January 2021

Sunday 31 January

I wasn’t unhappy to see the back of 2020. I’m even happier to see the end of January 2021. The combination of lockdown, crap weather plus a few health & family issues has made this a most difficult of months.

Keeping this diary has helped though. Will be interesting to look back in future on the various ways we kept ourselves on the rails during this strange time.

For example, in the last couple of days I made it 3 self-propelled return trips between Woodlesford and Meanwood this month. Nice walk up the canal on Friday, then the borrowed car home. Today, returned the car and cycled back. The bike is a useless rustbucket that lives in the shed, only just rideable. The chain came off about 10 times, the gears are stuck at 5th and the tyres only pump up so much. All of which combined to make it a 1hr 25min ride back, 15 minutes longer than it took me to jog last week (OK, there are a couple of runners’ shortcuts as well). Nice change to cycle, and the riverside cycle-path is much improved, but the stretch on the road through Sheepscar and town feels so hazardous. Don’t think I’ll be switching my running shoes for lycra any time soon (good thing too).

Thursday 28 January

“Virtual racing” has been something that has kept us runners motivated throughout COVID. Most commonly, this has involved running a race route on your own and posting your time online. It can also include just going out and running the same distance or height as a well-known challenge, eg Land’s End to John O’Groats, Ben Nevis etc. In January, a few running pals have been going for a “virtual” Pennine Way, and many congrats to Steve, both for achieving the whole distance (270 miles) and for retaining the willing suspension of disbelief throughout.

Reminded me of my own walk of the Way (the real one) with school-friend Jeff, back in 1989, when we were both 16. This had me rummaging through the archives this morning to jog some memories. For whatever reason, I kept a copy of the YHA booking form Mum & Dad must have completed on our behalf. Back then, it was possible to walk the entire Way staying at youth hostels – each roughly 15 miles apart – and you could book the whole thing on one form:

Took us 16 days (we lived near Malham at the time so had one night at home), for a grand total of £186.70, including beds, evening meals, breakfasts and packed lunches for two. Not bad.

Sadly, a number of these hostels (Crowden, Earby, Stainforth, Keld, Baldersdale, Greenhead, Byrness) are now either closed or outside the YHA network (and Mankinholes is really only available for exclusive hire). So you can’t walk the Pennine Way with YHA anymore. You could still theoretically run it while staying at YHAs though, as long as you don’t mind doing it in no more than 10 days, 3 of which would be over 40 miles!

Mind you, it’s actually possible to run it in 2 and half days, as proved by record-breakers Damian Hall and John Kelly last year. They were going after the previous record set by Mike Hartley, which had stood since 23 July 1989. I hadn’t previously twigged this but Mike must have passed Jeff and I somewhere on his run.

On reflection, our parents were clearly very trusting, letting two 16YOs go off into the wilds for a fortnight. As I recall, we did call to say we were OK at payphones en route, although this wasn’t possible every day. I wonder if I would be OK about my own 16YO daughter going off to do the same thing now (COVID permitting), even with phone/internet? Well if I was, she could still use 5 of the exact same OS maps I used, although they might be a little out of date….

Wednesday 27 January

Last 2 days I’ve repeated the trick of 11/12 January, travelling on foot between Woodlesford and Meanwood and “borrowing” the car in between. This time it was running though, which is at least warmer. Weather has continued to be January-foul.

Running through the city not my favourite, but slightly consoled after someone in a more rural area posted this experience on Facebook: Left home, seemed mild, ran uphill to a track with limited kit, track was sheet ice, stopped, turned, hit deck, broke ankle, had to crawl a mile to nearest road. Fortunately had phone so someone was there to collect him, by which time he was absolutely freezing. This was an experienced fellrunner, in fact a Race Organiser. Some obvious lessons there about what to take with you, but also about route selection. Good to be reminded that in January conditions out on a run can be very different to conditions at home, although perhaps less so in the city than the countryside.

