Hospital Food

I don’t like hospitals. I don’t have much founding for that statement, but they tend to be associated with illness, bad health, funny smells and old age – none of which I want to suffer from. 

Recently, I have had to spend a large amount of time in hospital and I wondered if it would help me to build up an immunity to this hatred – in the same way that some people overcome their fears by tackling them head on, such as jumping out of a plane (with a parachute attached) to overcome vertigo. I am certainly getting more used to hospitals, but I still don’t like them. 

The time spent in hospital is often the cause of much stress – both direct, and indirect. It is clearly stressful to those in hospital – the patients undergoing surgery who may be drugged up to different levels and to the doctors and nurses who are trying to do a job. But it is equally stressful for the families and friends whose lives change as a result. Change is always stressful, but when it coincides with illness, the result is compounded. 

And the media don’t help. There are often stories of infections spreading, hospitals (and their inadequacies) being responsible, not being allowed to take flowers when visiting because they encourage infection, and having to wash hands whenever moving between rooms. I don’t disapprove of this last point, I just don’t see how it will solve all problems; I suspect it is an attempt to give an impression of taking proactive action, but I fear it only gives an impression. And in the words of Tom Smith (The Editors) “The saddest thing that I’d ever seen were smokers outside the hospital doors” – notably the staff. 

Hospitals are such large establishments that there is still so much that happens that is not known about and it is that fear of the unknown that continues to haunt me. 

So in a quest to overcome my dislike, I look for the positives. Hospitals are designed to make people better, however long the process may take, which is certainly a good premise. And the hospital I have been visiting recently is in the middle of some lovely training routes allowing me to run to and from as I choose. ‘Two birds with one stone’ is always a bonus. 

Maybe hospitals are not meant to be liked. So long as they make people better, it doesn’t matter.

Here comes the summer

With the summer holidays upon us, it must be time to hit the beach.

Despite some mediocre weather, I ran along the beach yesterday for the first time in more than five years – from Holkham to Burnham Overy Staithe and back.

And today’s walk along the beach in Southwold was curtailed due to the discovery of a WWII mine, which had to be cordoned off. Nevertheless it was nice to see local industry taking advantage of newfound customers.

I will continue in my search for a regular trip to the beach…

An end of an era

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Strangely, I don’t have a feeling of elation that the end of the academic year is here. Today marks the last day of my current role at Downham Market High School. And when I return to work, it will be in a new position. There have been many ups and downs along the way, and I felt sadder today than I thought I would. Thanks to everyone who helped and supported me, and I wish you all the best in the future. You will all be missed.

So onwards and upwards with fresh challenges and I hope that my new job is equally as enjoyable and rewarding.

Now, time to rest up and bring on the summer holidays…

More than I can chew

It has long been suggested that my eyes are bigger than my tummy, although I have always considered it as merely a healthy appetite.

As a small child, my parents would force me to remain at the table until I had eaten every last spoonful of my dinner; this felt even more painful when I had specifically asked for more. My father would recite lines form Oliver, as my mother encouraged me to eat food that she knew I didn’t like. It’s no wonder that I was a fat toddler, but as I progressed through primary school, my metabolism increased and this has continued to the present day. While I was once a fussy eater, I have grown to enjoy all food, and always seek to try something new. With the exception of chopped liver; I know my limits.

My ‘healthy’ appetite is the one factor that has remained a constant, and I believe it stretches beyond the realms of food and dietary requirements into other aspects of life.

I have never done things ‘by halves’ and am rarely known to turn down an opportunity. If that opportunity involves good fun, challenge, achievement or food, then the chance of me turning down that opportunity reduces exponentially. I also have the advantage of being young and I sometimes feel that a limited life experience gives me a blissful ignorance of what I may be letting myself in for.

I blindly followed my brother into marathoning, entering my first marathon before I even liked running. Little did I know that I would still be running a decade later.

I wasn’t satisfied with my Bachelors degree, so followed it immediately with a Masters and passed with distinction.

And wanting to study teacher training at the local university, I applied to Oxford University because it was oversubscribed the previous year. Thinking that I wouldn’t even be interviewed, I ended up living there (and I even competed in varsity).

And so I arrive at my next quandary. Mountain marathons are multi-day off-road events where you have to navigate yourself and carry all of your own supplies and equipment. A very experienced runner whom I have run with on only a few occasions has entered the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM – www.theomm.com) and is looking for someone to join him. As soon as the opportunity arose, I was there. “I am interested”, I proclaimed. What was I thinking? What sort of mountain or navigational experience do I have? I don’t even have any kit. But it thrilled me. How could I possibly turn down this opportunity?

