Adam Bird


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Monday, 30 April 2012

Case Study (Part 5) -

King's Church Medway

It has been nearly two months since I wrote the last part of my series of case studies looking at the project I am currently working on for King’s Church Medway. I’m pleased to say that those two months have not been wasted. We have the skeletal bones of the websites and creative ideas in place, we have a launch date in mind and all hands are on deck adding gloss to make sure that the final products are something that I and more importantly the church can be proud of. With that in mind, I thought that now would be the ideal opportunity to talk about copy.

A website generally has many levels of engagement. You have the ‘bouncer’s’; those visitors who have hit your website by mistake and immediately leave. You have those who arrive at the correct destination, but leave shortly afterwards as the site on first view just doesn’t do it for them. There are people who then arrive to be nosey, looking around the website, looking at the pictures and videos with no real aim in getting something from it - the website content is hopefully interesting enough to keep them amused before they leave and return at some point possibly in the future.

You then have people who have a genuine interest, in something specific. They know about your business, but need to get an answer to one of their questions. Depending upon how long it takes them to find what it is they are looking for you have their attention, before they leave and return again sometime in the future for a similar purpose.

Finally, you have those users who have come across your website with an open mind and sit, read, digest everything before making an informed decision upon whether or not to take that engagement further.

The list above is by no means exhaustive, afterall, we are all individual and all have different needs. We all use the internet in a way that suits us and the information garnered is uniquely digested.

For the three sites that we are currently building we already have a definitive user base that doesn’t fit into any of the types above; that of the church congregation which will use the websites for an entirely different purpose.

In an agency environment we have a highly skilled and knowledgeable team of planners, who look at the makeup of any potential visitor and create a series of persona’s which build up an idea of the type of character who is going to visit the website. The design, user experience and copy is aimed at those people and success is measured by levels of engagement - how long have people stayed on the site for, how many interactions have they made, how many transactions have they completed and so on.

As an organisation King’s Church Medway doesn’t have those resources, so a lot of what we are doing is educated guesswork. I’m working alongside Joel Buckland, a Media Content Producer so together our experience is being used collaboratively for guidance. How we envisage the websites working are as online brochures that show the respective strengths of the three key areas and tell people who don’t yet know about them who they are and most importantly share the good work that they do.

By adding a social layer on top of that, the church congregation can get involved with the respective areas that they have interest in via Twitter, via YouTube and the blossoming community pages of Facebook.

Taking each site in turn, I’d like to look at the style of copy required, the potential areas in which stories can be told via the medium of blog posts and how to use copy to make the website universal to all that come across each site - irrespective of what they arrive originally looking for, or background, in order to help drive engagement.

Kings Church Medway

The main role of the King’s Church Website is to inform people within Medway of what happens inside the four walls of their church building on any given Sunday. Why are they there, what do they do and more importantly, why as a visitor would I want to visit and ultimately give my life to God?

How do you sell that idea and whilst still getting the message across?

By showing!

Interesting video content, relevant imagery and text that is welcoming and friendly. Using King’s Church Medway in the collective sense “we do this, we are, we have, we believe and we feel this way” in a manner that isn’t too scripture oriented and forceful will enforce that feeling of community and belonging.

Fundamentally we are working with a place of worship, with those people in attendance having a strong belief and understanding of biblical text and scripture. A careful balance has to be taken into consideration when writing copy for the website. Too much scripture and forceful evangelism can be detrimental if the visitors to the site are curious and looking to take their first steps into Christianity. But on the reverse of that, by omitting it altogether, fully educated Christians looking for a church in the area will notice a definite lacking in spiritual atmosphere.

On the homepage we have a warm welcoming message from the Pastor, with a brief introduction and the visitors as they make their way through the site are guided into the various aspects of church life. The About Us page, the Locations and Times page and all those that provide visitor information need to contain just that - Information. The what, the when and how. Nothing else is needed. Whereas the areas describing worship, scripture, prayer and the all important introduction to Jesus for those who ask “who is he?” can be slightly more focussed with suitable references from the bible - but alongside a qualified explanation as to what the biblical text is saying.

My message is - showcase that spirit, the atmosphere and sense of community that is prevalent whenever I enter the building. Those people who want to learn about Christianity and to worship alongside those that do will, in a suitable environment - namely Sundays sat in front of people who preach with passion and enthusiasm, something that is difficult to convey simply with the written word on a website. It is getting them comfortably into that environment in the first place which is the most crucial action to achieve.

If I may use an example, a recent FAQ that was written for inclusion into the site:

Q) Do you do Christenings?
A) No. As we are a Bible believing and following church we understand that as the Bible does not lend itself to Christening but to 'full immersion water baptism'.

The answer itself, is quite blunt and comes across in a matter of fact way. From that answer, you can immediately conjure up a string of alternative questions. “Hey, I was Christened as a child, does this mean it is invalid?”, “Why does the Church of England Christen people then?” or something along those lines.

I’ve actually edited the answer below, softening the tone slightly whilst trying to combat those responsive questions.

No, unfortunately we don’t. We use the Bible as our guide and follow the scripture contained. We understand as stated within the scripture that to be Baptised in Christ is to be 'fully immersed in water'. Learn more about baptism, and the biblical references which explain this in more detail here. (with a relevant link to the right area of the website).

Be friendly, be warm, be welcoming and be considerate to the fact that not everyone is on the same spiritual wavelength and could be fazed by facing an immediate onslaught of quoted references. Or worse still, be put off by blunt, inconsiderate responses.

Kings Church Medway, is a lot more than what happens on a Sunday. LOTS of things are happening on a daily basis, with many members of the congregation joining in, whether it be social activities or something a little more philanthropic - things that so far have gone unnoticed. What we have now is a platform which will allow those endeavours to ‘get out there’ and tell people just what it is that the church members are doing.

By adding blog content these stories can be created, shared and used as tools for subtle evangelism.

I may not have a deep religious understanding myself, but I have read books such as Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz and The Cross and The Switchblade by David Wilkerson. Both of these are true accounts of how those authors found Christ and eventually ended up evangelizing the Word of God to people in rough and difficult environments. Neither of which contained much in the way of heavy scripture, but both were told with honesty and conviction that resonated with those who read them and have the power to change the minds of even the most stubborn.

Every member of the church has a story to tell. How they found God and how their life at King’s Church Medway has empowered them as Christians. The stories don’t need to be heavy, just reflective of the truth with honesty and conviction.