Noticed over the weekend that the beeb’s footy coverage included the option of turning off the fake crowd noises, so gave this a try. I much preferred it; after all, there really isn’t anyone there. Also, without the crowd there were fewer histrionics from the players, and the focus was much more on the game itself (normally, you spend as much time watching the crowd as the match). It helped that it was a decent game (3-2); might be really dull for a deadly goalless draw though.

One of my lockdown-coping strategies has been to do at least 1 Codeword puzzle a day. These are the ones where you match a letter to a number in a crossword-style grid. I’m up to puzzle 77 in my book (bought early December, I think). Why I should be so addicted to these I don’t know when, eg, sudokus and crosswords just make my head hurt. Just time to do one now before lunch….

Saturday 23 January

I tried to educate myself about this flood alleviation thing by visiting another spot on the river – Knostrop Weir. This was constructed after the 2015 floods as part of a bigger investment scheme. The weir can be lowered at times of spate to increase the flow and reduce the chance of flooding upstream (ie the city centre). An elegant new footbridge and a mile of new riverside footpath was also constructed, so it’s now an interesting place to visit. On Thursday afternoon the weir had been lowered; by Friday morning back to normal. Although river levels were very high, there was no significant flooding in Leeds this time.

Saturday now and we’re back to a different January weather problem – ice. Puddles hard enough to stand on.

Thursday 21 January

Have indulged in some shameless flood-spotting the last couple of days. The River Aire is just down the road and this morning was as high as I’ve seen it. A mile further downstream is St Aidan’s Nature Reserve which, although managed by RSPB, is also used for flood alleviation. The water is now coming through the floodgates and the reserve is filling up – it can take several trillion gallons, apparently. Paths are mainly puddles and the bits that are visible are mud-baths. Add the wind whipping across the reserve and lashing showers, nature was in its element today.

It was one of those days where taking a photograph was difficult. Firstly, frozen hands. Secondly, the brief moments of sunshine almost inevitably followed by a downpour. 30 seconds after taking this one, I was soaked.

Tuesday 19 January

Snow all gone, and now we are expecting 3 days of heavy rain and possible flooding in Leeds.

With the forecast in mind I got a couple of walks in yesterday. The first, an early morning hour down the canal; the second, a tramp round streets with 16YO. We tried to make it interesting by going to down roads we’d never been along before and seeing where they came out. We ended up sneaking through some flats and arriving somewhere totally unknown, even though we’ve been in the area for 15 years! Reminded me of my 4 months as a postman a few years back, where you get to know every short-cut imaginable.

Survey came back on the house in Keighley, so a bit of progress there.

Sunday 17 January

Friday was clear and sunny, with temps never above freezing, so it was winter wonderland day. There was something quite satisfying about the consistency of this particular batch of snow. It crunched pleasingly as you walked on it but seemed to hold your weight. It was also very good for building. Came across one of the biggest snowmen I’ve ever seen – 3 tiers with onions for buttons. Also, I was able to lift 3 big chunks of icy snow off the wheelie bins and fashion a 7-tier wedding cake/cairn thingy. Ice sculpture quite fun to do really.

Sunday now and just a few patches of ice and gritty slush left.

Thursday 14 January

I had a “perfect storm” of good reasons not to go out of the house today. There is a pandemic on. We are in lockdown – no work, no school. I’ve felt rubbish for the last 2 days. And a bucket-load of snow fell all day.

Well, I did spend most of the day staring out the window, watching the flakes fall…. but nonetheless I poked my head outdoors mid-afternoon. To make a snowman, of course (snow-midget, really). After all, I did have a spare carrot to hand.

As mentioned previously, I got through Lockdown 1 in spring by running around the local area. In Lockdown 2 in November I got into running virtual races (using an orienteering app called MapRun). For Lockdown 3, I again seem to be taking a different approach. I’m not doing any running at all. And quite happy about that for the moment.

