parkrun tourism: Ardgillan

Event # 54 parkrun # 224

Being the 14th birthday of parkrun UK, it was International parkrun day!  Last year I’d had the pleasure of joining a whole rake of UK parkrun tourists at Bushy Dublin (and producing a bottle of Bushmills for anyone who had “double Bushy-ed”).  But there were no obvious plans for this year’s get together.

However, the parkrun legend that is Nicola had hinted she might be at Ardgillan, just north of Dublin, and when local toruist Ben said he’d be heading there, I decided to join him at what was my 2nd closest NENDY.

Access:

This is an easy get-to for Norn Irn tourists.  Junction 6 on the M1, and it’s clearly marked with brown signs from there.  The Applgreen makes a handy stop for wee-wees and leg stretches, and make sure you have some euro coins for the Boyne Bridge toll. (é1.90 each way at time of writing)

Facilities:

Ardillan Castle is set in gorgeous surrounds, and is well appointed with car parking.  There is a large park as you enter the estate, and a smaller one closer to the start. 

There are cute loos on the edge of the castle, and a cafe that allows dogs for aferwards. Oh, and stunning sea views.  What more could you ask!

Course:

It’s a toughie!  Staring at the castle, it follows a gentle downwards track before 2 loops through forest, which have an upward undulating section, followed by a final uphill 300 m.

Even Minnie, my hill-getter-upper, was looking at me at this stage and going “you cannot be serious!”

Each km is well marked.

The surface is mostly gravel, with a few forest trails.  But those views!

Crowd:

There aren’t big numbers here, just over 50 on my visit, and that’s typical.  There’s a very relaxed feel to the pre-run brief, though we did get a shout out to Nicola doing her 400th run!

  For me, as a running-with-dog person, this was perfect.  The starting crowd thins out pretty quickly, and I cen let Minnie do her bit without worrying about tripping up or getting in the way of others.

 

Gear:

My darling husband had given me an early birthday present of bone-conduction earphones. Road races in NI are becoming more strict about using earphones while running, but these kind are acceptable as you can still hear what’s going on around you, cars, instrcutions from marshalls etc.  They were fab.

Strangely Approproiate Song On Shuffle:

I really enjoyed having music to accompany my run on this clear crisp Autumn morning, and my Eurovision soundtrack brought many smiles to my face. But the Dixie Chicks version of “Some Days You Gotta Dance” summed up my mood.

Time:

I was aiming for sub-30 and managed it.  I do hope I can come back some time to  try and knock off a few seconds!

All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

222 or tutu too at Tymon

The distance between milestones can seem awffy long, so I often find different challenges or number of runs to celebrate.  Usually with a sutiable outfit.  And cake, of course.

My 222nd parkrun was due to take place on 22 September.  I liked that coherence already, and started to research which parkruns would be having their 2nd birthday, or 2nd, 22nd or 222nd runs.  And lo, my friends in Tymnon, Dublin were having their 222nd event on the same day. I got in touch, asked how they felt about a theme, and did they prefer 2 little ducks or Desmond Tutu.  They laughed and we agreed on a tutu theme, one which reflects my dancing proclivities.

So, what to wear.  I already had a comedy number 2 which I’d pinned to my 100 shirt on the occasion of my 200th run.  I still had the black ribbon and the white fabric paint so another couple of number 2s were easily produced.

I’ve borrowed tutus from friends in the past (see Waggy Races Fairy Dogmother outfit), but felt it was time to invest in my own.  A black one was procured from Elliotts for the princessly sum of £4.75. Watch out for it being reused at Hallowe’en.

I persuaded hubby to come with me and make it a day trip, so thanks to him for the transport and photos.  Sat nav assisted we arrived just before 9 am to find the set up underway.

Last time I’d been here, there was just a table by the car park wall, but now they have use of the GAA facilities including an indoor space, and there were sweets aplenty, as well as a special rocky road cake.

I got a shout out in the brief.  The course was somewhat changed form my last visit, a reminder to ALWAYS listen to the run brief.

The weather was cool and slightly damp, but compared to the gale force winds of recent weeks that made for very pleasant running conditions.  With Minnie’s assistance I easily managed a PB, dancing my way over the finish line before enjoying some pleasant chat over the post-run goodies.

I was very touched by the gift that they had made for me – a large pebble painted with the date of the run on one side, and an uncannily accurate portrait of me on the other.  What a really lovely idea!  I made it my FB profile pic, and tweeted “Free Weekly Timed”, the podcast, that this week’s three words were “personalised tutu stone”.

 

Thank you to all at Tymon who made this such a fun way to spend a Saturday morning,

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and who even tweeted a short video

 

of me dancing across the finish line!