Likewise, the other blog that we have implemented is to cover all of the events that happen on a weekly or monthly basis. A Men’s Breakfast with a Guest Speaker for example. A blog will be posted with the times and the details, but follow up blogs can be added under the same stream. Who is the guest speaker, what will he be discussing, why has he been chosen? And afterwards, what was the reaction, how did it go, was his message relevant and did anything good come out of it?

It all adds to a sense of community, belonging to something and doing something great.

Slowly over time, a truer reflection of the church and its people will be built up fostering a greater relationship with the people of Medway and beyond. The work itself is great, but it is selling it out in a way that people can relate to and be inspired to become involved.

Caring Hands in the Community

Homelessness is a worldwide issue and is something that will never go away. But whilst people such as King’s Church Medway operate endeavours such as Caring Hands in the Community homeless people will always have a helping hand.

The role of the Caring Hands in the Community website is simple. To educate people in the issues that ANYONE can face, what it is doing to those who are facing it and what you as an individual or organization can do to help.

The question that is less simple; how is that message put across?

I had a conversation with a colleague in the pub on Friday night, he edits videos for the agency and so I thought he’d be interested in hearing about Joel’s work for the website I’ve been working on. I explained a little bit about the background and was really interested when I told him that it was for a homeless charity. He said himself that he does stuff in London for homeless people and it means something to him, but when I mentioned that it was a Christian endeavour he rolled his eyes and said “Oh, Christians!”.

Whether that response is a measure of general Christian persecution I really couldn’t tell you - but it is a response that is not helpful. Considering the work that the people at Caring Hands in the Community do, I find it rather unfair that people’s spiritual beliefs should take precedence.

The Caring Hands in the Community copy was always going to be very different to the church in any case. A more formal, a more structured tone of voice is required. Consideration needs to be made for the issues that people face, with a sympathetic and understanding tone that isn’t judgemental or based on political opinion. By being neutral in the causes and effects of the problems people face, the website will hopefully reach out to anyone who wishes to help regardless of faith, of political persuasion and social background.

The about us page should emphasis the background of the charity, the links to the church and that the management team are full time members of King’s Church Medway which actively guides the ethos of the organisation - but remind visitors that help and assistance is welcome from anyone regardless of faith. Afterall, it is the people that need help that will benefit the most from a positively engaged website.

All the other pages should detail in facts, cover the information that people are interested in. How they can help and what it is that Caring Hands in the Community do each day. Scripture shouldn’t necessarily be required - if people want to understand the motivation behind the organisation, send them off to the church website which should cover all of that and much more besides.

Finally, as with the King’s Church Medway Blog, the Caring Hands in the Community website will be provided with a communication platform that allows stories to be told. Whilst much of the blog content will be more formal; a review of day to day happenings, a journalistic style report of Police, or outside organisation visits and outcomes from those meetings, which will act as a nice contrast to the stories of clients that have visited and shared with members of the team.

Some stories will be sad, in fact they will be damn right depressing. But what is more depressing than a story left untold? If one person reads it and makes a donation or volunteers to help off the back of it then it will be all worthwhile. Other stories may well be uplifting and will possibly restore people’s faith in humanity let alone God - again making that investment all the more worthwhile - and justifiable.

Light the Way

The Light the Way website, although smaller in anticipated user base has probably the widest target demographic. When King’s Church Medway go overseas on one of their missions, they “Light the Way” and have done for the past few years via the Philippines, India and have already scheduled Guyana for sometime next year.

It is for those very reasons that we can expect people from all over the world to visit the Light the Way website.

Just as homelessness is an issue that blights society, some of the projects that the Light the Way team have been involved in have changed lives for people who miss the things that we take for granted.

Working with specific charities, it is an opportunity to celebrate those partnerships. Who have we worked with? How did they help us, how did we help them? There is no shortage of achievement to be proud of and to shout about - such as the installation of solar panels, rebuilding school classrooms, installation of fresh drinking water facilities. Just a few of the achievements that the team have listed to date!

As a visitor to the website you’ll also want to know to where they have been, how they got there, what did they do when they arrived and how was their involvement measured in terms of legacy for the people they left behind.

Most importantly, how can I help next time around - better still, can I take part?

Whilst there are elements of the website that need to be written respectively, just like the site above when discussing the issues that people face, there is a chance for a spot of light heartedness. Organisation of these trips takes time and effort and a sense of humour is occasionally needed, but the team that go, go with a sense of camaraderie and companionship with the knowledge that they are going to better the lives of many.

Let people know that they are more than welcome to join in, take part, make a change themselves, but in the full knowledge that they are going on a Christian sponsored ministry and with that comes certain responsibilities, even if that faith isn’t quite shared.

Just like Caring Hands in the Community there are stories that need to be told surrounding peoples circumstances, but there are also stories to tell as tourists, such as finding yourself in Manila, or India and not understanding the language and how that barrier was overcome. Lost bags, misunderstandings and even drive-by robberies, all things that can happen to tourists irrelevant of the reason behind their visits.

The main thing again is honesty and showing a true reflection of the work that is being done and what it means to be a part of a worthwhile cause. Inspire someone to take part as these opportunities don’t come along often, or are often exclusive - whereas “Light the Way” is open to all.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Digitally Disconnecting


Last week I wrote about the family and our Easter break in Cornwall. What I didn’t mention at the time was how I’d spent the entire week digitally disconnected, or as I’d left it on Facebook “Adam is Rebooting”. What this meant was, one whole week, no laptop. no Internet, no phone, no iPad, no nothing at all. Question is now, how on earth did I cope?

I have a little line of copy on the banner of this site, proclaiming myself as something of a digital evangelist. What I mean by this, is that I believe strongly in the Internet, that it is a tool for empowering people and that by making use of it productively, can improve peoples lives by a) giving them access to opportunity or b) providing a platform to communicate. Why then would I want to leave it all behind?

The truth is, so far during this calendar year, I’ve been working pretty much nonstop on either the King’s Church Medway project, work in general or another one of the projects that has landed on me and taken up some of my time. Whilst I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it, there has been the inevitable sacrifice along the way, which in this case has meant a lack of quality time with Mrs B and the children.

During the week, I can work whenever I want. By the time I get home, the children are in bed, or are just on their way so I take them up, read Oliver a story and carry on working afterwards until I’ve eventually had enough. This was the same concept that served me so well last year when I was writing in my spare time.I nearly completed a novel which still has a working title of “The Bicycle Man” and been growing virtual mothballs ever since, something else which has also been sacrificed.