Tuesday 12 January

Car back and return walk completed. Leeds city centre was like a ghost town, much of the canal a post-industrial mess and the weather matched the overall gloom. Journeys on foot normally lift my spirits but it was difficult to get too excited about this one. I consoled myself with the thought that things are pretty difficult just now, so must surely get better…

Monday 11 January

I didn’t watch the footy in the end. Went for a walk instead.

Since moving to Woodlesford a year ago, I’ve been meaning to run or walk the 10 miles to Meanwood, where my wife and daughters live (we’ve been in effect 1 household throughout COVID). But the route, being entirely on tarmac, has never grabbed me as a run (I really dislike running on tarmac)…. and the walk leaves you with the awkward question of whether to do another 10 miles home. Anyway, yesterday morning, spur of the moment, I just set off.

There are 2 potential routes, and really it’s a choice of what kind of bad scenery do you want. The slightly shorter way goes along the canal followed by a few miles across the city centre. I chose the longer alternative to the east. A mile along the busy main road out of Woodlesford to start with. Then past the Skelton Grange Landfill Site – this stretch along Newsam Green Road, with the thundering wagons, strewn rubbish and dust from nearby building site could be the most unpleasant half mile walk in Leeds. Things improve as you go through Temple Newsam, with its stately-home-on-a-shoestring-Council-budget feel. Then some dreary estates around Gipton before a final climb up Potternewton Lane. At least there’s some variety I suppose.

Two and a half hours to speed-march the 10 miles. At least it was warm enough to walk today (just). Later on, I pleaded fading light and convinced Kirsty to lend me her car for the return journey, promising to return it in the morning. So, a likely walk back along the canal tomorrow.

Sunday 10 January

Yesterday afternoon spent pulling 10YO daughter around icy streets on the sledge. Many years ago we attached a skipping rope to a tea tray-style sledge…. and that has been our snowy mode of transport ever since. Even though pulling a 10YO is quite different to pulling a 3YO. But you have to do these things when the snow is there – temps to rocket to 8 celsius tomorrow, so thaw is coming.

By means of recovery later I may even sit and watch a footy match on the “telly” (ie – computer, haven’t owned a telly for years). Sad confession but I haven’t watched a match, either live or on screen, since the 2018 World Cup. Been gradually drifting away from the game for some time, and the lockdown-version – with fake crowd noises, cardboard fans etc – just seems beyond ridiculous. Or maybe it’s just that my team are crap these days.

There is potentially an interesting game on today though – non-league Marine at home v Spurs in the FA Cup. I’ve been to Marine a couple of times (it’s in Crosby on Merseyside, where my wife is from). You come into the ground at one end, where the main (ie only) stand is. Down one side of the ground is a kind of covered walkway, like the one you push your trolley along on the way out of Sainsburys. This leads to a small standing terrace at the other end, which is as far as you can get, as the other side is out of bounds (just a row of back gardens). Watching footy here reminds you how physical the game can be, and how seeing it on the telly or in a big stadium rather sanitises the reality of those full-blooded challenges….

Of course there won’t be anyone there today, and perhaps it’s a shame that home fans won’t get to see their team’s big day in the flesh. Saying that, in normal times these games often get switched to another venue, whether for logistical or financial reasons. So we may after all get to see Gareth Bale jump over a garden fence to retrieve a lost ball. Just hope Marine put on a good showing and don’t get too humiliated.

Actually, I tell a lie in that I did watch a full 90 minutes last month…. albeit from 34 years ago. After Maradona died they put the “Hand of God” game from 1986 on the iplayer – I hadn’t seen it in full since, and it was a fascinating watch. Felt like being belatedly presented with primary evidence proving that a guilty verdict in a crime was in fact false. The well-worn myth is that only cheating-Maradona denied England their deserved place in the World Cup semi-final. The reality was…. that for 80 minutes England were utterly hopeless, but Diego was on another planet throughout – you’d struggle to find a better individual performance in any match. The way he toyed with England’s hapless defence and midfield actually rather comic. His magnificent second goal a far better reflection of his overall play than his notorious (but admittedly very well-disguised) opener. 2-0 to Argentina was a fair reflection of things going into the last 10 minutes…. when John Barnes finally put together a couple of mazy runs which pulled a goal back for England and another near miss (who remembers Argentina hitting the post in between?). Says much for England’s tactics that Barnes was on the bench for most of the game and only came on for the final 20 minutes. The final score of 2-1 really flattered England. But time has allowed us to delude ourselves….

