Friday, April 13, 2018

Catching up

I didn't mean to leave this big a gap in the blog, but life has been slightly hectic these last few weeks.

I got over my illness quicker than I thought I would and within a few days we were off to Norway. Having been the more reluctant of the two of us to try cruising, it turned out that I enjoyed it more than Lesley did. This was because she went down with a viral cough about six days in to the holiday and didn't recover until we had been home for nearly a fortnight. Add to that the effect of motion sickness as we were rounding the very top of Norway, and she had a pretty miserable time of it.

However, she only missed a couple of meals and one excursion, so there was plenty to enjoy. The biggest highlight was the dog-sledding, which we did twice. I actually wrote a poem about this which you might like:

Dog Sledding

Who knew
that huskies can run and shit
simultaneously?
Part of the adventure,
for us –
beside the serenity of snow,
the calm whiteness of the fjord,
the black scrawl of birches –
is to avoid the flying turds
as they come shooting
from the scampering anuses.

Oh - and we saw the northern lights, which was the main point of the exercise.

Flying back into Gatwick through a snowstorm was exciting and then we had to decide whether to drive home that night, or find a hotel. Glad we did drive home because the following morning everything was covered in snow. Not the beautiful crunchy snow you get in Norway - just ordinary British snow that stopped people driving up our hill for an hour or two and then turned to slush.

Then the Commonwealth Games. 

I've just watched Leon Reid being interviewed after his medal ceremony. Perfect to see one of the nicest Bristol athletes getting a reward. It was always a pleasure starting races that he ran in when he was a boy. Happy to chat and help other athletes, he always had the most positive outlook of any athlete around.  After moving on he would sometimes turn up at an open meeting and still be happy to chat with officials and generally be a great bloke.

Of course, he was lucky to finish up where he did, but that is not to take away from the effort he put in, never giving up and pushing for the line even when winning was not on the cards. I'm sure Zharnel Hughes is a great bloke too, but for me, Leon deserved every moment of his success.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ill

I will spare you all the details but since the last post I have lost over five kilos in weight and gained a couple of holes in my belt, a taste for Lucozade, an interest in the more arcane events at the Winter Olympics and the added conviction that I married the right woman. Lesley has gone farther in looking after me than any man has a right to expect.

With only nine days to go before we fly off on holiday, I now need to build myself up a bit, Unfortunately, most of the weight has gone from arms and legs, so I look like some unfortunate victim of a natural disaster as I head to the bathroom. I would not have believed that I could go that long without food - well, now I know that I can, so there's that excuse for being overweight gone....

So - yes - the Winter Olympics. And what an instructive comparison with the athletics coverage which is playing downstairs as I write. Why does athletics have to be stuck with cliche-mongers like Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson, when speed skating gets intelligent and interesting commentary? To say nothing of the sheer poetry of the guys talking us through the ski slopestyle (if that's what it's called).

And if you missed the discussion this morning about the British performance at the games (and why should you have been watching on such a beautiful morning?) it could well be worth trying to find it on iPlayer. Not only was it all-female - interesting in itself - but they were five well-informed, interesting, articulate and, in one case, powerful women. They were a skier and a bobsleigh-er, whose names I don't remember, Amy Williams, Dame Helen Grainger, head of Sport England, and Clare Balding, who I don't believe could conduct a dull interview if she tried. They had the time and the knowledge to go into all the aspects of the subject and their discussion went way beyond the winter sports but also had implications for the funding of all sport in the country.

Where Clare Balding scores consistently is in being interested in what her guests have to say and having the right questions to bring out the best in them. I don't say that Gabby Logan isn't interested in athletics but until they give Paula Radcliffe a bigger role and Michael Johnson enough cash to keep him this side of the Atlantic she isn't going to have a very fascinating row to hoe.