Sundays are generally free days, no football, no visiting, no nothing very much, so I’ve been working as and when I can. When Oliver comes in the room and wants something from me, I either have to tell him “No, Daddy is working”, or I have to do what he wants, but apply a time limit so I can get back to what it is that I’m doing - which ultimately isn’t really fair, even if he does get the benefits from the rewards of my time.

With all that in mind, I made the decision to switch off everything. So that whilst we were on holiday and Oliver asked me to play football with him, I could. If he wanted me to watch him as he drew a picture, I could without asking him how long it was going to be until he finished. Of an evening I could sit with Stephanie and enjoy a glass of wine and generally relax.

I realise that my circumstances might sound a bit extreme and they are, I’ve never had anything like it and we’ve kind of adjusted to me being so busy. It has helped that Stephanie has been on maternity leave as the scenario would be much different if she was still working. But the truth be told, being without a phone; didn’t bother me. Being without a laptop, I hardly missed it, ditto for iPad and all the other bits and pieces we (or perhaps I) assume to be necessities of a modern life.

Granted, as a family we still needed to use them. Stephanie used her map application on her phone to direct as we navigated some of the unfamiliar roads. She also checked in on Facebook and uploaded photographs, whilst Mum used to her phone to make arrangements with her sister so that we could meet up.

All in all though, apart from checking my pockets and thinking “I’ve lost my phone!” on the first few days, being without proved to be no hardship. I didn’t tremble and suffer anxiety attacks at being so far away from my Internet enabled gadgets. I didn’t break out in a cold sweat because I couldn’t update my status, or send a tweet in response to something I’d just seen or had just happened!

We never had this conundrum when we were young, we had holidays without such superficial worries that it actually sounds quite ridiculous when you think about it!

So although I still believe in technology and the awesome power of the Internet, I’ve had a lovely little wake up call. That to be able to communicate via the medium of the web effectively, you need to be able to communicate first with your family. To make that a better experience and to enjoy it fully, switch off the distractions, the world won’t stop and there is nothing that can’t be turned on again afterwards.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Cornwall Delights

Cornwall delights

What happens when you get a group of six adults, six children and a five month old baby into three cars and travel for five hours across two-hundred and ninety miles to spend seven whole days filled with fun and frolics? You get one broken down vehicle, one irate nurse, six hyper children, six tired adults, twelve pairs of sand-filled shoes, one half-drowned three year old boy and one glorious, mesmerising sunset - and that was just the first day!

Firstly, as is always the case with blogs of this type, I make no apologies for the length and the amount of waffle that spews from my keyboard. Afterall, this is a personal blog which accounts for the mundane and uninteresting events of a mundane and uninteresting life, so that when I’m old and more senile than I already am I can look back at these things with some form of guidance and hopefully add a bit colour to what will one day be black and white memories.

Anyhow, I shall begin... When Mum and Dad invited us to spend a week with them at a cottage in Cornwall, along with my sister, her husband and their four children, Stephanie and I jumped at the chance. Oliver gets on really well with his cousins, it was the Easter break and well - we all like a holiday!

Dad originally sold it to us as the “traditional family beach holiday”, meaning long, lazy days on the sands with a picnic, a bucket and spade, digging holes that go to Australia and hunting for the exotic in the surrounding rock pools whilst climbing up cliff-faces at the behest of a nervous mother. However, with it being barely April we were always at the mercy and had to make do with whatever the Great British weather had in store for us - not that we were fussed either way.

We made the choice to start off ridiculously early, at 4am on the Saturday, which suited me as I saw the benefits of making the most of the clear roads. Anyone who knows me, will vouch that I’m not the most reliable person first thing in the morning and so it proved to be the case once again! This time however, it was not my fault! An excited Oliver, who somehow ended up in our bed during the night, was awoken by our alarm clock and thought he’d be doing us all a huge favour by turning it off!

It wasn’t until an hour later when Dad rang to see how far we’d got that we realised we hadn’t got very far at all!

Pandemonium then ensued as we raced around playing catch-up. Oliver washed, dressed, and brushed his teeth in record time and strapped himself, along with his suitcase into the car, long, long before I had even registered we were running late. He sat there quite patiently, alone in the dark, parked car until I eventually strapped myself in and waited for Stephanie to gather one last thing - a blissfully sleeping Phoebe who was oblivious to the carnage going on around her!

We had one very excited little boy on our hands and so we steadied ourselves for a barrage of questions and the inevitable “are we nearly there yet?” Instead, Oliver’s excitement and the early morning hour beat him - well and truly. He fell fast asleep before we’d even reached the motorway!

Heading off early, we made great progress, arriving at The Jamaica Inn on the edge of Bodmin Moor by nine-thirty. Us four had already eaten, but we wanted to rendezvous and what better place to meet up with everyone than on the edge of the Moor with a backdrop of wind, horizontal rain and skies as menacing as the signs depicting pirates and smugglers that dotted the walls of the historical old pub?

We weren’t due to pick up the keys to our holiday cottage until 4pm, so we had plenty of time to kill. Mum, with her guidebook in tow suggested a nearby country park that had an indoor playcentre if the rain got too much. Except we didn’t quite make it, Jessica’s car was making all sorts of wrong noises and things weren’t looking too great. We decided instead to make the rest of the journey to Perranporth and hope that her car made it along with us.

Now there is something strangely magnetic about the ocean. It has drawn people to it since the dawns of time and much has been written, based upon the inspiration it can manifest inside the soul of a man. Or if you are three, your name is Elijah and you’ve been couped up inside a car for five hours it can draw you closer, so close in fact that it forces leave of all your senses and you end up half naked paddling around in your trousers whilst the adults around you are wearing thermals underneath their hats and scarfs.


So then, we’d finally found the beach! We had indeed arrived safely and fortunately for those travelling with Jessica - in one piece. Jessica’s car had bravely made it which allowed the boys their first opportunity to do what boys do, dig holes with their hands and venture into the water with their clothes still on! The girls cartwheeled and wrote their names in the sand, whilst us adults admired the scenery and watched the surfers who rode the waves all along the vast stretch of golden Perranporth sands. Ah bliss!

With such an early start, lunchtime began to feel like teatime and the Jamaica Inn was somewhere long since past. We headed for The Wateringhole, a fantastic sports bar directly on the beach itself which served a vast range of gut-busting meals which would satisfy the hungriest of surfer, or on that particular occasion, all of the fat birds which had spent the last three months dieting!

