Chester Marathon – the lowdown

Yesterday was Chester Marathon and it was my third race at the distance.

Preparation has been thorough if not somewhat unorthodox. It’s certainly not a plan I would recommend to follow. Indeed I think it would be a challenge for anyone to be able to follow the logic of the plan (or find it!) let alone train in line with it. If you read the last post about the 6 month challenge and have a look at my Strava or SmashRun profiles you’ll see what I mean.

But it worked for me.

Saturday 3rd October was a grey foggy day. Definitely not a good day for getting the washing dry (believe me, I tried). That said, had that presented itself for race day, I’d have more than taken it. Cool, but not cold, bright but not too sunny and a bit damp for hydration purposes.


In fact on getting to Chester Racecourse at 7.15am on Sunday morning, it looked like we’d be getting something along those lines. Yet the cloud gradually broke and blue sky joined up from small dots to total coverage. October in NW England can, it seem, do what the heck it likes. And frequently does.

The first challenge of the day was getting parked up on the racecourse. A simple task made immeasurably more difficult by the stewards directing traffic. At least I *think* that’s what they were trying to do. A wide range of arm waving (with the inflatable click-clack things that spectators wave along the racecourse) was deployed, ranging from vaguely motioning in an indeterminate direction, to a lad who clearly believed he’d been presented with a lightsabre and was duly practising for an audition for a future Star Wars film. When I approached the rows where I was expecting to park, the steward achieved the impossible by somehow managing to attempt to direct me to three separate locations simultaneously. A situation only resolved by me taking the French approach of stopping my car and shrugging my shoulders explicitly until he provided something slightly more informative for me to follow! My friend in the car, with many years of dealing with traffic matters was equally bemused. Yet we parked up (near a landmark camper van) and another friend rang me to confirm his arrival and we convened on my car which was already surrounded by the constant stream of arriving vehicles.

The race announcer then came online and following the ‘testing 1-2-3’ routine set off into his pre-race patter, which to all intents suggested that he’d been out on the town all night and had arrived straight to the venue. Aside from a lot of the general gibberish that was echoing around Chester were some gems.

The awkward sponsor placement: “Well it looks weird, but it works!

(I’m sure that’s what their marketing team would have asked for when they paid for an endorsement)

The embarrassing observation: “There’s a runner just gone to the portaloos with a helium balloon

(I’m sure he loved the attention that generated)

The cringey compliment: “That’s the best beard ever

(I know there’s a competition in Germany for facial hair, but this isn’t it)

The namedropping: “It’s Sharon, from Wales!

(What, do you mean THE Sharon from Wales?)

And the random not-in-the-1960s comment: “Hey, that’s great, Baby

(I thought the kiddies race would have a low age limit, but not set at zero).


It was then time to make it over to the start line and join in the band I intended to race with. I just missed out on a 3:30:00 result last year, and therefore that was my goal to beat in 2015. And then we were off.

The route works its way around and out of the race course before taking a circular route around the local streets to centre the main city centre, passing the landmark buildings and giving the spectators from the start a chance to see the first couple of miles of race before we headed out over the Bridge and south towards the Welsh border. I saw my friends as I turned the corner to go under the clock-bridge and then it was the realisation of many miles to go!

The plan had been to run with the 3:30 pace runners (8 min/mile), but I actually got chatting to a Blackburn club runner called Rick and our pace was comfortable and slightly ahead of them and over the next couple of miles we pulled away, although that had been the total opposite of my intention. After a few more miles, Rick took a toilet diversion and I carried on alone. With chatting it actually broke up the race a lot more and the miles had melted away. However, by about mile nine, he’d caught me back up and we continued to enjoy the beautiful Welsh borderlands in clear blue skies and pleasant morning air.

Crossing the 20k mark the route goes into a loop and whilst it was great to reach that point it began to get a little annoying with another runner behind us congratulating every single person coming the other way. I mean, save your breath, we’re not even half-way yet!

It wasn’t long before we’d crossed the halfway timing mat, completed this loop and were those people in the other direction, heading back to the England border, on the first of the ‘hills’ at 16 miles. By this point I was beginning to think that a portaloo stop (without helium balloon) was going to be a necessity, and at the 18 mile drinks stop, I left Rick to continue on whilst I did what I had to do.

