Thursday, 19 May 2016

Making good citizens

Being in a new interim role in Ambition, a leading youth charity, makes it possible to look with a fresh perspective at developments in the sector, and so it's been really interesting for me to view the Queen's Speech through the new lens of my temporary home in the youth sector.

Firstly, I'm delighted to see a focus on improving the outcomes of children in care. The fact that we continually fail those young people whose lives must already, by definition, have been made more difficult is something that bewilders and saddens me. Despite the work of many local authorities, voluntary sector organisations like the brilliant
Who Cares? Trust and many others in the field, the outcomes of looked after children are poorer in virtually every way you choose to measure and it is absolutely essential that we focus on their needs, rights and outcomes.

I confess, when I see that this bill includes a requirement for Local Authorities to advise young care leavers of the services they are entitled to, I am struck by just what a low base we must be working from in some places (it requires legislation to make sure that happens? Seriously?) though I recognise that it is positive that there is a statutory (and therefore funded) duty. Perhaps we all need to give more thought to the way we can meet the needs of children in care and caution against assuming the help, support and information is always coming from somewhere else.

Significant funding and ambitious targets were announced for the
National Citizen's Service as well as giving it statutory status (though exactly what that will mean or what the impact of that statutory status is, I’m not fully sure and would welcome a tutorial!) Naturally, the aim to give 360,000 young people good quality experiences is brilliant and it’s great that the government is focusing on young people’s needs and is so committed to a programme of work that builds skills and resilience and encourages young people to take part in social action. I have to say, though, that I wish there was that same commitment to building these skills on a day-to-day basis in schools (*cough* statutory PSHE *cough*).

I hope this focus on NCS will mean opportunities for the huge numbers of youth workers and other professionals across the country who are working with young people day in, day out. They are building ongoing relationships delivering innovative, effective, important work and having a huge impact on young lives in really difficult circumstances. I do not fully understand the NCS model yet but I hope that the requirement to deliver the programme to many more young people comes with a commitment to support and build the sector’s workforce and engage with local youth and community groups in order that young people have the best experience it’s possible for them to have.

Some things from my old Brook world appeared ( I worked at Brook for almost 9 years), though these were not a great surprise. It seems that the government remains determined that all websites containing pornographic images should require age verification (ie proof you are over 18) before they can be accessed. I understand the desire to protect young people, but internet filtering is such a complex, expensive, often ineffective and difficult thing to do (as well as being something that young people can get round pretty straightforwardly) that I’m beginning to think it only gets mentioned because someone somewhere likes to snigger at making the Queen say pornography. I’d far sooner see legislation to help ensure all young people develop the confidence, critical thinking and self-esteem to build healthy happy relationships and recognise porn for what it is and, crucially, what it is not (ie real life). 

Talking of education, I see we’re going to continue to tinker with the governance of schools whilst running a country mile from any genuine commitment to improving young people’s experience of school, which is a shame and an almost identical model to the obsessive, ideological fiddling with the health system at the expense of patients that Andrew Lansley was so delighted to preside over. I’m a school governor and I see first-hand the impact of these policies. I know how hard teachers and other school teams are working to make sure young people don’t miss out – it’s an inspiration, particularly given how much more difficult it is made by the policy environment. 

What do I wish had been in the Queen’s Speech? Well, the most obvious is votes for 16 and 17 year olds. If our flagship youth programme is really a National Citizens Service, surely a central part of being a citizen is the right to take part in democratic processes (
and not just if you happen to be Scottish). I have never heard an argument to restrict the vote to 18+ that makes any sense and I don’t like the implication (or perhaps it is just my inference) that young people can’t be trusted somehow. If you agree with me, you can join the Votes at 16 campaign chaired by the British Youth Council and if you’re young and want to make change, you should look at the Bite The Ballot campaign that Ambition supported when it launched last year.

So, an interesting speech and fascinating for me to look at it through fresh eyes. Like I said, I’m new here and if I have said something you disagree with, have misunderstood something or have got something totally wrong, feel free to get in touch and put me right – you can do that in the comments or email me at where you can also tell me if you think I'm spot on! I’m on a journey in the youth sector and I’d love to hear from you.