What A Week: Wild Atlantic Way

The vision……
R has long fancied holidaying in a motorhome. The biker in him loves the call of the open road, and he likes camping weekends consisting of a lot of standing or sitting in fields doing not very much.  The plan was to rent one for a week, hit the west coast of Ireland with son and dog on board, and see how we got on.  You’ll love it, they said, you can just stop where you like, make a wee cuppa, enjoy the freedom and the relaxation, bond with nature. Yeah right.

R’s personality type means he likes things open, spontaneous, to be able to decide on the hoof.  By contrast, I like to research and plan. It was hard to find some common approach to the holiday, but we did agree it was sensible to book in somewhere for the first night, and wanted to do as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as we could.  So this gave me enough material to research.  I joined the Motorhome Craic facebook group, who were very friendly and helpful, and purchased the “Britstops” book, which gives deatils of some stopping places near local businesses (pubs, smokehouses, fruit farms etc).  My big worry was that we would driving around frantically at 6 or 7 at night unable to find somewhere to stay, so I drafted a rough itinerary with some suggestions.  Here’s how we got on.

Day 1: pick up van. Enniskillen

Handover, showing us where all the bits and bobs were and how to operate the various functions, including the all important chemical toilet.  We loaded up and set off for Enniskillen.  I sat in the back with Minnie, who was a bit restless at these new surroundings, and couldn’t find a comfortable spot. My first impression was of how rattly the van is!  There’s also no aircon, so it’s not the most comfortable of rides.  But we make it to Lochside Marina (£20, no extra for showers) with no issues, and do our first electric hook up (EHU).  I’d had hoped that the site would be close enough to the city centre to walk for fish and chips or something, but it was about a mile out.  We decided to get a Chinese delivered, which was rather tasty.  But I’m still struggling to see the attaction, plus being by the loch there’s quite a few biting insects around.

Day 2: Downpatrick Head

After a not-bad night’s sleep, I make tea!  And a one-eyed-jack (known in our house as Amy’s Eggs) for breakfast.  We headed for Sligo, where we would pick up the coastal route branded the “Wild Atlantic Way”.  This genius marketing ploy was devised by Leo Varadkhar when he was tourism minister, and since there were already a few coastal scenic atlantic drives in existence, it was just a matter of joining them up, adding a few wiggly signs, and sitting back to await the influx of tourists.

Except Sligo isn’t terribly helpful in pointing me in the right direction.  I scoured in vain for the wiggly sign, or even a sign for the airport, but all I can see is “Sligo Core” or “Sligo Ring”, which mean nothing to me.  We programme the sat nav for Strandhill, and shortly afterwards find a lovely pub restaurant called The Venue, with outdoor seating where we order lunch (chowder for me, roast lamb for R, fresh water for Minnie despite her barking at the kind waitress).  Parking in the car park is a bit awkward – we take up 2 spaces and hope that we don’t get blocked in.

We continue along the WAW, learning as we go how to differentiate between the main route (marked S or N) and the little fingers out to a viewpoint.  We stop at Lacken Strand, a vast expanse of golden sand with drones and air surfers overhead.  Minnie leaps to freedom and enjoys a few zoomies around the place.  It’s tricky drying off her paws, especially in such limited space.

Onward to Downpatrick Head, a spot which was recommended to us by a Swiss couple last night.  It’s a dramatic headland, and as we approach it in the afternoon sunshine we can see other headlands and islands dotted along he coastline to the west.  There are no stopping places to try to capture this in a photograph, but it would be impossible to do it justice even if there were.  The glorious panorama takes in big blue skies, azure seas, and green-grey granite slabs. I set off with Minnie towards the headland, but a sign says that dogs are not allowed, so I leave her back to the van with the boys and continue alone.  It is stunning – sheer cliffs, blowholes, and the 50m high Dun Briste sea stack.

 

Back in the car park, I order hot dogs and chips from Patsy’s van, and he delivers them to our door!

This is our first time trying “wild camping” ie no electric or water, and it feels strange to watch the car park gradually empty of day visitors and have the place to ourselves.  Well, almost, there is one other van in this car park, and another motorhome parked up in the next one down.  My hopes for a wild Atlantic sunset are dashed, though, as a surly sea mist rolls in and turns the sky 40 shades of grey.

We have problems with the chemical toilet, and decide that wild camping is not for us.  Patsy had recommended staying by the beer garden in Healys pub in Ballycastle, so that might have been a better option.

