parkrun tourism: Coventry

Event #55 parkrun # 225


My little darlings are both in showbiz, which often sees me poring over tour schedules, trying to match up cheap flights, affordable accommodation and nearby parkruns.  It’s very rare that they are in the same place at the same time, but this year, on my birthday, all the stars seemed to align!



Storm Callum arrived.  My Friday morning flight had been due to take off at 8.30 am, and Jemima’s show was in Coventry at 7 pm.  I’d been saying all week I could cope with a delay of several hours.  But FlyBe made the decision to cancel all their morning departures from Belfast City airport, leaving me in a bit of a panic, booking alternatives.  (To be fair to FlyBe, propeller planes do not take kindly to the gale force winds that we were subjected to).  So EasyJet to the rescue, from the much maligned Belfast International.  Check in and security were all very smooth, and I caught a train from Birmingham International straight to Coventry with no problems.


Saw Jemima’s show, i-Infinite that evening, and was ready for my Saturday morning parkrun fix.



I was staying at the Ibis hotel close to the station, which was an easy 15 minute stroll to War Memorial park.   There are a number of buses which pass by, and a decent sized car park.


I was there well before 8.30, but already the team of volunteers was setting up (and storm Callum wasn’t helping them keep the cones in place!).  This is a large parkrun, so a small army of volunteers is needed.  They were very friendly and welcoming, and pointed me in the direction of the loos, in a very smart looking building.


Loos are clean and warm, and are opened about 8.30.  I got chatting in the queue to a local student, and also the tail-walker/ first-timers-briefer for today.  This is also the cafe where runners meet afterwards for cake and conversation, and where I enjoyed a bacon butty and cup of tea for under £5.



2 and a bit laps around the beautiful park.  In October when I visited the trees were looking stunning in their autumnal splendour, but causing quite a bit of twigs and seed cases on the ground.  It’s mostly tarmac all the way, not totally flat, but with cheery and encouraging marshalls at various points ringing bells and calling out “keep smiling!”.  There’s a finish funnel, so keep in order and keep moving.  Scanning takes place up by the cafe.



It’s a University town, so expect a good few speedy twenty-somethings.  The start has signs for you to line up based on your expected finish time, which does make for a smoother and less bottle-necked first 200m. IMG_0355

There were also a couple of dogs and prams, and a wide age range from under 10s to….ahem, people even older than me.  Numbers are usually around 600.



I’d forgotten to bring any sort of waist belt or pouch!  When I’m running with Minnie there is a zippy pocket on the running belt, and I always have something to transport poo bags and treats.  So I had to be inventive – I tucked some money and my hotel key into my wristband/ sweatband, and shoved my phone into my sports bra.  My Garmin and headphones worked perfectly.  I wore my black 100 shirt, and my cow cowl, which was recognised by fellow tourist Beth,  though this is her local run.



Ugh, 35 minutes.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.


And the rest:

After a welcome shower back at the hotel, I caught a train to Birmingham New Street, which is a massive station with its own branch of John Lewis attached!  Harry’s theatre, the New Alexandra, was right beside the Station Street exit,

and we met for a lovely lunch at Cherry Reds cafe.  Service a bit slow, but funky and fabulous food. Motown the Musical is a non-stop feel good megamix of hits – guaranteed to leave you smiling.  And a busy show for Harry as Head of Automation, lots going on all the time.


I caught a train back to the airport station, my goodness this is a big airport!  I’d had to get on the phone to FlyBe earlier, since if you don’t take your outward flight they automatically cancel your return leg. But my 8 pm flight was very hassle free, and I was back home at 9.30 pm.  That was certainly a fun packed couple of days, and a birthday to remember.

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

parkrun tourism: Ally Pally


Event number 42 (for all you Hitchhiker fans), parkrun number number 180 (said in darts commentator voice) and putting the A in DANCER.


There’s plenty of parking in and around Alexandra Palace.  I walked from a lovely Air BnB nearby, and the W3 bus goes through the grounds.  There’s a nearby railway station, and the closest tube station is Wood Green.


There are loos in the ice rink and in the Phoenix cafe.  We enjoyed coffee and sausage rolls afterwards in the Palm Court bit of the main bulding, but there’s some refreshements available at the ice rink also.