Soon enough, Paris and Elijah fell asleep, Paris being under the weather and Elijah no doubt related to the comedown from the burst of excitement which led him into the Atlantic earlier that day. Mum, James and I head out onto the sand dunes behind the bar and enjoyed watching the children running around and exploring the dips and running through the reeds that grow in the area. Oliver fell over again (as he tends to do), which was another “hilariously funny, but Daddy really shouldn’t laugh, oh dear too late” moments that I’ve been ashamed of in the past. His whole face was a mess of sand which to his credit, he managed to brush off without much fuss and carry on running around as nothing had happened at all.

If Oliver had managed to brush himself off after getting knocked down, I wish I could say the same for Jessica’s car. As we drove out of Perranporth in convoy, Jessica’s car gave up the ghost whilst sat stationary at a zebra crossing in the High Street. The Bird/Shovelar clan had truly arrived! A sleepy seaside village awoken to the sounds of a backfiring car and James with his “cheers bruv” gratitude to a local chap who helped try and bump start the car without much success.

Whilst Jessica was parked haphazardly on the road, I thought I’d better make myself a little more inconspicuous, so I pulled into a car park on my left, turned around and stopped at the entrance so that if Jessica got going again I could easily follow. As I sat and watched my Dad (who has since joined in on the action) try and start Jessica’s car for her, I see a head pop in my window “You’ve been caught” she said to me, a nurse of some description.

“I’m sorry?” I replied

“That black camera up there has your number plate and you’ll be getting a letter from us”

By now, I’m really lost and Stephanie is too. “I’ve just turned around, my sisters vehicle has broken down and I’m getting out of the way” I said, thinking that if I explain what is happening, she’ll say no worries and be back on her horrible little way.

“That black camera has your number plate and I’m not saying that you will, but you’ll get a letter from us. You are not allowed to park here unless you are visiting a patient”

I was still lost, I’d arrived in a parallel universe and trying to work out a form of escape. Stephanie started ranting at her which convinced me more than anything that this person must be slightly weird or a jobsworth of the highest degree. I’d already had the hump with another local who had parked her Landrover and got out of the vehicle in the exact same place I was standing to cross the road with the pushchair and now this crazy nurse women on top! I began to wonder just where the hell we had come for the week!

With luck, before Stephanie got out of the car and gave the women a chinese burn Dad managed to get Jessica’s car working again! This allowed us to pull out and get away without a sorry, thank you or goodbye. But didn’t stop us moaning about her all the way up the hill and into the tiny hamlet of Rose which housed our beautiful cottage for the week.

As we unpacked and bagsied the right bedrooms, James is on the phone to the recovery people and the kids are making new discoveries. Every cupboard is opened, digested and anything fun is removed to be played with amidst a maelstrom of noise and screams of “I saw it first”, “Daddy, tell blah I had it before they did” and the usual “It’s not fair”. The only time the noise ceased was when they all found the bath in the family bathroom. To be fair to the children, all of the adults got slightly excited as well, but to give you an idea how big it was. All six of my parents grand-children fit into it quite comfortably, with room possibly for their two children as well (which would have been most uncomfortable - on many levels).

Such fun the children had that first night in the bath together, the exciting size of it and the powerful jets that created bubbles and “bit you on the bum” that for the rest of the week, when we asked Oliver what he wanted to do next, his reply was always “go back to the cottage and have a bath”. Life, children and such simple, simple pleasures!

Now that the kids were washed and ready for bed after a long day, it was time for the grown ups to sit back, enjoy a beer, maybe a class of chilled wine or perhaps a cider seeing as we were in Cornwall. Such decisions are easy for James, my brother-in-law, who likes nothing more than kicking back of an evening away with a nice, cold beer.

Except that there was still one problem. The car which had blown up quite spectacularly earlier that day had now been looked at by a local roadside recovery team. It needed to go into a garage for some R&R and Jessica and James were to be given a courtesy car for however long it took to repair. The only snag was, they didn’t have any automatic vehicles. Jessica, being a terrible driver decided that the easiest way to pass her test was to minimise the amount of thinking time, whilst James needed to pass the manual driving test so that he could drive a work van. Why then the big fuss? Well James hadn’t, at that point driven a manual vehicle since passing his test, two months ago and now that he was forced into driving, it meant that he needed to stay off the booze in order to keep a clean head!

With Mum, Jessica and Stephanie busy with the bags and putting the children to bed and Dad quite happy with his pint of ale it was left to me to guide James home and fly by the seat of my pants as he attempted to drive this strange (to him) vehicle back across roads that neither of us had seen before. To his very credit, the guy did extremely well and although you could see he was new to the road, there wasn’t any cause for worry or concern - at least not from me.

On our way back, we headed west, directly into the setting sun. We could see that the sky was now clear and was convinced we were looking at an Ibiza style sunset. Once back at the cottage, I rounded up anyone who would listen, whoever was available and we head off back in the car, down the hill again and onto the beach where none of us watching were left disappointed.

It wasn’t quite as spectacular as what we witnessed on the White Isle that night, but it was still damn good. It didn’t quite carry the emotive response either, but seeing the sun set in the west over Perranporth beach is still one of the must see experiences of any Cornwall holiday. We were lucky, we had three good nights down at the beach where each time the sun departed against a different palette of colours that just like the ocean get the soul thinking about stuff that would normally never enter your head.

After a very long, tiring and activity fueled first day, you’d have thought that we’d take it a little easier during the next, but as it was Easter Sunday the children woke up bright and early, fully excited about an impromptu easter egg hunt which was played out rather well in the grounds of our cottage, there wasn’t a single fight, slap or argument during the whole game!

Inspired by Dad’s “beach holiday” vision, Stephanie and I were given the map and told to lead the way in our miniature three car convoy. We knew that we wanted to head down eventually to St Ives, but how we got there was entirely up to us.

First stop along the road was a place called St Agnes, famed for being the only place left in Cornwall with an operational Tin Mine. Whilst that fact is interesting and quite possibly something for us to discover another day, our mission was to hit the beach and let the kids run wild. Which they did, again. Elijah, had obviously not got his fascination for the sea out of his system, headed straight towards it, fully clothed, where he got an obligatory soaking. Layla spent the entire time writing essays discussing the harsh realities of being ten with a stick in the sand. According to Layla she is too old to be a child, but according to her Mum and Dad she is too young to be considered an adult - caught it would seem, between a rock and a very hard place!

In fact, it was the rock around St Agnes that made the little village so very appealing. Whilst you had a wide flat beach, the rocks, which were accessible at the time due to the tide being out played host to all of us at one point, clambering over, looking for, but failing miserably to find any crab or something slightly crustaceous to scare the kids or put into a pot.