Day 3: Achill Island

Back on the coastal road, the views are stunning, but there are very few places to pull in.  What was that lie in the vision – you can just stop where you fancy? No, not really, you have to choose a spot that you can get in and out of safely without inconveniencing other road users.  But we find a great big car park opposite a fab Spar in Barr na Tra.  A fellow motorhomer with a lovely Boxer dog pulls in too, and we compare notes on how best to dispose of rubbish. The Irish government is promoting a recyling policy, and charging for landfill rubbish.  This does mean that there are very few bins around that we can use.  We try to keep recyclables separate and find the appropriate bottle banks etc, but I find that I’m using black bags, wet wipes and kitchen towel at a greater rate that I would at home, and can’t find many food watse disposal points.  But hey, it’s bound to be more environmentally friendly than flying somewhere.  Fuel topped up, and homemade scones purchased for later, we decide to skip Belmullet, and do the square loop at Blacksod Bay.  Suitable stopping point found opposite a pub, we turn on the gas to make soup and sandwiches.

After admiring the peaks of Achill over lunch, it’s lovely to make our way onto the island, and follow the signs to the newly opened Achill Seal Caves site (28 euro). The facilities are excellent, with loos and showers (1 euro for 3 minutes, plenty of space to leave towel and clothes), and a campervan servicing bay.  As I’m guiding the van into this, the rear brake light cover strikes a not-very-obvious grey wall and smashes. Ouch!  Oh well, it’s a bit of a rite of passage, and could have been much worse – no bodywork damage.  R gets the roll of clear tape and sets about doing the jigsaw of the smashed pieces.  The rest of us explore the beach.

It is golden sandy with rolling waves, but the sand is a little soft and rocky, and there are quite a few jelly fish washed up, so I’m not tempted to go for a dip.  The Strand Hotel nearby advertises “home cooked food all day!” but this turns out to be only at weekends,  So back to the van for rather tasty steak and veg that we brought with us.  Afterwards, we admire kites being flown on the beach, including an impressive whale, advertising a local pizza place.

Day 4: Keogh’s, Ballyconneely

The morning dawns cloudy but pleasant. so I take Minnie for a run.  However, the loose sheep give us problems: they see her and bolt, she sees them dashing off and wants to give chase. But it’s good to get the endorphins shuggling round my brain, and running on the beach in such surroundings is very therapeutic.

We pack up and head for Westport, one of the places I’d been looking forward to pottering around in.  But it’s a very popular spot, and driving through the town is more than a bit hair raising, with lots of cars double parked, and delivery vans reducing the available lanes.  So that vision of spending some time wandering among the colourful pubs and shops quickly vanishes.  We can’t see anywhere to park, so continue out along the southern shores of Clew Bay, and stop near Croagh Patrick, for a cheese-and-crisp based lunch. From there, it’s my favouite road in the whole world, the Doo Lough pass.  Again, not enough places to stop and photograph, but we enjoy the scenery around Killary Harbour and Leenaun.  Just past Kylemore Abbey, there is a narrow bit of road, and we see another motorhome approach us.  “Breathe in!” I say, but the 2 wing mirrors clip, at a combined speed of about 80 mph, and the mirrors pop out and smash.  We pull over, and the German couple do turn around and come back to us.  I get out the accident form and start completing it, my rusty German being tested severely (Indicator light? Mirror housing? And what date is it anyway?)  A Garda car stops and makes sure there are no injuries, and if we are happy enough just to exchange insurance details then he will leave us to it.  But it’s not just the mirror that is shattered – I’m feeling very stressed out after this, tensed up as if I was in a dentist’s chair, and my heart is in my mouth around each tight bend in the road.

Tonight we are staying at Keogh’s, one of the aires in my Britstops book, which is a large gravelly car park beside a pub-restaurant-shop-filling station. (You had me at pub-restaurant).  Manoevering is made a bit more difficult without a wing mirror, but we get set up, and head across the road to enjoy a super dinner in the outdoor seating area.  The menu is very impressive, and I am spoiled for choice, settling eventually for the seafood platter, including oysters, crab claws and steamed mussels.  It is absolutely delicious.

Day 5: Galway

Overnight, some travelling fair trucks have parked up near us, getting ready for this weekend’s Ballyconneely Show.  But we manage to pick our way out of the park.  No loos in the shop, which opens at 8, only in the pub, which opens at 10.  So we head off for Galway, having researched where the Ford parts dealer is, in the hope that a replacement mirror can be procured. Driving around the iconic stony green Connemara landscape, I imagine a sort of Craft-coffee-shop-with-loos, and lo and behold!  At Glinsk such a miracle appears!  It is lovely, with a very extensive gift shop where we spend some time, and beautiful gardens with a stunning view of the mountains.  I treat myself to a Connemara marble worry stone – just rub it and your worries will disappear!