Chester Marathon route and 2015 time splits
Chester Marathon route and 2015 time splits – no prizes for identifying the toilet stop!

Whilst only a brief stop I could see ahead of me was a pacer group which I figured must have been the 3:30 group having passed me and feeling a lot better following my stop caught up with them over the next mile, after a near miss with a runner (THE runner?) with a helium balloon. So it had only taken me 19 miles to adhere to my race plan!

To be honest probably wasn’t the best time to join the group as the roads seem to get steadily narrower and just beyond the other race, the ‘metric marathon – 26.2km’ turned around in the road and joined us. So there was a big influx of runners and only half a road available as the metric-runners were coming in the opposite direction (prior to turn around) meaning that without cones along the middle of the road there would have been some spectacular collisions.

The 20 mile hill came and went as we continued north towards Chester City again. I think this was my least favourite section more because of the risk of falling over other runners or traffic cones which ran down the middle of the road. At least the field of metric-runners heading towards us thinned right out so despite the cones it was safe to spread out across the road. Still with the 3:30 pacing group the pacers themselves shouted out encouragement at each milestone – 10k to go, 5 (miles) to go, 4, 3….

It was quite warm by this point and my 750ml bottle of energy drink I’d carried from the start was running low, so I collected some water at the next opportunity and I must say it tasted amazing!

As we passed through the 24 mile marker I could see ‘the hill’ up ahead of the short immediate dip. I saw Rick just in front – I really hadn’t expected to catch up, but his early pace had caught up with him. I had done the same last year and the hill finished me off then, but this year, with knowing the course, I knew what to expect and how long it went on for, so it didn’t phase me. Whilst I hadn’t intentionally pushed on, I left the 3:30 pacer group behind and pushed up the hill. It’s neither steep nor long, but at 24.5 miles it might as well be vertical as far as the legs are concerned! I powered up it, and in no time rejoined the main road into Chester and across the 40k mat.

All one needs to know at this point is there’s 2k to go!

Turning off the road towards the river, past the 25 miles sign and it’s downhill to the river path where the crowds were lining the street. A marshal commented it was nice to see someone smiling (my trademark when running!) and I just let my pace settle in a higher gear. Nearly home. And save for the motability scooter that crossed straight in front of me nearly knocking me over (rider completely oblivious to the existence of anyone else in Chester) it was a plain gently-downhill pathway which eventually went under the road, passing the 26 mile marker, and into the racecourse.


Lots of people, lots of noise. Some people to overtake, and a finish line  seemingly further away than I remembered it.

One bizarre thing as I approached the final 50 meters was that a runner up ahead had stopped and turned around to take a photo of those behind him – before the end of their race. As I was running directly at him at the time I was somewhat confused but it suddenly seemed to wake him up as he appeared to panic and make a dash for the line himself, much to the amusement of the marshal on the finishing line.

Needless to say, I crossed the line first :-)

I saw the clock was on 3:26 and some seconds so I knew I’d smashed the 3h 30m goal I had set myself. Getting my medal and navigating through the right lane for the correct sized t-shirt for the correct race I came out the other side and felt a little wobbly, but managed to get my photo taken and find my friends without incident. On switching on my phone, another friend who worked in the control room had texted me with my chip time – 3:26:05 – 4m2s off my previous PB!

Split times
Split times

So, job done. A great day for a great race, in a great location and with a result even better than I wanted. And having people to greet me at the end of it all. It really doesn’t get much better than that :-D

What we do this for - the t-shirt!
What we do this for – the t-shirt!

A six-month running challenge

As if the past few months haven’t had enough of their own complications, I have been working on my long-distance running. Partly because as in 2014 I’ve been coming off the back of an injury and partly for my own recuperation from events earlier in 2015.

As with anything endurance-based, there needs to be a tangible goal, otherwise the training itself has no direction. In the past this has been race-oriented, e.g. the 13 Challenge two years ago and the marathon/cycling challenges which I did last year.

The 6 month +10 mile challenge

The theory to this challenge is simple, but it’s tougher than it looks. Starting from a non-zero month, each of the subsequent six-months need to record a total mileage of at least 10 miles more than its predecessor.