Friday, 26 September 2014

Endless bloody hugs (21-30)

Ok, I am bored of this now! However, the good news is that I have done my full 50 hugs within the 30 days required. No more bloody hugs! However, as it takes longer to write the buggers up than to give/recieve them, I'll carry on blogging them in batches of 10 for a couple more weeks. That means there's still time for you to sponsor my hugging and walking if you like on my Just Giving Page. 

Inicdentally, I have also completed my walking challenge. I walked 100km of the Thames Path in 23.5 hours. Never pushed myself so bloody hard. I even gave someone a free hug. Clearly I was not in my right mind.  

Anyway, back to the hugs. Back to the tedious process of trying every day to judge whether there's anyone around I am remotely comfortable asking for a hug. But the end was in sight by now and I'd passed the halfway point and could see light at the end of the tunnel. Here are the next ten hugs. 

Hug #21: The Teacher

I've decided to tick off some professionals and here's a huggy teacher. Well, she's all sorts of things really, pro-choice campaigner, pet-feeder, problem solver, mother, singer, wife and friend among other things. Didn't mind *too much* hugging her. I have probably done it before, I confess.

Hug #22: The Old School Friend

This made me wonder if I used to be huggy at school and have lost the knack. My 13 year old hugs her friends endlessly but I don't remember doing that. Anyway, you won't be surprised to know this was the first person to check themselves in the photo in case another take was required. <cough> vain <cough> to use a subtle old school technique. 

Hug #23: The Former Boss

And this one made me wonder if all workplaces are as huggy as Brook. I don't think they are. I don't think this one was anyway. Except when we dealt with agencies. People in agencies are always so damn huggy. Still, that's now 2 bosses I have hugged. Which means I don't need to worry about 'hug your boss day' for 2 years.

Hug #24: Teenage Boy 1

I'll be frank, I was expecting a flat refusal so was surprised when he obliged. Another one of those dreadful young people we hear so much about in the media yet he appears to be funny, polite, interesting and intelligent. Honestly, I am beginning to think the Daily Mail might not always be fully factual. 

Hug #25: The Exex Team 1

What would a Brook Executive Team be without a few huggers? Operations here, demonstrating her grasp of the operational aspects of hugging - high quality, cost effective, user-focussed delivery.

Hug #26: The Exec Team 2

Ah, Corporate Services. Making sure hugging is booked several months in advance so as to benefit from discounted prices, doesn't to anything to damage the relationship between the individual and the organisation and is carried out under strict health and safety conditions. 

Hug #27: The Exex Team 3

Yeah, she's hugging but mostly she's wondering if this huggathon is the kind of innovative product that we could scale up and sell to commissioners. She's wondering if I've done enough data collection to demonstrate impact effectively and if I could do a train the trainer season and a marketing flyer. 

Hug #28: The Choir Director

Essentially, undoing all the benefit of the wonderful relaxing, uplifiting singing she helps me do by making me hug. I wonder if she was trying to squeeze those top notes out of my increasingly creaky soprano voice. I should be careful what I say - she'll instigate hugging as good diaphragmatic exercise and I'll never be able to sing again. 

Hug #29: The therapist

Oh yeah, chock full of compassion and empathy and insight into people's needs and feelings and still one of this who took real delight in a big old bearhug. I reckon she thinks it's healing or some such tosh. 

Hug #30: Teenage Boy 2

I know! Another one. Another polite, friendly, cheerful, charming teenage boy agreeing to add to my tally. This one had played a game of cricket and hadn't broken any fingers for a whole game so he was pretty chirpy. 

So that was 21-30. Just another 20 to go, and I was fast running out if friends and family to approach. How did I cope with hugging strangers...? Tune in next time to find out, folks. #cliffhanger

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Ten more bloody hugs

So, another week, another selection of awkward clumsy embraces with no discernible human value beyond some good old hard cash for Brook (hurrah). Incidentally, I also did a 50km training walk that took 11 hours and I was much more satisfied with that progress than I was the other. But apparently this tedious hugging is what's interesting to people.  Go figure.

So, who were the next 10 touchy-feelies...? Read on and find out. 

