Thursday, 30 August 2018

Poppy The Wonder Dog

I had scheduled in a long run this morning and, as usual, Pop came with me. To date, her longest run has been 19 miles which she did with M two years ago. It's the one and only time we've ever know her properly tired! I've kept her to 17 with me over the summer, and when it was really hot she did 4-10, depending on the temperature. Now it's cooler, and we've had rain so all the puddles, ditches and streams are full, so it seemed safe to let her do a long one.

We set off, not particularly fast as it's only two and half weeks since I did the marathon, and Pop was as she usually is, in front, ears flying, galloping along, loving being out running. We were doing laps around home so every few miles I had the opportunity to drop her home if it got too hot or if she was tiring. At thirteen miles I needed a pee, so we popped home, she had a drink and something to eat and a chat with Ted who sniffed her all over in a where have you been?! kind of way, and by the time I was ready to go again there she was by the front door, tail wagging and a fierce don't you dare leave me at home look on her face. I gave Ted a well done for guarding the house fish square (which in no way is a bribe to keep him quiet as we leave) and Pop and I set off again.

I was trying out Tailwind, a powdered form of endurance nutrition which you add to water and sip as you're running. It basically has everything your body needs to keep going. It's essentially sugars (carbs) and salts. I'd gone for the natural flavour (ie unflavoured). On recent long runs I've got a bit fed up eating sandwiches every six miles and been unable to eat them at all after 18, and then I've got sick of all the sweets I've had to consume to make up the carbs, so if this worked it would be fab. I've read lots of good things about Tailwind and was curious to see what it would be like. I usually find I'm mainlining sugar by the time I hit 17-18 miles, but on today's run those miles passed with ease. I just kept sipping my water with the mix in it and carried on running, feeling strong and really enjoying it. I even stopped to give directions at 17 miles and was coherent and able to think straight (do you remember those women last time?!).

Five miles on and I had two more to go to get to twenty. I was deliberating whether Pop should stop there. I suggested it as we approached our gate and she set off up the lane instead. She's a very determined woman, our Pop. I walked so she could have a breather up the hill (she didn't need it) and then we ran the last mile and a half together. Twenty miles. I couldn't quite believe she'd done it. She is an amazing little dog.

Anyway, we finished, went home, had a stretch, Ted sniffed us both all over this time (where have you BOTH been??) and Poppy had a drink from the disgusting water in the garden trough even though she has perfectly lovely, fresh, clean water in her bowl. For once I wasn't feeling yuk from eating handfuls of sweets. The Tailwind appears to have been a huge success. I will try it again before the next marathon and if I get positive responses on the next long run I'll switch to it as my training and marathon nutrition.

I barely had time to jump in the shower before I had to rush out and collect L from the bus. I treated myself to some waitrose beans and pasta salads and some salted caramel ice cream (yum), and then the dogs and I went out into the fields blackberrying for tonight's pud, blackberry and apple crumble with hazelnut topping. Poppy leapt and raced and zoomed about in the fields as if she'd had her paws up all day.

I feel remarkably good: slightly stiff and achy and a little bit tired in a nice, I've had proper exercise way and I expect I shall sleep well tonight. Pop has finally succumbed to her bed and is snoozing beside Ted, who is exhausted from all the guarding duty and is gently snoring as I type.

I'll leave you with some more photos of the silver sparrows- it's perhaps easier to see how different they are to the normal coloured sparrows when they are side-by-side....

Hope all are well?


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Silver Sparrows

Last year, I noticed a silver sparrow in the garden. Just the one: a male, silver-grey feathers shining beside his brethren's more traditional brown. I took some photos, wondered, assumed he was an aberration. Now there are at least three of them, two boys and a girl, which means that he is breeding, and passing on his silver gene. There may be more but, until you know them well, one sparrow does tend to look much like another, even when dressed in silver. Three silver sparrows. Have you seen one before? I haven't. Nor can I find anything online about them either.

Here is the more traditional sparrow plumage, you will see that my silver sparrows are quite different to these conker brown folk.... Hmm.