Or is it simply that I know less about winter sports so I'm more receptive to what these experts have to say? Knowing a bit about athletics means that I can see the holes in what our current lot are saying.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Confessions

It's a reasonable question to ask what my own history as an athlete is. The answer is very simple: I have none.

As a kid I was hopeless at nearly all games. Now, with hindsight, I rationalise that by pointing out that I wasn't very big and also, with a birthday that always fell in the summer holidays, I was nearly a year younger than the oldest, most sporty boys in my class. The only way I could keep up was by being cleverer than them - a pretence I managed to keep up for a good few years.

So, what was athletics like in our school back in 1956 - the year I first had anything to do with running, jumping and, in my case, standing still?

It started with what was called Standards Day. We all got into games kit and headed off to the games field at the far end of town. The older boys might be in track suits; some may even have had spikes (more of which in a minute), but we junior nonentities wore our navy gabardine macs over our shorts and house rugby shirts.

We all had to have a go at every event that our age group was in line for. Our performances graded us so that the house captain could pick his team. It was all desperately competitive. One master, once, complimented me on my style at long jump; asked what my distance was, and lost interest the second I told him. We all just milled around on the field and any thoughts of Health and Safety amounted to "That boy! Can't you see he's throwing a discus?!"

(Talking of which, my friend Chris and I once had to work off a detention by fetching back the discus for a sixth former who was training for English Schools. We stood out somewhere ahead of him, watched where it was going and then competed with each other to be closest to it when it landed).

Sports Day was kind of a repeat, except that the four houses competed for some kind of trophy. I was in Grenville: the other houses were Raleigh, Hawkins and Drake. Back then, these brave seafarers weren't regarded as the pirates they were really.

Devon County Schools was the opportunity for a day out. It was school against school, rather than areas competing and it was mostly independent schools that took part. And it was only boys. Whether there was a parallel event for girls I haven't the faintest idea. Bear in mind that back then women never ran farther than 400m - and that was regarded with some suspicion. Paula Radcliffe wasn't going to be born for another thirty years! (I mean of course, 440 yards. We still had an Empire and by jingo we were going to stick with Imperial measurements).

Reading through this, I realise I promised more about spikes. There were no all-weather tracks at all - they hadn't been invented. So spikes had to be twelve or even fifteen millimetres - or rather seven-eighths of an inch. They were fixed to the leather soles of the shoe and had to be sharpened occasionally with a file. There was a rumour amongst us that, back in the day, boys had been whacked with a spiked running shoe. We half believed it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

They always say, don't they, that a performer's second album is the most difficult act to pull off. Well, here I am facing my second post and without anything obvious to write about.

South West Schools should have produced a rash of good Yate/Westbury performances, well worth a post or two. In the event it was slightly disappointing for several of our athletes. When an athlete runs worse than they know they can, the very last thing they want to see is it plastered all over the papers or the internet.

So I'll just say that Hannah Hobbs ran a blinder and has been picked again to run for England, this time in Belgium. Well done to her and of course we wish her the very best of luck.

What else?

There might still be a couple of people out there who I haven't told that Lesley and I are going to Norway in March. A first in several ways. Being used to taking holidays in warm places, usually with a beach somewhere in the vicinity, going somewhere as cold as the Arctic Circle could be a shock to the system. Additionally, we shall be on a boat. Normally I travel quite well by sea, though emerging more and more into consciousness is the memory of one particularly horrible Channel crossing, which I spent on deck crouching with the line of other throwers-up and hoping that death would come soon.

Can anyone recommend good motion sickness drugs?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Back again

Well - that didn't last as long as I thought it would. Or as long as you probably hoped it would. I thought I'd escaped and you thought you'd heard the last of me. No such luck!

With the club and YOSC promising exciting times ahead, I thought it only right to chip in with my two penn'orth.

So what can new readers expect from what I hope will be a weekly posting?

This isn't a results service, though I may well have things to say about what athletes get up to. Nor is it any kind of official channel of communication from the club committee or from the YOSC directors. I don't even promise to keep to athletics, but I promise not to inflict poetry on you too often.

