Friday, February 26, 2021

Boarding The Loft

Penrith, Cumbria. February-2021.

We need extra storage space so I am fitting a TARDIS circuit in the loft! 

Step one was to install a ladder, Specifically a "Werner 1-Section Anodised Aluminium & Plastic Telescopic Loft Ladder 2.61m". We bought ours from Screwfix. It is an excellent ladder as it is easy to fit and has a very small footprint in the attic. 

Next I bought a load of Diall loft stilts and chipboard loft panels from B&Q. Reading the reviews several people advised pre-screwing the stilts so you are not fumbling in the dark when you get to the installation. Sound advice to which I would add: get a battery powered screwdriver and a head torch.

First row required moving the insulation which is filthy stuff. Wear a mask or you'll spend the next day coughing.

I then replaced the insulation, fluffing it up as best I could.

The first row of column of boards, using two whole boards tucked nicely into the eaves. I only screwed the corners, not at every stilt; I can always revisit later and add more screws if required.

With the first column in place I had a platform to work from for the second row. I cut off a piece equal to the spacing of the rafters so the joints were offset, I reckon it makes for a stronger floor.

Then "rinse and repeat". The third row was the same as the first to continue the offsetting. The rubber mallet was very useful for banging the tongue and grooves together for a snug fit.

Nearly there. I was able to move some of the boxes that had been stored on an old sheet of hardboard laid on the insulation onto the proper surface so I could complete the area.

This section complete and ready for boxes of stuff.

The roof timbers are gnarly, old, rough hewn oak beams. The house is somewhere around two hundred years old and these certainly look the part. The tubes are the light well and extractor fan from the bathroom which has no window.

At some point there will be a stage two extending deeper into this loft space and possibly a stage three in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

My Life In ... Video Games

The tenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

Just as music can bring back memories so certain video games are associated with specific events and places. In general I was a moderate to rubbish player. I never was a gamer and certainly not a MMORPG player like my nephews.

Note: the dates link to the relevant Wikipedia article.

Pong (1972). I first encountered this primordial game on one of the archaeological summer schools I attended. From the release date it must have been the two weeks I spent excavating at Portchester Castle in the summer of 1973 directed by Sir Barry Cunliff. We volunteers stayed in a dormitory of the kind that would be familiar to anyone who has been on a school field trip. It was very basic accommodation but it did boast this primitive game console. 

I remember at one point I was working on a medieval cess pit that was full of discarded ancient mussel shells one of which sliced my finger open. I went to Barry's wife who was in charge of the first aid kit holding my finger up in the air to stem the flow of blood. She was so petite that I had to kneel down for her to be able to reach my finger.

Moon Lander (1973). Friends I met in 1975 were doing research in the nuclear physics lab where they had an early DEC PDP-11 minicomputer. On that computer they had a moon landing game, one of the first vector graphics games. When you successfully landed the lunar module a little astronaut would pop out and plant a flag on the moon's surface. Apparently it was a major sales tool in the salesman’s armoury. 

Tom who managed the computing facility smoked a pipe and when the safety equipment was serviced he would stand under the detectors and have a good puff to make sure they were not set too sensitive!

Space Invaders (1978). I played this in Oxford where I had my first job after college as a computer programmer with Oxfordshire County Council. It was the first game where I was able to get my name up in lights on the leaderboard. My mate Pete Miller lived in the big city and on one visit inducted me into the mysteries of the Portuguese defence. It turns out that when the aliens are nose to nose with your gun they can’t actually shoot you because they are too close. The technique is to pick off the end columns until the invaders are right down close, pick off the whole of the front row one by one, remove the end column, the aliens drop down one rank, rinse and repeat in the opposite direction until they are all destroyed.

Asteroids (1979). Working for Coopers & Lybrand (MCS) in their Shelley House offices in Noble Street we also had a PDP-11. This one had Asteroids installed. All keyboard-driven and apparently a classic but we didn’t spend too long playing it because we were hard at work on a stock control, sales order and ledger package.

Missile Command (1980). There were a group of us working on this project and we would regularly go to the pub after work. In those days many city pubs would close early; Bradies, the nearest pub, would close at 7 o’clock. Some people would go home and others would go on to the next pub, The Clanger. That one closed at 9 o’clock and again some people would peel off and some would go on to a third pub that stayed open till 1030. It was in Bradies where I encountered Missile Command. This one had a trackball to control the direction of your fire power. I wasn’t very good at it. I was lucky if I got to 50,000. But then my brother's friend Dave showed me the technique of laying down a barrage of anti-missiles in a continuous screen. Suddenly I was able to get up to 300,000. If there hadn’t been any good players in recently I might just have got my name up in lights again.


Image credit: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1030150

Crystal Rooms (1980).  One evening, during a lull in my social life, I went into the West End to the crystal room amusement arcade. There I mostly played Space Invader Mark II until my knuckles bled I was gripping the control knob so hard. There was also a Missile Command console which I played occasionally for a change. 