In Running News, Pop came out and did ten miles with me and M through the forest yesterday. We were reccing a five mile route for my 5-10k group (who are now up to 5 miles and on track for their first 10k race at the end of September) around Minstead (surely some of the finest oak trees in the New Forest live in Minstead?), and decided to add on a bit extra because my legs needed it. It's six weeks till my next marathon and I'm getting fidgety about not having one sooner. It's nothing to do with pride, everything to do with need.

There is a new book coming out called The Runner, about a Swede who lived wild in the woods close to the Arctic Circle for four years. He is a runner, regularly covering 40 miles a day. He said he ran because he revelled in getting tired and cold and wet and hungry for the pleasure of later being rested and warm and dry and full up, and that running was the means by which he stripped life to its essentials to see how he could cope and what he could learn about himself. It was about living closer to his basic needs. When you run, you live in the body not in the head, which is quite the opposite of most of modern life. He says when you can feel the blood circulating in the body, you have clarity and there is a lot to be said for that kind of simplicity.

This is the closest explanation to what running does for me and why I do it. It's not about speed (although I am chuffed to bits when I have run well and feel strong and have put in a good time); it's not about telling other people what I have done (although it's nice when friends say well done and it's lovely when people get inspired to give it a go themselves). I would run if no one knew I did and increasingly these days I don't tell people until after a race is over that I've done it. 

It's about endurance and discipline and wellbeing: testing yourself mentally, emotionally and physically, seeing what you can do, going beyond where you thought your limits were, proving that your body is only limited by your mind. It is the simplicity of training and reward. It is about nutrition and paying attention to your diet: thinking of food as fuel places an entirely different relationship around it. It's also (although less so the more you do it) about proving other people, the naysayers, the doom-foretellers, the negative you won't be able to do that-ers wrong. About demonstrating that the only person who knows what you are capable of and where the limits to that capacity lie is you. That in itself is liberating in an increasingly limit-ridden society driven by fears over health and safety. Starting to run and continuing to run is raw and sometimes it is risky, but people need raw and risky to feel alive. 

Setting yourself a goal that is hard carries with it the risk you might fail. But failure in running is not absolute. Failing in running just means you regroup: prepare further and work harder and the next time you'll nail it. I talk to my 5-10k group about that a lot- about the mindset you need to cultivate to run. And that applies whether you're training for a marathon or starting couch to 5k: the bravery you need to muster is exactly the same. It's why I get cross when I hear of things like a marathon runner saying to a half marathon runner during a race last weekend anyone can run a half marathon in what I suspect was a dismissive put-down. It doesn't happen often: runners are a famously generous and encouraging bunch of people, but when it does it smarts. Because everyone who runs, regardless of the distance, is doing a brilliant and brave thing and should be applauded.

I've lost count of the number of running stories I've read/ heard about that involve failure (ultras, mountain races, marathons, half marathons, 10ks, 5ks) only for the person concerned to bounce back and succeed at the next attempt. I've had my own (The Beast last Autumn springs to mind as a particularly miserable and rotten experience). There was a piece in the paper last week on the back of A Level results about the value of failing, which I took to mean don't let the fear of failing at something prevent you from giving it a go. I think it's a good mantra to hold on to. The Beast was a miserable 12 miles across cliffs in awful weather that I limped the last four miles of in tears. Roll forwards eight months and there's me finishing my first marathon limp-free and with a huge grin on my face. Failure at something once doesn't mean you won't succeed at it (or something bigger and better) in the future.

Running gives you access to all that. Running long distances gives you it in spades.

F & J were here recently, asking me about my marathons. I could tell from their responses that I had failed to convey properly how running a marathon is hard, testing, challenging, exhausting and painful but also exciting, exhilarating and totally thrilling at the same time. Something you can do regularly and look forward to, something you can positively need to do. They were sceptical, J said: I think you are being modest. I think marathons are really hard and I couldn't get her to see that I wasn't and that something being hard doesn't make it a bad thing. 