I tried to incorporate this into my training in late 2014 but with my mileage already high at this point, it was infeasible given the likely difficulties in getting out enough during the winter months in inclement weather (I’m a lightweight, but would rather avoid breaking bones slipping on ice). So instead I started at January 2015, and promptly wrote off the effect with injury 2 months later!

Now this challenge is slightly barking to say the least and so I’m not entirely sure whether it was the breakdown in April which enabled me to tackle it or whether it was my usual drive to do a lot of running. Having said that, I made the whole starting point rather tough having discovered the only way I could deal with the anger I was processing, by doing a lot of running.

2015 graph of miles each month
2015 graph of miles each month

So my original plan of starting at a nice low mileage to give loads of headroom was blown straight out of the water with the 73 April miles, not helped by the fact I was still running on pure fury in May as well! At least after that, with my heart rate and blood pressure coming back off the ceiling, no further excessive jumps in the mileage occurred.

As I explained a few days ago, with my Chester Marathon plans at the beginning of October 2015, I didn’t want to be hitting that off the back of any ludicrously long runs, and therefore the final total of 139 miles needed to be achieved prior to the end of September 2015 to give enough recovery and taper time, so to manage this with 2 whole weeks to spare was pleasing.

In fact the final 10 mile run occurred earlier than intended when I had the urge to go out and finish the job. Rather than giving 48 hours between the last runs, it all happened on consecutive days. But feeling the vibration of my watch to confirm that the 10th mile was in the bag, was a real boost. After all of the set backs thrown into the mix of 2015, this was a big win for me.

In fact, when one adds the total mileage over the six months, the total of 656 miles eclipses the 2014 total of 624 miles, which at the time was my greatest annual mileage. So I’m pretty stoked about that too.

So am I about to kick back and sleep for the rest of 2015? Well I’ll be the first to admit that after this year, hibernation is looking like a very attractive prospect. However, that isn’t going to happen. With Chester Marathon and Stockport 10 both booked for the autumn season, and the opportunity for other races, whilst I’m in this shape, it would be rude not to partake.

What I would recommend though is the principle of the 6-month challenge. It’s definitely tougher than it looks at the outset – your 6th month will contain at least 60 more miles than the first month. So don’t do what I did and start at 73 miles unless you really like running :-)

The mind may be part-destroyed by 2015, but the body certainly isn’t. At least, not yet it isn’t………..

A final thought

Having been given the ‘devastating’ news last month that I needed reading glasses, I decided that the best approach was to pretend that news had never happened. Sadly, when trying to read a text on my mobile phone last night, I realised that regardless of how I held the phone and whether or not my normal glasses were perched on my nose, I couldn’t see it comfortably. So I sheepishly returned to the optician today to place that order for varifocals.

I guess that makes me officially an adult :-(

Groundhog Day: To wake from a deep sleep?

There’s been a bit of a break in the posts of late. But I’m still here, I’ve not disappeared.

In a lot of ways there’s been a large helping of Groundhog Day here with a general lack of structure to my time. This is perhaps not a great surprise having gone through the last few months. Concentration has been on a permanent vacation and for someone from an academic background, that has been both strange and unsettling in equal amounts.

About four weeks ago, for a couple of days only, there was a change. My psychologist noted it whilst we were talking through recent events, commenting that I was more ‘spontaneous’. To me it felt like I was actually in the room, participating in what was going on, rather than observing it from behind glass. I felt as if I’d been asleep but was beginning to stir.

At this point perhaps I got a bit giddy, and started trying to use my brain again. I took out an online course and started making plans.

The adage, walk before you run, became very much apparent, and within a day my head was spinning and I felt dreadful. That awakening feeling felt like it had hit the snooze button and rolled back over.

I’ve been working very hard on the physical training and since that time I’ve really focussed my efforts, with plans for competitive races at the end of this and the start of the next month.

The ability to focus hard on something specific has been a great help, certainly as it has been something which has been working positively for me. My 6-month plan of increasing mileage by 10+ miles per month comes to its conclusion this month as well, with a total of 139 miles to be covered between 1-30 September. As well as providing a focus, it also helps tire me out. Not being in the workplace, the normal stresses and strains (plus whatever else I seem to attract!) are not there, wearing me down. Thus getting sleep in this limbo land has been a challenge at many times over the past few months.