And once again, I recognise the signs. I feel like I am biting off more than I can chew. But the buzz is exhilarating. This is what is all about. I am petrified, but I love it.

Thank you for listening

It’s been a while. Six weeks is longer than I expected to leave between ramblings. It’s not conducive to establishing a readership; I cannot even blame it on a lack of time, or material. I believe authors call it ‘writer’s block’, although I wouldn’t consider myself enough of a writer to call it a ‘block’ as such – more a lack of effort and commitment to the cause.

I still struggle with the concept of this blog. I am not yet sure why I write it. Yet I continue under the impression that time and experience will tell me why I started. Leaving it in its current state will achieve nothing; so unfortunately, in the words of Morrissey, I have started something I could not finish. Ever, perhaps?

I have often questioned the divide between reality and the internet. I am comfortable with reality – it is what I know, what I am used to and what really exists. And I am comfortable interacting with things that I know on the internet. I interact with real life friends on the internet. I buy goods from reputable firms on the internet. I read news and information from known sources on the internet. The internet provides an excellent resource and source of communication.

The internet, on the other hand, can be misleading. Who really wrote that email that I have just received? Who will really be delivering my goods (and where and when)? Whose opinion am I really reading? The internet is full of ‘bad’ information and it concerns me; it is very easy to hide and to deceive on the web.

This brings me back to this blog. Who really reads it? Why would anyone want to read it? Why would anyone care about what I write, let alone trust it? I certainly enjoy expressing my views, but does anyone really care? I’m not sure of these answers. Until a recent social event.

I was talking to someone I know (from the real life world) who has been reading this blog. They even commented on the absence of recent articles. It made me realise that maybe people are interested – a concept that the internet is starting to help me understand. So, if nothing else, if all other energy is wasted, this one is for you.

Thanks for listening. Note to self (for the internet world to see): I must try to write more regularly in future.

Hung out to dry

The only certainty following the recent election is that no sole party will hold an overall majority. Some argue that this result (and a probable coalition) is a good thing, although I believe there is a large amount of evidence to suggest otherwise. The possible combinations and permutations are endless, but bargaining and compromise are on the cards and their effects are already beginning to show.

At this time of economic crisis, both locally and around the World, stability is required. However, in order to try and gain support and appear popular, one of the major talking points is currently electoral reform. Electoral reform was never an issue immediately before the election and certainly won’t solve any critical issues, but suddenly it is high on the agenda. However, there are many possible solutions and choosing the right one is more of an art than a science; no two countries have exactly the same voting system and there is some degree of fault with all of them, so there is no obvious ‘best’ way to do it.

The Liberal Democrats have always supported proportional representation (PR) which, on the surface, is a fair system giving each party the same proportion of seats as votes. And crucially, they (currently) hold the cards. However, with PR a local MP may end up living 300 miles away – meaning raising an issue in person would become difficult. But more worryingly, PR also allows the smaller, more extreme parties a louder voice. As an example, the British National Party received more than 500 000 votes in this week’s election, which would give them around a dozen seats in the House of Commons – a scary scenario for many.

But the point is this: with a hung parliament, sacrifices are made. It will be much more difficult to agree and to pass any legislation. Progress will be stifled at a time when strong decisions are crucial. Furthermore, this situation would be exaggerated with PR – just take a look at the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where extreme parties are able to hold the Government to ransom.

Surely, this level of debate regarding forming a Government will be an indication of how much there will end up being during Government.

Furthermore, I predict as a result of the consequent compromise, the next General Election won’t be far away. This will have the added impact of preventing political parties from establishing themselves as they strive to ’get one up’ over their rivals – continuing what we have witnessed over the last twelve months.

If the Liberal Democrats wish to become the majority party in future, they must do whatever they can to productively influence the current situation. They must show that they are a party of worth and gain support through successful actions, rather than by altering the election process.

I give it 18 months tops; meaning the next election campaign has begun.

Once a cheat, always a cheat

I’ve never cheated. Ever. Well, not since the time I played tennis with my brother as a 10 year old and I told him his shot was out when, in actual fact, I was just too tired to go chasing after the ball.

I’ve grown older and wiser since then and learned that there’s nothing to be gained from cheating – other than a hollow feeling of shame as I cover up the fact that I didn’t really win.

I’ve subsequently taken up running; the only person I can cheat is myself. I have been running for many years now and have never ever contemplated it. The sport is occasionally tarnished by drugs, but it is a sport that I enjoy tremendously and hate to think about the time that I am unable to do it. The thrill of continually pushing myself to my limits and subsequently stretching those limits further. The great feeling after a good run and the comfort it provides when I put my feet up later in the day and dive into a cake [note that I refer not to a piece of cake, but to an entire cake]. Running can be an addiction, and much like a drug itself.