Soon we are driving along Galway Bay, and stop at Spiddal to make ham-and-crisp sandwiches.  I have a little mosey around the Craft Village, with intriguing basketweaving, glass painting, silver jewellery etc shops.  Well worth a visit!

The sat-nav leads us through the narrow streets in Galway centre, where again double parking and delivery vans make the journey more difficult than it should be.  The parts place is on Headford Road, a large industrial and retail zone with a big Dunnes Stores, Halfords, and  a Pet World. Bad news is they don’t have that mirror in stock, but they can get one for tomorrow.  We head for Salthill camp and caravan park, to find them closed for lunch.  But we can wait.  It’s 40+ euros for the night!  There’s a per adult and per dog charge (what facilities is she going to be using?), 1 euro for shower, 50 cents for hot water to do dishes, 5 for laundry, another 5 for drying, and lots of dictatorial dos and donts on signs around the site.  Depending on which sign you read, check out could be 10.30, 11 or 11.30, so it’s obviously been a contentious issue. I can’t find the promised beach, but I do find Joyce’s supermarket, which is an absolute haven of edible goodies and local produce.  I buy some fancy artisanal yoghurt for breakfast, and some mushrooms which I add to a pack of microwave rice cooked in a saucepan, with crispy bacon for dinner.

I stroll along the coastal path in the evening light, before we join some fellow campers in the recreation room to watch the England-Croatia match.

Day 6: Lough Ennell

Minnie wakes early, and I take her along the coastal path as the sun is rising.  Some photographers are setting up tripods in the outdoor pool and diving area, but I’m not sure what they are expecting. I shower using a plastic bag method: put clean clothes in bag and hang on hook.  Take off dirty clothes and leave in a corner.  Shower, dry, put on clean dry clothes, and place dirty ones in bag.  I do some sun salutation yoga strecthes, and enjoy my hand-knitted hippy yoghurt in the sunshine.   All the hard stands have a grey water drain, so it’s simple enough to get everything ready to go.  Back to the motorparts place, I go for a bit of a walk, and enjoy a cup of tea and a croissant in Dunnes cafe.  I think that’s another thing I find hard on this sort of trip – finding some me-space.   The mirror arrives, R fits it easily enough, and we are soon underway.  We’ve chosen somewhere to stay tonight somewhere that’s on the way home, so it’s goodbye to the Wild Atlantic Way.  And goodbye to the City of Tribes which I didn’t really get to experience – I shall have to return some other time.

We set off on the N6, M6.  There are no service stations, but eventually we find a pull over place, and I rustle up soup and sandwiches and a mug-shot with added cheese for lunch.  Lough Ennell is well signposted, and is a large well spaced site with plenty of wide available spots with EHU and water.  28 euro.  There is a small shop on site (no wine….), but we get some bacon and eggs for dinner.  Being by the Lough, there are quite a few flies around, but a charming family of swans with a group of fluffy cygnets are playing by the water’s edge.  We settle in to watch Lilo and Stich on DVD, an old family favourite, and have an early night.

Day 7: Home

A good night’s sleep, a shower (1 euro), plenty of tea and bacon butties for breakfast, and I’m almost human again. An uneventful journey home (the van is much less rattly on smooth main roads), and we’re home mid afternoon, in time to give the van a good final clean before handing back.

Final verdict?  Motorhoming is not something I’ll be rushing to do again.  It’s a big beast which limits where you can park, and I like to be able to make tea, go pee, and have a shower, without it being a major faff.  But the scenery was marvellous, and I’ll definitely revisit the WAW some day.  Maybe in a sports car……

List of things we should have brought:

  • The list!  Which I thought I’d left on the kitchen table, but which turned up about 3 days in.
  • Scissors
  • Ziplock bags
  • cleaning wipes
  • J cloths
  • Hand towel
  • travel dog crate whcih can be used outside
  • Tether point for long lead
  • handwash
  • Crocs for everyone (I was the ony one who’d packed some, and had to share.  I should have charged by the 3 minutes, same as the campsite showers!)

parkrun tourism: Navan

Event number 41 for me, and elusive letter N to help me spell DANCER.

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Access:

There are helpful sat nav co-ordinates on the course page, and the Facebook page is very responsive to messages, and gave me advice on travel from Da Nort.  Which is basically Slane, Navan, straight across the first roundabout,  right at the traffic lights, and Blackwater Park is about 400m on your left.

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Facilities:

There’s a good number of parking spaces, though I did notice a bit of overflow onto the drive as I was leaving.  A children’s playpark, but no loos.  Just as well I called into the Applegreen on the way!

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Course:

The finish is by the car park, but the start is a wee walk away.  It’s 3 and a bit laps of the park, pretty flat, and a good tarmac surface. Can get a bit congested for the first 400m, so if you’re speedy make sure you’re near the front.  There are nice views towards the town, and it’s a pleasant green park.

