The sound of the Vulcan

an Avro Vulcan

Vulcan flying

Yesterday we went to the South East Kent Air Show. We were forced to leave later than I’d have liked, but events thankfully conspired to allow us to circle round and approach from the south east of the area, which was useful since most of the traffic approached from the west, resulting in some horrendous delays – as we were leaving, it appeared some people were still queuing to get in, and we heard of six hour queues in traffic. Generally from the direction we managed to approach, traffic was much easier (only one hour queuing!) and we arrived around 1.30, which was still after the flying displays had started. The main issue we had with traffic was car park control, which seemed virtually non-existent – we were waved in, sent up the rows of parked cars then along, and then completely left to our own devices, which led to some rather messy lines of parking, not to mention a long walk to the entrance.

Still, we’d arrived, so we joined the queue to get in (were directed to the cash line as the credit card payments were apparently playing up, so ended up with less cash than we expected for the day),  joined the queues for toilets, then joined the queues for food – poor hubby at this point had had no breakfast! Eventually we were in a fit state to wander round and see the various planes and displays.

It’s always a pleasure to see the aircraft up in the sky showing off, but one particular plane had a very unexpected effect on me: the Vulcan that had been a great draw for the show, on its first time out on public display in nearly twenty years.

Now a little background is probably needed here: my parents didn’t drive or own a car while I was growing up. The first time we had any kind of freedom to travel was when I passed my test and bought a small car. One of the ways we made the most of this freedom was to visit local airshows, where we would park up, wander round and enjoy the static and flying displays. One of the big draws was always the Vulcan, which makes an amazing sound as it flies overhead.

When I first met my husband, he and his family were also airshow visitors, and so we went to a couple of shows together, and then the airshows stopped, at around the time my eldest was born. In fact, the last airshow we went to was the previous one at Manston twenty years ago, with a toddler in tow, and chances are that was one of the last times the Vulcan flew.

Fast forward twenty years, through an interval that saw the birth of two more sons and the death of both my parents, and then Manston once again hosts an air show, and once again the Vulcan is in attendance. One son went with us, to his first ever air show, and despite all the hassle getting there, we were wandering around enjoying the sights. And then the Vulcan went over…

It truly is an amazing sight, and an incredible sound, and what I found was that it bypassed any kind of controls within me and conjured up a very strange emotion: for possibly the first time since their loss, I felt an overpowering feeling of sadness for my parents. I still find it hard to think of, a day later, because it really did defy any logic or sense, and hit me straight in the gut. I can only put it down to the fact that the sound of the Vulcan, for me, is entwined incredibly closely with those days out with my parents.

We enjoyed the rest of the displays, including the AH 64-A Apache, which again brought back memories for me – this time of a completely different sort. I used to play a computer game called Gunship, which was flying an Apache on missions. A game mission used to take 60 minutes, of which 20 minutes was flying time and the rest of it was briefing, debriefing and loading time. Lots of loading time. Probably 30 minutes of loading time, from a cassette onto my Commodore C64.

Eventually weariness and aching legs and feet took us back to the entrance, where we wandered aimlessly around for a while trying to find the car (I found it first! hah!) and then queued for half an hour to get out of the car park – again no marshalls in sight and getting irritated by people who chose to leave the back end of their queue to cut into our queue that we’d already spent twenty minutes in. A tour of the back roads of Thanet brought us to Tesco, where we gulped down drinks and then bought enough food for the evening, and then we headed for home, on roads that were as clear as a bell.

So generally an amazing day, with good flying displays, but spoilt by the appalling traffic conditions and the wind that led to the cancellation of many of the smaller aircraft. There was little information on the field as to what was flying when, and the whole thing needs to be much better managed in future, but for us it was a good day out with an unexpected twist for me personally.



It’s not fear of failure

A thought suddenly occurred to me today as I tried to figure out why I was sitting around wasting time. I always thought that the reason I’m afraid to make the effort sometimes is fear of failure, but that’s not it at all. I’ve attempted some things in my time that have failed, and I’m quite happy to admit they’re a failure and move on – just like another way not to make a lightbulb, it’s just another learning point on the road of life.