I've written before about how being in the company of people who regularly run ultra marathons (anything over 26.2 miles) resets your expectations of what is normal. I have a friend who is currently training for a 100 mile race this autumn, another who is going to pace her on one leg which is essentially marathon distance, two who ran 34 mile ultras last weekend (and were back running the next day) another who is doing her second 50 mile race next month, one who has a 48 mile race near Christmas, and another who has his first 50 mile race next year. In this company, marathon runners are the babies of the bunch. In this company, you just accept long distance running is normal and, more importantly, achievable.

I'll leave you with a photo from this weekend's race, the rather wonderfully titled Flying Monk 10k, which I loved doing. Even in the pouring rain. It followed part of the Fosse Way, the oldest Roman Road in Britain. No-one called me a Little Robot this week, which I was a bit sad about, but on the other hand I overtook everyone around me on the uphills which made me smile, and felt I could have gone on running for ages. My running buddy Ian said later on Strava that only a fully fledged runner would get away with the fashion statement that is trainers, woolly hat, waterproof and running skirt. I decided it was a compliment :o)

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Friday, 24 August 2018

Southampton's Hidden History

Southampton owes its existence to its geography. The valley has fertile soil, is near a major estuary with an unusual double high-tide and has two big rivers nearby, so it is not surprising that the ground has been settled since the Neolithic. The Romans were here too, albeit it a little further over- the area to the east now known as Bitterne is thought to have once been a Roman town (Clausentum) which flourished until the armies withdrew in the early fifth century. 

Today's Southampton started life as a Saxon settlement known as Hamwic (the Ham eventually became part of Hampshire). By the middle of the 11th C the town was called South Hamtun. It had a thriving wool trade and the Royal Mint was based there, but it suffered badly from the Viking raids of the 9th and 10th centuries and it wasn't until after the Normal Conquest that Southampton emerged as a key town, wealthy from wool exporting and wine importing. Its status was further enhanced during the Middle Ages by the presence of the ship building industry off West Quay which supplied royal naval vessels, including the Grace Dieu for Henry VIII.

Despite these historic roots, Southampton's ancient heritage isn't obvious today. The high street is full of pretty hideous post-war buildings, but you can get an idea of what it once looked like from the words of a visitor who saw it in 1541 and declared that the High Street was 'one of the fairest in all England for timber buildings'. 

Southampton's ancient past was all-but obliterated by the bombs that decimated the city during the second world war. The presence of the docks and the Spitfire factory in Woolston put it high on the list of targets. Fifty-seven attacks were launched against the city, with 2300 bombs and over 30,000 incendiary devices falling. This resulted in 45,000 buildings being either lost or damaged and most of the High Street being wiped out. More than 4000 homes were destroyed, 631 civilians killed and 898 people injured. During the two worst nights of the bombing, (30th November and 1st December), 77 people were killed, the Civic Centre was destroyed and the city's water supply was ruined.

I've lived ten miles from Southampton for the last 25 years, but I've been much more connected to Winchester and Salisbury, neither of which were bombed and both of which have all their old buildings intact so when you wander through their high streets you can read their story relatively easily. As a history buff, I had never seen anything in Southampton to pique my interest. 

And then, last winter on a quiet weekend, M suggested we walk Southampton's Medieval walls together. It was fascinating and so, a couple of weekends ago we went back, this time spending more time on individual buildings and streets, piecing the history together, walking backwards and forwards between places rather than following the whole trail. If you haven't done it before and ever find yourself in or near Southampton with an hour or two to spare, it really is worth it, although you do have to look quite hard. I can't understand why the city doesn't make more of this heritage? The signs are faded, the visitor boards grubby and dirty, the buildings don't have enough context. They ought to be made more of. It's a gripping story.

Anyway, I'm starting us at St Michaels, in the old part of town, which was founded in 1070, making it the oldest surviving church in the city. It's located in what was once a very busy and prosperous market square. In 1338 people worshipping inside the church were murdered when French raiders attacked the town, an act which led Edward III to visit and declare he wanted all of Southampton encircled by walls (previously the walls had stopped short of the sea), something that took decades to complete, partly because of the labour shortages caused by the Black Death but also because of Britain's involvement with the Hundred Years War.