Anything that takes my attention in the world of athletics - local and international - may get a mention. I hope it will be entertaining, but I don't guarantee it.

It is possible to add comments about what I write - though I'm told it's a bit of a fag to get into. Registration and all that, so I shan't get upset if no one comments. Since I'm around the complex nearly every week, it would be good to get feedback in person, but, again, don't feel obliged.

One interesting thing about blogging like this is that there appear to be readers all over the world. How that comes about I have no idea. But I'll let you know where the club is being chewed over in foreign lands. If indeed it is.

As of right now, I have four readers in the UK, five in Germany and one in Russia. I don't believe a word of it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas and goodbye

Christmas Eve and all through the house, Lesley's not stirring and we haven't got a mouse......

As far as I know.

I've enjoyed my time with Yate & District - all thirty years of it. But nothing lasts for ever, specially not me and it was time to move on. The club is in good shape and good hands, so I have no fears about the future of athletics in our area. There are some great kids coming into the sport and some talented coaches and people to look after them.

This will be my last blog post as I don't suppose you are interested in our family doings, my poetry and the garden.

So take care out there, and have a great Christmas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Awards Night

Well, that's over for another year.

The amount of work that goes into preparation for the event is extraordinary and largely unseen by the athletes and parents who come to it. Impossible to add it up in terms of person-hours, but it must be in the hundreds.

Nicki Robson, who volunteered to produce a booklet outlining the achievements of all the nominated athletes, must have put in many, many hours, persuading coaches to give her quotes, then forming them into sentences. That coming on top of the hours Lesley spent closeted with Power of 10, gathering times and distances to inform the various decisions that had to be made.

I come along after all that to produce the certificates. I've no idea how valued those are by the athletes who get them. When I started doing them I was fairly newly retired from teaching and back then Records of Achievement were a big thing. I kind of thought young people could slip their certificate into their Record and future employers or university admissions tutors would see them and be impressed. Now I'm not so sure. Some might end up on bedroom walls; others might never again see the light of day.

Anyway, I think they are worth doing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Finding a speaker is always a stretch. It would lovely to get Mo Farah or Greg Rutherford but I doubt we could afford them, because even international athletes have livings to earn and they don't come this far west without being paid.

Tom Watson has been a friend for many years and I always enjoyed listening to his talk to Avon athletes off to English Schools. Hearing him on Friday, it was plain that he hadn't spoken to such a large audience for a while. I thought his message was interesting and necessary but I realise that it may not have resonated so well with everyone there.

Come January the committee will be discussing how the evening can be developed. Some of that is a matter of detail - do we have the speaker before the food, or after? - but other matters are more momentous. How do we get more people to attend? How does the evening relate to the AGM, which this year follows it with a couple of weeks?

If you've got any ideas about anything relating to the Awards Night, please let me know.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

AGMs and stuff

After much too long a break I've decided to start the blog up again. No particular reason. Just felt it was about time that I got off my backside.

Yesterday was the AGM of the YDL. Always a pleasure to drive to Birmingham through streams of Saturday traffic and spend the day in a conference room where it was hard to hear what anyone said with nearly a hundred and twenty other people, and then drive home again through rain and wind and darkness. What's not to like? As they say. Well, actually, the carrot cake and tea that we had in the Gloucester services on the way home was a bit of a trial, and I've no doubt that the Traditional Gloucester sausages we bought will be horrible.....

The newish structure for the Midlands was agreed with only a couple of questions having to be dealt with. This was pretty remarkable given that the 'Midlands' stretches from Nottingham to Penzance and Carmarthen. If we thought the rest of the meeting would go as smoothly, we were in for a rude shock.

The South also has a problem. It's called London. If you live and compete in Southampton you really don't want to travel to a competition in Norwich. And it seems, if you live in London, you come over all hot and sweaty at the prospect of travelling outside the M25. But it was sorted to most people's satisfaction.