Saturday 9 January

Finally managed a decent trip out of the house, after several days hibernating. Only a morning walk across Springhead Park to Morrison’s and back, but given that it was minus 3 and an ice rink it felt like an adventure.

Reflected that only a year ago a few hundred folk (including me, potentially) would have gathered in the park at 9am on a Saturday morning for parkrun. Unthinkingly – out of habit, part of the comforting routine. Running this morning would have been madness on that surface, but we’d have turned up anyway. Perhaps it’s good to be shaken out of our predictable behaviours sometimes.

The sub-zero temperatures have been with us about 2 weeks now, and I can feel my brain freezing up likewise. I don’t think I’m the only one. On a couple of the running forums I follow on Facebook, people have been getting into heated debates about proposed changes to various rules of racing. The elephant in the room is that there are no races, and won’t be for months. I guess people need to find some kind of outlet for exercising their minds.

At least it’s forecast to get a little warmer from tomorrow. My “Midwinter Break” from running continues…., but it would still be good to see some daylight. Otherwise, I’m quite comfortable about lockdown and staying at home. The combination of Christmas and the new varients has seen COVID figures rise sharply, and worryingly.

Thursday 7 January

Woke to news of just another day in the World’s Greatest Democracy.

A quality day of full lockdown. Several cups of tea. Scrolling through the phone. Listening to Spotify. Couple of phone calls. Staring out the window. Just a few more weeks (or months) of this to go.

I did have a short walk down to the canal, which was partially iced over. Haven’t been for a run for 10 days – a long gap for me – but haven’t wanted to. Cold weather, icy surfaces, short days, stiff legs, the state of the world…. no motivation. But it is good to have a break from time to time, and now is as good as any.

Snow forecast tonight. Will begin to warm up from Sunday, apparently.

Wednesday 6 January

Been trying to mentally prepare for the lockdown weeks ahead – 6 minimum, but probably more. A “big idea” helped me get through the first lockdown last spring – exploring for miles around Woodlesford on foot. Well, been there & done that and the weather’s just too grim now to repeat. Perhaps something similar will come up…. or maybe it’s just a case of taking it 1 day/1 week at a time.

Tuesday 5 January

Have spent the last day or two with my younger daughter (10). A few local walks, games of cards, perhaps a bit too much Minecraft. Likely to be the way of it for several weeks now that schools are closed.

Lockdown 3 comes as no surprise and in many ways I’m quite relieved. It’s easier to plan & prepare when you know what the rules are. And with the vaccine now on the horizon it does feel like there may be a way out of COVID, eventually. Compare with the continual chopping and changing of 2020, and the hubris of politicians, employers etc trying to keep up a pretence of normality.

Will mean fewer trips out for runs & walks though. Saying that I’m still achy from Friday’s walk, so presently I’m not too bothered.

Sunday 3 January

A morning drive out to Keighley, to go and have another look at the house I’m in the process of buying. Just in case it’s decided to walk off or get itself demolished over Christmas, that sort of thing. Reassuringly, it’s still there, the only difference being that the board outside now says SOLD. Completion day is still a way off though – house buying always a complicated process, even more so during COVID.

The house is 50 yards up a hill from the main road along the valley bottom. I didn’t want a house that could get flooded… nor one inaccessible in snow and ice. The road today was slippery, so I was comforted to know you could park on the main road OK and walk up. Let’s hope that isn’t the case on moving-in day. Nice to see a bit of snow on the hills from the front door as well.

