A United Kingdom

I haven’t done a film review for a while, mainly because I haven’t been to the cinema for a while. When Grace was ill we more or less stopped going because it took too much out of her. Until recently I think that the last film I saw on the big screen was “Paddington”.

I have decided that I should take myself along on a more regular basis. I like film and as far as I am concerned the best place to see a film is at the cinema. Two weeks ago I went to see “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” which was an entertaining two and a bit hours, with effective CGI and some pretty decent acting from Eddie Redmayne and Co. Last week on the recommendation of a friend I went to see “Arrival” in which Amy Adams gives a beautifully restrained performance as a linguist asked to communicate with aliens who have landed on earth.

This week I went  to see “A United Kingdom”.

It is based on a true story, set in Botswana (at the time called Bechuanaland) and London in the period after World War II. It tells the story of Prince Seretse Khama sent to the United Kingdon to study law before taking up his duties as king, who fell in love with and married a white British woman Ruth Williams.

The film stars David Oyelowo as Seretse and Rosamund Pike as Ruth.

The heart of the film is a love story. A love story set against a backdrop of racism, political maneuvering and rejection from all sides. The film exposes the duplicity and racism prevalent in the British establishment at the time. Nominally driven by a desire to appease South Africa, the British government did everything they could to prevent their marriage.

On returning to Botswana, the couple find themselves opposed not only by the colonial bureaucracy,  Jack Davenport playing Sir Alistair Canning a Colonial Office Mandarin and Tom Felton, drawing a bit on Draco Malfoy, as his underling are suitably repellant. They also find themselves opposed by Seretse’s uncle, who has been acting as regent since Seretse’s fathers death.

David Oyelowo is the main character and delivers a powerful performance as Seretse, including one amazing set piece speech before an assembly of tribal elders staking his claim to lead his people. Rosamund Pike, while having less to say, gives an equally compelling performance as Ruth, not quite sure how she fits into anything, but wanting to support the man she loves and find how she can be part of the society that he belongs to.

It is an excellent film on all levels. It succeedes in telling the what Julius Nyerere described as “one of the great love stories of the world”. It also succeeds in telling the story of one of the British Government’s less than glorious episodes.

I thoroughly recommend the film, if you want to see it on the big screen you will probably need to be quick, otherwise wait for it to come out on DVD.

Six Months On

Grace left us six months ago today. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that she is no longer around. To be honest I’m not sure that I’ll ever fully come to terms with that.

Looking back over these past six months, I know that I am not the same person that I was so what have I learned about myself and what have I learned about coping with losing the person I love the most?

What do I know? Not a lot but…..

  • I’m not sure whether it actually gets any easier, but the nature of grief changes over time.
  • I’m glad that Grace and I had time to say goodbye to each other. How people who lose a partner unexpectedly cope I have no idea.
  • I still sometimes expect/hope to hear the front door open and a voice to shout up the stairs “Hi Johnnie, I’m home.”
  • Sleeping is still a problem.
  • I haven’t got used to going to bed on my own or waking up to find the other half of the bed empty ; especially when I wake up at three in the morning.
  • I can find all sorts reasons/distractions to avoid going to bed, the internet is probably the best most effective.
    • Likewise box sets.
  • Cooking is very therapeutic.
  • Remembering what mum used to do, cooking four or six portions of something and freezing the surplus is just as easy, probably easier in fact; than cooking a single portion.
  • Remembering what mum didn’t always do, labeling what I am freezing avoids mum’s mystery soup roulette.
  • Big decisions can be made incredibly quickly.
  • Small decisions can take forever.
  • Changing the cover on a duvet is an awful lot easier when there are two of you.
  • Folding the sheets was more fun when I got a kiss when we brought the ends together.
  • A glass or two of wine can help take the edge of things.
    • Too much alcohol does not help at all.
  • Having been my only car for the past two months, I now understand why Grace loved her Little Lilac Car so much, and point-blank refused to even think about trading it in for something newer.
  • gracecar
    Little Lilac Car
  • Something about it brings a smile to my  face – maybe because it says “Hello, Happy to see you” when I put the key in the ignition.
  • Using a shopping list can sometimes prevent me arriving home with a basket containing beer, biscuits and crisps, but lacking bread, milk and toilet paper.
  • I still have no idea what to do with most of Grace’s things.
  • When I do find the right person for something of Grace’s it makes me extremely happy.
  • It took a while before I could go out and enjoy myself without feeling guilty.
    • That doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that Grace could be there to share the fun.
  • If the tears come, it’s usually because of a happy memory, and happy memories far outnumber any other kind.
  • While losing Grace was and is the central feature in my life, I have to accept that others, while I am sure they miss Grace, do have their own lives and priorities.
  • Probably only people who have lost a long-term partner fully understand what I’m going through.
  • I am glad that I kept on working part-time, even though I didn’t need to financially.
    • I can always give the extra money away
  • I don’t know if another relationship would be a good idea or not.
    • But definitely not at the moment, maybe in a couple of years time.