Fun at St Agnes!

After a couple of hours we were back on the road, down to St Ives via Portreath and Hell’s Mouth which is a scenic spot overlooking a horseshoe expanse of cliff-face. We all stopped and got out the car for a peep over the edge, some feeling braver than others. If I had been on my own, with just Stephanie I would have been far more relaxed, but with Oliver with me and his minimal sense of danger I spent most of the time trying to secure his hand and telling him not to move! Later that night, whilst trying to sleep I had terrible visions of alternative scenarios which hasn’t done anything to relax or sooth my runaway mind.

Once back inside the relative safety of our car we could make our way down the coast once again to St Ives, a place which we were all hoping to bump into the man with seven wives. To our dismay, we didn’t find him, them, nor the assortment of cats, sacks and kits which they are alleged to be carrying, but left later that day charmed by what a wonderful town St Ives really is.

Dad informed us throughout the day that St Ives is one of the very few, if not the only place in the UK that has both and east and west facing beaches, which despite the weather were full of surfers and families enjoying the views, eating fish and chips whilst watching the world go by. We spent the afternoon on foot, walking the winding cobbled streets, viewing some of shops and peering in the art galleries at some of the paintings on show. The kids (and not so little ones) spent half hour rolling down the hill that lead towards the headland and the central point between the two beaches.

If you asked Oliver what his highlight of that day was, it would be the bubblegum ice-cream that came out in the brightest, most luminous blue you have ever seen. After he’d worked his way through it, he managed to turn blue his tongue, half his face and much to Stephanie’s annoyance, his jumper, t-shirt and most of his coat! If you find yourself walking along St Ives harbour, keep an eye out for the ice-cream shop about half way along - some of the flavours are absolutely delicious, including a chilli and lime concoction which burns and cools at exactly the same time.

So far we’d be fairly fortunate with the weather, it had been a little overcast, but the sun had shone throughout both days, so you can imagine our disappointment when we woke up to torrential rain on the Monday morning. In fact, the weather had helped us out a little bit. All of the children had been saying how much they wanted to go swimming. Had the weather been nice, we would have gone out and about again, but as it was, we found ourselves on a holiday park on the outskirts of Newquay in a fun pool whilst a hundred or so people who also had the same idea, but not as quickly as we did could only queue and watch in annoyance.

Stephanie and I have been paying for Oliver to have swimming lessons for the better part of this year, so it was a good opportunity for me to see how far he has come. He might not yet have mastered the butterfly, but he is certainly not fearful of the water and loves playing around. I wanted him to try out some of the waterslides thinking that if he really enjoys them it might act as a spur to improve his swimming. After we had been on one of the slides together, Oliver wanted to try out the others. With one being closed to him, due to him not being able to swim, he only had the option of the red slide, which was a steep turbo slide, similar in type to the red one at Cascades, except it landed into a tray rather than the pool itself.

“Off you go then” I said, directing him at the top and explaining to him that he’ll need to cross his legs and put his hands behind his head. He looked at me like I was a lunatic, so I pointed him to the picture that convinced him I was telling the truth even if it didn’t settled his feelings of unease.

At the top, laying down ready for the green light, which when it came on and after a hefty push from me I watched as he disappeared into the depths of the slide and two seconds later as he emerged as a splash of water and flailing limbs at the bottom. He looked slightly bamboozled from my vantage point, but I’d been given the green light myself so I threw myself down enthusiastically after him wanted to find out just what he thought of it.

“Did you enjoy that little man?” I asked him and he gave me a very uncertain yes. I wasn’t sure whether he thought he had to say yes, or was actually in two minds. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since, so I’m hoping that my cunning plan will eventually work - better swimming equals better slides!

As we were a stones through from Newquay and the weather was still rotten, we thought we’d take a look around the UK’s surfing Mecca and see what the fuss was all about.

Newquay Harbour

Undoubtedly, even through the mist of rain and dark, ominous clouds, you could see that Newquay beach was something special, even if the town itself wasn’t. The waves came in relentlessly, swollen no doubt by the weather which acted as encouragement for the local surfer fraternity. Its actually quite funny, you’ve us who as holiday makers sit praying for rainless days, whilst they as surfers, pray for the opposite.

Having been to St Ives the day before we were left disappointed with Newquay, you can see why, during the summer it becomes a hotspot for the drunk and rowdy, but its the same on the continent. Corfu for example, is a stunning island, but you go to Kavos during the day and it is a bit of dive - but nobody goes there for the daytime activity do they?

On our way back, for an early night and a cup of warm cocoa we took another detour to a place that Mum and Dad had been to previously, The Bowgie Inn. Situated on another headland five minutes from Newquay, the Bowgie Inn is one of the most memorable places I’ve ever stopped to have a drink. When we arrived, it was blowing a gale and the rain was hitting relentlessly. Within an hour, the sun was back out, the skies were clear and another sunset meant that the cocoa would have to wait for another night. As we were there, a childrens entertainer was due in and so there was a real family atmosphere in the place that night. We didn’t need much of an excuse to stay in and all the better for Jessica who had the opportunity to have a few drinks for a change whilst James drove instead!

As we waited for the evening entertainment, Jessica, Stephanie and I took a walk around the headland via the coastal path which afforded us some great views of the beach that sits next door. Vast golden sands and waves that came in thick and fast despite the lack of rain. We headed quickly across fields and through bushes towards the sinking sun which seemed to go down almost instantly with the area around us bathed in an almost autumnal glow as the sun turned from yellow, in to orange, red and brown signifying another end to another great day.

One of the things that all the children really wanted to do was go to a theme park, or as Oliver asked desperately, “are we going on the rides today Daddy?” This time, we were!

Cornwall is home to two Theme Parks, although neither of which carry the white knuckle thrills and excitement of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park or the like. We decided to go to Flambards, towards the very south east of Cornwall, as it has a range of undercover attractions as well as more older type rides for the nearly, but not quite an adult Layla (even if she isn’t much taller than Oliver or Indigo).

Having done everything that Flambards had to offer, Stephanie and I asked Oliver what his favourite ride was, “the one that goes up in the sky and makes your belly go whoosh”, or as we grownups know it as; Skyraker, a medium height drop tower that circles around a central pole giving views across the park before unceremoniously dropping you towards the ground and bouncing you back again. It wasn’t in the same league as the Big Shot on top of the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas, but it was certainly enough to get a young five year old heart pumping - and enough to make Stephanie too scared to try!

James at Flambards!

