Tolworth Treasure

Tolworth Court Farm Fields

What kind of Five Year Plan should Tolworth have? I would like to see a commitment to keep and manage its green spaces sensitively – because they are what make Tolworth special.

I was shocked to hear Tolworth referred to as a ‘ghetto’ by staff and students at Kingston University while I was studying there. It is one of the oldest parts of the Borough- with ancient and deep historical roots. There are the remains of a medieval moated manor at Tolworth Court, where Kingston Biodiversity Network holds open days. Tolworth Court Farm Fields is a wonderful wild treasure, which should stay that way.

Can you spot Tolworth Tower?

Alison Fure, a local ecologist, has been taking people on Apple Walks, fascinating insights into the history of orchards and fruit growing in this part of the borough. This includes the Tolworth Apple Store, an important piece of local heritage, which she is campaigning to protect.

Buy Alison’s chap book here.

On the borders of Tolworth is the Hogsmill Valley, where Millais painted the backdrop to his painting Ophelia, something I have written about in my poetry map, Over the Fields, an exploration of four generations of my family’s relationship with the greenbelt, which is at the end of the Sunray Estate, towards Malden Manor.

photograph by Bill Mudge

The other day, on my regular morning run down Old Kingston Road, I got to the bridge over the Hogsmill and stopped, to see a flash of iridescent blue zoom downstream: a kingfisher (click the link for a lovely video on the RSPB web site!). It’s not such a rare sight, if you stop there regularly, and look in the right direction, away from the traffic.

Tolworth is remarkable for its open green spaces, and we have a choice now- do we value them, and protect them, recognising them as our lungs and our unique heritage, or do we lose them and become more urban, more polluted and a lot less interesting?

(This article originally appeared in the ‘Tolworth Observer’ a newspaper produced as part of the public consultation on the draft Tolworth Area Plan. For more information see the Kingston Borough Council web site here.)

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Lurgy, Climate Change and Hobbitses

 

Last Sunday me, my son and my dad went for our first proper walk Over the Fields this year. We have all been poorly and the weather has been rubbish but I was desperate to get out and have a walk over there in time for Imbolc/ Candlemas. This is the traditional time of year for sighting the first snowdrops, and maybe to see buds and Blackthorn blossom. With such a mild Winter there was plenty of new green shoots to see, trees in full blossomy bloom, new nettles and dock leaves, hawthorn leaves unfurling… I wrote about the walk for local ecologist Alison Fure’s excellent blog, and you can read what I wrote here.

On Monday afternoon I finally gave up battling with the lurgy I’ve had on and off since mid-December, and went to bed. I’ve been there ever since, apart from a trip to the doctor on Friday. Eye infection, throat infection, chest virus, acute exacerbation of asthma…I’ve been fighting it for ages but finally it got the better of me. This has resulted in a week of cancelled teaching. Not great when you are a self-employed single parent… but…mustn’t grumble eh… my son is being looked after by my amazing dad, and I am safe and warm, if feeling particularly grim.

The silver lining is that being stuck in bed means I have watched a few films. Most affecting of these is This Changes Everything, narrated by Naomi Klein and based on her book of the same name. I need to watch it again and I would recommend that you need to watch it too. So should everyone. It is tough to watch in places but breathtakingly filmed and well put together. A mixture of environmental disaster and tragedy, and the heartening, brave protests of people on the front line, whose land and lives are being profoundly affected by the atrocities of fossil fuel companies and big business. The message is clear and simple. Capitalism vs the Climate- if we don’t fight it we are doomed. Now I need to read the book.

I also watched all of the Hobbit film trilogy- and been for the most part pleasantly surprised; I saw and enjoyed the first one at the flicks, missed the second and third, and was put off watching them by a couple of friends who said the story was poorly handled, there was far too much emphasis on spiders, and that the book had been done a total disservice by the drawing out of the plot to nearly 9 hours of film…I loved the LOTR films but was, like many people, rather surprised and slightly cynical at the announcement that the Hobbit would be made as a three-part series of prequels.