So after that false dawn, I feel that now progress is actually being made. For much of the last two weeks I’ve felt lucid and present, a participant and not a spectator. It’s a strange thing to try to explain about how things were. It was almost being in a dream-state the whole time, hence my feeling of waking up from it.

I was told early on that the sign of recovery was when the good days began to outnumber the bad ones, and so to start getting days which I can genuinely consider as ‘good days’ is a big deal for me.

I actually managed to finish my online course, and passed the exam which was very pleasing. I took the opportunity to meet with people to discuss some plans within work and outside of it. And that felt like a positive move.

There are still hurdles. I’m good at telling myself about the things that I need to get done in order to move some of the plans along, but less good at actually sitting down and doing them. Hence the website which I’d planned of having written by tomorrow remains in its embryonic state.

I feel a little paralysed by the fear of moving forwards from here. Whilst living Groundhog Day is not a nice thing to do, the predictability of it was a comfort. When nothing is expected to happen, and nothing happens, it’s all rather cosy, even if it is mind-bendingly uninteresting.

But to finish on a positive note, it’s 15 September and I have run 118 of the 139 proposed miles for the month and have entered (and been accepted!) into Chester Marathon. And to make that even sweeter, a couple of friends have said they’ll come and see me finish.

It’s something which means a lot to me, as I see it time and time again, athletes running through the finish into the arms of family; something I’ve never experienced.  So that’s even more incentive to get to the end :-)

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

It’s not often I read something which resonates so strongly with me that I want to immediately share it. It’s so easy in this day and age to hit the re-tweet / like / re-press button without necessarily stopping to think about the words.

This quote came from reading about Dave Alley’s ‘Race around Australia 2’ – he’s already cycled it, and now aims to become the first person to have both cycled and run around Australia – a 13,383km distance. His website is here. He’s running it to raise funds and awareness for The White Cloud Foundation, an organisation with a mission to help increase resources and improve access to support for people, families and carers who live with depression in Australia.

Mental Health issues affect an increasing number of us yet it remains a taboo to talk about it. Sometimes it can be due to an acute situation which triggers it and with the appropriate help can pretty much be resolved.  In other cases it occur over many years and at best can be managed. Either way, it’s no laughing matter, made that much more difficult because it is an invisible illness. No broken bones, no cast or sling. People who are fortunate to have not experienced depression can find this intangible nature of the illness difficult to comprehend.

So with that in mind, the quote:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

“This is one of our favourite quotes that really emphasises that we truly have no clue what battle the people around us are facing. They could be your closest friend, brother, work colleague, daughter or someone you walk past in the street.

Take the time to smile at people, open a door for them, give up your seat on the train for them, let them merge in traffic. Too often we are far too quick to judge and criticise rather than listen and congratulate.

Today is the day to start the rest of your life.

Make a decision to be more supportive of those around you as they may be fighting a battle that you know nothing about.

Forgive errors, accept flaws, share your warmth and make a difference in someone else’s life.

They may just be in need of that little bit of energy that you are giving to them”

Hitting the training – with a foam roller

It’s been a business as usual approach to the training recently. But not without a few eye opening moments.

I’ve written in the past about the usefulness of the variety of ‘challenges’ which are set up on the various training websites I use. Strava – the place where running/cycling meets social media (but without the adverts for Stairlifts and funeral planning – I seem to be of that age now, or at least it’s the age I tell the various sites I am……..) and Smashrun (geek central) each give me the opportunity to push (punish?) myself each month. And over the last few months, my Smashrun challenge has been a gradual increase in total mileage on a monthly basis.

This challenge was originally quite an easy one, with me starting with a low initial mileage to give ample scope to extend the progress over the 6 month period. However, one injury later which broke the progression in March, and a breakdown in April which resulted in me adding 60 miles on my total rather than 10 has made things a little more of a test.

Effect of the mind on the body

It was actually whilst I was reviewing the statistics that I discovered something I didn’t reaslise. Whilst my recent illness has been purely mental, it appears my heart data showed a major physical hit as well.