Crowd:

I was visiting on their event 99, and they were really looking forward to their 100th.  Average attendance is around 100, and I was the recipient of  lucky token number 50.  Run Director Ken and his team of volunteers were really friendly and welcoming, and even gave me a shout out in the run brief.

Gear:

After I’d paired my headphones, they told me that they needed charged, so I was running with no music.  My Garmin worked well, though I notice that the clip which attaches to the USB port is starting to come loose.  Again.  Hmmmm, if only it were my birthday or something soon……

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Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

Well I had no music and so no shuffling, but running a 10k the next day I was reminded of my darling son when Owl City and Fireflies came on.

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Time:

I’m still carrying too many kgs and not running enough kms, so my target was to sub-30.  And we actually got a sub 29, thanks to my bestest running chum, Minnie, who was so good during the 90 minute journey each way.

All My parkruns:

parkruns: summary list

minnie at navan

parkrun tails: Minnie earns her cow

IMG_1516The Facebook group UK parkrun tourists is for those seriously serial and widely travelled runners who have been to more than 20 different events.  At that point, your name appears on the “Most Events” table, and as an unofficial means of recognising each other on our many jaunts, the cow cowl is worn a visible symbol of this acheivement.

I knew Minnie had been to many of the Norn Irn parkruns with me, but it wasn’t till I actually sat down and counted, that I realised she’d been at 19!  MUSA is a no-dog event, and the distant runs at Enniskillen, Limavady, Derry and Portrush were ones I had done on various weekends away, without her.  But she’s pretty well behaved on long journies, and has been to fairly faraway runs in Omagh and Rostrevor.

I’ve long wanted to take her with me to Portrush.  We’ve done the Waggy Races twice now over the same distance on the next beach along the stunning north coast, in Portstewart, where rather conveniently my parents live. So having checked the all important tide times, I plumped for 22 April as the chosen date.

The morning dawned cloudy but dry, which to be honest is perfect running conditions.  We left at a quarter to 8 and were pulling into the car park at 9.  I’d had a bit of a niggle with my back since my last Sunday long run, but Deep Heat seemed to be working its miracles, and I didn’t feel any problems when running.  Mum and Dad were there to see me off, and Cracker posted his customary Saturday morning status update as “Cracker says: Oh Minnie you’re so fine, you’ve parkrun at 20 sites, Hey Minnie! Hey Minnie!”

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I chatted to a few other tourists who’d got talking to my cow cowl, and some fellow Wallace folk.  There were just under 200 runners, but even starting at the back, with a wide stretch of sand it’s easy enough to weave through, and we soon found a good spot where we weren’t in anyone’s way, and Minnie could really stretch her legs.

Portrush is a tough course, even with light winds and low tide.  Yes it’s dead flat, but you need a certain level of determination to keep on going on an out and back course, and that finish line seems like it never gets any closer!

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But I knew all my previous run times here had been in the 30s, so I was reasonably confident of a PB. And indeed I crossed the line in 26:26, my best time in quite a while.  But of course I couldn’t have done it without my best running companion.

Thank you Minnine, and well done!

minnies 100th 011

100 barkruns!

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Matching 100s

 

city park christmas day

Citypark

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Wallace

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Our first run at Wallace

Dance with your soul

…is the title of a biography of Miss Milligan, who along with Mrs Stewart were the founders of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Miss Milligan used to distinguish between “dancers” and “performers”, and believed that there was more than just technical perfection to aim for, that the spirit and essence of the dance was more than good footwork.A1EslVHZntL.

After a bit of soul-searching myself (Did I REALLY want to devote substantial time money and energy into this?  For what great purpose? Would I be making the world a better place?) I’ve started my journey towards becoming a qualified Scottish Dance teacher. This consists of five separate modules.  Unit 1 is a written theory and history test, Unit 2 examines your own dancing skills, Unit 3 is a test of teaching prowess, Unit 4 is a portfolio of practical teaching experience, and Unit 5 is a final practical examination.  This year, I went to St Andrews Summer School for 2 weeks to sit Units 2 and 3.

“Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis!” is the refrain in Juno and the Paycock, and that was my feeling as well as I set off to hide in a dancing bubble for a fortnight, hoping to ignore the worrying world events and concentrate on something that I could do well, and that brought me joy.

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I’ve attended Summer School a few times before, but had never been there for opening week. It was noticeably quieter, there were no queues for the dining room, and there was space to dance in the common room and Younger Hall. After a welcome drinks reception on the Sunday evening, we Unit 2 candidates met up in the TV room to introduce each other, and meet Rebecca, our tutor, and Kathleen, our pianist. There were 10 of us for the first week, including two people re-sitting, and we came from all parts of the world. We would be spending most of our time in the Common Room, mornings and afternoons, and would have homework to do in the evenings. We were all housed on the same floor, which helped us to gel as a bunch.