And then we dealt with the North. Which of course includes Scotland. Last season - and again next, unless they come up with a better solution - the UAG Premier is split between West and East. Scottish clubs say they are willing to travel to England for competition. English clubs would rather cut their arms off than travel to Scotland. The West division includes various clubs from around Manchester/Liverpool, Cheshire and North Wales. The East includes all four Scottish clubs, Gateshead and Sheffield.

Now - look at an atlas. Is Glasgow on the west coast of Scotland or the east? You're right. But as far as YDL is concerned it is in the east. And how far is it from Glasgow to Sheffield? Google says it's 254 miles and the quickest route, the A66 (which I doubt is the quickest route to anywhere) takes 4.25 hours. Or you could fly to Manchester and hop over the Pennines for £148.

And I bet you're all wondering about Northern Ireland. Well, the meeting had nothing to say about them. So I guess that's all right then.

However, Lesley had to go up and collect the trophy for our LAG team winning their division and that will be on show at our Awards Night on Friday. To which, of course, everyone is invited.

And then our own club AGM is on Tuesday, 6th December, 8.30 in the clubhouse. Come one, come all.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Avon Track and Field

It's come round again, and many of the same problems that we were talking about a year ago - three years ago - have still not really been resolved.

The numbering and results system - no don't get me started.....

But officials are a different matter. A couple of years ago we made a big fuss about clubs that weren't supplying the required number of officials - or indeed any officials at all. And for a while the situation improved. I made myself very unpopular by claiming that some clubs were relying on officials from other clubs - by which I meant Yate and Bristol - to cover events that their athletes wanted to take part in. I actually used more colourful language than that, so maybe that was all that the trouble was about.

Well, it seems that we're back where we started. I don't know about field events because they happen in another part of the world. But I do know what was going on at the finish. On the track judges' steps there were two officials from Bristol, two from Yate and one from Bath. On our side of the track, there were two timekeepers from Bristol and three from Yate, including me.

No track judges from North Somerset, Gloucester, Forest of Dean or Bitton. No timekeepers from Bath, North Somerset, Gloucester, Forest of Dean or Bitton. Yet all those clubs had athletes running and expecting their times to be recorded.

In most leagues, a club that turns up without the required officials loses points, or doesn't gain them, which is much the same thing. In the Avon League there is no penalty at all. And there are good reasons why a points penalty wouldn't work. Yate finished the match with over a thousand points: Bitton had less than two hundred. What difference would it make to Bitton if they failed to add thirty points for their officials? None at all. Or to Yate if they DID gain thirty points for officials? It is also a fact that there is very little emphasis on winning or losing the match, anyway.

But there are penalties that could be imposed. The league could refuse to accept entries from clubs who provided no officials: ban their athletes, expel them from the league. But where would be the fun in that? The league only exists to give competition to as many young people as we can accommodate.

But there is a sort of halfway house, suggested by Stuart Woodman. If a club fails to provide a field team, a track judge and timekeeper - or any part of that basic contingent - they would be prevented from entering any non-scoring athletes. But that would suggest that the league needs a different scoring and results system in which clubs have to submit their declarations in advance of the meeting - so we're back to that again.

It's not as though there weren't plenty of adults there. It's not difficult to spot the order in which runners finish a race. Or indeed to operate a stopwatch, though that is a bit of knack that can be gained with practice.

Don't get me wrong. I really like the Avon Track and Field and enjoy being an official, either as starter or timekeeper, for those matches. But it does annoy me that other clubs are failing to live up to their side of the bargain.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Rules is rules

Like - I'm supposed to write a blog once a week, and now I find it's been three weeks. Perhaps I can use the referendum and its appalling result as an excuse.

But that's not what I'm on about.

Athletics rules.

Some are important, like, you have to stay in lane if you're a sprinter, or you mustn't start before the gun goes off. Others look a lot less compelling.