Driving down to Flambards from Perranporth is a pleasurable cross-country experience via Redruth which takes you all the way to the edge of the Lizard Peninsula, the tip of which is the UK’s most southernmost point. Rather than head towards home, we decided to carry on - right to the edge.

The Lizard is approximately 100 miles due south of Gravesend, which if you followed directly would place you in the English Channel somewhat shy of Le Harve on the northern French coast. As if to prove the saying about it always being hotter in the south we arrived to clear blue skies and radiant sunshine, allowing us room for an alfresco tea at the cafe which sits perilously at the top of the southernmost cliff. We sat drinking coffees and indulging in clotted cream scones with tablespoons of strawberry jam which tasted all the sweeter whilst overlooking the edge of the world and the possibilities of what vast openness can bring.

And so the end of one day taken right from the furthest point south, to the beginning of a new day taken from the furthest point west - Lands End and all the romance that comes with it.

Before we arrived at Lands End, we stopped off at the Minack Theatre, which was something for the grown ups to appreciate and enjoy. The Minack Theatre is an open air theatre engraved into the land at the top of the cliffs overlooking Porthcurno, which is another amazing stretch of golden sanded beaches, situated in coves cut into spectacular cliff sides that cry out to be enjoyed - which we did later that day.

The Minack Theatre was built by a woman named Rowena Cade nearly eighty years ago, which was a surprise to me as it looks almost like an ancient greek amphitheatre that should play home to gladiators against an ocean backdrop, instead of thespians performing the works of Shakespeare. Whilst we were visiting, Titanic was in production which allowed us to walk around the set, peeping through port holes and screaming “Jack, Jack” at the tops of our voices - which isn’t something we did really, but we all felt compelled to stay a little longer, just to sit, admire the view and imagine seeing the actors perform on the stage below.

If the Minack Theatre was scene one, the main event for all of us was Lands End. Us grown-ups all wanted to go for various reasons, Mum because the last time she went it was misty and she could barely see the ocean let alone anything further out, whilst I wanted to go for Phoebe’s sake so that she could have her photograph taken at the Lands End sign.

When we were doing Olivers 365 photography project we were fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Mexico which meant that the final project had some interest and variety. Cornwall isn’t quite so exotic, but by marking the occasion with an iconic photograph was something I really wanted to do.

Before we left, I worked out how many photographs had been taken, wrote down each day of the week and put the sequential number next to it i.e. “Tuesday 10th April - 155”, so that when we arrived on the 11th I knew exactly what to have displayed on the sign. “Phoebe 156/366”, (2012 is a leap year). After all that effort and determination, you can imagine my distress at coming home, uploading the photo and discovering that I was actually a day out! I can photoshop the picture quite easily, but I guess its all part of the story now.

Just like we felt the day before at the UK’s southernmost point, there was a real feeling of isolation walking around the area. Stephanie, and I took a picnic with us for the day and sat overlooking the vastness of the Atlantic and trying to comprehend the expanse of water that sat in front of us, whilst everyone else in the UK was sat going about their days behind us.

I didn’t think that Lands End had been spoilt by commercialisation. There are a few buildings which hold a 4D cinema and other interactive exhibits, along with shops and the inevitable first and last pub, but Lands End is more than just a tourist spot. It is the beginning of something, or the end of a life defining journey. People have travelled there from, or are leaving for John O’Groats for years in a whole manner of extraordinary ways for extraordinary reasons. We witnessed two cyclists having their photographs taken at the sign after riding from John O’Groats in aid of the Armed forces. Whilst we were leaving a camera crew were preparing for the arrival of somebody else who had no doubt pushed their body to the limit. It is for those reasons that buildings have cropped up and the area has grown. The argument lies in the type of attraction on offer, is a play area really necessary when there is a large expanse of land at its most open and natural just ready to be explored. No, perhaps not, but a retired RNLI boat repurposed as a climbing and exploration frame - I don’t see any harm in that.

As we had been enjoying a fine day of sunshine and relative warmth, we decided to head back to the beach for the afternoon and let the children run wild. Perching perilously at the edge of the country in one shape or form for an entire morning had shot our nerves to shreds, so we grown ups needed somewhere to relax. Porthcurno beach, just around the corner was a perfect antidote and where we headed back to next.

Oliver and Elijah, had we allowed them too, would quite happily have stayed on that beach, not just for the rest of the afternoon, but possibly the rest of their childhood lives. The pair of them spent all afternoon playing chicken with the waves, getting ever bolder each time the waves receded before running away screaming in innocent exuberance that made the whole week worthwhile. Oliver kept his trend going of falling over at the most inopportune moments, keeping up his winning streak. Growing in confidence, he headed right out into the water, up to his ankles, all ready to run away again. Sadly for him, but hilarious for wicked Daddy and everyone else watching he was caught out by a swollen wave that washed him off his feet before rolling him over and departing as quickly as it came leaving him soaking wet and wondering which end was up.

Oliver at Portcurno!

He must be getting used to brushing himself off as we are with him falling over. Off he went running up the beach back to mummy who took off his sodden shirt, wrapped him up in a towel which placated him for five minutes before his was back again resuming his game where he left off.

We did have one regret, that it wasn’t July, the temperature wasn’t in the 30s and the wind chill factor was a bit harsher than we’d have liked. In the ideal weather conditions we could have stayed forever and saved ourselves a fortune. Why do we go abroad? Because the guarantee that the sun will shine for the entire duration of your stay. It isn’t the unrivalled beaches because we have those in our own country, we just don’t have the pride to shout out about them.

Visiting Lands End, the Minack Theatre was very much part of an adult agenda, we tried to live up to Dads ethos of a traditional family beach holiday, but we were trying to do July things during the middle of April and the weather wasn’t playing fair. The next day, we changed our philosophy and did something for the kids - a day on the farm.

Dairyland Farmworld was billed as an all day adventure for the children where they could meet and greet with a variety of animals, milk the cows and learn about livestock in a fun and friendly environment. I wouldn’t say that it did everything it said on the tin, but the children all had a great time nonetheless. All of the kids took a ride upon a pony, which for most was a first time experience. The two boys, Oliver and Elijah looked more than slightly apprehensive as they were walked gently around the paddock, but both came off with beaming smiles which was exactly what we were after.

Oliver riding a pony!