This is sort of where I am six months on. Life goes on around me, even if, at times I wish that there was a pause button that I could press. The only way  that I can see to get through all of this is to walk on through it. I don’t see any short-cuts or bypasses. I’m not sure that I would want them even if they existed. I cope most of the time. Being able to talk about Grace and write about Grace really does help.

How’s it going?

It’s a question that most of us get asked half a dozen times per day. The normal answer is “Fine”, “Not too bad” or a similar non answer. I don’t always find it an easy question to answer anymore. When someone who doesn’t know me asks I’ll still give the standard non-answer. It’s when someone close who knows my situation asks it I find it difficult, in fact, I find it difficult to ask myself the question.

It`s now just over four months since Grace passed away and the short answer I suppose is “I’m coping, but some days I cope better than others.”

It’s little things that throw me. Like, a few weeks ago. I had bought some flowers to put on Grace`s grave and the man behind me in the queue made a joke about “Had a row with the wife then?” All I could think was “If only” before dissolving into a puddle of tears. Or looking for something in the wardrobe and finding her “Huggy Bear” warmer, that kept her warm when she was putting up with the side effects of chemotherapy.

My birthday turned out to be surprisingly OK. Yes I missed being woken with a tickle, “Happy birthday Johnnie” a birthday card and present. Grace always planned something interesting and exciting for us to do, like a trip along the Regent’s canal on a narrow boat or a day trip to Paris or an art exhibition and lunch at the Tate. I missed all of that.

My friend Toby (aka Lord Wallington) and I share a birthday – though he will point out that he is eleven years younger than me. He and his family had a barbecue to celebrate and invited me along.  It turned what could have been a strange, sad and lonely evening into a very pleasant one. Good friends definitely help.

Family does as well. I am writing this on the train to Scotland to see my brother and sister. On the Saturday before my birthday my other sister, brother in law and my niece had a lovely day down in Brighton. One of Grace’s instructions to me was that I should take all of my and her brothers and sisters to her favourite restaurant Terre a Terre and that “she would pay”. We had a lovely veggie meal followed by a walk along the prom and the pier, where my adrenaline junkie niece wanted to go on everything but was partially dissuaded by her mum and dad.

So did being asked to do a Facebook #spousechallenge which involved posting a photo of yourself and your partner on your timeline every day for a week. I found going through all the photos of myself and Grace a cathartic experience.

So yes I’m coping, I can go out and enjoy myself without feeling guilty, even if especially, at Terre a Terre, we all missed Grace.  Sometimes the evenings can get a bit lonely. I will always love her and will always miss her and there will almost certainly be other unexpected things that will reduce me to tears, but that’s OK. I’ll cope.

Last Night of the World: Bruce Cockburn

“I‘m sipping Flor de Caña and lime juice, it’s three a.m.” sings Bruce Cockburn in the first line of “Last Night of the World”. So am I, but it’s not quite that late…yet.
This iteration of “Songs I love” was in part prompted by discovering that Sainsbury’s now stock Flor de Caña, a Nicaraguan rum that in Bruce Cockburn’s opinion is the finest in the world. I decided to buy a bottle to see if I agreed. I don’t know if it is actually the finest, but it is pretty good, especially over ice, with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a drop of Angostura Bitters.

The song was released in 1999 on the album “Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu”.  “Last Night of the World” became our Millennium theme song. Not so much because we thought that the world was going to come to an end on the 31st of December 1999 but because we loved the sentiment of “What would I do that was different, Unless it was champagne with you?”