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We’d already done some preparatory work before arriving, including analyses of the 12 dances we were expected to know very well for Unit 2.  There were four each of jigs, reels and strathspeys, and the exam on Friday would require us to dance one of each as first couple, as well as acting as supporting couples for the others. We would also be expected to do a recap before our dance.  As well as knowing the steps, this necessitated using your big-room voice, with appropriate hand gestures.  I found doing the recaps a little nerve-wracking to begin, and during one of them it was pointed out to me that I was standing with my hands on my hips, obviously focusing deeply on remembering the words!  Thankfully this was only during class, rather than the exam.  And before each recap the whole team got to “huddle” where we could remind each other of the main points.

On Tuesday evening, I managed to “sneak out” to the dance held by the local St Andrews branch in the lovely town hall.  While I was there, the chassis-ridden outside world crashed into my bubble, as my husband phoned me to tell me that Max had had to be rushed to the vets with bloat, a twisted stomach which I knew was a very serious condition.  He had had an emergency operation, but the next few days would be crucial. My fellow dancers were very supportive, one of them was a vet and was able to answer my questions, whilst others provided gin and hugs.

On Wednesday evening, things got even worse, when I received a phone call from my husband’s best friend, to tell me he’d been rushed to A&E suffering from severe dizziness and balance problems.  Thankfully he was released a few hours later, but I found myself seriously wondering if I should just go home. And that 2016 could just feck right off!

By mid-week, Rebecca had matched each of us with partners.  Being only 5’2, and knowing that there were a couple of tall guys in the group, I had expected to be dancing as a “woman”, but I was partnered as a “man” with Claire, and I think we made a great team.  It did mean I needed to work hard at some of the formations such as the Tournee, which I had practised on the assumption that I’d probably be a “woman”!

My husband visited Max every day, and kept me updated on his progress.  The poor wee thing looked miserable in photos, and I wished there was something more than facetime where I could stroke his silky ears or give him a chuckle under the chin.

Thursday Nights at Summer School are a big Younger Hall night.  I’ve given off in the past about the nonsense about having to buy a separate ticket for these, and last year I’d forgotten to get one!  So this year I’d bought my Thursday tickets in good time.  However, it was our exam on Friday, and the rest of the group wanted to have a final run through all the dances, doing as much “cleaning” and fine tuning as we could.  So my Thursday ticket lay sadly unused on my desk.

On Friday Claire and I checked that our chosen outfits didn’t class, and we had a final run through in the morning, before the exam in the afternoon. I wore a new dress in silver grey, with yellow polka dots, and it moved nicely when I danced. I’d met one of the examiners, Marilyn Watson, before.  She’d been my examiner at last year’s Dance Achievement Award, and had also recently visited Belfast to take a children’s day school.  With five couples doing the exam, only four were needed on the floor for each dance, so there was a welcome break at intervals.  The dances Claire and I were allotted were General Stuart’s Reel, Miss Hadden’s Reel (which is a jig….) and Miss Gibson’s Strathspey. There were a lot of Misses and Mrses in the names of the dances, as well as a General and a Duke, and a Reel which was a strathspey….

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We rattled through them all in good time, and celebrated with a glass of champagne at the garden party, before relaxing at the traditional Friday ceilidh.

No rest for the wicked, though, and on Saturday morning we were back in the Common Room making a start on Unit 3.  We were looking forward to dancing for fun in the Younger Hall on the Saturday night, and wanted to take some group photos. But at the interval I looked at my mobile phone to see four missed calls from my husband, and I knew what he was going to tell me.  Max had contracted an infection after the operation, and had slipped away that evening.  He hadn’t been in pain, and there had been someone with him.  Saturday nights usually finish with a “dregs” party, where everyone brings along their remaining stash of booze and nibbles, but I wasn’t in the mood to party and went to bed.

Sunday was a rare day off.  Having been stuck inside all week while the sun blazed in the sky, of course it was mizzly and grey.  I found my way to the beach and had a long walk, smiling at all the lovely doggies frolicking on the sand and in the surf.  Some Edinburgh friends came and took me out for lunch, which we had in the delightful fishing village of Craill, where I really enjoyed some dressed crab in a dinky little cafe overlooking the sea.