What I am afraid of is ridicule. Of failing spectacularly and being laughed at for it, or for thinking I’m doing well and then having others laughing at my pathetic efforts.

I’ve been thinking back to an episode at school, where I’d made an effort for once to present my work properly, only to have the teacher ridicule my efforts in front of the whole class and encourage them to laugh too. I would never join in team games with the youth club, because I was afraid not only that I’d muck up but that I’d be laughed at. I think this could be a reason I avoid writing groups as well.

This is also the reason why I’ll sit and watch someone else doing something rather than take over, unless I’m sure they can’t do it. However much I think I can do a good job of it, I’d rather not take the risk unless it’s necessary.

Just because I don’t do it, don’t assume I can’t. In secondary school we had swimming lessons in an outside pool. It was freezing cold, and it would always take me a large part of the lesson to get into the water. As a result, I would be one of those at the shallow end, and I’m sure my teacher thought I couldn’t swim very well. In the end the thought consumed me until the point I threw a major paddy because I would miss the last swimming lesson of the year because of a piano lesson. To this day I don’t know how they knew or why they helped, but someone offered to swap with me, and I went to that swimming lesson, went to the deep end and got right in and was swimming and diving with the top swimmers. I don’t remember the teacher’s response at all, but I had proved that I could do it and I felt pretty satisfied over it.

This is where this business of “everything comes down to you and how you handle it, not down to other people” becomes dangerous to me. Because I usually interpret that as the other person always being right unless they’re proved wrong, and I can take a lot of convincing that the other person is in the wrong before I’ll stop blaming myself and start thinking maybe I just have to let things go. When you’re permanently convinced that if anything goes wrong it must be your fault, it’s hard to want to stick your neck out.

Now I’m about to start heading off into my own business, I need to get over this and be prepared to put myself out there. I need to be convinced myself that it’s something I can do well (most of the time I am), and I need to be prepared to convince other people as well. And before I can get down to that properly I have six weeks of work, followed a couple of weeks later by a week’s booked holiday, which makes it very hard to do anything until they’re out of the way.

I’d like to use the next few months to get back to studying, as well, to finish off a qualification I’m halfway through and which would look good on my personal description for my business. Trouble is, that would take a lot of money, which I really don’t have to spare right now. So I’ve bought a couple of lottery tickets, and will be looking for other ways to magic up two and a half grand over the next couple of months. Not seriously, because it’s not essential – if it were, I would be able to find the money somehow – but if such an exact lump of money does miraculously fall into my hands I’ll know how fate wants me to use it, put it that way 😉

So there’s plenty to be done, I just need to figure out my way into it. Which means that if I’m tempted to sit doing nothing I’ll get a notebook or keyboard out instead and start writing until I’ve figured out what to tackle next. I think I’ll make that my shiny sink, something to focus on to help organise my mind. (Shiny sink is a flylady reference: focusing down on one task and doing it thoroughly, rather than panicking on everything around you and getting nowhere).

I also need to remember that if people do laugh and mock at me failing then that’s them being out of order, not me, because the best type of people will be along side me helping me, or cheering me on. Only the nasty ones will take any kind of satisfaction in my failure.



Storytime at school

Hearing the new children’s laureate talking about her aim to encourage storytelling at school and membership of libraries made me think back to my days at school, particularly primary school. We always seemed to have a class book on the go, with a few minutes here and there spent listening to the story. The first ones I can remember was from a teacher in what would now be year 3, who loved Rupert Bear. She had a collection of annuals, and she would read them to us, but with a twist: the stories were told in three ways, with images, with traditional stories and with rhyming couplets, and she would read out each rhyming couplet to us minus the final word, which we would then have to guess/fill in. Mostly it was obvious from the context and the rhyme, but other times it was a challenge. Either way, it was a way of engaging all of us in storytime.