Long distance running is an aerobic exercise, where normal breathing is possible to ensure the muscles receive the oxygen they need to operate. This is the opposite of anaerobic exercise which is something akin to a sudden burst of energy where the oxygen in doesn’t keep up with the working rate of the muscles. Obviously this is something that can only be sustained for short periods and is the method which more describes that in short sprints.

Heart rate data showing impact of illness
Heart rate data showing impact of illness

At the left side of the graph (April 2014) you’ll see a relatively even mixture of recovery (green) and aerobic (yellow) running with a smaller chunk of anaerobic running (orange), which is very much what I was doing whilst I was well. Indeed, at the very right in August 2015 you’ll see that equilibrium has returned. The darker colours that come in at the top are where my heart is above 175 bpm, essentially showing where the heart is having to work that much harder to get a relatively limited amount of oxygen to the muscles.

So looking at the period around April 2015 and the graph has changed significantly. Now to confirm, my running training approach is no different, I’m off out running (at that time) 5-8 miles at a time which isn’t unusual. However, my heart is working at a significantly higher rate. Indeed at around the date when I was taken ill, something like 70% of the running time has been at this much higher heart rate.

I’d not appreciated the physical impact of the illness. Thankfully during the two weeks after things began to return to ‘normal’.

Running 2000 miles

When I re-commenced training after a rather long lapse in August 2011 the world of GPS in phones, watches and tech in general had all moved along. As such, on setting up Smashrun at the beginning of 2014 I was able to pull in all of this data. Earlier this month, I ticked over the milestone of 2000 miles having been run and recorded on one electronic device or another. It seemed rude to miss this opportunity, so here it is!

2000 miles and counting!
2000 miles and counting!

Sadomasochism with a Foam Roller

Whilst up in Auchterarder, the physio advised me to invest in a foam roller. To the untrained eye, this is an innocuous 45 cm cylinder of blue foam. However, when rolling muscles out with it, it turns into a portable torture device. Rolling one’s ITB brings tears to the eyes although I’m assured that it’s good for me! I know for certain that an annoying knot of muscle in my right calf has been squished out of existence in the face of this blue monster, so who am I to argue…….

A Foam Roller  - As seen in the Tower of London
A Foam Roller – As seen in the Tower of London

August long run

It has almost become a tradition that I’ll do a long hilly run in the weeks leading up to a long race. Now as it stands, there is no race planned at this point. I’d originally hoped to take part in the Bullock Smithy Hike in September, but along with the illness and a general lack of any preparation (save for getting a map of the route) this simply isn’t going to happen in 2015.

However in my quest to run at least 128 miles in August and having done only short runs (10 miles each) in the last week I started mapping out a route last night with a view of making the most of the decent weather today. I mostly stuck with the route, although varied my route through Lyme Park as I wanted to maximise the ascent prior to dropping into the National Trust parkland.

The route tracked along the Middlewood Way from Higher Poynton through to Bollington before climbing Blaze Hill and returning along the top of the hills at the edge of the Cheshire Plain, past the Bowstones and through Lyme Park and back into Higher Poynton and back home.

The run itself was mostly not a problem with my legs becoming tired only at the very end. I took it steady and was happy with my pacing. And the weather was great – not too warm but very sunny and clear – giving me fantastic views across the Cheshire Plain whilst descending from Bowstones into Lyme Park. Here’s the route and profile, courtesy of Strava:

Run route from Poynton to Bollington. And back again!
Run route from Poynton to Bollington. And back again!

So after all of that exertion, I’ll return to playing with the computer, updating the blog and no doubt losing at Scrabble!

The Bees they are a bumbling and a bouncing. Mostly in purple.

I keep having to remind myself that, whilst it’s quite warm at the moment, it is also August. Mid Summer in the UK, although to look at the weather over the last month, you might be hard pressed to be able to tell that this is likely as good as it gets!

At the same token, I have managed to spend some time sat outside in the garden, without full waterproofs or one of those thick woolly jumpers that Sea Captains are always depicted wearing in films and cartoons (think Captain Haddock in Tintin if you don’t know what I mean).

And to top it off I started August 2015 with a cold! Where did it all go wrong?!!

Anyway, today I’m sat in the garden, and whilst the sun seems to have left Stockport for the time being(we do grey clouds at a world-class level here) it isn’t actually unpleasant. Well except for a cloud of flying ants who have decided that ‘today is the day’ and they’re off to wherever flying ants fly off to. Magaluf I presume……….