It’s 2 big laps with a start and finish section.  Start and finish are in the same place, so you can leave bags and belongings there.  The terrain is very varied, from tarmac, to gravel, to grass, and a steep muddy incline!  Not the easiest, but the views over London are just spectacular.


I was impressed at the number of young people here – a confident young man effectively delivered the first timers briefing, there were lots of teenage marshalls giving cheering support along the way, and I was in awe of young Georgia in her white 10 shirt, sharing motivational chat with her Mum all the way round, and managing a brilliant sprint finish. I got chatting afterwards to a 250 shirter called Liberty, who was really friendly, and there was a warm welcome from the RD and team. Numbers are usually in the 200s.


I always travel in my second best trainers, and these were a good choice for the sometimes slippery surface.  My Garmin worked OK, but its clippy lead has disintegrated.  My headphones worked for half the yodelling song from Eurovision 2016, but then refused to behave at all. I wore my apricot Wallace top.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

No headphones so no shuffle.  But my earworm was a country song called “What Ifs”, and I distracted myself by trying to remember all the lyrics.


Tough course, no Minnie, no music, and I stopped to take photos en route.  So 36 something. Bleurgh, it can only improve. I did manage my signature skip-change step over the finish line.

Sticky letter:


I’ve been trying to get someone appropriate to stick each letter of DANCER as I run them, and what better than an actual p’feshnil dancer to do the honours!  Jemima also took plenty of great action photos for me.

And the rest….:

I was in town to see Evita, which my son is working on, and what a rare pleasure to have both my children in the same room!

And I finished my Saturday with a bit of dancing at the RSCDS London Branch dance, where it was lovely to catch up with old friends, and make some new ones.


All my parkruns:

all the parkruns I’ve completed




24 hours in London

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to w rite this blog at all – I’d taken some photos on my phone, and then lost the phone while in London. But miraculously, some of them survived on my iPad!

I was paying a flying visit to London – my son was working on his first ever West End show, and I was taking my best friend and daughter to see it on the Saturday night. Plans were to meet son and his girlfriend for lunch on the Sunday. I reckoned I could manage all this with one large handbag. I was staying with said best friend so I didn’t need to cart any cosmetics or toiletries with me.
With the hlep of Mumsnet’s Style and Beauty section, I put together a capsule wardrobe of 3 different outfits.


photo 1 photo 2 (2) photo 3 (1) photo 4

The basis was a pair of dark skinny jeans (Not Your Daughters jeans)
my brown Dubarry boots, and a beige trench coat (M&S).

For travelling, I wore a floral wrap top (Boden) with a coin and ribbon necklace (Fat Face). I carried a lavendar pashmina with beaded trim (won in a fundraising raffle in Luxembourg, about 10 years ago)


A quick change in the loos during pre-show drinks into a purple and blace lace tunic (Florence & Fred), with a choker made from a purple silk ribbon and a cameo brooch (eBay)

after london

On Sunday, I wore a cream crochet top (Fat Face), with a chunky stone necklace bought form a native craft shop on Route 66.

The lot fitted into my owl-design satchel bag.


In the beginning was the play.

The play in question was “The Bible: The complete word of God (abridged)” done by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Both the troupe and the play have been around for over 20 years, so it wasn’t some new avant garde cutting edge piece of drama. It was a mildly amusing comedy.

The venue in question was the Theatre at The Mill, a beautifully realised piece of architecture combining an original mill building in Newtownabbey with new state of the art gallery and performance spaces. It is run by the local council.

My husband is jealous of the number of evenings I spend runninganddancing, and so we have an agreed date night at least once a month. This seemed like the perfect idea for January’s date night, and so we booked tickets.

2014-02-01 06.50.06

And then, a week before opening night, the show was cancelled. A DUP member of the council had felt that play was offensive and blasphemous. Why it had taken him till so close to the performance to raise these concerns isn’t clear – the play had been approved by the council’s artistic committee months ago, had been advertised on billboards, flyers, and in the theatre’s brochure.

2014-02-01 06.50.21

Why it couldn’t have just had a warning, like the parental advisory sticker on CDs with rude words in them, isn’t clear either. Nor why theatre goers couldn’t just have been made aware of the content and left to make up their own minds.