Another teacher once read Stig of the Dump to us. I still associate that book with being read out in class and having to listen; as a bookworm, I was always very happy to read them myself, but still the pleasure of sitting listening brings back pleasant memories.

Our teacher in what would now be year 6, the last year at Junior School, read the James Herriot books to us. Again, I was totally entranced, and loved the stories about the different animals. This was about the same time as the TV series was on, and I gladly got my hands on the other books in the series to read as well – probably my first official introduction to an adult book rather than a children’s book.

At secondary school we would read a book together, which meant each person in turn would be expected to read out a page or two. I would usually try to read to myself far enough ahead that the voice wasn’t a distraction, because by then I was too impatient to listen. One book I remember this way was a book called The Gift, which featured a boy called David who was telepathic.

When my own children grew to the age where I wanted them to eat at the table but they didn’t want to wait until their Dad came home late in the evening, I got into the habit of sitting reading to them while they ate. We enjoyed many a book that way: after watching a TV series about life as a pioneer we read Little House on the Prairie, we worked our way through the Dark is Rising series, a few other fantasy books like Garth Nix, Adventure books like Swallows and Amazons and far too many others to mention. It was always fun to debate what book to read next (incidentally I did once try to interest them in James Herriot, but despite being of similar age to when I heard it, they just found it too hard and were not interested, sadly).

Even as an adult I love it when hubby agrees to read to me in bed – one night our sons had to knock on our bedroom door and tell us to be quiet as he’d got too carried away – Pusey Ogg was the guilty party, I seem to remember, yelling “Wanna soldier! Wanna soldier!” The only problem comes when I fall asleep – as I usually do – and the next night we have to figure out how far I actually remember.

In short, my love of reading is mixed with a love of listening to stories, and I’m glad that there’s going to be a push to encourage children to listen to whole books in a large group again; there’s no finer way to encourage a love of books.


V is for Viewpoint

There’s a lot said about viewpoint when writing, but it’s a different type of viewpoint I’d like to consider. Take the first time I ran Parkrun, for example, around six months ago. It was a freezing cold morning, with an icy wind blowing off the sea that took my breath away. The route was two laps, each along the promenade, up a slope, back along the grass at the top, then down a steep slope to do it all again. My legs were aching, my lungs were bursting, I could barely breathe for most of the run, in fact as I watched the pack of runners disappear in front of me just a few hundred meters from the beginning I slowed to a walk and covered more of the distance that way than actually running. For the first lap I only kept myself moving by promising myself that when I got back to the start I would give up and go home. There was no point in me being there. I was far too unfit to get anywhere, it was totally unfair to expect myself to keep going, it was shameful to come in so badly last.

Somehow, and to this day I don’t know how (sheer bloody-mindedness maybe?), I didn’t give up, and continued around the second lap, to stagger in over the finish line in just under 40 minutes. I limped back to the car, somehow managed a shower and a trip to Tesco, and then lay on the sofa for the rest of weekend to recover.

I then had two options. I could take the viewpoint that I was unfit, and it was pointless even trying to run. It was cruel to pretend to myself that I could do it, and far better to just not bother.

Or I could take the viewpoint that yes, I was unfit, but I was out there and I completed the run, and the next time would be easier. I may have come in last, but I finished before those who didn’t try, but who stayed at home in the warm and comfort.

I chose to take the latter viewpoint, kept going, have never again run in such cold, uncomfortable conditions, and have improved my speed. Not by as much as I would like, granted, but that’s a work in progress, and at least now I have no issues at all in running the whole route.

I no longer come in last, but I have great admiration for the handful of people who come in behind me, because I know what it’s like to stagger behind everyone else, and I know what strength of mind it can take to keep going.

We all have situations and moments in our lives when we can choose which viewpoint to take, the negative view or the positive view. Which one do we choose? Our viewpoint doesn’t change the situation itself, but it can change the way we cope with it and how we use it to grow. Why not choose to look for the positive viewpoint?


