid decoration. Nothing else was required, the killer had sung like a canary, an open and shut case. Lock the door, go home.
Now the flat was empty. The bills piled up on the mat but would not be opened, the lady of the house was serving time for manslaughter and the gentleman was scattered around the countryside and returning to his original particle state. The family have been to take away some keepsakes including the nice cutlery set, now back in the case but with one piece missing.
FOUR: A KNIFE AND A SOFA
Getting towards dusk on a late summer’s evening and the scavengers are abroad. Not your general starving critter robbing a piece of road kill of its flesh, these scavengers have discovered a piece of wasteland at the end of a village a few miles from a large town. It appears to be unguarded; perhaps removing the stuff here would be doing the area a service.
The van is crammed full of the detritus which had been strewn around the scrubby ground. How have the fridges and televisions not been taken before? The copper pipes will also fetch a quid or two. The old sofa, which is crap, will be pulled apart and the springs taken to the metal dealer in town with the rest of it dumped over a fence into that miserable farmer’s field a mile or so away.
So many springs, all rusty and stuck in one of them is a knife. How on earth did that get there? Apart from a little rust it looks decent quality. I doubt the metal man will be interested in it and the wife won’t want to see it, especially after her sister got banged up recently for offing her husband with a blade, so it will be ‘donated’ though it will need a little bit of TLC beforehand.
A dinner party in a non-descript house. Six people enjoying a superb meal prepared by a dutiful and talented host. The glasses are polished, the plates are gleaming and the cutlery is shining brightly. It was almost ruined but the shop which sold the cutlery set has finally responded to the complaint of a missing piece by supplying a ‘new’ knife with they’re apologies.
“What’s up with this bloody thing now?” Glaring at the iPod I quickly realised that the battery had drained and I was left with the stark choice of a CD I’d listened to a zillion times or the boring cretins on local or national radio so, after a short moment of contemplation, its silence in the car.
I say silence, that’s not possible in my old rust bucket. The sound of the wind rushing past my windows, the clanking of the loose exhaust pipe, the stone (or could it be a nail?) stuck in a tyre tapping on the road, something annoying in the glove box banging on the lid, the de-icer can rolling around in the door compartment, all destroying the notion of silence. Maybe I should get that iPod plugged into the cigarette lighter socket and re-energise it.
“Where’s that cable? Mmmm, must be in the glove box I reckon” I had better wait until I’ve stopped, could be a bit of a dodgy manoeuvre opening the compartment whilst I’m still driving.
“Shit, where the hell is it?”
“Ah yeah, it’ll be in my bag”
“OK, let’s plug this thing in. Now where the fuck did I put that bloody adaptor?”
Of course the adaptor was in amongst the old sticky Fox’s glacier mints and empty wrappers in the little tray next to the ash tray. So much shit in my car that needs to be tidied up, of course I say that every week or two….
With the iPod plugged in and the battery on its replenishment mission there’s a bit of time to mull over the important stuff in life. Oh, that plastic carrier bag is still wrapped around the sign post! It has been there for weeks, perhaps it flew out of a car window or more likely some useless little toe rag just chucked it out of his window with the bloody McDonald’s rubbish that is all over the verge nearby.
“What the hell are you doing you idiot, you can’t overtake there. Man that is a crazy thing to do; you’re a lucky bastard to get away with that. Didn’t think of anybody else though did you, selfish twat.”
How is this battery doing? OK getting somewhere. It’ll probably be ready by the time I get home. I thought that pub had re-opened. Strange times these, it was really busy all summer now it’s boarded up. I must’ve miss-read the sign on the board outside. Hopefully it’ll be re-let again soon, I’ve always fancied nipping in there for a swift half.
Hooray, time for some tunes!
“Where did I put that iTrip?”
Yep, it was in the same pile of sweets and wrappers! Ok, plugged in and ready to rock, something insanely heavy after the day I’ve had. Bloody customers, they may pay the bills and my wages but they do my head in sometimes.
Ha ha ha! That bloody idiot is in the ditch! I knew he wouldn’t get away with driving like that! Don’t be nasty, it was only a friendly toot on the horn! That was priceless; I bet that those skid marks on the road are replicated a bit nearer to his person!
“Oh shit, pay attention you muppet”
It’s no good taking the piss out of one idiot when you don’t concentrate on what you’re doing and almost lose control. That was a close call, lucky my brakes work well.