Hug #11: The Teenager

I don't know what is more embarrassing, having a friend's mum offer you a hug or being the person whose mum asks your friend for a hug whilst giving an explanation that includes a talk on consent and boundaries ("Mum, shut up we know this stuff") but either way there was some squirming in our house that day. Tho the hug itself was happily given by one of my favourite and oldest of my daughter's friends.

Hug #12: The Sports No 1

Ahhh, the Sports. Brook's good friends and neighbours, the Women's Sport & Fitness Foundation have one or two members who would win gold medals in hugging. They were on it the minute they heard about the challenge. I bet they all love running too, the huggy, sporty poppets. 

Hug #13: The black metal feminist

Yes, apparently black metal and hugging are not mutually exclusive and anyone who imagined they might be is guilty of serious book-by-cover judging. This is also one of the few members of my team prepared to hug me. I don't care to consider why that might be. 

hug #14 The Sports No 2

Another sporty hugger. This one is such a high level hugger (Olympic standard) that we had to have two - one with the photo proof and one that was apparently the "real" one. I am aggrieved that it only counts once because the second one was proper beary and I think I should get extra points for closeness and length. 

Hug #15 The Scot

Am I (an eighth Scottish myself) doing my bit to be stronger together for the No campaign or embracing the go-it-alone spirit of the Yessers? Sadly you will never know. As such a significant public figure in this debate I think it's best to stay out of it and let people make up their own minds. #copout

Hug #16 The next door neighbour

Bit late, bit dark, one or two drinks inside us after a very pleasant hour or two in the pub. Hug thy neighbour is now hanging on a twee plaque on my desk, right next to the sign that says "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!!!".

Hug #17 The Northern Irelander

Continuing my hug across nations theme, we look across the water to Belfast and another non-hugger. See how we both tense uncomfortably, but persevere for the good of young people's sexual health? The money raised from this hug will particularly fuel the fight to win women in Northern Ireland the same bloody reproductive rights we enjoy everywhere else in the UK.

Hug #18 the happy colleague

See how these people take such glee in my discomfort? These people are such happy huggers they have been watching and waiting for the opportunity to pounce! This one was amongst the first to volunteer a hug and was very happy with it too. Perhaps I'm just really bloody good at hugging. 

Hug #19 The GCSE results 

Ah, another lovely person and a hug I would have given willingly without a fee attached because the clever little monkey's gone and got herself an 'ology and a handful of other GCSEs. A nice reminder that it's the young people starting their journey to adulthood that Brook is here for and it's worth a few hugs to help pay for that important work.  

Hug #20 the captain of industry

Oh, yes, a very important and well connected business man who took time out of his busy day to hug me, after which we say down and looked at his pictures from Disneyland where he met Tigger, Pooh and Snow White. Honestly, no wonder the bloody country is going to the dogs if all the serious business types are a bunch of sodding huggers. 

So, that's the next 10. I am actually on 31 now (with one particularly special one in a uniform - you will have to wait for the next instalment to find out more about that one) and I'm not sure whether it's going to be harder to walk 100km non-stop or find another 19 people to hug in the next 10 days, but either way, if you feel generous, please do consider sponsoring me to help all the brilliant work for young people that Brook does.

Cheers and hugs all round!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The first ten hugs

So, you know the story - I, famously a "cold fish" and not a fan of hugs in any circumstances but *especially* not in the workplace, have been set a challenge by my hugger colleagues to have 50 mutually consenting hugs in 30 days. In return, these colleagues have sponsored me - as can you, if you feel so inclined. All the money I raise will help Brook work with young people on really important issues like...well, like consent and boundaries. 

I agreed to report back on my experience through this blog and post the pictures of the people I hugged. These pictures are taken by the person themselves on my phone as an indication of mutual trust and consent. 

Hug #1: The Boss

If you're gonna hug your colleagues, might as well start at the top. Might as well also start with the person who has so far sponsored the greatest amount (£2 per hug with a bonus if I get any "special" ones). 

Hug #2 The GiveHerAnInchSheTakesAYard Friend

This was actually the second attempt because she stuck her tongue in my ear the first time, something definitely non-consensual. She still snuck a kiss this time. Bloody actressy types. 

Hug #3 The Runner

I'm very pleased that I now have challenge as significant as running 50 km which is what this woman is doing for the cash. You can chuck some on her pile, too, if that's your bag. 