Yesterday, at Alexander Stadium three teams were disqualified in the men's 4x400 relay. Apparently they all did take-overs outside the box. That may be true, though I've never seen a team do it anywhere else in the past.

But it's also a rule that waiting athletes must not AT ANY TIME step over the blue line at the start of the take-over box. And they must line up from the kerb in the order that the incoming athletes come round the top bend. So if a waiting athlete puts a foot over the blue line, their team is disqualified. Is that sensible? H'm, well, maybe. One women's team were disqualified because they swapped positions when their incoming athlete overtook an opposing athlete. Was that sensible? I seriously doubt it.

I hear this week of a marksman at a meeting somewhere south of here beginning with E, who threatened to disqualify any athlete with advertising on their shorts. Like the word ADIDAS, or a Nike swoosh. He's got to be kidding, right? Actually, not. He's right. There is a rule that says you can't have advertising on your kit. Unless you're an international athlete at the Diamond League where you wear the kit you're given and take to the track looking like a walking advertisement.

The same marksman at a recent schools meeting - also in a town beginning with E - went through a group of athletes saying "On your chest" to each of them. The looks of puzzlement on their faces showed that they hadn't the faintest idea what he was on about. In fact, what they had done was pin their numbers on their stomachs, not on their chests. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. In the case of female athletes, this means that the number must be ABOVE the breasts, not below them.

Does it make a difference? Probably not, but a rule is a rule and has to be obeyed.

Until it's not.

There's a rule in the school's handbook that says an athlete's vest must be tucked into their shorts. And we used to insist on it. I well remember Derek Morrison prowling round the start area growling "Tuck your shirt in" to all and sundry. And "When you see Linford Christie on a track with his vest flapping I'll let you do it." Ah, those dear dead days beyond recall.

But what about this? Starting a 5000m race, I'm quite likely to snap "Toes off the line" if an athlete has his foot too far forward. Is three centimetres going to make a difference over 5000m? No it isn't, but a rule is a rule.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Schools athletics

I will be in danger of repeating myself here, but having Avon Schools paperwork all over our dining table for the last fortnight, with another month to go, I feel qualified to have an opinion.

Lesley got involved in Avon Schools because she was determined to ensure that young people were never overlooked or badly treated as our daughter had been. She has made it her business to know all the potential athletes across Bristol, S Glos, N Somerset and BANES. Often she has had a lot of support from PE teachers across the old county of Avon and there have been good friendships formed with teachers, coaches, parents, athletes and officials.

In recent years, however, people who helped her with the organisation of district, county, regional and national championships have fallen by the wayside. Some have moved away, a couple have died, still others have reached the age when they can expect not to have to do this any longer.

But surely, there is a constant supply of young, keen PE teachers. It seems not. Or to be more fair, the emphasis of school PE has changed from teaching sports and encouraging good sportspeople to providing exercise for all the pupils. Maybe that is a good thing: I'm not qualified to say. But it does mean that a generation of teachers who were encouraged and taught by PE staff of Lesley's vintage are not now passing on that encouragement and teaching.

In practice what this means is that anything that happens at the weekend or later in the school day is not their responsibility; they aren't paid to do it, and they aren't going to do it.

Now - English Schools, the top championships for most young athletes, specifically requires the attendance of teachers with their county teams. Avon have got away with having retired teachers a couple of times (and I must mention the one or two teachers who have come along sometimes).

Lesley has nearly had enough. I have nearly had enough. Maybe from 2017 onwards school athletics in Avon will be entirely in the hands of independent schools, where they don't seem to have caught up with the new progressive approach to PE.

Rant over.

Please vote Remain. Having two daughters-in-law from opposite ends of the EU I could hardly vote for the other side, even if it wasn't led by a band of disreputable scoundrels.

Catching up

I didn't mean to leave this big a gap in the blog, but life has been slightly hectic these last few weeks. I got over my illness quick...