“Damn it, the bloody iPod is in the foot well, just lean over and gra…
“Stay still sir; don’t try to move we’re here to help you”
“You’ve had an accident”
“Keep his head still please“
“I can’t see out of my left eye”
“There’s no need to panic about that Sir, it’s just a sweet wrapper!”
“OK, we need to move you onto the spinal board as a precaution. On the count of three we’ll slide it under you”
It is happy hour at the White Horse in Shepherds Bush. 90p a pint can’t be sniffed at, especially when you’re not particularly well off but you’re on a football day out with an even more fiscally challenged but very thirsty University student brother.
It’s the 6th March 1993 and Norwich City are, unbelievably, challenging for the Premier League title. Simon is residing in Luton whilst studying for a degree in something which will allow him to have the word pub after his name…..
The pub is crammed full with football fans, both sets of supporters, Canaries and ‘Rs’, are in good spirits and in fine voice. A combination of good seasons (thus far) and the well-priced singing syrup are adding to the occasion with plenty of banter but no hint of trouble.
After a couple of hours of taking refreshment we exited pub left to wander off to the Loftus Road Stadium. The Rangers fans are quietly confident, the City fans very much so. The sudden change in temperature upon exiting a warm pub into the cool West London air can have a strange effect on the human body. From seeming to be in a coherent and sensible state I found myself to be rather light headed, decidedly wobbly and slurry. In those days it wasn’t quite so frowned upon to turn up at a football match in an inebriated state. The proof of that being my attempt to enter the stadium, a 10 minute walk which, in all likelihood, took a considerably longer duration on this occasion. The sight of opposing fans propping each other up in a bizarre 3 legged race style whilst negotiating the busy Uxbridge Road would probably cause a murmur or two on any other day than a football day.
Looking back 27 years it is astounding to realise that you could still enjoy playful semi-drunken hijinks and banter with sections of the Metropolitan police, well the West London section, the East London West Ham bunch were a bunch of, er, well I’ll leave that one there……. Away fans then as now were searched as a matter of routine. I was searched by a very nice WPC. I re-joined the queue and enjoyed a second search from the same WPC. After a friendly warning during my third attempt to be searched by the same WPC I headed to the turnstiles. The friendly peck on the cheek I gave her and the complimentary comments I gave her were well received by her but not so well observed by one or two of her colleagues, I dodged the cuffs and an afternoon with the barrow boys in the local pokey by a pretty narrow margin.
2: The Feature Length Presentation
One of the side effects of copious alcohol consumption is the tendency to get the munchies. The mists of time have covered my mental image of what the solution was to my craving on this occasion but the after effects of their consumption (and the earlier breakfast) are very clear and are the reason for the title of this little feature.
I felt the stirrings of my intestinal prisoner attempting his escape run soon after entering the stadium. That moment of panic when an expected expulsion of gas suddenly turns into the realisation that a primed torpedo is in the shoot and ready to scuttle the hull of your underpants can be compared with any heart stopping horror movie. I had to take urgent action and spied the toilet door within a nano second of the mind-numbing shock. Straight into the cubicle and straight into action, the relief was palpable though the delivery was not as straight forward as hitherto expected. After what seemed like half an hour, but was likely only 10 minutes, I had taken care of the business at hand. The cleaners at Loftus Road would earn their corn sorting that disaster area out. The toilet roll was decimated, the pan almost blocked and the paint was practically peeling off the walls. As I hoisted up the under crackers and re-trousered my hairy legs I became aware of a hubbub from outside the cubicle door. Something puzzled me, surely I hadn’t really been THAT long in there had I? As I exited the unit it all became clear what it was that had struck me as odd. The hubbub had been of a higher register than usual, the confused and, to put it mildly, horrified expressions on the faces of the assembled women and girls was a picture! In my desperation to force the evacuation of my stinky prisoner I had not bothered to look at the symbol on the door, this one had a skirt on it. My jaunty “afternoon ladies” and casual hand washing/drying masked the embarrassment that I felt. I left the room, got a few puzzled looks from people in the concourse and hurried off to re-join Simon and his pals.