Zen and the art of running

Running has become easier – and more interesting – since I realised that going for speed isn’t the only way to run. Not only is it acceptable to run in other ways, but it’s actually beneficial. So sometimes now I’ll go for a longer run, with no regard to the speed I travel, while in the gym I’m intending to try interval work, so faster sections coupled with slower recovery sections.

It’s the same in life.  We don’t always have to throw everything at it that we possibly can all the time, so that we stagger across the finishing line and fall in a heap. Sometimes we need to intersperse periods of intense activity with rest periods, so we can recover our strength for another big push. And sometimes we just need to plod on, knowing that the main thing that actually matters is reaching the end, and the manner of getting there is less important than the final destination.

I enjoy running not only for the physical challenge but also for the mental challenge. In this fast-paced world it’s difficult to take time out and allow your mind to wander. That’s why running with an audio book was a failure for me – one of the main benefits is the time for my mind to jump seemingly aimlessly from topic to topic, teasing out current worries and preoccupations, so that I return home refreshed mentally as well as physically.

As a child, I was always out on my bike. Even before the age of 10, I would be exploring the countryside, riding on main roads or country lanes, round the streets or to the next town or village. No-one would usually know – or seemingly care – where I was, or when I would be back, and I thought nothing of riding several miles in an outing. It feels shocking, looking back, but then again they do always say a child is more at risk at home with family than from strangers…

As an adult, I also enjoy exploring my surroundings. Especially when I worked in London, I would often spend my lunchbreak walking the streets, finding different places and routes, starting to join together the dots and learn how they are related.

Then when we had a dog, I would often go out walking with him. The greatest pleasure to be had was from exploring new country footpaths, to come out on a road miles from home and have to figure out an interesting way of returning. That’s why I’ve a sneaking suspicion that if I keep running through this year I’ll clock up a few miles across the countryside, rather than just on the roads. Even when I first started this time round, in September, I would set out on the roads and then sneak across to the lane that ran down to the footpath across country and home again, until the point when it came too muddy, and then too dark to run safely that way.

Running provides a way to keep in touch with my neighbourhood – who has a new car? who’s building an extension? Who’s out walking their dog, or collecting their newspaper? what other runners are out? It provides a way to feel good about myself, as I set and complete challenges and feel how my fitness improves. And it provides a way to clear out the cobwebs in my brain, to enable me to think more clearly about what needs to be done.

Most of all, it provides an opportunity to think about life.



A different world

When I was seven, in the last few weeks before I changed from infant school to junior school, my grandma was taken ill and my parents went to help look after her in her last days.  I went with them.  She was at my aunt’s house, and so we stayed there too.  While we were there I was enrolled in the local infants’ school, just up the road.  I also attended the Salvation Army church, which was just over the road from Auntie’s house.  One thing I remember is that you got a special award if you attended Sunday school five times, and I just about managed to do it in the seven weeks I was there.

I don’t remember much about that time; I do remember a little about the school.  In fact it could be where the strange reaction to communal eating comes from. In the school I usually attended, lunch was taken in two sittings.  In this one there were about six different sittings, because of the relative size of the dining room/hall and number of children.  I think it was the first time I met chocolate pudding and green custard as well (mint!).

One memory of the time was being embarrassed in assembly because our task for the morning was to draw a line to divide our page in half and then draw a picture on the top half and write about it on the bottom half.  All I’d managed during the entire morning was to draw the line.  Instead I’d spent the time talking – actually I don’t think that was so bad, considering I’d been uprooted completely and really didn’t make friends easily!

Another memory is the school trip we went on.  I was excited to be going, but was sick before I went.  My mother put it down to excitement and sent me to school anyway.  I was sick again on the way to school, and again on the coach, and again as we went round the big house we were visiting (by this time I’d been provided with bags!).

In the afternoon, we were taken to play in a big adventure playground, and as by this time I was feeling better I queued eagerly for my first chance at climbing a ladder up a tree to a big tree house, but the girl before me got stuck and had to be rescued, so the rest of us were then banned from going on anything more exciting than the maze, much to my disgust.