The church has a rare Tournai Font. Made of black marble carved in Tournai in 1150, it is one of four in Hampshire. There are only seven to be found in the whole of England. It was brought over from France in one piece- can you imagine how heavy it must be? I was thinking about all the babies who'd been baptised in it during it's 900 years of life in the church. Amazing.

There are lots of beautiful details inside the church, inscriptions and carvings and stained glass windows. 

On a plot of land opposite St Michaels stands the Tudor House, built in the late 15th C with an adjacent Norman house built in 1100 accessible from it. The plot encompasses over 900 years of history. Rather typically, it was shut when we went, but we will be back to explore inside.

Blue Anchor Lane
Immediately to the right of Tudor House is an ancient alleyway leading down to what was once the medieval quayside (the high-rise building in the distance would have been underwater when Tudor House was built). Five hundred years ago, carters would have pulled goods offloaded from the ships at the quay up this lane to deliver them to the market outside St Michaels. It is this narrow alley that the French Raiders came up before attacking St Michaels, having landed on a spit of land on the other side of the old wall you can see at the bottom of the photo. In the 1330s Blue Anchor lane was called Wytegod's lane after a local merchant.

This view, taken a little further along the old city wall, gives a better idea of just how much land was reclaimed from the sea during the 1920s expansion and construction of the Western docks. The arrival of the railway linking Southampton to London in 1840, and the development of Ocean going liners increased the boat traffic coming in and out of the port and several new docks were created to cope with them. Over 400 acres of mudflats disappeared as a result and the sea, which up until then had lapped at the foot of these walls, was pushed further and further away. Everything you can see opposite the city wall in the photo above - the trees, the green land, the cars and the buildings - would have been underwater before 1920. The entrance to Blue Anchor lane is a little further along to the right.

Both Tudor House and St Michaels are situated on Bugle Street, a once-thriving and wealthy merchant area. The name derives from Buculus, latin for Bull, and is thought to apply to the butchers who once worked in this area of town. The ferry port at the bottom of Bugle Street is very busy today. It is close to the original medieval port of West Quay which is now known as Town Quay.

West Gate, one of five gates into the medieval city, was built in the 14th century as part of Edward III's defences and was the main access to West Quay, where most of the town's maritime activity took place.

The presence of the port meant the town was used as a departure point for armies heading off to war. Archers heading to Agincourt walked through the City's West Gate (above), as did the Pilgrim Fathers as they departed for the New World on the Mayflower. This mass movement of men to war was echoed five hundred years later when 8 million passed through Southampton on their way to the Front during WWI; 2000 Southampton men lost their lives in that conflict. 

The memorial above is to the Mayflower, which set off from this spot in 1641. In those days the water would have reached up to the wall behind, which marks one side of Cuckoo Lane.

There's something about Cuckoo Lane. It is supposed to be the oldest lane in Southampton but it is hard to find much written about it. What there is says it was once the home of wealthy merchants, whose buildings were taken down when Edward III commanded the walls of Southampton be extended to circle the whole town following the French raid, and that later, the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's patron, lived here. But I think there is more to it than that. It has a strange feeling about it, as if things have happened there that aren't recorded, but which matter.

Westgate Hall with the West Gate (built in response to the French Raid of 1338) on its right side 

It's a short walk from Cuckoo Lane to Westgate Hall, which has had a chequered past. It originally stood in St Michael's square and was called the Cloth Hall and it had a covered fish market beneath it. By 1634 it had fallen apart and was dismantled and rebuilt next to Westgate where it gained the popular name The Guard Room and where it still stands today. Pikes recovered from its roof timbers support the suggestion that it was used to house soldiers during the Civil War. It was renamed Westgate Hall which is how it is known today.