3: There was a match too
Loftus Road stadium is a compact old school football stadium. In 1993 the bottom section was still terraced with crush barriers sporadically planted on the terracing. A crowd of just under 14,000 turned up to watch 2 sides in excellent form, both in the top 6 with City remarkably still in the top 3. A large contingent had travelled the relatively short distance from ‘Nodge’ hoping to see a better display than the last away performance. I had picked Simon up from Luton on that occasion en-route to the Dell at Southampton to witness a poor match with league leaders City getting thumped 3-0. As always seems to be the case with Norwich and large travelling crowds the script was again written by the home side. With just over half an hour on the clock City were 2 down with Sir Les Ferdinand bagging a brace. Just before half time Mark Robins, born the same day as the author!, reduced the arrears sparking wild celebrations including the bizarre sight of a fan in a Chelsea shirt standing on a barrier ‘giving it large’ to the home fans who looked on in amazement from their side of the fencing! It turned out to be one of Simon’s mates who had travelled down from Luton with us. He was politely swallowed up by the City fans when the local constabulary appeared to show an interest in his antics and thus spoiled what could have been an even more exciting story!
The entertainment in the stadium was rounded off by a nice rendition of scum, scum, scum aimed at the press photographers which was followed up by a hearty rendition ‘The Dance of the Cuckooos’, aka the Laurel & Hardy theme tune, in honour of the girls and boys in blue who decided to have a wander in front of the away pen just after Clive Wilson’s game killing 3rd goal. Enough excitement for one day or so we thought. After finding the White Horse less receptive to away fans after the match we wandered off in search of a hostelry for a swift half before heading back to Luton. An old school friend, Simon, spotted us as we walked past another seemingly closed pub and called us in along with a couple of chaps we were talking to, Jerry Goss and Rob Newman of NCFC.
After that it was all a blur, no more toilet incidents. Well not for another few years but I’ll leave the sink in the toilets near Crystal Palace for another tale…
A little after 5:15 am on a bright Monday morning in June 2017 (well the 12th to be exact!) I emerged from the house in shorts, trainers and a tee shirt wondering what the hell I’d let myself in for. The Couch to 5k app had been finally activated and it was time to get that heart pumping! A clinching feature of the program is that it allows you to listen to your own music whilst you’re ‘running’ (to mask the heavy and laboured breathing) but it fades the virtual running coach in and out when they need to give an instruction, some well-chosen advice or even just a little encouragement. At that time ‘Volume’ by Skindred was doing some serious damage to my eardrums so I felt that it was only fair that the rest my body should suffer along with my, already dangerously compromised, lugs. To balance the aural assault of Benji and the boys I chose my coach to be Michael Johnson, the great Olympic champion from the U.S.A. His calm lilt was perfect, the other options of Sarah Millican (a comedian), Jo Wiley (a radio DJ) and Sajeev Kohli (another comedian) are, I’m sure, just as lovely and calming but I figured that a runner would probably be best to guide me through the processes of this venture. I’m aware they are ‘coaching’ from a script but there is a certain gravitas added to the wise words of a real runner and I would take the praise more seriously, equally if the app was a spying device by the CIA then the bollocking for skipping stuff would be equally more galling and motivational…
The first session involved, at Michael’s prompt, a five-minute brisk warm up walk followed by eight separate one minute running sessions with a minute and a half walk in-between and warming down with another five minute walk, all prompted by Michael’s silky-smooth tones. The exhilaration I felt at completing the first day was incredible, I had never run for a minute before intentionally and to have done it eight times just blew me away. Once the first run had been completed, I felt a switch move in my head, the re-programming of my life had been initiated and it would be a whole new landscape.
Over the course of nine weeks (twenty seven sessions) the running time increases so by definition the walking sessions become less frequent. The program is cleverly set up to not only condition the body for the later sessions but also the mind. The most important part of a runner’s body is their mind so if you get psyched out by the intended distance or time then you won’t enjoy it and are likely to fail. Luckily I’m a determined and, many have said, belligerent character so I was confident that the mind-set was going to be a strong point. Now if my body wasn’t up for the same challenge then there were going to be some tough times ahead. Walking regularly is one thing but running adds extra stresses to the body which, if you’re not careful, will have you hobbling like a good ‘un in no time flat. To avoid injury and burn out I planned my week so that I would be running first thing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday which allowed an important rest day between sessions and the weekend free. Of course not getting ahead of myself was another concern, going out like Eliud Kipchoge or Usain Bolt was not going to help my long term plan, so a sensible and comfortable pace was key. Writing this piece with the benefit of three years of hindsight I’m proud to say that I got it spot on at the outset. My attitude then as now was to get it done but in a sensible fashion and not to kill myself in the attempt. My mantra is to get over the finish line on my own feet and not in a speeding van with blue flashing lights on top.