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

We did hope, along with most of the rest of the human race, that in the new millennium the world would change for the better. Sadly we were disappointed. But at midnight on the first of January 2000, as Grace and I sat on top of Epsom Downs, drinking champagne, it felt as if anything were possible.
Even more sadly, since Grace passed away in April, if it does turn out to be the last night of the world, I no longer have anyone to drink champagne with. So I shall listen to Bruce and sip my Flor de Caña and lime juice and remember all the happy times we had together, especially Millennium Eve on Epsom Downs

I’m sipping Flor de Caña and lime juice, it’s three a.m.
Blow a fruit fly off the rim of my glass
The radio’s playing Superchunk and the Friends of Dean Martinez.
Midnight it was bike tires whacking the pot holes
Milling humans’ shivering energy glow
Fusing the space between them with bar-throb bass and laughter

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

I learned as a child not to trust in my body
I’ve carried that burden through my life
But there’s a day when we all have to be pried loose

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

I’ve seen the flame of hope among the hopeless
And that was truly the biggest heartbreak of all
That was the straw that broke me open

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

5k – I Did It

runner
There is no more Couch to 5K. I have done it. I have actually run the full 5 kilometres of the Roundshaw Downs Parkrun. It wasn’t very fast, but it was faster than last week and I did actually run the whole way. It was also fairly hard work, mainly because it was/is quite hot today. The air temperature was in the high twenties, even at nine in the morning. Leaving my drink bottle on the kitchen table didn’t help either.

I decided not to repeat last week’s mistake of being at the front of the pack at the start. A mistake in two ways.

  1. It was too easy to get carried away and try to keep up with the people who do the run in under twenty minutes.
  2. When my body quickly caught on to the fact that it wasn’t going to do the run in sub-twenty minutes, I was in danger of being trampled to death by the stampeding horde behind me.

This week I started at the back of the group. Lord Wallington’s daughter Katie made an excellent pacemaker for about half of the first lap, before she disappeared off into the distance. Lord Wallington himself had wisely blagged the job of Run Marshall for this week. There might have been a bit more to it, but it seemed to consist of barking a few instructions at us before the start, then retiring to the shade of the trees while the rest of us sweated our way round.

Starting at the back had the advantage of allowing me to occasionally overtake other runners, which gives a bit of an ego boost. There were no ten year olds in Chelsea kits overtaking me either. The marshalls situated at various points around the course were good substitutes for C.M.L. Obviously less Californian*, but still encouraging. “Come on, you’re doing well.” “Keep it up only 2k to go”. The one I liked best though was “Go on it’s all downhill to the finish from here”.

As I predicted my finish position is over one hundred places better than last weeks. Mainly because there were about 100 fewer runners. No major inter-church showdowns this week, although quite few runners were wearing their church running shirts. Some of which had appropriate? bible quotations such as Hebrews 12:v1 on them.

My result
Pos parkrunner Time Age Cat Age Grade Gender Pos Club Note Total Runs
97 John MANDERSON 38:39 VM60-64 41.48% M 64 New PB! 2

I won’t be able to do the run next week because I have to work, or probably the following week, because I have been invited to my temporary pacemaker’s wedding, but I think that the run will become a regular feature of my Saturday mornings.

I have now completed my Couch to 5k programme, so this is the last blog in the Couch to 5k series. I will carry on running (and blogging about it occasionally), probably trying to get a little bit faster rather than going further, though C.M.L. thinks I should sign up for her 10k programme. Maybe later dear, in a couple of months. Let me enjoy and consolidate my achievements.

And since you asked, yes I do feel just a little bit like an “Awesome Runner”.

5kAftermath
Even if I don’t look to much like one in the photo

I also think I deserve a “Malt-Based Recovery Drink”

The run is on Strava. My GPS watch lost the signal going through the woods so it looks as if I have cut a corner on the first lap – honest I didn’t.

A couple of personal bests

  • PR Park Run Lap(16:43)
  • PR Start to first corner(3:37)

Interesting that I was faster to the first corner this week than last, despite not going off like a scalded cat.

*There was a guy from San Francisco doing the run this morning.