The garden has certainly been confused by the weather this year, with things starting with a mild winter, then an unseasonably warm bit followed by an unseasonably cold bit and a typical wet bit. And a few frosts thrown in at near random, just to keep us all guessing.

As such the tomatoes and peppers had a cracking start, then shuddering (literally) to a halt before being baked to a crisp whilst I was in Scotland, and then rained upon with gusto whilst I was in Kent. The result was a few malformed peppers, some late ripening tomatoes and a lot of slugs eating everything.

That said, the garden is in full bloom (the bits that weren’t devoured by slime-monsters) and most of it seems to be purple, with the Lavender, Buddleja, Sage and Agapanthus all being different hues of the same colour! Only the bit daisies (they probably have a proper name but I don’t know what it is) and the Fuchsia daring to differ, although even the latter plant is an homage to all things purple!

Agapanthus in bud
Agapanthus in bud

I’ve always been proud of the fact that the garden appears to be very bee friendly; indeed I had a bumble bee nest in the eaves of the house a couple of years ago which I was very excited about. And true to form the bees are having a purple nectar field-day at the moment.

Bumble Bees on Lavender
Bumble Bees on Lavender

There’s something strangely soothing and mesmerising about watching a huge bumble bee balancing on the end of the longest stalk of lavender it can find and the whole stalk bouncing up and down in sympathetic rhythm with the insect going about its life’s work. My lavender bush, which was a cutting of an old plant which was on its last legs when I first moved in, is huge at this time of year, with the whole bush springing back and forth as a colony of bumblebees and others work their way around the plant.

It appears that bumble bee photography is a lot more difficult than I imagined. Thankfully being in the digital age I can at least delete the many failed images although the best ones will not be winning any awards either!

A old moggy

Squeak had his tenth birthday last week, not that he was apparently aware of this fact, save for a few extra cat treats throughout the day. He’s been slowing down for most of those ten years to be fair, but with the warmth of the days recently he seems to be doing less than normal. In fact he’s spent a lot more time on my lap than ever before. Possibly due to the greater availability of my lap having been away  for the majority of July, but he does seem to be nursing a few more lumps and bumps at the moment and I wonder if a younger upstart of fluff has challenged him whilst on his rounds. He’s always been a scrapper, but generally picks on easier targets (like me). Whilst he’s a solid cat, he’s actually on the small size compared to most around here.

Squeak - at 10
Squeak – at 10

War and Peace Revival Festival 2015

Having only just returned from my trip to Auchterarder,  there was about enough time to run a half-marathon training route and pack up my desert combat uniform in order to head south to Folkstone Racecourse, between Hythe and the Channel Tunnel.

As usual, the War and Peace Revival Festival was billed as a five day event, running Wednesday through to Sunday.

Unofficially the event includes an  obligatory monsoon on the Friday night turning the entrance to Kitcheners field (where we have camped for the past 2 years) into something akin to the morning after Glastonbury and a mass exodus of half of the exhibitors on Sunday morning trying to beat the Sunday rain storm and the queues on the M20…..

I’ll be referring to the site throughout the post, so here’s the layout:

War and Peace Site Map
War and Peace Site Map

Also as usual, our arrival with the 1993 Landrover Snatch was about 6 hours later than anticipated due to spending far longer than expected packing up all the camping stuff into the Snatch and constructing the barbecue! At least I had to do my packing in advance of travelling south!

Either way, we arrived at roughly the same time as we did in 2014 but with the added bonus that we knew how to assemble the tent. So it took about an hour to get moved in, rather than about 4 hours last year :-)

The rest of Camp SOC (Snatch Owners Club) had already arrived by this point and as we set ourselves up, the warning signs were attached to the boundary tape and we were there, ready and camped.

Camp SOC
Camp SOC

In our tent there were three humans and a dog – Simba, a 14 month old Mastiff/Lab cross who was already as big as any Lab, but with the bounce, enthusiasm and lunacy of a puppy. Having erected the tent Simba took us for a walk into the event arena to get some food as by this time it was 10pm.