No. Councillors, without having seen the show themselves, decided that no-one should get the opportunity.

2014-02-01 06.50.31

What happened next was perhaps predictable, but most satisfying nonetheless.  The theatre going public were outraged.  The Nolan Show took up the case.  The twitterati picked it up and gave it the #ThouShaltNotLaugh hashtag.  The Arts Minister and local comedians expressed their concern about censorship.  A Christian who HAD seen the show penned a thoughtful and measured letter, which was widely shared on Facebook.  A petition was signed.

Momentum grew – the show, which had precious few advance sales, began to sell out in its later venues.  Followers of @reduced on Twitter zoomed over the 10,000 mark.

If ever there was a case of no such thing as bad publicity, here it was.

And in a miraculous volte-face, the council reversed their decision, 2 days before curtain up.  The theatre’s website crashed under the demand for tickets, the cameras were out in force to vox-pop people entering and leaving the show, a mahoosive round of applause greeted the first appearance on stage of a cast member, and a warm standing ovation followed the closing lines.


There are some lessons to be learned here.  The PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community in Norn Irn have a long history of not understanding the importance of PR.  The world’s cameras have seen them stoning primary school children on their way to school, fleg protestors disrupting Christmas shopping, and stern-faced men in bowler hats valuing intransigence.  Could no-one have advised the councillors that this was the almost inevitable outcome?

I was not surprised but a little disappointed that the opportunity wasn’t taken to have a “proper” discussion about what is and isn’t blasphemous or offensive.  There are a lot of grey areas, and a debate should have been instructive.  How about nudity for instance – is Page 3 offensive? Breast-feeding mothers? Topless beaches?  What constitutes blasphemy – is Douglas Adams’ “God disappearing in a puff of logic” blasphemous?  Taking the Lords name in vain on television? The internet meme of God reaching out to the spaghetti monster’s noodly appendage – is that offensive to Pastafarians?

Sadly we had The Nolan Show, a pointing and shouting match with a fair dose of “whataboutery”, but no real depth or substance.

The real winners, though, in the silveriest of linings to this murky cloud, is the Theatre at the Mill.  The staff there handled the cancelling-uncancelling efficiently and pleasantly (though the bar staff seemed overwhelmed with the packed opening night crowd of punters at the delightfully named “Yarns” bar).  Its fabulous facilites have been seen by the world’s media, and those who made the 5 mile trip to the outskirts of Belfast will undoubtedly visit again.

I think art is the ulitmate winner.

Indefinable, that’s what hootoo are

Some disturbing news this week: as part of the BBC’s rationalisation (i.e. money-saving) of its online services, it is “disposing” of h2g2. It could have been worse – some sites were closed immediately, whereas this approach seems more akin to putting us in the animal rescue centre and hoping a new owner will fall in love with all our waggly quirks and big melting brown guide entries.
I’m finding it hard to be my usual positive self about this move. And who would want us? Part of hootoo’s problem has always been that it’s impossible to define. It’s not a social network, although the community aspect of it is very important, and indeed the “nicest bunch of wierdos on teh internet” has already set up its own community consortium (please follow h2g2c2 on Twitter, or search #saveh2g2) with the aim of taking over ourselves if a new home/ owner can’t be found.
It’s not a comprehensive encyclopaedia, though its been dubbed “the bastard uncle of Wikipedia”, as it predates that site but takes a different approach to recording and sharing information. The Edited Guide Entries, aiming to provide a unique guide to life, the universe, and everything, contain some gems, as does the Underguide, a repository for fiction.