Hug #4 The Queen of Hugs

Started twitching in anticipation as soon as she realised a hug was on the cards. Loves hugs. Sees them as the answer to all of life's problems. She's wrong, of course, but very nice all the same

Hug #5 The Brook Checklister

After careful checking of the position vis a vis consent, wanted to know how I was going to "demonstrate the outcomes" of my challenge (answer: cold hard cash thanks very much). Brook first for this one, every time. 

Hug #6 The Fellow Non-hugger

Learned my first lesson here: if you're a non-hugger, hug another non-hugger. Respectful, kind, gentle, friendly and none of the triumphalism of the touchy-feelies. My favourite so far. 

Hug #7 The Stranger

Stranger to me, anyway. Apparently everyone else in the office knows him because he works at the pub at the end of the road. I double-checked consent several times because it was a bit bloody weird. 

Hug #8 The Husband

At one point, it was suggested that people I'm married to wouldn't count. This was soon dismissed by my husband, saying "Tell them I've been married to you for 17 years and this is the first hug you've initiated. It definitely counts."

Hug #9 The Daughter

Ahhhh, I confess this is not our first time. Though from the day she could talk we agreed to ask first if we wanted hugs. She's 13 now and asks every day and I say yes. Unless Bake-off is on. Or West Wing on DVD. Or I'm reading the paper. 

Hug #10 The Sweaty, Huggy, Friend

"Fresh" from a Zumba class and delighted by the idea of a reciprocal hug tho apologetic about the gentle glowing she was doing. Not the first person to say, with a blink, "I must have hugged you loads of times when you didn't much want me to."

So there we have it, my first ten hugs. I have a feeling finding huggers for the first half of this challenge is going to be easier than the second. Several people have set me extra targets - a policeman is top of the list (we had quite a chat about whether a policeman would agree to be hugged).

All the huggers have a glint in their eye when they lean in for their hug. I can tell they all want to bring me into their tribe. They all want theirs to be the one that opens my eyes and heart to the power of the hug. Bless them, it's their optimism that makes them so cute even as they bear down on you with their big fuzzy open arms. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Diary of a non-hugger

Oh good grief, what have I done?

You remember before, when I ran and ran and fucking ran and it was shit and I never enjoyed it, and it was painful and awful, but I did it?

Yeah, well this time is worse. Properly. This time is harder.

You may know that I’m in training at the moment to walk 100km in 24 hours. I’ve been training really hard and, since Steve ruptured his Achilles, I’ve been training by myself to get fit enough to achieve this really difficult challenge.

And, you know what? The training is working. I have worked really hard. Not just the hours of walking, but I’ve been running and swimming to make sure I can do it. And I think I can. And other people think I can. It’s brilliant. 

But I got a bit cocky. I was too happy. I was enjoying my training too much. I was “chirpy” at the end of a 28km through-the-night training walk. People started to think I was having too much fun and that the challenge wasn’t sufficient.

And one evening, after a Brook management team meeting, some of the nicest, kindest people I work with decided I needed a “proper” challenge. And they decided to offer me cash if I would face my biggest fears. Oh my word, the irony of these people.

I don’t need to name them. They know who they are. They’re reading this and they don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Well, cry ladies and gentleman. Cry.

They are making me hug people.

Yes, you read it right. Some of the best people I know. Women and men who have dedicated their lives to making sure that young people have the information and support they need to develop healthy relationships, who would lie down in front of a tank if they thought it meant they could improve young people’s capacity to consent, think I need fixing because I don’t like hugging people.