So…slightly late to the party…I watched the final two parts this week. Yes, the story is drawn out but I think it’s ok, if a bit baggy . I find the use of CGI action scenes which look like computer games (and *are* constructed for the computer games market- I know, the biggest part of the film business these days) distracting and annoying- formulaic and jammed into the action of the films- but, otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies- and I would happily watch them again.

After watching This Changes Everything, The Hobbit trilogy of films became a metaphor for the rampaging greed of capitalism destroying nature, Power Over instead of Power With.

I am also re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking- a fascinating, wonderful read and, as this year I am especially committed to developing my walking/writing/making practice, a necessary one too. Once again, in light of what Klein says at the start of This Changes Everything, about the idea promulgated during the Enlightenment, of Nature as something to be conquered and used for ‘our’ benefit- the history of walking ties in, in some ways, with this view of what Nature is and is not…thought-provoking stuff and I will be returning to it again and again no doubt.

The British 10k

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On Sunday 13th July me, my son and my Dad left the house at 7am and got on a train to Waterloo. On the train, and when we got to London there were lots of people in running gear, many of them wearing tshirts proclaiming the charity they were raising money for by running the British 10k.

It’s a big race- 25000 people taking part, all ages and levels of ability. I was definitely a bit nervous. Although I’ve run a couple of races before this was the first really big run I’d entered. Once I’d dropped off my bag at one of the many numbered bays and said goodbye to the Nipper who was ‘bored’ and wanted to drag his Grandad off to explore, I followed the other runners to the route and found myself queueing up by The Ritz on Piccadilly. It was about 20-30 minutes of slowly shuffling along with the crowd before we got to the starting line but by this point I was buzzing and ready to go.

This was the first time I’d run 10k. I’d been training and had been running about three times a week, the longest distance I’d completed up to this point was 7km. Then a couple of weeks before, very stupidly, I’d worn a pair of gorgeous shoes I’d found in the back of my wardrobe, only realising too late why they were in the back of my wardrobe. Ouch! Hello blisters- not the worst thing to happen- especially if you’ve ever seen dancers’ feet- or the footage (ahem) of Eddie Izzard running his marathon of marathons… so I had no excuses really but it did make me wary of running the longer distances I had hoped to in the last weeks of my training. And then I hurt my right foot a few days before the race when I spent a day walking around London.

But by the time I was lining up to start all thoughts of sore feet vanished and I was enjoying the atmosphere. I am a very slow runner and that’s fine by me- I got to plod around central London with thousands of other people, on what started as a grey, damp morning, and by the time I’d finished had turned into a gorgeous sunny Sunday. I am still amazed I am able to run at all, having been the sickly child at school, always off sick, and unable to do PE. Then a few years ago being diagnosed with post-viral fatigue was such a shock – at the time I never thought I’d be able to do half the things I had taken for granted, ever again. But here I am running 10k, cycling to work and having a super busy life.

I am very very lucky- I do however try to pace myself, and I get very tired sometimes- I can’t push myself as hard as I used to and I try and stay within my limits (most of the time). Running seems good for this- I’ve found that mentally it helps me to focus on my writing, and physically it gives me stamina and is also a great stress buster. I can judge how I’m feeling and tailor how far I run, how often and how fast (mainly not very fast). But I can do it and I am able to keep doing it.

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete 10k on the day but when I got to the 5k point I knew I’d be fine and at that point I even speeded up and loved every minute of the rest of the run.  I raised £190 for Gingerbread – thanks to the support and generosity of the people who sponsored me. Single parents deal with many different challenges and Gingerbread is the go-to charity for people in this situation who need advice and support on a whole range of issues affecting them.