view from teh back of teh HSS

Never too far

Why has the site been so important to me? Well, it’s where I met my fiance. (And my previous serious bf, come to think of it). But it’s not a dating site.
It’s where I learned to improve my writing, particularly fiction. And Vogon poetry.
It’s where I learned how to use a mark-up language.
I’ve been archiving all the stuff I’ve written over the years, a task I can only manage in small bursts as it makes me cry. All my various columns in The Post, hootoo’s weekly newspaper where I am proud to be assistant editor. My first set was Murder on the Dancefloor, tracing my dancing exploits from tap-dancing in Luxembourg, to taking up Scottish dancing, and watching my daughter follow in my pointe-shoe footsteps and transform from cute Irish dancer to leading lady.
My Rear View set took me from being a pillion passenger to learning how to ride a motorbike myself, to following Roger and the Calums heros to The Gambia to build a road.
Take it to the Max followed the exploits of training a very boisterous puppy.
Eclipse hunting took me to China, from whence came a series of Little Bea in Big China.
I’ve met friends from all over the world, from Seville to Stockholm, Reykjavik to Alphen an der Rhein, Frankfurt to Torquay…and thankfully I’m in contact with all my good friends outside hootoo.
Its hard to know what the future will bring, or how hootoo will change. But change is inevitable. It’s highly likely I wont be able to access the site from work once it loses its BBC host – and that’s OK, I don’t feel I should be jumping up and down demanding access as a right from my employer’s equipment. If we have to have ads or some sort of subscriptions, well, you don’t get much for free these days.
As Chinese New Year approaches, I am reminded of the curse “May you live in interesting times.”


On Saturday – a glorious day with the sun beaming down – I took a trip up to my native city to see Jem’s boyfriend Matty perform in a production penned and produced by the performing arts and music students at Magee college. Based on the Glee TV show, the event was of course called… Maglee! I’d been rather frustrated by my experience as a theatre goer to the newly refurbished Playhouse theatre: the booking of tickets had to be done online, with stern exhortations to bring along ID when collecting them, the website gave no meaningful directions and no information on car parking nearby, and once I had arrived where I thought it was, there was no sign outside to confirm that I was in the right place.

No matter, I met up with Jem at the Diamond, we had a bite to eat at the Wetherspoons on the corner (for future reference, the tables upstairs by the window are the ones to nab) and then strolled around the walls. I pointed out the chapel of St Augustine – the little church on the walls – where my parents were married and where I was christened. From there we could look down on Free Derry corner, and I was relishing giving her a little bit of both family history and political significance during our pleasant walk.

The show itself was great fun, and Matty clearly enjoys performing. Congratulatory hugs duly dispensed afterwards, I set off for the 77 mile journey home. About 5 miles outside the city, I heard a loud bang, and assumed a stone had hit the car. This was followed by a juddering sensation, and I knew as I released my grip on the steering wheel and felt the car pull to one side that I had a puncture. I pulled over safely onto a layby and surveyed my position. I have changed a tyre in the past, but not for ages, and not on this car. But I started by extracting the spare wheel and tools and thinking about how to proceed. I could see that the trim on the wheel was held on with cable ties, so I’d need something sharp to cut those. I needed help.

a hole in my tyre

Thinking fast, I called Matty. “Is your Dad still there?” I asked, since I knew his parents had been at the show. They’d be heading home on the same road that I was on, and I hoped I’d catch them before they left. Sure enough, 5 minutes later their car pulled in behind mine and switched on matching hazard lights. His Mum is a driving instructor, so knows her way around cars, while he makes guitars (how cool is that!) and had his work tool kit with him, complete with knives. In under 10 minutes he’d done the tyre change, and they volunteered to follow me for a few miles at least to make sure everything was OK. They even spotted me stop 3 miles later to close the passenger door properly, and I was enormously grateful to my knights in shining armour for their care and concern.

Scary Musical

Jem’s latest production was Scary Musical, an innuendo-laden spoof of High School Musical, with some hilarious pastiches of Fame, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever thrown in along the way.
a flier for scary musical

The lyrics are very clever – I particularly liked “It doesn’t have to be hard if we come together – if we all lend a hand, job done, we can pull it off….”

I’ll leave the choreography and …erm…actions to your imagination!

A very talented cast – I recgonised most of them from other MT4UTH and McMaster shows, and I thought to myself “Ah yes, the usual suspects”. And then I thought, yup, those are NI’s stars of tomorrow. And what a great bunch they all are. Remember my name!