They know this because, 4 years ago, I wrote a speech for a Brook event. And I said this…
“It’s a truth, universally acknowledged, that I don’t do hugging at work. I’m told I’m not touchy-feely. It has been pointed out to me on several occasions that I lack some of the emotional sensitivity or the personal warmth that many of my colleagues are blessed with. I do not tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. 
And yet in the last couple of weeks, I have been reduced to tears 3 times as a result of my work.
When volunteer cohort 2 finished their placement with us, we had a little tea party to say goodbye to them. One of them in particular had a wonderful journey with us. She blossomed before our very eyes, changing from a slightly awkward, shy young woman, not really at home with herself, into a brave, confident and happy young woman grabbing life’s opportunities with both hands. As I listened to her, and her mentor, talk about her experience, I was unable to stop tears of pleasure, not to mention some pride at being involved with the organisation that had partly enabled her transformation. 
Only a few days later, I had to read the report of a very difficult call that the Ask Brook workers had taken. It was a sad, disturbing and violent situation which made me both deeply unhappy and absolutely furious. My tears then were of frustration, anger and fear at how many young people there might be out there in terrible situations who don’t have this young woman’s courage or don’t know how to call someone and ask for help.
And then, yesterday (and she has given me permission to tell you this), my 9 year old daughter asked me, after listening to the news, what rape was. So we talked about that, and we discussed, in a way she was able to grasp, how important consent is, and how sex is something good, and that to use it to hurt or frighten people is a terrible crime. And afterwards I felt a bit wobbly and teary. And I thought about all the children who are being denied the kind of frank and vital information and conversations that I believe no child should miss out on.”
I think you’ll agree there is some moving stuff in that speech. Some insight into why I believe so fiercely in what Brook does. That’s not what my colleagues heard, though. Oh no. For them, the key point of that speech was that I’m not a hugger. I’m some strange cold fish, they think, and they worry about me and wonder about my heart and whether it works properly.

And so yesterday, these huggers, these strange, touchy-feely individuals laid down the gauntlet. If I find 50 people in the next month and I obtain a hug from them, and the person I hug takes a picture to prove it, they will give me a ton of cash for Brook.

I’ve accepted the challenge. I am going to find 50 people in the next 30 days who will agree (by mutual consent) to hug me. I will give them my phone and they will take a photo of us hugging to prove that we are both happy about it and I will post the photo here, along with some insight into the hug.

I mulled this over while I was swimming this morning (training for the other, easier, bit of my challenge) and I wondered whether it is actually possible for me to be giving free consent to these hugs or whether I am being coerced or pressured into it because of the opportunity to raise funds for Brook. That made me realise what a genius idea it actually is. Because with every hug I get, I will be thinking carefully about consent. I will be consciously checking that I want to hug and I will make sure that the person I’m asking is able to say no without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable. I will be doing that because so many young people don’t have the luxury of informed, enthusiastic, mutual consent in their relationships and I believe one of the most important things we can do for them is educate ourselves and other people about how vital consent is to helping young people have happy healthy lives.

So I promise that every hug I have will be freely consented to by me and by the person I’m hugging. If you see me over the next 30 days and you would like to hug me, please say so. If you don’t want a hug, don’t worry about it and if you think it’s a good fundraising idea (in addition to the little matter of a 100km walk) please do make a donation here.

Who knows, maybe, just maybe, after 50 hugs, I’ll begin to understand what the fuss is all about. But I doubt it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Finish Line