Over the nine week, thankfully injury free program (see above for reason), my pace didn’t feel like it was increasing, not an important aspect really (see above mantra), but, as the weeks passed, I noticed that Skindred were still pumping out tracks which would have long finished previously. By week nine the runs were thirty minutes with no walking breaks, the third run of that final week was your ‘graduation’ run. The course name is Couch to 5K, something of a misnomer as I’d be happy to stick a fiver against the vast majority of first time runners getting 5k completed in thirty minutes. I certainly didn’t but that wasn’t an issue, the point is to instil the confidence in people to run three times a week for thirty minutes. If the course was completed then it was highly likely that you would continue running regularly as a result.
My Couch to 5K journey ended on Friday August 11th 2017 with my graduation run, 30 minutes around Beccles. The preparation wasn’t ideal as it was two days after the wife’s 40th birthday and the day after my annual trip to the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in London with my mate Chris. As is my habit I always take the first couple of weeks of August as annual leave from work so there was no 5am alarm on that particular Friday, as it was the later start was just as painful but my determination chip was fully charged so that was that. Mind you I drank an epic amount of water to combat the side effects of several hours on the hoppy nectar. Needless to say the feeling of euphoria at the completion of the thirty minute graduation run was something to behold, a fist pump and a shout, looks of concern from dog walkers who must have thought the sweaty bald bloke in lycra was having a medical episode…
Two days later we’re standing as a family in a field in Derbyshire. It’s day two of our holiday and we’ve just driven for an hour from our cottage on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border to Catton Park not far from Burton On Trent, home of the Bloodstock Open Air festival. We’ve got a Day ticket as a taster, maybe next year we’ll do the full weekend (spoiler, we did). The journey to the cottage was full of the usual Huggins drama, the car broke down near Kettering with a punctured radiator. The chap from the AA performed five hours of car open heart surgery and got us going again, not only saving our holiday but also allowing me a fitting closure to my nine weeks of couch to 5k toil. Back to that field in Derbyshire. The festival closing headline act was Megadeth. Now I’ve seen them three times before, always excellent but they were not my chief concern, having said that there are not many kiddies of G and I’s ages (6 & 4 at the time) who can say that their first major gig was Megadeth, R saw Foo Fighters when she was 7 which isn’t a bad start either! The act I was looking forward to was Skindred, my running buddies for the last couple of months (and again in 2018, more of that in a future article). The last time I saw them was as support to Soulfly at the UEA in 2006. What would I feel when they played and would they fulfil my supreme dream that the first track would be ‘Under Attack’, the first track on the album and the song which kicked off every one of my running sessions?
The stage is set, the strains of the Star Wars Imperial March signals the entrance of Benji Webb and the Skindred boys, the taped intro cuts out and the band strikes up with the crunching intro to ‘Under Attack’, I glance at the wife and kiddies, grin, take a deep breath and lose my fucking shit.
Part three of Huggy’s re-invented life will follow, it’s a good one with Parkrun, Half Marathons and (almost) a marathon.
Andrew Huggins’ re-invented life – Part One – Prolonging it!
When your local practice nurse tells you that it would probably be a good idea to lose a bit of weight and perhaps amend your sedentary lifestyle then the little demon in your mind should perk up from his deck chair and head down to the chunky person receptors for a chat.
I, of course, already knew what I was going to be told when I finally got around to making an appointment at my local surgery for my over forties’ health check a.k.a. The NHS MOT (the latter a misnomer, why go for a National Health Service Ministry of Transport….?) at the age of 46. Lots of red traffic light signals on the form. A shocking list which included extreme weight, highish blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline high blood sugar and little exercise. Basically, a shopping list for the keen heart attack or stroke enthusiast*. The unspoken advice; sort your life out or don’t expect to prolong it.
*Note: There is no such thing, and nor should there be.