COUCH TO 5K DAY 23

tired
‘Running slow to get far’, is a fellow blogger,  SlowRunnerGirl’s tagline. This seems to be the method I have unconsciously adopted as C.M.L. increases the length  of my runs. Todays run was thirty minutes, the furthest that I have run continuously so far. When I was doing run/walk/run, my run phases were generally done at a pace of 7 min/km or better, but now that I am only running I seem to have subconsciously slowed my pace to between 7:15 and 7:30 min/km. It makes sure that I can get round without stopping .

There were no new personal bests today. I think they will have to wait until I start to try to consciously improve my speed. At the moment I am trying to make sure that I can actually manage the distance.

I have also decided that early mornings are the best time to go for a run, at least at this time of the year. I might reconsided going out a 06:15 in January when it is pitch black and horizontal sleat is coming straight at you. In July, it is cool, bright and quiet, perfect conditions.

Saturday is my race of truth. Last Saturday I did the Roundshaw Downs Parkrun as a run/walk/run. This Saturday I plan to run the full distance. If I succeed then I will call myself a 5k runner and might even consider myself slightly “Awesome”.

As usual today’s run is on Strava.

Couch to 5k Day 22

tired
The master plan is more or less back on course. I didn’t have to be anywhere before 10:00 so I decided  to do my run before breakfast this morning. The temperature was forecast to reach  31°C in the early evening, when I would normally do my run on a work day. I thought it best to get my run in early while it was still relatively cool.

I dispensed with C.M.L. today, partly because I knew exactly what the run was and I could time it on my watch and partly because I had forgotten where I had left my phone charging. I kind of missed her telling me that I am an “awsome runner”, even if my results say otherwise.  I repeated last Friday’s 25 minute run, but managed to do it at a bit faster pace.

Date distance (km) Run Time Pace (min/km)
Tue, 19 Jul 2016 3.48 25:02 7:12
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 3.39 24:57 7:22

The full run is as usual on Strava

I think that I might try the same trick tomorrow. The forecast isn’t quite as bad but it will still be well into the twenties at five p.m.
On Saturday I will attempt to run the full 5k of the Roundshaw Downs Parkrun and hope to finish better than

210 John MANDERSON 39:36 VM60-64

and also hope to beat the 39:36 I set last time.

COUCH TO 5K DAY 20 also including Day 21

tired

Today has left me with a major dilemma. I did the wrong run this morning. Instead of doing the run that I should have for day 20 I did the run for day 21 instead. The run should have been the same as Wednesday’s. A twenty-minute run with a warm-up and cool down. Instead I clicked on day 21, a twenty-five minute run. I was merrily shuffling round the park wondering why C.M.L. hadn’t told me that I was at the half way point. When she eventually told me that I had reached half way, my watch said that I had been running for twelve and a half minutes. I twigged what I had done straight away. I had selected the wrong programme. I could have just gone by my watch and cut the run short at twenty minutes, but heart overruled the head and I decided that I would do the full twenty-five.

I did it ok, but I could feel that I had gone a wee bit far by the end. Thus confirming the wisdom of the programme.

No new records today, probably confirming my thoughts that Wednesdays figures were GPS assisted, just these;

  • 2nd best estimated 2 mile effort (23:46)
  • 3rd fastest time on Through the Park (8:44)

The whole run is here on Strava.

Update Saturday 16/07/2016

I have added even more confusion into my carefully regulated programme. Everything was carefully calibrated to ensure that next Saturday I would be fit, ready, primed and honed to take on the full five kilometers of the Roundshaw Downs Parkrun. However over a couple of pints at the Duke’s Head on Thursday evening, Lord Wallington, who don’t forget is responsible for getting me into this in the first place, persuaded me that it would be a good idea to do the Parkrun this Saturday, because it would be its seventh birthday and all the churches in the area were using it to have some sort of inter church showdown  friendly race. That should have warned me off straight away. Let’s face it church people can be all sweetness and light and love thy neighbor on the surface, but when it comes to grinding the church down the road into the dust over 5k, they can be pretty ruthless.

I decided that I would rise above, or to be more precise sink below all this inter-church rivalry and do my own thing. I normally have at least a day off between runs and never having run this far before I decided on a conservative run/walk/run strategy. The plan was three-minute run and a one-minute walk, though by the uphill section on the second lap that had gone to a two-minute run followed by a two-minute or possibly slightly longer walk. It got me round in a new Personal Best for 5k (don’t forget I have never done 5k before).