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Monday was back to studies, and our first chance at teaching to a group of volunteers, rather than just amongst ourselves.  Working with a real live musician was a new skill for all of us, and I was rather proud of my commanding “Ready…AND”s.  The structure we were learning was quite prescriptive – teach a step in certain incremental way, then do a skills exercise, leading to a formation, and for the exam there would be an additional 8 bars to dance to make up a 16 bar phrase.  We learned so much from watching each other do practise lessons, and we co-operated on writing our nightly lesson plans.  I only had my iPad with me, and I found that downloading Word for iPad, combined with the Office 365 package that I’d recently taken out, were a godsend.

We were allocated numbers at random, which would be the order we would do our test on Friday.  I was Lucky 7 – “the luck of the Irish!” said Rebecca.

In any spare time we had, we were working on an item for the Friday ceilidh.  George had come up with some new words to “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, and we tweaked and fine tuned these, and grabbed the odd 5 minutes with Kathleen to practise.

On Thursday morning, we gathered nervously outside the Common Room to receive our assignments in sealed envelopes handed out by Mervyn Short.  After this, we wouldn’t be able to speak to Rebecca, though we could use any of the other tutors for advice.  We agreed we would all open our envelopes together.  My step was strathspey travelling step, my formation was turn corner and partner, ending own sides, and the final 8 bars were advance and retire, and 1s turn 1 1/2 times to end opposite sides.  I double checked a few aspects of this: so the 1s were starting in the middle of the set facing their first corners? And finishing in 2nd place opposite sides?  The whole 16 bars was very like part of a dance, Strathglass House, and I was worried that the more experienced dancers in my group of volunteers would be disconcerted by the not-quite-ness.  And neither beginning nor ending a 16 bar phrase on own sides just felt a little awkward.

I did a quick lesson plan, ran my concerns past Mervyn, and decided to get some much needed fresh air.  In one shop of pretty things, I was just finishing my purchases when Rebecca entered – she put her had across her face and joked “I can’t see you!” I also decided to get a haircut, just so’s I’d be neat and tidy.

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We worked together during the day, timing each other, looking at YouTube videos of the various formations we had, reminding each other of the teaching points, and rehearsing our patter.  I felt sufficiently on top of things to get to Younger Hall this Thursday, though I spent some of it on the balcony trying to hone my observation skills.

As Lucky 7, I wouldn’t be on till the afternoon, and I didn’t want to get into my chosen outfit too soon, in case I spilled anything on it.  At breakfast time, someone expressed concern that my skirt was too long for the exam, and I explained that I would be changing later into a plain navy flippy skirt, with a navy top and my lucky star turquoise necklace. I spent Friday morning rehearsing and getting my timings down, and although I was nervous, I tucked into the traditional fish and chips lunch with gusto.

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Soon it was my turn.  I calmed my nerves with some Rescue Remedy, entered the room with a bright smile and handed my neatly printed lesson plans to the two examiners and Rebecca, and checked the music with Kathleen.  I was happy with how the lesson went, I tried my best to be engaging and bubbly, and to keep coaching in my biggest voice above the music.  I even managed to throw in a Eurovision quote before the final dance through – Nicky Byrne in this year’s Irish entry “Sunlight” sings “dance like you mean it.”

I was happy that I’d had no brain meltdown moments, and that I’d done my best.  But I was still anxious about the results – there are about 24 different attributes that the examiners are awarding a score of A,B,C or D to, and in some of them you MUST get a B or above.  And no more than two Ds in total.  So it could be one wee thing that means a fail.

Meanwhile, there was champagne to be quaffed at the garden party, and a final 5 minute rehearsal of our ceilidh item. It went well, and a number of people commented afterwards how much they had enjoyed it. Please forgive the blatant over-acting.

Those words in full:

Reach close reach, spring beat beat and
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
We’re Unit 3s from far away
We’re here to learn, and every day
While you went out dancing we were in this room, going
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
Our aching feet would love to be
In Younger Hall or in the sea
But we must do homework, need a lesson plan, hop step close
We show you how to pose, how to point your toes
Now your posture and grace
Will help each set you’re in begin
To dance like you know how it goes
We’ll teach you how to dance strathspey
And pas de basque with a jete
And if there’s a figure called a tournee
Yo’ll never ever go the wrong way
Rebecca’s looking sacred, I feel so unprepared
I’m facing volunteers
I’d like to introduce Kathleen
Who’ll come in whenever she hears (with the music)
My teaching points I must explain
The hands and arms and covering
Remember your posture, close your feet in 3rd once again
We never see the sun, Jim Stott says have some fun
And here’s a camera crew so get it right.
It rained on our day off – enough!
I’m sneaking out dancing tonight.
Exams are done, it’s party time
And Claire will say “all back to mine”
Can someone bring chocolate gin and lots of wine….
Reach close reach (etc)

Another Saturday morning and I STILL hadn’t been able to revisit the lovely local parkrun! We had a bit of a reminder of “what next” – I still need to do my written Unit 1, and then see if I can use some of the 7 weekly classes we have in Belfast Branch  to build up my Unit 4 portfolio. I realised just how Lucky I am, with the support and encouragement of a great lively branch, blessed with many very experienced and generous teachers.  We managed a quick rattle through some of the new Book 50 dances, and I spent the afternoon having a welcome potter around St Andrews’ charity shops.