Before my Mum died, in fact just when she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was in hospital, now eight years ago, we got to talking about running and for some reason I made a promise to her that I would run a half marathon. Maybe she was saying I should keep fit and look after myself, I don’t know. But I have never forgotten this.The next time I run, I am hoping it will be a half-marathon and I would like to raise money for Macmillan. The Macmillan nurses who looked after my mum were amazing, and it would be a way of keeping my promise to her and doing something positive with my run. But I’m not going to do it until I am ready- watch this space!

In the meantime THANK YOU again to everyone who sponsored me and supported me. XXX

Fork it…again

I’ve started digging the garden again, after a few of half-hearted attempts in the last couple of years. This time I am going to try and re-reclaim the veg patch and clear another patch so that my son can have a trampoline.

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Back in August 2009 I decided to tame the really wild patch at the end of the garden and turn it into a veg patch. You can see my efforts at the blog I devoted to this, Roar Earth. By August 2010 I was harvesting tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, kohl rabi, beetroot, beans and other delights. And later on that autumn I had a haul of courgettes, giant marrows, pumpkins and even one perfectly formed butternut squash!

It was hard work and I accomplished most of it by myself, with a bit of help from my niece and one weekend when a couple of old friends came down and did one solid day’s work which would have taken me another couple of weeks on my own!

But later on in the winter 2010, after being constantly ill with various bugs and viruses which I couldn’t shift, I was diagnosed with post-viral fatigue, and told to have complete rest. As a single parent in my final year of a degree this was bad news. The worst thing about it was being told there was no guarantee I would get better and that in fact I might get worse, oh and no treatment either…

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I was pretty depressed about this, friends rallied and I wrote about it a bit. Then just after christmas I slipped while out walking with my son and friends and broke my wrist. At the time it felt like the last straw. It meant I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do lots of things I was still trying to do despite my doctor’s prescription of rest- how do you have complete rest when you are a single parent with an at-the-time three-year-old?

My father stepped in to help and I rested, put all my university assignments off, and did huge amounts less than I had- and started to feel better. Good days and bad. Then more good days but ever since I have not been able to do as much as I used to- so digging the garden had to drop off my agenda.

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Last year I started running using the Couch to 5k podcasts available free from the NHSSAVE THE NHS–  and discovered I could run and that it helped my lower my stress levels and improved my energy. In September I ran 5k for Trees for Cities, and was hoping to run 10k for them at the end of May but have been too busy completing the postgraduate degrees I am currently studying, too tired and too flipping cold until recently. My aim is to start again this week. runningfinishtreeathloncrop

I really want my son to have a trampoline in the garden, which is the main reason I have gone back out there. But I am also desperate to grow some food again, especially as prices are skyrocketing and I have no money, and I would rather grow my own anyway, if I can. I still get very tired sometimes but I think I am ok and pretty healthy, so I feel very lucky. However my plan is to tackle the garden an hour or two at a time, a few days a week, and see how it goes. I may have some help later on which will be fantastic – but I also quite like pottering away out there…it’s great to be doing it again.

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The last two weeks has involved mainly cutting down massive brambles, pulling up nettles where they are not wanted, and turning over some of the ground. I have cleared one small raised bed and that now has beetroot and chard sprouting in it.

Let’s see if I can get a trampoline in there for the summer…

Treeathlon

Yesterday I was lucky enough to take part in Trees For Cities’s Treeathlon, which took place in the leafy environs of Battersea Park. It was a gorgeous early autumn, sunny September day, as predicted. Perfect weather to enjoy a 5k run round the park.

I was on the 7.47am train with my excited son, and in Battersea Park station by 8.12am! I never realised it was possible to get there so fast- which pleases me because Battersea Park is ace and Sam is desperate to go back. We met my friend Liz and her daughter there, who were coming along with us to support me and keep Sam company while I ran the race.