In April 2016 I had reached a portly 18 stones in weight again (2006 was a particularly lardy year, 19 stones (266 pounds back then…)) and only exercised my feet on the car pedals and my arms by moving food and drink to my mouth. Occasionally it could be a combination of both, for instance popping to the local supermarket on the way home from work on the pretence of grabbing some essentials for the wife but also buying a scotch egg and pork pie with the ‘hilarious’ game of ‘how quickly can I eat them and hide the evidence?’ before I got home.
My regime of healthy eating and exercise began immediately and the weight began to plummet. A great amount of will power allowed me to consign the inter meals snacks to the metaphorical dustbin and a daily lunchtime walk around a local park near to work got my legs moving and my heart pumping. With the regular walking came a rewiring of my attitude to fitness activities. The timely arrival of the Olympic Games in Brazil in the summer of that year threw another activity into the psyche, running.
The BBC started to heavily push an initiative named Get Inspired which they had launched alongside and in partnership with Public Health England’s One You campaign. The One You campaign included Couch to 5k, a running programme created by an American office worker over 20 years previously as a device to get his mother of her bum and out running with him, which gently eases you into a regular running routine despite having never run any further than to the ice cream van at the bottom of the road, more about the program later. With my interest piqued I downloaded the app and promptly ignored it for over a year. My confidence in my body shape was not good; I didn’t fancy the idea of being laughed at in the street as I huffed and puffed and sweated profusely whilst little old ladies overtook me. I decided to continue working on losing weight, stick to my walking and go back to running idea when I felt more comfortable.
When you’re brain initiates wake mode in the morning one of the first things to rise to the surface of the sea of consciousness is breakfast. In my case it would consist of two or three slices of thickly buttered (margarined (is that even a word?)!) toast with a thick layer of marmalade or, more often than not, thick slices of cheese. Before that found its way down the hatch the morning preparation of lunch would be completed. Four slices of bread (yeah thickly covered with margarine) with either a slab of cheese with sweet pickle (Branston) or slices of corned beef with mustard. A bag of ready salted crisps, yoghurt and, if I could be bothered, then some fruit would be added too. Constant snacking during the day was followed by a generously portioned evening meal and a night in front of the TV scoffing whatever was in the cupboard or fridge accompanied by a beer or two. You can imagine how my system coped with that lot, well the truthful answer is that it didn’t hence the 18 stones (or 252 pounds) display on the bathroom scales. These eating habits had to change, if I carried on like this for much longer my health would decline and mobility issues would become a real problem as the strain on my heart and lungs made general living tough and the joints began to wear down fail, especially the knees, ankles & hips as they had to take the pressure of the weight bearing down on them.
Willpower isn’t a given privilege; it has to be worked on. I worked harder at that than practically anything else in my life and over the course of the remainder of 2016 I had strengthened my willpower to such a degree that my diet changed drastically and, as at April 2020, permanently. The meal portions reduced in size, the in-between meals snacks disappeared, the food types became healthier and the game of speed eating scotch eggs stopped! By December 2016 my weight had dropped from 18 stone to 14 stones 13 pounds (209 pounds).
Dieting alone isn’t enough to get that old clapped out body into the condition that you’d like it to be in. A little exercise needs to be added to the mix. My exercise only came along for a few months of the year when the cricket season started. From the end of April until the end of August the chasing of leather across a field and occasionally running 22 yards from one end of the pitch to the other was my physical conditioning. Unfortunately the conclusion of the match was generally followed by a few ales and a curry so the one cancelled out the other. My new thought process and new found willpower ordered me to begin taking walks. Work lunchtimes were spent walking around Sloughbottom (pronounced Slow-Bottom) Park in Norwich. Nearer to home I began to walk into town rather than drive and I started to get off the bus one stop early. After a few months of this and, coupled with the dietary changes, I noticed that my fitness was improving. The distance I covered increased and my mental health improved. You don’t realise that you might have an issue or two until you start this process of change, I hadn’t realised how miserable my body had made me although outwardly I’m not sure that it was that noticeable.
Now with a new outlook on life, a healthier body and more energy to burn there needed to be some way of utilising it. The idea of running came about during the Rio Olympics as described earlier but it wasn’t until June 2017 that I took up the challenge. I believe now, that had I have taken up running the moment I downloaded the app, I would have given it up very quickly and my current life would be on a different path.
Coming up in the next exciting part – A new running life begins…