Christmas in London

Just spent the most wonderful weekend in London and am so proud of my little darlings – well, not so little these days!  Harry’s just finished his first term at Central, where he’s one of only 4 students doing theatre sound.  He’s absolutely loving being in London (and what 18 year old boy wouldn’t!), but I was caught unawares by one of his comments about what was so great about life in the capital city: he said, no-one had once made a remark about his appearance.  OK, I know Norn Irn is a bit conservative when it comes to its inhabitants, and sure, people with blue dreadlocks don’t merit a second glance in London.  I just never realised my tough gothy heavy metal loving son was so sensitive about  jibes at his long hair and baggy shorts.

I’m so proud of this young man, who’d previously dropped out of school.  But, inspired partly by our lunch with an astronaut at KSC last year (thank you Storey Musgrave), he decided to follow his dream, and secured himself this rare opportunity by portfolio and references.  He was working with Pink last week.

Jemima had a ball.  Which was just as well, as it was her treat for getting such great feedback from her teachers this year!  I’d asked her “Would you like a puppy? A pony? No? OK how about a weekend in London…” and was bowled over by her exuberant acceptance – literally!

We gave a standing ovation to Legally Blonde, we shopped at Harrods and bought her Christmas pressie of a lovely new red coat, we ate Chinese food in Chinatown, joined in the carol singing at the tree in Trafalgar Square,  ice-skated at the Tower of london, and drank mulled wine watching the street theatre at Covent Garden.

It’s looking likely that the pair of them will be here next year (Jem’s sent off her audition applications to Laine and Bird today), and I just wonder – should I join them?

Guys and Dolls

We’re in the eerie calm after the storm now that the week-long run of Guys and Dolls is over.  Jemima was playing Miss Adelaide, her first time in a principal role, and boy what a great role it was for her!  It completely suited her effervescent personality, and the songs were in a good range for her to sing.  The few weeks leading up to the show were hectic, mind, with me taxi-ing her back and forth.  But I remember the mantra I taught myself when the babes were young – make the most of every phase, and don’t dwell on the less pleasant aspects.  Because they grow up all too soon, and those happy moments will soon only be memories.

Matty and Jemima as Nathan and Adelaide

A letter from Adelaide's mother

So we’re making the most of our car time together.  We listen to a bit of Classic FM, to improve her listening skills which she needs to do for her Music GCSE, and we talk about the future.

Adelaide's Lament

She did her Grade 6 ballet in the same week as the show, and I was talking to her ballet teacher while she was in the exam room.  Previously she had encouraged me to persuade Jem not to go to London next year to dance college, but to stay and go to Belfast Met instead.  But when we were discussing her knock-em dead performance, we both agreed that we might reconsider.  I know like any mother, I will support her to the hilt in whatever is the best option for her future, but boy I’ll miss her when she’s gone.


take back your mink

Sadly, we’ve just discovered that she’s too young to go for Lloyd Webber’s next search, which is for Dorothy.  Basically they can’t interrupt compulsory education.  Shame, cos she’d be the right type for that role, but there’ll be other chances.  She was quite sanguine about this, and is being very industrious about preparing for her GCSEs next year.  She’s also busy filling in application forms for the main dance schools that she’s keen on – Laine, Arts Ed, and Bird.  So no doubt we’ll be over to London a few times in the New Year!

Just Dance

Jemima was lucky enough recently to get through the first stage of auditions for Just Dance, a reality show to be shown on Sky 1 next year.  We flew to Edinburgh for the next round, unsure of what the format was going to be.  Turned out she had to perform in front of a live audience, complete with bright lights and scurrying camera crew, and be interviewed back stage.  The panel certainly had gravitas in the dancing world – Adam Garcia, Kimberly Pussycat Doll, and Ashley “Diversity” Banjo.  And they were being extremely strict – in the 5 or 6 hours we were there I saw them approve one dancer.  And no, it wasn’t our J.  She’d danced her little heart out – all winsome smiles and graceful limbs.  Her face lit up when Ashley asked her about the music, written for her by her boyfriend.  And all the judges’ comments were constructive and believable.  I was bursting with pride (yes again!) at her ability to cope unprepared with this tough ordeal, and to keep her chin up and keep smiling during the feedback.

Apologies for teh watermark on the video – having just upgraded my ‘puter to one using Windows 7, I’m rather disappointed that Movie Maker still doesn’t import mp4 or wav files, and so in order to capture Matty’s stunning music I had to use a free trial download.