The event was well thought-out and impressively organised, with a large corner of the park set aside to accomodate Treeathloners and their friends and families. After registering and collecting my official Treeathlon Marcus Lupfer-designed tshirt (see above) I changed into it using the spacious changing tent provided. I was then able to leave all my ‘gubbins’ behind at the left-luggage tent for a very reasonable £2 donation to Trees For Cities. In the midst of all the ‘operational’ facilities  was The Blue Bus stage, playing cheerful festival-vibe music in between sets from London band Scarletts Roses and my favourite, The Sunshine Swing Band.

A small but perfectly chosen array of food and drink stalls complemented this, with freshly baked pizzas, vegan curry, candy floss on a stick, cocktails and jerk chicken wraps on offer.

At 9.45 the warm up began with Sinitta and flamboyant-is-an-understatement Francis Alejandro Cardoso from Dance Flavourz , who have performed on Britain’s Got Talent (not that I would know) and who led the expectant runners in a warm up. This began to my delight with Sinitta’s ‘So Macho’ and went on to some serious Samba music and movement.

The runners were called to the Start line in Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner sections. I had already decided to stay right at the back, so I missed Alex James from Blur who was apparently starting the race. After doing well with my training over the last eleven weeks I’ve been poorly over the last two and only managed two runs in the last fortnight. But after the support and generosity of friends and family who have sponsored me to the tune of £216 (thank you!) I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Instead I doubled up on my asthma medication and aimed to take it slow and steady like an Ent and see how I got on. If an Ent can walk than so could I if I had to…

I was helped along by the soundtrack in my ears which included Scritti Politti, Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Chicks on Speed and Arcade Fire (‘Month of May’ and ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) driving me on for the last 1500 metres) which I’d selected the night before. But really I didn’t need much to spur me on, the atmosphere was fantastic, the enthusiasm palpable and the park is beautiful. We had two laps to run, past lakes with canada geese scudding onto their watery runways; fountains, rose gardens, tennis courts and playgrounds. Past people playing football, lifting free weights, walking dogs, cycling and in-line skating. All while shaded by a glorious canopy of trees.

Liz and the kids were there to cheer me on as I completed the first lap and were there again to meet me at the finish. In the end I managed a personal best of 39 minutes and 52 seconds to run 5km. Not bad going considering I have only run 5km three times! After running I went to choose my sapling and picked a rowan tree. Now I just have to work out where to plant it.

Trees for Cities did a great job of catering for familes, offering all kinds of child-friendly activities. While I was running Sam and Scarlett had their faces painted in exchange for a donation to keep those trees being planted. This was top quality work (see below), and plenty of grown ups were also taking advantage of the face-artistry on site! After the race the kids and I also had a go at hulahooping, and there was sack racing, space hoppers, ‘cutting and sticking’ and drawing on offer too.

As we sat enjoying the band and eating lunch Sam turned to me and said: “I’m really glad you did this today. Was it very hard to do?” Awwww….there were some older children running too, so I told him maybe in a few years he could do it with me if he wanted to.

I absolutely loved the whole experience- all four of us had a great time. I would definitely do it again. This is the start of running for me- I am aiming to keep going and see if I can push my distance up to 10 km over the next few months, once I am better and have handed in my dissertation.

Running for Trees – Weeks Three and Four #Treeathlon

I’ve been so busy with my dissertation and my son finishing his first year of school. I have had enough time for five runs in the last two weeks but no time to blog. But here I am at the beginning of Week Five to report back on how it’s going.

Two weeks ago, at the start of Week Three I decided to go for a run in Richmond Park. I was very excited at the prospect of this, Richmond Park is one of my favourite places to be, and I felt like I was moving up a level. Most of my runs have been around the estate I live on, purely for the reason that it is the most practical and time-saving way of training.

I parked at Pembroke Lodge, changed into my running gear and plugged myself in to my ipod, scrolling through the menus as I walked along. I was looking for the Week Three podcast on the excellent NHS Counch Potato to 5K running programme the NHS provides as a free download. I realised I had downloaded every other week except Week Three! What to do next? Go for another Week Two run or live dangerously and skip stright to Week Four? I went for the latter and, feeling slightly daring as I set off, wondered if I would make it.