At the same time there was a bloke playing Missile Command who was clearly very skilled. I watched in amazement as he got up to around 850,000 and then stopped. When I asked him why he had stopped, he replied that he had so many spare cities in the bank that if he killed any more missiles he would have gone round the clock and would have been unable to put his initials up. I was seriously impressed that not only could he play that well but was also able to keep mental track of how many cities he had spare and do the calculation to know when to stop. Have you ever seen the film The Last Starfighter? If it were true the aliens would be coming for this guy very soon.

Defender (1981). Another pub-based video game, this time in pub number two, The Clanger. By now the games were getting distinctly more sophisticated with the thumbnail overview and the main screen. I was just hopeless at this, my reflexes were to head-butt the aliens rather than shoot and fly around. I could not get the hang of it for the life of me.

Leisure Suit Larry (1987). By now I was working for Inforem, a small consultancy, and departmental minis had been replaced by these upstart PCs. Leisure Suit Larry was doing the rounds in the office. A harmless piece of “adult“ gameplay that was in fact very tame. Somebody brought in a virus-infected version of the game which then spread around the office and a number of PCs had to be cleansed.

Tomb Raider (2001). I never even played this game. I bought a DVD of the movie thinking it was a bit expensive but I wanted to watch the film. It was only after I got it home that I realised it also included the game. Since I had no console to play it on that was a bit of a waste of money!

PS3 (2007). Mary bought me a PlayStation 3 for Christmas. Not for playing games but for playing Blu-ray movies. But since it was a gaming console I thought I ought to have a go. I bought a copy of Avatar (2009) and was completely hopeless. I just couldn’t work the large number of buttons and spun randomly in circles blasting at anything and everything missing most of them until I run out of credit.

Little Big Planet (2008). On the advice of my gamer nephews I tried the adventures of SackBoy as a gentler game not requiring rapid reflexes. I soon got bored and decided that a gamer's life is not the life for me.

Game over!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (2 of 2)

The ninth (part 2a Places to Rent and 2b Homes to Holiday) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

We have failed to grasp the basic principle of sell one house when you buy the next. In this way our property empire has snowballed.

Homes 2a of 2: Places to rent out.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



Flat 28 Fairfield Court, Wandsworth. 2002 - present. A 20th century, third floor, two bedroom, ex-council flat in Wandsworth built in 1938. We bought this as a pied-à-terre because we were either working in London or flying out from one of the London airports. We converted it to a buy-to-let in 2005 when we decided to move three doors down the street to house 28 Fairfield Street and it was not a good time to sell. We thus become accidental landlords and kickstarted our rental portfolio.


Living room from where we used to watch the planes on the descent path to Heathrow.


8 Bolting House, Wandsworth. 2010 - present. A purpose built third floor, three bedroom, one reception apartment in Wandsworth, another purchase on the one-way system. Our second buy-to-let investment and the first made intentionally.


It was a repossession and came complete with nearly new furniture from Ikea, "the landlords' friend".


36 Fairfield Court, Wandsworth. 2014 - present. A two bedroom apartment directly above Flat 28. Our third and final investment property. 


We wanted to invest in another buy-to-let property as part of our pension plan. Flat 28 had worked out well so we kept an eye out for other properties in the block. There are 38 flats in total but it had to be one of the two-bedroom flats and at the back which ruled out more than half the flats. Mary was working at home when the email alert came in. Straight onto the estate agent, viewing half an hour later, offer made and property off the market by the end of the afternoon. No messing about!

Homes 2b of 2: Places to holiday in.

Trullo Azzurro, Locorotondo, Italy. 2004–2018. A historic four bedroom, three reception, two kitchen, two bathroom ex-farm building out in the country. As far as we can guess, at least part of it dating to the 16th century. 


We had been thinking about a holiday home in Italy on the western fringes of Tuscany, "chiantishire" in the centre being too expensive. Meanwhile a friend, Anne, had bought a place in Puglia and Mary went there with her in February for a break and to help with buying furniture, etc. Anne extolled the virtues of the property prices and longer summers due to the southern latitude so Mary scouted out some properties. 

A couple of months later we went down together and were taken by the estate agent to see some very disappointing properties. Many were what I nicknamed trulli-in-a-box; yes they had a cone or two but all surrounded by concrete cubes. Our requirements were walking distance from a town, at least two bedrooms and didn't need a lot of work. What we saw lacked any of the charm we were hoping for so to cheer us up Mary took me to see a reject from her first visit. By some miracle she managed to navigate to this farmhouse in the wilds. I instantly fell in love with it. It was so unspoilt, un-mucked about with. OK, it fitted none of our requirements. It was 6km from town, took two and a half years to do up and ended up as four bedroom, two kitchen and two bathrooms but it was worth it.