Walking back from Westgate Hall along Winkle Street, a narrow, hidden lane which has its origins in the medieval period (the name is thought to derive from the Old English work Wincel, which means nook, corner or angle), we came across a church tucked away quietly behind wrought iron gates where the inscriptions were all in French. Curious, we slipped in for a closer look. St Julien's started life in 1197 as an almshouse and hostel for pilgrims traveling to Canterbury, but from the 17th to 20th centuries it was used regularly by French Protestants, so it is also known as the French Church.

We eventually emerged at the Wool House, a 14th C wool warehouse which is now a pub, which is situated between Bugle Street and French Street (perhaps not surprisingly French Street is where the Normans settled when they came to Southampton). Wool House remains unaltered from the time it was constructed apart from the front arch. It is here because at the time it was built Southampton was a leading wool port. The Wool House is thought to have belonged to the Cistercian monks of Beaulieu Abbey, which is situated not far away across Southampton water. It was later used as a prison for French prisoners during the Napoleonic War.

Over the road from the Wool House, situated between French Street and High Street (which was known until the 16th C as English Street, and, along with East Street, was the place where the original Saxons inhabitants of South Hamtun settled) is Town Quay Gardens, a quiet, unassuming, peaceful plot which has an astonishing amount of history inside its walls. In the heart of the medieval merchant quarter with evidence of the original Saxon town by way of foundations nearby, and only a stone's throw from the medieval port of West Quay, Town Quay was once full of wealthy merchant's houses built over vast vaults where wool, wine and other goods were stored. Until the night of 30th November when the entire area was flattened by bombs and people sheltering inside the vaults were killed. For many years afterwards, children played on the flattened bomb site, until a group of people got together and transformed part of it into a garden.

Vaults of the medieval merchant's houses still visible- the houses above were flattened by bombs.

A hint of the area's martial past perhaps? Railings in the form of spearheads.

The old and the new, side-by-side

There is one house in Town Quay that wasn't entirely flattened by the bombing. It is known locally as Canute's Palace, because when the Viking Canute (or Cnut, depending on your preference) defeated the Saxon King Ethelred the Unready, he had himself proclaimed King in Southampton (1016). There is the suggestion that it was here that he attempted to hold back the tide (a story which is assumed to demonstrate his vainglory, but which the original 13th C source says was an attempt to demonstrate to his followers the foolhardiness of believing in the power of mortal men instead of worshipping the supreme power of God). Canute's Palace is more properly called the Long House. Built 1170-1200, long after Canute was around, it is most likely to have been a merchant's house facing onto the port.

Between Town Quay gardens and the sea, the old city wall stretches, providing a protective, curving arm to the Long House. 

Bringing us a little more up to date, Jane Austen also has connections with this area of the Old Town of Southampton.

After her father died, she and her mother moved from Bath to live with Jane's brother Frank and his wife who had a house in Castle Square which had access to the City Walls and views across Southampton Water. Here Jane would walk and they would also travel along Southampton water to visit the ruins of Netley Abbey.

Even more up to date, the Titanic sailed from Southampton in April 1912 on its doomed maiden voyage- the Sea City museum has a fantastic exhibition on it.

And almost entirely up-to-date, Southampton was made a city by the Queen in February, 1964 in response to its growing population, large port and contribution to the economy.

All of this has made me see Southampton through very different eyes. I've known the city for twenty-five years and have frankly been dismissive of it because I believed all the old and interesting stuff had been bombed away, but somehow I have missed all these important stories and the beautiful and ancient places that have survived here, tucked away, yet also somehow hidden in plain sight. 

So come on, Southampton City Council, get your act together and do more to explain and promote the extraordinary place of Southampton in our nation's history, and the wonderful old buildings you have custody of. The signs need updating, the story line needs to be properly written and the context needs explaining, both for visitors and locals like me who knew nothing about it. You have a gem on your hands and you're wasting the opportunity to show it to people and the chance, presumably, to raise some much-needed funds to look after it properly. To a historian like me that feels like a massively wasted opportunity.

Hope you're all well?


*I haven't mentioned Catchcold or God's House tower in this post, but they are part of the story and worth visiting too.