I decided I would do as much as I could but if it proved too much I would stop and go back to the week before. I needn’t have worried. Running through the Park was a revelation. It was a warmish, cloudy day, wth the sun peeking through the clouds, but still cool enough to wear my comfort-blanket waterproof.

The ground was earthy and soft, springy and pleasant to run on. The rain had held off and there wasn’t much mud around. And anyway, for most of the run I was under the green canopy of the trees, currently in their full-on showing-out summer glory. I felt energised as I jogged along, excited to be running in this beautiful place, and amazed to be keeping up with the Week Four podcast at the beginning of my Week Three of training! In fact I had no problem completing the run which was a great boost to my confidence- I am not as spud-like as I thought I was.

I completed three runs that week but decided to be sensible and continue with the Week Four podcast in Week Four, rather than get too far ahead of myself. On my fifth run the podcast came to an end with the usual five minute walk to warm down but I wasn’t ready to stop. I scrolled through to find something that would keep the pace up (see below) and continued running for another four minutes, even speeding up, purely for the joy of continuing.

I am getting hooked on running, enjoying feeling fitter and accomplishing each small goal towards the 5k target. I am also calmer and my writing is benefitting from the mental time-out which running provides, especially with the current pressure to write my MA dissertation. The combination is a winner and I have already decided that although my first big goal is to run the Treeathlon for Trees in Cities on 15th September, I won’t stop after that.

I hope to go for another run in Richmond Park again soon but until then the estate where I live is just large enough to accommodate a half hour run. It’s a quiet leafy suburb estate, with grass verges, not yet wiped out by parking although sadly diminishing year on year. There are also still plenty of front gardens which have not been paved over or used for parking (again this is happening at a scary rate) which have trees in them. The other day I noted ash, yew, a couple of silver birch and rowen trees amongst others. I think I will try and see how many species I can spot as I continue to run round my estate.

This neatly brings me to the point of the Treeathlon- to raise money for Trees In Cities. What would a city be like without its lungs? Because that is what trees are, and they provide lots of other benefits too. Trees In Cities have lots of information about this very subject here. Each time I run locally I do a circuit which includes a section of the A3, the massive artery road into London right next to where I live. There are no trees on this road, apart from those in people’s front gardens, where they provide a vital screen from the exhaust fumes and constant noise. I run this way on purpose at the moment, especially after the run in Richmond Park, as a meditation and a reminder of what trees do for us. We cannot and must not underestimate their importance.

Trees feature in my writing all the time, they creep in like ents when I think I am writing about something else. I like it that way…

Running for Trees – WEEK ONE #Treeathlon

I’ve signed up for the Treeathlon being held in support of Trees for Cities in September in Battersea Park. Trees are the lungs of our cities, providing oxygen where it is most needed, and as a city dweller (well, suburbanite) with severe asthma, and a lover of trees and cities, how could I not sign up? Well, I could have easily not signed up but I am aware of encroaching middle age spread and the fact that after driving for three years I have never felt so stiff and unfit in my life. So the trees and cities win if I can raise some money, and I win by getting fitter.

Last night I ran/walked/ran/walked for half an hour and it felt great. Following a recommendation from a friend I am using the NHS’s fantastic podcast of their ‘Couch Potato to 5k’ programme. Download it for FREE (SAVE THE NHS!) and then listen to the podcast for each week which gives you clear instructions on exactly what to do.

I am officially considering this WEEK ONE as I have now started listening to the podcasts. I have already been running a couple of times and am trying to add in some cross training by swimming at least twice a wekk as well beacuse it is especially beneficial for your lungs if you happen to be asthmatic.

I’ve got two more runs to complete this week and am intending to update my progress weekly here.