Oh my god that was AWESOME! The adrenaline and the crowd and the atmosphere simply carried me through as though I was running on air and I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait to do the next one.
No, not really. It was shit. Don’t worry. There was no Damascene conversion here.
I have been bitching here about running for 6 months now. I have run many miles in that time and, as you know, have failed to be bewitched by the charms of the sport. But even I, even at my most furious, sweary and miserable about running, had underestimated just how fucking horrible it is to run 13.2 miles.
Now, I watched the Olympics and Paralympics and I know that the crowd wants to know what goes through the mind of an athlete. So, as though Sharon Davies has just stuck a huge microphone under my nose and said “Jules, that was a pretty dreadful run, you must be feeling shit. Tell us exactly how awful you feel”, here is what I was thinking during the race:
Start – Mile 6 “I hate running. There’s Lucy and Anna! They’ve got pompoms in Brook blue and white. Cool. Oh, Big Ben looks good. I hate running. At least my thigh stopped hurting. I hate running. Archers is good. At least I’m going faster than that woman in a Care Bear suit. There’s Mum and Simon and Sarah. Nobody’s seen Dave. I wonder if he got out of bed. Oh! There’s Huw that was a lucky spot. Think I’ll have a jelly baby.”
Halfway point “I hate running. Hmmm. My foot feels a bit sore, that’s new. I hate running. Jeez, only halfway? Don’t try and cross the race with a buggy you stupid cow. I hate running. News Quiz is funny. I hate running. I bet Steve’s nearly done now.”
Mile 8 – Mile 10 “Oh my fucking eye, am I running on broken glass?! Fuck, I think I’ve broken my foot! Ow ow ow. Wow, Andy’s tall and loud.  Oh why am I doing this? Fucking stupid idea. Jelly baby. For fucking fuck’s sake, what is wrong with my foot?! There’s Lucy waving pompoms. Clever girl, I can see her for miles in those red jeans. And there’s Anna and mum and Huw again (he must know a shortcut). I mustn’t cry. Who’s that with them? Oh my word it’s Anna Jordan! Hurrah! OW, MY FUCKING FOOT. I mustn’t cry. THE FUCKING CARE BEAR JUST OVERTOOK ME. I hate running. Jelly baby. I don’t want to do this anymore. Wow, Andy’s tall and loud. THE BALL OF MY FOOT MUST BE BROKEN. I hate running.”
About 10.5 miles in, I stopped, took off my shoe and moulded the lump of cramped flesh at the bottom of my leg back into a shape that vaguely resembled a foot. Then I started again.
10.5 – 11 miles “I think that helped. I think my foot’s less sore. That’s good. Maybe I can cope with thi…MY THIGHS! MY FUCKING THIGHS! Owowowowowowowowowowowowowow. How long can I run with cramp like this? AAAAAAAAAAW. Water and two jelly babies. Oh. That’s better.”
11 – 13.2 miles “OK. Keep going. Just two more miles and it’s over and you’ll never have to do anything like this again. I hate running. Loathe it. What was I thinking? Lisa, if you take that picture I’ll kill you. HA! In your face Care Bear, eat my dust! 800metres to go. This race is measured in miles, how irritating to start talking in metres at this stage. Anyway, 800m, that’s not far. This must be nearly over. Jeez how long can 800m possibly take? For fuck’s sake where’s the finish? Oh, there it is MILES away. I hate running. Just keep going. Keep going. Oh thank fuck, the end. Oh look, there’s everyone and pompoms and everything I think I might cry. I hate running.”
And there we have it. It was awfully, humiliatingly slow. More than 3 hours. I can tell you that 38 men and a care bear ran slower than me (but I can’t tell you about women, because my chip was registered as a male runner by mistake) so I really was properly bringing up the rear which feels worse than I thought it would after all that miserable tedious training.
On the other hand, there was a brilliant after-race party where I got to spend time with some of my favourite people, including my surprise cheerleader Anna Jordan. Thanks to all my friends, family, colleagues, friends of friends and people who haven’t even met me, I've raised more than £1200 for Brook. For both of those things, I’m enormously grateful. And those of you who haven’t given because you didn’t think I’d get round, you can still chuck your tenner on the heap here.
Of course, the other thing about which I’m pretty happy is to look at where I’ve come from. I have had times in my life where I couldn’t yawn properly because my lungs were so broken. Other times when Steve had to wheel me round in a wheelchair because I couldn't even walk. I have been in some dark, miserable, frightening places that didn’t even have anything to do with running and lots of you have been there with me and helped me through it. And now, after a bit of grudging hard work and a lot of sweary complaining, I can get round a half marathon and my lungs hold up and my legs keep going. Not too shabby really, when you think about it.
That's it now, though. From now on, I shall continue to do a few short crappy runs a week to stay healthy, though I have no intention of ever running another race – they are the most fucking dreadful things. And anyway, I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but I hate running.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

And now, the end is near...

I opened my race pack properly today. I didn’t get it today, as you know. I got it weeks ago but I couldn’t open it completely then, it frightened me too much so I just peeked in. I was right not to open it. It’s terrifying. Unlike the 10k race I did which was organised, you may remember, by two idiots in a basement, the Royal Parks Half Marathon (RPHM) is right proper. It’s beautifully branded with autumnal leaves, it sends you useful, well-written information and it gets a decent, well-explained race pack to you in good time for your race.