The biggest smiles, were sadly not due to anything remotely related to the farm, but another sense of achievement from our own little man. Since Jessica and I have grown up, play-barns have popped up all over the place much to our annoyance as we are supposedly too big to enjoy them. Having children has enabled us to use them as an excuse to try out some of the bigger slides that you can find in these arenas of mayhem. One particular type of slide is the drop-slide, which does exactly as it says, a four story high, plastic behemoth that allows you to perch perilously over the top before a leap of faith forces you vertically downwards, before straightening out along an expanse of highly polished plastic - good fun indeed.

Oliver, so far hadn’t quite faced his demons when it comes to facing the dreaded leap of faith. Two days earlier at Flambards, they had some more of these drop-slides and despite telling me otherwise, he couldn’t quite find the courage to plummet himself down it - even if I did dangle him over the edge in an attempt to convince him all would be fine! But inside the play-barn at Dairyland, with bribes of an open selection from the sweet shop and a five pound reward from Bampy, Oliver finally took the plunge - albeit with another helping hand from me (evil Daddy!)

As I hung him over the edge, with failing limbs, I did feel a bit guilty, but when I saw him get up off the polished floor below and run off without looking back I felt a whole lot worse! After taking the plunge myself and catching him with him he was full of excitement and achievement. All the adults were sat upstairs in a viewing area overlooking the carnage and Oliver was telling them enthusiastically that he did it all by himself and could he have his money now! If you bump into Oliver and ask him “what was your favourite thing on your holiday” he’ll tell you the big red slide that he went down all by himself. Evil Daddy was right, sometimes you just need a little push!

One of the things that Mum and Dad really wanted us to do before we came home was to cycle the Camel Trail, a five mile pathway that runs from Wadebridge to Padstow and used to at one stage be a railway line. On our final full day, this is just where we headed.

The flat terrain is ideal cycling territory and is a firm family favourite. On paper, it sounded like a great day out, the biggest worry that we had was logistics. How would we all get from one end to the other with six children and a five month old baby? The answer was, we wouldn’t. We decided that Stephanie and Phoebe would drive to Padstow from Wadebridge, Oliver would cycle on the back of my bike using an attachment, as would my parents foster child. Mum, Jessica, Layla and Paris would cycle by themselves with Indigo and Elijah towed in a trailer on the back of a bike ridden by James.

Oliver cannot yet ride a bike with two wheels, much to my frustration, so I was hoping that by sitting on the back of a bike with me, he’d gain some much needed confidence and an idea of balance which is something that is preventing him from riding off into the wind. The attachment at the back of mine and Dad’s bike was almost a bike in itself, but where the front wheel was supposed it be, two forks clipped in and attached to the rear wheel of the lead bike. Oliver could then pedal as much as he liked, like a tandem, or just relax and enjoy the ride.

The camel trail itself is quite spectacular meandering alongside the Camel estuary from Wadebridge before ending up in Padstow, made famous by the celebrity chef Rick Stein. The village of Rock lies the other side of the water, with huge sand banks visible in between. The idea was to get the ferry over and enjoy the beach on that side, but the weather once again let us down.

Riding five miles is surprisingly taxing work. I don’t think I’ve ridden a bike since my paper round as a teenager and so I was desperately out of touch. Layla and Paris who at ten and eight were riding solo and made the journey there without fuss. Oliver sitting on the back with me enjoyed the first half and I could feel him peddling as our speed increased as he did. Half way down he began to quieten and by the time we reached Padstow he no longer said a word. As we parked the bikes at the finish, I released why, the poor mite was frozen solid and could barely feel his hands. He had enjoyed himself thoroughly but it was a touch too far!

From the moment we arrived in Padstow, I only had one goal - fish and chips. I had heard the Rick Stein fish and chip emporium was the big draw in town and something that couldn’t be missed. Slightly pricey at eight pound a pop, but was ultimately eight pound very well spent. If you consider a pasty cost nearly four pound (even without that stupid tax), eight pound was remarkably good value, even more so when you realised how good they tasted! If you ever find yourself in Padstow, do treat yourself, but make sure your party all do too, else they’ll only want to try it anyway!

Walking around Padstow, you could see why it was such a big draw with the tourists. Ignoring the culinary treats that litter every doorway, Padstow itself is a delightfully pretty little village with a full working harbour. You could see on the harbour walls, drop a net, go crabbing and watch the boats go by, or do as we intended and catch the ferry over to rock.

Seeing as it was still raining, we decided to skip the ferry, but during a brief lull we took a walk around to the ferry port and Dad was accosted by a speedboat operator. I thought he looked like a poor mans version of Sean Bean with aviator sunglasses, weather beaten, rock hard skin and tattoos all over his hands and body. He was a real man of the sea with a personality to match.

Dad asked us in turn if we wanted to go on the speedboat and we all looked at him with a level of uncertainty. In fact, he got rather cross and thought we all thought he was mad, but we needed a little moment to think about it. Tough seas, tough winds, a speedboat and six little children? I was not fussed either way, but seeing Jessica and James pile the children into the boat I didn’t want to miss out. We asked Oliver if he wanted to go and he said no thank you very much he didn’t. Something to do with the Titanic and being scared of the boat sinking! Even when we told him it wasn’t that type of boat he still wasn’t convinced and said that he’d get eaten by a shark. Good job we didn’t tell him the name of the boat then wasn’t it... Jaws!


In the end, Oliver and I were sat in the speedboat next to James and Elijah, whilst Jessica was at the front with the girls. It all started off quite placidly until I saw, written on the dock wall to my left a sign saying “end of speed restrictions”. It was at this point that Jessica, the girls and Sean Bean who was driving rose out of the sea and high above James, the boys and I. My face hadn’t been quite inverted, but my cheeks were flapping hard against my ears and my knuckles had grown a nice shade of white gripping onto the handle bars in front.

We were racing at a good rate of knots out past Rock which was literally in touching distance, I was horrified at how close to the coast we really were! I tried my best to wave at the people on the beach who passed by in a blur before we reached the open sea. Once there, Sean Bean decided to show us everything he had learnt as a stunt double in Hollywood by making sharp zig-zagging shapes through the water, before hitting a small tsunami full on and launching us through the air where time slowed down and my life flashed before my very eyes.

I wasn’t scared of the ride, in fact I positively enjoyed it, it was actually one of the most exhilarating things that I’ve probably ever done! But the big nagging thought that scared the living hell out of me was the possibility of what might just happen. Had Oliver not been there, I would have been fine, but as it was, I was more worried about if we fell in how would I save him, where would we swim to in order to survive! Back on dry land, Jessica laughed at my worries and said “how do you think I felt, I had the three with me - what one was I supposed to save?”