This takes me to today’s run. The Beachamwell Half [marathon]. It is the highlight of the Beachamwell running calendar and attracts the best runners from Beachamwell and some very good runners from further afield. It is a mixed terrain route but, despite this, is frequently run in times under 70 minutes. It was my debut at the classic event and I felt the pressure when I was introduced to the course record holder on the start line.

I started steadily and soon found myself in second position. I was a long way ahead of third place so, in my mind, it had become a two horse race. As the race progressed, the leader was pulling away, but I was feeling strong. At a junction without a marshal, a race signpost pointed left along a route I was familiar with and I followed it. I questioned it in my mind, but I had been followed by a cyclist on the same route, so presumed it was right. There was nothing to indicate I had gone wrong, so I kept heading straight until I saw the next marshal.

Fifteen minutes later, I was at a crossroads without a marshal or a signpost. I now knew I had gone wrong, so I waited and conferred with the cyclist and we decided that we didn’t fancy an extra half hour, so forwards was best. We headed for the finish area and after a total run time of 67 minutes, I was cheered along the finishing straight and crossed the line in first place.

I couldn’t live with myself. That hollow feeling had returned. I owned up straight away. I had essentially cheated – albeit unwillingly. My first gold medal and I had cheated. I hung my head in shame. I may as well have taken EPO.

This didn’t stop me taking home the certificate that said I ran it in that time, but it certainly will not be placed above my mantelpiece. I will file it in this blog for history’s sake and no more. Technically the certificate only suggests “participation” and not “completion” but either way, I don’t deserve it.

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Two fifty nine

I began running nearly nine years ago with the sole intention of completing  a marathon. Never shying away from a challenge, my target soon became the elusive 3 hour mark. The most recent attempt was an assault on Rotterdam.

After an extended period of consistent training, I had been refining it for the preceding months and racing well. However, in the weeks leading up to the race day, my legs hurt more than previously. I was unable to sleep the night before and, on the day, I felt sick when I woke up, wasn’t hungry and had to force a bowl of cereal in. Approaching the start line, my legs went to jelly; the only positive thought I could find was the fact I was as prepared as I had ever been and this time, I had experience on my side.

I knew exactly what I had to do. I just had to deliver.

At the start, I was caught up with slower runners and didn’t see the first or second km markers, so when I went through 3km in 14mins (more than 90secs off target), I thought “Don’t panic”. Fortunately, I didn’t and quickly found my target pace (4mins 09secs per km) and maintained it.

That was until 20km. I hadn’t even reached halfway when my quads started talking to me, politely telling me they didn’t want to go the distance. I tried to blank the negative thoughts, but monitored the situation. By 30km, they were shouting at me, willing me to give up. I ignored their call; giving up wasn’t an option, so I nursed them as much as possible giving them an extra 10secs every km as well as a splash of cold water.

At 32km, my calf seized as a result of subconsciously changing my stride to accommodate my quads, so I stopped momentarily to pour a cup of cold water on them and continued; the pain subsided. I started doing the maths on the run – I had close to 45 minutes to complete the final 10km, which feels like a walk in the park when fresh but, clearly, I wasn’t – I needed to average 4:30 per km.

This meant 4:15 for 5km followed by 4:45 for the final 5km, however I was on 4:30 by 36km – it was going to be touch and go. I crossed the 40km line (4:37 for the km) with less than 10 minutes to go. Then I remembered a marathon is longer than 42km, about 1 minute longer, so I had to pick up the pace – I had no choice. The 41st km took more than 5mins so I knew I was in trouble. I felt unable to pick up the pace and my quads were now screaming at me. With 1km to go, it was down to 4 mins, but I had no strength left. With 500m to go, I first caught sight of the finish line. It was now or maybe never again. I tried to kick and I felt like I was increasing the pace – in fact I felt like I was sprinting, despite my stride length being barely that of a brisk walk.

Eventually, I crossed the line. I glanced at my watch over the line and it was close. Very close. I thought I had probably done it. I didn’t actually stop my watch until 3 hrs 11 secs, so could not be sure. I needed to find out, but the only internet cafes I found in Amsterdam had a peculiar herbal smell. This was arguably the worst bit of all – the not knowing, but fortunately I received a message the next day with confirmation. Two hours fifty nine minutes and fifty eight seconds. One whole second to spare – I have rarely been known to make life easy for myself.