I liked my aunt’s house; it was long, and right on a corner.  There was a black and white tiled hallway, and we always went in the side door, not the front door.  There was an outside toilet, and another one upstairs that we weren’t allowed to use during the day. The only thing I didn’t like about staying with my aunt or Grandma was the occasional times when they had sterilized milk instead of pasteurized milk.

My uncle (Dad’s brother) and aunt were there, and I had grown up cousins around as well, who I didn’t see very often usually.

I think my sister came to visit at least once, but being a lot older she was working by that point, I think, or staying at home to finish exams.

The day my Grandma died, I suddenly got the idea that as the rest of the house seemed sad maybe I should be reacting that way too, but most of the time I really didn’t notice anything.

I didn’t go to the funeral.  Instead, I think I went to spend the day with friends of my aunt.  I vaguely remember the child there had a drum set, which I enjoyed playing.

While the others at my temporary school toured their new junior school I remained in class, as there was no point in me going round there; I wouldn’t be staying much longer.  When I left, they all gave me a card and a story book about dinosaurs.  They’d all signed their names.

When I got home, everyone had broken up for the summer, having presumably had their own chance to tour the new junior school.  On my first day back in September I stood in the playground with very little idea of where I should be going or what I should be doing, because I’d missed the tour in July.

That few weeks away from home seem very strange, looking back, a different world.  I’ve visited my aunt’s house again since, when my eldest son was small, but one day I might go back, walk further up the road and see if I can find the infant school that I once attended for seven weeks, and see how much of it I remember. In fact, I do believe it’s a place I visit occasionally in my dreams.



“Coming to lunch with us?”

Anna hesitated.  She was starving, admittedly, but she usually made a point of avoiding communal dining rooms.  She couldn’t explain why, but they made her feel uneasy.

“Come on, then I can finish telling you about John.”

The other two looked at her expectantly and she shrugged and changed direction, following them towards the dining room.

As she lined up and collected her cutlery she started feeling strange.  There was something lurking in her memory…

She shook it off and moved towards the food, tray in hand, but as the first lady held up a ladle full of food Anna suddenly felt overwhelmed by the sensation of being in a loud room, full of people chattering and cutlery clashing, although in reality the dining room was nearly empty by this point.

She looked at the ladle, then at the dinner lady.  She backed away, shaking her head to try and rid herself of the strange flashbacks.

It had been so long since she had been in this situation, she had all but forgotten what it was like, but now the smell of cabbage and gravy overwhelmed her senses and she just managed to put her tray down on a table before walking rapidly to the door, head down, lost in a world she barely recognised.

She ignored the calls of the other two, almost running out of the door and back to her office.  There she put her head in her hands and sat breathing heavily, trying to shake off the sensations that were drowning her.  She vowed once again to find a hypnotherapist and delve into her past, to find out why ladles and cutlery and communal food brought out these strange non-memories.


 Although my reactions aren’t anywhere near this strong, I do get these strange flashbacks in these situations.  And when I smell creosote too!  Explanations gratefully accepted…


lizardWhen I was little, I was sometimes allowed to take a few pennies and spend them at the sweetshop. We had two shops very near to home, both on corners right opposite the school. One was a general store, the other much more sweets and cigarettes, if I remember right.

The sweet shop had a display of cheap toys as well, and I remember enviously eyeing up a rubber lizard in there once.  I was desperate to have this lizard, for some strange reason, but wasn’t allowed to.  Then one day I was given 5p to spend in the shop, and that was my chance.

I went in the shop, bought a rubber lizard for 5p, took it home proudly – and then stood at the back of the house, looking down at this rubber lizard, that didn’t actually do anything other than look like a rubber lizard, and I burst into tears, thinking of the sweets I could have been enjoying instead.

My father heard me crying, came out to see what was wrong, and when he heard the story he took the lizard from me, disappeared, and a short while later returned with a bag of sweets – he said he had returned the lizard and got sweets instead.