Simba and me upon arrival
Simba and me upon arrival

Wednesday – The Show Opens

We set out across Kitcheners and into the event arena with Simba keen to meet anyone and anything.  However, the first sounds of heavy shelling from the battle in the arena freaked him out and Chris took him further away to recover whilst Paul and I watched the German re-enactors kicking the stuffing out of the USA re-enactors (this seems to be a common theme of all the battles we’ve watched at the show).

Once we met back up with Chris and Simba on the opposite side of the grandstand near the Home Front exhibition, we met some other exhibitors with their cross-bred dog – this time Mastiff crossed with a…… PUG!

A Mastiff-Pug cross - let's home the Pug was the father!
A Mastiff-Pug cross called “Chunky” – let’s hope the Pug was the father!

We found out at the last minute that the Hythe procession for post-WW2 vehicles was that night by which time Chris, our only driver, had drunk a couple of cans. So he remained at Camp SOC keeping Simba entertained whilst Paul and I jumped in with other drivers, and off we went.

Here’s a nice bit of footage:

Paul was passenger in Snatch number 2 and I was passenger in Snatch 3. And the French Onion Sellers were neither French. Nor Onion Sellers……..

Very menacing - I don't think
Very menacing – I don’t think

The enjoyment of the procession was tempered when we got back to camp to find Chris had been taken ill. Following a visit from about 6 Red Cross paramedics, Paul drove Chris and Simba back to their home to recover.

Thursday – a closer look at the show

The temporary departure of the others left me camping alone for about 20 hours although having Camp SOC on hand meant I was far from lonely!

Due to the late hour of their departure I ended up cooking on the gas ring in the dark, but the pasta meal hit the spot nicely and I got a reasonable night’s sleep despite the 1am fireworks courtesy of the North London Barmy Army.

During Thursday I walked around the site at length, my pedometer suggesting something like 23600 steps, taking in the many surplus stores and the living history sections. In all honesty there was an element of Deja Vu with many of the sellers occupying the same locations as they did in 2014. Similarly a number of the living history exhibitors rolled out the same stuff as last year – with Camp Bastion having the same walls (and same lack of content) whilst the Blackhawk Down exhibition was bigger and grander (and even more impressive) than in 2014.

I took my GoPro out with me to get some snaps whilst I was wandering through the living history. Having left my small camera at work and not wanting to drag the DSLR around with me, this was the best option as my camera phone is very poor quality. It seems that the Go Pro does however suffer badly from barrel distortion and the verticals look somewhat banana-like, albeit in a non-yellow edible sort of way.

To say I was knackered by the time Paul returned to the site in the evening was an understatement!

But Thursday was about to become far more interesting when one of the group announced that we had been given some evening arena time. Whilst Paul was insured on the Snatch he’d never driven it. He was given a few verbal instructions about driving a vehicle with a choke, was told by Camp SOC it would have to be a baptism of fire and off we went.

In fact when our convoy got there, we were filmed using a professional camera drone system, the footage which we had a sneak preview of being amazing, save for the random vehicle in the background burning rubbish at the back of the arena. Well, you can’t have it all your own way. See it here!

Camp SOC on manoeuvres
Camp SOC on manoeuvres

Friday – Ready for the Storm

Friday was a day of anticipation of the incoming storm, due in at midday, but actually striking at about 6.30pm, at the point where Paul and I were roughly as far from Camp SOC as we could have been (I’d guess about 1.25 miles away) whilst we were working our way around the Living History exhibitions. So we got a little wet.

As the wind picked up and the rain intensified, we had a bit of a panic that the tent may fly away or flood, so all belongings ended up in the Snatch. As it happens, Armageddon didn’t come and everything was returned to the tent in the morning.

Saturday – When everyone else visits

Despite the fact the show opens on Wednesday, Saturday tends to be the busiest day with all those who work in the week visiting at the weekend.

Due to the 10 or so hours of rain the night before, the site was now rather boggy underfoot. In addition, all the roads in the area were entirely gridlocked due to queued up lorries on the motorway and some other catastrophe on the A20. Despite all of this, by lunchtime the place seemed well attended.

I picked a few items of gear which I needed/wanted however unlike in previous years, I didn’t get carried away. A couple of the stalls were from Leeds which was helpful as it’s an accent I’m much more familiar with than the more local South-East accent, and thus much easier for me to understand!