Saturday 2 January

Everything ached this morning after yesterday’s mini-adventure. Perhaps fortunately, the decision of what to do with the day taken out of my hands by fresh snowfall in Woodlesford. So pretty much a duvet day.

Not that snow makes any difference to a familiar scene across the road from me – the seemingly permanent queue outside the chip shop. It’s difficult to be objective about Farndale’s chippy. The grub is absolutely fine…. but the queues are totally out of proportion. Perhaps more a reflection of stubborn habits than take-away excellence. If I go, I generally try to pick a moment mid-afternoon when you can quickly nip in and out.

I re-read a Guardian article I’d picked up on a few weeks ago, about the 1971 Ibrox Disaster, which was 50 years ago today (66 fans died in a crush on an exit stairway at the end of a Rangers v Celtic match). Before Christmas I’d also got out of the library the autobiography of Irvine Smith – the sheriff in the 1973 test case – which included a chapter on his judgement…. and I also caught a BBC programme. Sad to reflect not just on the tragedy itself, but also that its lessons didn’t prevent the football disasters of the 1980s, which so affected my generation. Poignantly, Rangers played Celtic today at Ibrox, in an empty stadium.

Friday 1 January

Good start to the new year. Like many I imagine, my sleep pattern has been all over the place in 2020. But last night, mercifully, went to bed at 10.30 and woke at 7.30. Didn’t even hear any fireworks at midnight.

New Year’s Day means I’ve been at my house in Woodlesford exactly a year. When I took the tenancy out last Jan, I didn’t think I’d stay beyond the initial 6 months. Such has been 2020.

Elder daughter (16) was staying over, and had asked me to get her up at 9am, so we could have a trip out. In true teenage fashion, we were out the door at 11.30.

The weather has been pretty brutal this week – sub-zero temps and a layering of snow and ice. Combined with the short days (as well as everything else just now), it’s a pretty demanding time of year. Saying that, it’s still important to get out, and if you can take in some invigorating snowy scenes, all the better.

So my plan this morning was to drive to Windy Hill, ie the top of the M62, and have a short walk along the Pennine Way. 40 minutes drive from home, on a road you can guarantee has been gritted. And not leaving Tier 3 West Yorkshire at any point, as the PW goes along the old county boundary.

The journey turned out fine – not much snow until we neared the top, and the car thermom. had us at 2 celsius as we pulled into the layby. Hat, scarves and gloves on and onto the track towards the trig point on White Hill, less than a mile distant and not much of a climb. After being stuck inside for a few days, an immediate sense of heady space. Clear views in all directions – the towers of central Manchester just visible through a distant haze; the immense monument on Stoodley Pike a black spot against the white, 10 miles north. The path in good condition – baked hard into crispy snow, so no falling into icy puddles or mud. A few other folk out, but not too many, which was reassuring.

10 minutes in though (about halfway to the top) the wind chill really began to bite – felt more like minus 5 – so a little bit of jogging and clapping hands to keep things moving. Both OK to continue and we got to the trig for the inevitable summit selfies, but were glad to put the phones away after no more than a minute. Straight back down and to the car in 20 more minutes. Good plan to bring the flask! 40 mins in total then, which was plenty in those conditions. A good reminder not to stray too far from base when it’s like this.

Home via Halifax for fish and chips. In another life, I fancy myself as West Yorkshire’s “Chippy Critic”, so here’s my review of Mother Hubbard’s in King’s Cross: On a previous visit, I’d got discombobulated by their £10 minimum charge for card payments (their fault), and the fact that the cashpoint opposite was out of order (not their fault). Today a much happier experience. They were open for a start, unlike every other chippy in Calderdale it seemed. The cashpoint was working (!). I was wished a cherry HNY and didn’t have to wait. And the F&Cs were excellent. Don’t always judge a place on a single visit.