Back firmly on dry land and with a huge sense of relief I asked Oliver if he had enjoyed himself. He looked at me and barely muttered the word “yes”, but his face told the real story and I don’t think he’ll be going on a boat again in a hurry!

Our week in Cornwall had come to an eventful conclusion and we’d all met a rather tiring end. We finished off with another meal and drink at the Watering Hole on the beach at Perranporth, where we met up with Mums half sister Mandy and partner Roger who we’d also met the night before. Mum and Dad are really quite lucky as they’ll be going back in July for a wedding, whilst for the rest of us, it was time to say a sad goodbye.

Coming home, rather than make a direct trip back, we took the scenic route, stopping of at Tintagel Castle which is something that really needs to be seen to be believed. Access isn’t great, via a long steep hill that isn’t so bad until you try and walk back up afterwards and a place I’d love to return to when the time allows, but for me the real thrill was our final stop, a sleepy little hamlet called Poundstock.

We’d left Tintagel and picked up the Atlantic Highway, the A39 - which is a pleasure to drive, even getting caught behind a tractor is no hardship as you dip down steep valleys, up the other side surrounded by greenery and glimpses of the ocean which entices you poetically like a whisper. We drove through Bocastle, a place my parents who as we were no longer in convoy later stopped. We passed through pausing to admire in wonder at the beauty of the place and staggered incomprehensibly at the mental images of the village being underwater as it was in the early naughties.

Our final stop then, Poundstock, a place as I’ve already described as a sleepy little hamlet, which is ironic considering the reason we were stopping.

A couple of years ago whilst doing some genealogy research I discovered that ancestors on my paternal line were buried there. A website I found at the time had pictures and reports, descriptions of gravestones and the all important dates. I said to myself then that I would go there for myself one day, but was unprepared for the level of feeling that was invoked as I strolled through the cemetery looking for the name of Symons and the moment of sheer excitement when I saw them clustered at the top of the winding path.

St Winwaloe Church sits at the bottom of hill on the outskirts of Poundstock, in a small dell and next to the Poundstone Gildhouse, which has been continuously standing since medieval times. I tell you this as it is an interesting fact in itself, but for me, knowing that one day in the distant past, my great, great, great, great, great or however many times grandfather walked the same land, even tended to the land I’m sure and then, nearly three hundred years later, along I come with my own son and seek his final resting place!

Final Symons resting place

All in all, we were at the church for half an hour, walking the grounds, but too afraid to enter the church which was open and unguarded. Dad who followed shortly afterwards went inside and looked at the visitors book and read the official list of names that lie within the grounds outside.

I tried to explain to Oliver what it was that we were looking at, but he looked at me blankly and carried on climbing the railing oblivious to my stream of information. I took some photographs, but stood in the main, silent trying to to visualise something of the people in the ground below. It wasn’t a morbid moment, but curious and rather surreal, tinged with a sense of sadness and a sense of never knowing. There was a real sense of achievement that in this day and age we have access to this kind of information which can open up moments like this. What would those people, long since gone have made of it, if someone told them in their lifetime that their ancestors would pay their respects three hundred years from now?

It is funny, in a way the feelings that were evoked at the end of our week away. We set off with adventure for the children in mind, which they had, in abundance, but we grownups were also more than satisfied and learnt plenty of news things for ourselves. In a way, it felt in some way or another that visiting Cornwall for the very first time was like going back home, maybe it is me and my overstretched mind. But there is a place in my heart for Cornwall now, as well as piece of DNA.

Ultimately though, without the deep thoughts and retrospective view through rose tinted glasses it was a week for us to all unwind, have fun and have new experiences. The funniest thing of all, is Layla. She was moaning about being only ten years old and not being treated like an adult. With the slides, the sea, rides on ponies and non stop ice creams what I wouldn’t give to be ten again.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Fat Birds - The Results

Fat Birds

At the beginning of the year I shared details of the private competition that we, as a family were taking part in. The challenge, devised by my father was to see which couple out of me and my wife, my sister, her husband and both of my parents could lose the most amount of weight over the course of three months. On Sunday evening the final results were in!

In third place we had my sister and her husband who automatically finished last on account that neither of them turned up to for the final weigh-in. My sister might have used her car being repaired as mitigating circumstances, but truth be told, neither of them really entered into the spirit of the competition in the first place!

In runner up spot, my parents finished, with a fairly non-spectacular weight-loss. I won’t indulge any figures here, but suffice to say, I thought that it would have been higher considering it is their own finances that are funding the eventual prize winners, which went to... Stephanie and I.

To be honest, both Stephanie and I had by far the largest amount of weight to lose and we did, Jessica and James not so much, which is probably why they didn’t enter as wholeheartedly as we did! Stephanie and I over a course of three months lost a combined figure of 44lbs, or 20 kilo’s depending upon your favoured unit of measurement. In actual fact, we both lost the same amount of weight, but I was crowned overall winner considering the percent of body weight I managed to lose.

Without the lure of the carrot that my father dangled in front of us, I’m not sure that either of us would have done as well as we have - but the key thing now is to maintain and improve on what we’ve done so far - as we’ve both still got a long way to go until either of can be happy.

The biggest thing that I’ve got out of the whole competition is the weekly exercise routine. Every weekend this year I’ve been out pounding the streets of Gravesend on a running mission, ably assisted by friends of mine who have come along in support or looking for someone to run with.

I ran for the very first time last summer during our weekly training for the Great River Race. I ran alongside my friend Stuart down to the River Thames which equates to a total distance of around a mile and a half. I barely managed to get half way without stopping, spitting my dummy out, crying that I couldn’t do it anymore and wanting to lie down on the kerbside and die. On Sunday afternoon, to get to our final weigh-in, I ran the 6.2 miles from my house to my parents - in under an hour! What a difference three months can make!

When I text my fellow running friends thanking them for their support and letting them know of my huge success, each one of them in turn replied back with the same question. “Will you be keeping it up?” My answer? “Of course!”

During my Sunday evening run, I felt again that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, it was too hot, I was running too far, my body ached and I was too unfit to make it. And yet, I did - and in such a positive time as well. When I realised that I’d made it and in the time I did, I was hit by a rather manic sense of euphoria which was slightly surprising and definitely something that could become addictive. It isn’t necessarily the running I enjoy, it is the sense of achievement and knowing that ultimately I’m doing something good for my body after years spent breaking it.

So a huge thank you to my parents for dangling a carrot in front of us, but more importantly, thank you for being the catalyst into a gateway to something better.

Now where are those holiday brochures?

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