We managed to track down other friends Kevin and Coral who exhibit their landrovers as part of a Green Howards exhibition. Whilst chatting Coral mentioned there was a Challenger Tank in the exhibition. There are not many occasions when one could walk past something that big and not notice it. Yet I managed to do this although I’ll blame that on the large number of other vehicles on the site…….

So after we left them we visited the food area and then went for a mooch. We chatted to the RMPs who were no site to advertise themselves along with a few other parts of the British Army. A slightly odd situation where Paul recognised one of them from a wedding they’d both been at several years earlier.

It’s one way to get a conversation started!

We then went and looked at the tank, which I even got to sit in. Despite it being huge, there’s not a lot of room for someone of my size. Which to be fair isn’t particularly big! I’m hopeful there is a photo out there to capture this event :-)

The evening, as last year involved Camp SOC sat around a fire talking nonsense. When I say ‘fire’ what I mean is a red glow-stick and two small paraffin lamps. Paul produced his Pimms recipe for the group which to my untrained eye appeared to involved a lot of fruit, a thimble of lemonade and a bottle of Pimms. I’m a non-drinker, so perhaps this is the correct method of production…..

In 2014 this esteemed forum introduced the genre of ‘Action Romance’ into common use in the English language. Whilst no new genres were discovered in 2015 the bizarre concept of an LED-lit Cucumber cock-ring received some discussion and ultimately resulted in some fruit-based graffiti on the front of one of the vehicles.

I'm not sure what the penalty is for the misuse of fruit on a military vehicle.......
I’m not sure what the penalty is for the misuse of fruit on a military vehicle…….

We are all grown ups after all. I blame the Pimms.

Sunday – mass exodus and more rain

We got up very early Sunday morning. Mostly due to the vast amount of noise generated by other campers dismantling their tents and beeping their horns to each other as they set off home.

The ‘Rules’ of the event state that exhibitors should stay to the end, which is only fair as anyone paying to attend on Sunday deserves to get a full exhibition – after all, they’ve paid the same as any other day visitor.

However, vehicles were leaving left right and centre. The traffic chaos on the M20, coupled with the fact that a significant number of exhibitors were from mainland Europe and thus needed to battle through it to get to the ferry port made this worse. And of course there were a number of casualties of HGVs stuck in the mud, just to churn up the ground even more.

At least today the showers were working and hot :-)

After breakfast, Paul and I emptied the tent before I walked all of my gear across to one of the stores who had, as in previous years, allowed me to leave my bags with them so it was only a 5 minute walk to the train rather than a 25 minute walk. This was important as at this time it was still dry. The forecast was very much rain and more rain, and this started as I walked back.

Paul had by this time flattened the tent and between us it was packed away into the Snatch as the rain became more persistent.

Goodbyes were made to the rest of Camp SOC and with all our belongings now packed away we went into the main arena. Where the main spectacle appeared to be the queue of exhibitors and campers trying to leave the site! Some of which were rather up to their axles in mud.

We took shelter in the Victory Tent where the charity ‘Scotties Little Soldiers‘ were brewing up (how can I refuse a cuppa when the proceeds are going to a great charity) before heading over to the nearby Westenhanger Castle for a Sunday Roast, a meal hands-down better than anything we’d eaten all the time we were camping!

Paul and me in the victory tent
Paul and me in the victory tent

To anyone looking in it must have been a very odd sight – two 1990s era soldiers eating with a WW1 British army officer and a similarly vintage Russian fighter. As we ate, Chunky and his owners also came in for their dinner!

Although my train journey was supposed to begin at 4pm, as it wasn’t too wet at 3pm, I decided now was a good time to make an exit, taking the view that an hour spent at Euston Station would be at least a little drier than the weather forecast for the rest of the afternoon in Westenhanger. Walking to the station, the place felt very much emptied from the previous days, with many stalls having vacated their spaces and others all closed down. There weren’t that many people walking around (hardly a surprise).

Far from it being a big exciting end to a festival, it was more a whimper. And a wet one at that. Overall though the time away was very welcome, giving me a good break from home and a chance to catch up with friends a long way from home.

I’m sure we’ll do it all again in 2016!


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