At that point I realised that sometimes when my parents said no they had a good reason, and it wasn’t just to deny me what I wanted, but also to protect me from what I thought I wanted but was actually bad for me.


Water water everywhere

Minor disaster tonight – over the past week we had a new water boiler put in. The old one was in the bathroom, but this one is in the kitchen.  We’re not sure if something got damaged somewhere along the line, but when I pulled the plug out of the kitchen sink tonight the surround came up with it and the pipe underneath fell away, resulting in the sink emptying itself all over the floor.

We cursed and mopped it up, and looked at the plumbing and decided the dishwasher and washing machine would be OK as they join the pipe lower down.

When we finished dinner and took the plates out it was to find a very wet floor – the washing machine had drained out of the pipe and all over the floor.  Mop!

So we now have a nice shiny new boiler to heat our water but we can’t actually use the sink until someone manages to get underneath it tomorrow and reconnects the pipe.



Encouragement works wonders

I took part in my second parkrun today.  For those unfamiliar with it, parkrun is an event that takes place in many locations around the UK and other countries, always at 9am on a Saturday morning.  It’s a free, organised 5k run, on a measured course and with times monitored.

My first run, last week, was on a day with a freezing wind coming straight off the sea that made it hard to breathe.  I wore my jacket all the way round and was glad of it.  The route is two laps along the promenade by the sea, up the slope and back along the downs (grassy area) at the top, and for most of the route I was struggling to catch my breath against the wind.  There are marshals along the route, at various strategic points, and as I trailed round in last place they were all really encouraging.  From just after the 3rd k the marshal joined me for the rest of the route, giving me encouragement and pacing me a little.

There were 105 runners last week, and I came in last, a good two and a half minutes behind the runner in front, with a time of 39.09.  In fact as I passed the finish line at the end of the first lap I was overtaken by the winner who was finishing his second.  There were a couple of points where I decided I was giving up, and would just walk up the slope to the road and back to the car instead of continuing, but somehow my body never carried out those orders and I kept on to the bitter end, and was left with a real sense of achievement, albeit also with aching legs and chest and feeling decidedly shaky.  I was stunned at my time though, as I knew I should easily make it in 50 minutes, hoped to make 45 and expected to make 47.  Problems with a blocked nose made breathing even tougher than normal to start with, and so I spent most of the time walking and watching the pack in front get further and further ahead.

This time the weather was much better, with barely a breeze and a heavy rainfall that stopped miraculously an hour before the start of the race.  I wore a long sleeved top and a new running jacket, but the jacket was discarded very early on and tied round my waist instead.  Hubby drove me and parked along the route, so I didn’t feel so alone either, although the running crowd is all very friendly.

It was the second anniversary of Whitstable parkrun, so there were announcements of award winners in various categories before we started, with awards to be given out at the post-run cafe visit.  Then we went down to the start.  The run was started by Mike Inkster, an ultra marathon runner who once did 180 miles in 36 hours and is planning 3000 miles in 50 days.  I felt much better from the beginning, and was able to keep up with the pack better, although I’m still spending more time walking than running – that rate is definitely improving though!

Again I found all the marshals really encouraging, but what really made my run was Mike Inkster hovering by the steep slope up from the promenade to the downs – he ran up with me, asking if I usually walked or ran up it, encouraging me to keep running but with smaller steps, and then keeping pace with me along the next stretch.  I said it was only my second parkrun, and he said there were millions of people in the country and 120 at the parkrun, so I was already miles in front, and he also said that walking is excellent exercise too.  All this encouragement really helped me to complete the last stretch of the course, and as I got closer another runner came back and ran with me too, all of which helped me pass the finish line at 37 minutes 59 seconds, beating my previous time by 70 seconds and finishing 154 out of 156.

If you run, or are considering taking up running, do look up parkrun and see if there’s a run near you – it really is a good start to the weekend, and I’m already looking forward to the improvements I know will come in my speed, and in clocking up more runs.