That said, in common with almost everyone else in the running “community” RPHM is also really fucking annoying in a number of ways.
  1. Clothing sizes. I’m so tired of trying on running clothes marked “large” which should say “What we think a large person could be if they'd just get of their fat arses and run a bit more.” It seems that running manufacturers don’t have the imagination to believe that a woman anything over a size 12 might decide that she wants to run. In running clothes. Furious and pink faced, I have marched out of dozens of sports shops having failed to force a ‘large’ running top over my chest, or grappling with a zip up top won’t do up round my arse while material is billowing round my puny shoulders. My RPHM top is EXTRA LARGE and it kind of fits. It certainly isn’t too big anywhere and in places it's a bit snug. This makes me feel a bit down, if I’m honest.

  2. Speed. I know, I know, I shouldn’t worry about how slow I am because it’s really great that I’m able to run at all and I should be really proud. Well, mostly I am. And then I look at the timing chart RPHM has included in my pack which looks at the times the “fastest runner” and the “slowest runner” are likely to achieve. By my calculations, if I run my absolute best (plus a bit better) then I will be approximately 13 minutes slower than the “slowest runner” time. If I have a bad day – or even just an average one – I could be as much as half an hour slower. 30 minutes slower than the person that RPHM imagines in their wildest dreams will be the slowest runner in their poxy fucking race. (And as you know, I’ve looked obsessively at last year’s results and I know that there are lots (well, handfuls) of people who run as slowly as me.)

  3. Smiling. <puts on chirpy voice barely covering a snarl> “Remember to smile for our official race photographers who are plotted at various locations along the route” Oh do fuck off.
So, now, you see, rather than going into this stupid race with a positive mental attitude and a bit of self-belief, I’m imagining that I am going to be miles behind, waddling along in my yellow tent while everyone laughs and points and some wanker takes photos. Oh, except that by then everyone will have gone home anyway. There you go – silver lining. Eternally cheery, that’s me.
On top of it all, because I have a complicated medical history which might need telling to an ambulance person, I have to put a big red cross on my running number. So now I feel a little bit like someone with plague (though, if I’m honest, I also quite like the ‘me me’ drama of needing a red cross “Yes, yes, I have been terribly ill but…<bravely bites lip, tearful>…I’m fine now”). Also, and this has just occurred to me now that I write it, perhaps if I have a red cross people will think I’m running slowly in a badly fitting top because I am gravely ill. It can be my excuse. Excellent. That’s good then, not bad. I tell you, my cup is always at least half full.
That said, I think I have surprised many of you by how sustainable my hatred of running is. I know that people thought that after a few weeks of proper training something would kick in and I’d find it fun. But I don’t. Every single run is a slog. Every now and again, I have 10 or 15 minutes during a run where I’m not wishing it was over (usually if I’m listening to a particularly good episode of the Archers). My “good” runs are the ones where I am mostly able to ignore the fact that I’m running and feel glad that I’ve done it at the end but I have never, ever had even a moment where I have enjoyed my run.

Recently, I’ve discovered that lots of other people also hate running, they just don’t like to say it in case people think they’re just lazy or unfit. One friend thanked me for laying to bed the myth that everyone loves running if you just try hard enough. Several people have said they’ve been inspired not by my running (which is not, let’s face it, particularly inspirational), but by my sheer determination and bloody-mindedness. It is true that I – usually a traveller of the path of least resistance - have spent a vast amount of the last six months doing something hard work and horrible. During this summer of amazing sport and truly inspirational men and women, I’m quite pleased to be impressing people with how straightforwardly fucking dreadful I am at running. It’s like I embody the phrase “It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part really grudgingly and with a lot of sweary complaining that counts”. Ohhh, good epitaph. Better pop that next to my red cross.

So, I have just a few days to go. Two, perhaps three, short runs before Sunday depending on how my disconcertingly ever-present thigh injury holds up. And just so you know, when I say “short” I mean a minimum of 40 minutes. And this week, I’m saving the Archers for Sunday so I’m struggling to find things to keep me occupied during my runs. I know. My bravery is almost beyond belief.
Thanks to everyone who’s sponsored me (not too late - here's the link) and who's helped me do this – and lots of you have helped. You've helped by teasing me, encouraging me, pointing out improvements, agreeing that running sucks and telling me it'll all be over soon. You've emailed, texted, commented on my blog, put stuff on Twitter and Facebook, and generally been a friendly, supportive lovely bunch of friends and family. Lots of people seem to be popping down to London to cheer me on too, which is both delightful and embarrassing. Stand near the back, it’ll be your best chance of seeing me.