RSCDS Book 50

The Saturday dance in Younger Hall was full of emotion. I was trying to get a dance with each of my fellow students, but there just wasn’t enough time.  We took some photos and headed back to the dregs party, and I squished and squeezed everything into my suitcase.

My journey home was uneventful, though I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, and was never so glad to have my husband’s arms around me.

The house is eerily quiet without Max, he was such a big presence in many ways.  Minnie is missing her companion, though she was overjoyed to see me. I got the hoped for email a few days later, telling me that I had successfully passed Units 2 and 3.

And I’ll leave you with Max, a soul who liked to go his own way.

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Maxim Von Thunder 2007 – 2016

 

 

Don’t Forget Your Barko! #dfyb

The hashtag #dfyb is used by parkrunners around the world.  It is shorthand for “Don’t Forget Your Barcode”, the little scrap of paper which is scanned after you run, which the magical parkrun computer elves then match up with your time, and create a myriad of statistics. Serious parkrunners have extra barcodes stashed in their car or handbag, or have them laminated.  I forked out for a keyring barcode, but found it got worn away next to my keys, and nowadays have a black plastic wristband, which always scans, is waterproof, and is unobtrusive to wear.

I did jokingly sport a fake barcode tattoo when doing my own 100th parkrun!

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Now to Minnie, my faithful running mate.  She’s accompanied me to parkruns in Wallace, Citypark, Armagh, Antrim, Ecos, Larne, Comber, Valley, Colin Glen, Falls, Ormeau, Victoria, Waterworks, Queens, and Bangor….where she memorably jumped in the water, obviously thinking it was a triathlon.

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She can be a little bit barky and apprehensive of people, and particularly dislikes being reached down to for a pat. If you do ever meet us, the best plan is to ignore her – she’ll come for a sniff and say hello when she’s satisfied that you’re OK.

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Where shall we go?

I knew we were approaching her 100th parkrun…sorry…barkrun…and thought that this momentous milestone should not go uncelebrated.

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I’d encountered Murphy’s Barkery a few times at Waggy Races, and they had always been so lovely and friendly, as well as making some delicious doggy treats.  They were delighted to make a special giant cookie, complete with the parkrun symbol.

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Min isn’t too bad at dressing up: she has a Christmas jumper, a skeleton costume (which glows in the dark), an Adidog running vest and of course a Dog Lisburn vest. Simple outfits are best – the red bandana she wore as Muttley was easy peasy, but trying to get a 3rd eye on her head to be a 3 eyed raven was a disaster.

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So of course I had to make her a milestone 100 Tshirt! I bought a small plain black Tee from M&S (size 8 gives her plenty of room for manoeuvre), and a fabric paint pen from Craftworld. If I’d had more time and patience, I’d have stenciled it, but as it was, hand written had to do – it wasn’t going to get a lot of up-close scrutiny, and it was only for lolz, after all.

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minnies 100th 005We arrived in good time, as usual, to be met by the Cummings family who presented her with a special chewy bone. Thank you!

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The T shirt attracted attention from other runners making their way to the briefing point, where we met up with the lovely Andrea and her running pooch, who gave us a bag of dog treats. Thank you too!

We got a special mention in the Run Director’s brief, very ably delivered by Brenda Harris.

The weather was OK – not too warm, and a hint of drizzle, but no actual rain, and no wind.  But my running form hasn’t been good lately – I have a niggly IT band, am carrying too much weight, and not doing enough training.  On top of that, my Garmin’s battery died after the first km! So as there wasn’t realistically a chance of grabbing a new PB, we just relaxed and enjoyed our run.  The marshalls and other volunteers were brilliant as usual, and gave us lots of support! And we did call out “Dare to Dream!” at a dog walker whose pooch was wearing a GAWA vest.

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Photocall afterwards, and Brenda asked if I could pose looking as if I was shaking her paw saying Well Done.  Luckily, Minnie’s repertoire of  commands includes Sit! and Paw! so we were happy to oblige.

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What can I say.  It’s an absolute delight to have her running with me, she gets me up Heartbreak Hill, and more importantly keeps the momentum going once we get to the top. She’s always game to run, and indulges my dress-up proclivities.  She helps me prove that – you don’t have to be mad to be a runner, but it helps!

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