There were a few of slightly embarrassing episodes;

  1. Being passed by a couple of kids in Chelsea shirts who looked about eight and ten, though they did run out of breath and stopped about 200 metres later.
  2. I was actually running down the home straight on the first lap when I was passed by a blur of orange and black and thinking ” did you start late?” Then looking at my watch and realising “he’s finishing his second lap”. I discovered later that it was this guy who, is a bit of a local legend on his way to a new P.B.
    1 Tom HIGGS 16:52 SM20-24

    He is less than half my age

  3. Following someone who was on the same run/walk/run strategy as me almost all the way round, without realising until I got to the finish that I had known him for about twenty years. To be fair all that I really saw of him on the course was his backside.

I finished in a moderately respectable time and I wasn’t last.

210 John MANDERSON 39:36 VM60-64

I was also sixth in my age category (Veteran -read old- Male aged 60-64). I think, although I haven’t checked too hard that there were more than six of us in the category.

I expect to improve my finishing position by at least one hundred places next week. Mainly because there won’t be quite so many hyper-competitive church people in matching running shirts.

I also set some personal bests, which I hope to beat next week;

  • PR on Home Straight (3:09)
  • PR on Roundshaw Hill Dash (1:19)
  • PR on Park Run Lap (17:46)
  • PR on Start to first corner (3:41)

The full results are here and this the link to my  Strava results 

This doesn’t complete my Couch to 5k adventure because I still haven’t run a full 5k, hopefully I will acheive that next Saturday. I will probably skip my normal Sunday run tomorrow., but if I am up and the weather is good I might go for a pre-breakfast walk instead.

COUCH TO 5K DAY 19

tired
As the saying goes “No rest for the wicked”,so I want to know what I have done to offend C.M.L. Today, for the first time she decided that there would be no recovery walks in the programme. After my five-minute warmup walk it was straight into twenty minutes of solid running – well after the first five shuffling would probably describe it better  – with no break. On top of that it was an after-work run, which always feel harder than early morning runs.

Again I managed to complete the run without stopping for a rest and without a breakdown either emotional or physical. Though having said that I am finding that I am getting a bit of pain in my Achilles tendons, even with a fairly comprehensive stretching routine following my run. Answers on a postcard or in the comments please.

Strava thinks that I have a whole slew of new personal bests today. I am slightly dubious for two reasons;

  1. They are so much better than anything I have done previously.
  2. For some reason or another my Garmin watch was finding it difficult to locate satellites. If you look at the track on the map there is a weird little loop that I did not do.

Here are the *records* . Like certain world records that are thought to have been achieved with the aid of performance enhancing drugs I feel they should be marked with an asterisk and tagged GPS enhanced.

  • Best estimated 1 mile effort (9:16)
  • Best estimated 1k effort (5:24)
  • Best estimated 1/2 mile effort (4:06)
  • Best estimated 400m effort(1:13)

The 400m effort in particular seems way too good to be true.

Couch to 5k Day 18

tired

Grey skies and a stiff breeze met me when I went out this morning. Not quite as pleasant as last Sunday. Still at least it wasn’t raining.

C.M.L. (Californian Motivational Lady) is trying hard to turn me into a runner. Today had the longest running segment yet, a full fifteen minutes before she gave me a break. The break was what felt like a very short three-minute walk before I had I had a five-minute run to finish off. My morning running person hypothesis is holding up. I felt fine during the run.

While obviously I know that I am putting a bit of effort in it does not feel too hard. I can  only put this down to how well the programme is structured. I wasn’t a complete couch potato when I started out but I definitely was not a runner. Also because of how Grace was in the months leading up to her death I had not done very much cycling or any other exercise for about six months. I am doing things, like a full fifteen minute run, reasonably easily, that would have been impossible for me at the start of the programme.

A couple of personal bests today, one of which the one mile personal best, I knew I would beat, because today was the first time that I would run for a full mile.

  • Best estimated 1 mile effort (10:44)
  • Best estimated 2 mile effort (22:46)

I seem to have lost somewhere between 1.5 and 2 kg (3 to 4 pounds or about half a stone if you still work in imperial) which should please my doctor and a few menswear shops if I keep it up (because I’ll have to buy new trousers). In addition my diabetic control is a lot better. I am winning all round.

Here is the Strava analysis, if you are interested.

Random thoughts, ramblings and rants

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