Our Italian holiday home featuring trulli, the pointed cone buildings unique to Puglia, was named Trullo Azzurro because of the blue doors and blue skies. We used to live in one half and rent out the other half. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Trulli"

One of the living areas after restoration.


We eventually sold as we did not really need three properties in Italy and renting this one out was becoming more hassle than the income was worth. The proceeds were used to buy, and do up, 6A Benson Row (see "My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)").

Hermanus Beach Club. 2008–2014. A two bedroom, one reception apartment in a modern holiday complex. A completely unplanned detour into a South African holiday home ownership following our "first trip of a lifetime" to SA.


After the first leg of our trip, a safari, we went to Hermanus. By this time we had already fallen in love with South Africa. Our first full day in Hermanus was a Sunday so all we could do was window shop including estate agents, saw this property and by the time we left four days later had the purchase arranged! Towards the end of our ownership we were not getting to visit as often as we had hoped nor generating much rental income between times so decided to sell up.

Living space. From the window we could see whales in the bay.
Quaysiders Club, Ambleside, England. 2011-present. A two bedroom, one reception (kitchen / dining / living) room, timeshare apartment for Christmas week in the Lake District. 


A minor purchase by comparison with the rest, recommended by Mary's uncle who owned another timeshare in the same complex. Handy for walking holidays in the Lakes - not so much now we live up here so it is up for sale.


The apartment can either be used for a Christmas break or traded in for a week elsewhere at another time.

Via Manzoni 15, Cisternino, Puglia aka Sotto Le Stelle. 2012 - present. A studio apartment on the outskirts of Cisternino old town. The first step in our relocation from Trullo Azzurro into the town of Cisternino. 


We were in Italy to celebrate my 60th birthday with friends. Once they had all left we revisited our desire for a property in town and got our friendly estate agent to give a tour of available properties that evening. We saw five in an hour and this one was head and shoulders above the rest. 

As we sat in Bar FOD with an aperitif after the viewings I informed Mary that now I was 60 I could raid my pension funds for a 25% tax free lump sum. The total was almost exactly the asking price for the flat. I had hardly uttered the words when Mary was on the phone to Pierdonato saying "we'll buy it and be in the office tomorrow to sign the paperwork"!

This one took a year to restore. It has beautiful stone vaulted ceilings and an amazing terrace so we called it "Sotto Le Stelle" (under the stars). Full story of the renovation on the blog: SottoLeStelle.



Corso Umberto, 108, Cisternino. 2016-present. A two bedroom, two reception apartment in the historic town centre of Cisternino. 

Our retirement meant that we could now spend half of the year in Italy. Sotto Le Stelle was fine for six weeks but now we needed more space for six months so we up-sized. Researching the market for some friends we found and bought a larger apartment less that five minutes walk from Sotto Le Stelle on the other side of the old town. This also need work but less so it was completed in six months. 

Living room:


Kitchen / Dining Room:


Terrace:


Loving Sotto Le Stelle we decided to keep it and it has become a very successful AirBnB let. For more on the Corso Umberto restoration see "The Other Place"

That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)

The ninth (part 1) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

How to make a £1 million? Buy a flat for £25k and wait 35 years! My parents moved 7 times before I bought my first home. I guess I followed in their footsteps.

Homes 1 of 3: Places to live in.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



21a Montague Road, Wimbledon. 1981–1987. The first home that I owned. An Edwardian three bedroom, two reception, first floor maisonette built in 1910 that I bought with an ex-girlfriend. We had split up five years earlier but remained friends. Back then mortgages were hard to find and expensive to service. Joining forces to get two lots of mortgage tax relief was the only way to make first time buying viable. It had a small garden accessed via an internal secondary staircase from the kitchen. It got me onto the property ladder. Part way through I bought my friend out so she could move on and buy a home with her boyfriend.


Recent interior courtesy of Zoopla.


The lease term on Montague Road was running very low and I wanted to own the land on which I stood. So I sold up and moved just over a kilometre to the cheaper end of SW19 near the football stadium and the dog track. 

Due to poor communication along the chain of buyers and sellers by the estate agent, my solicitor exchanged on my sale of Montague Road but not my purchase of Garfield Road which then hit a delay. I was legally bound to vacate on completion date, 31st December, cast out into the street on New Year's Eve with nowhere to live. I put all my belongings into storage and went to house sit a friend's place for a month while she was fortuitously out of the county.

76 Garfield Road, South Wimbledon. 1987–1994. A Victorian three bedroom, two reception, mid-terrace house built 1889. I lived there with an assortment of lodgers until I met Mary. 


Avon Cottage, Ibsley, Hampshire. 1994–2007. A mediaeval three-bedroom, timber frame thatched cottage dating to the mid 15th century. Following our marriage we moved out of London and bought a house together. It was by accident we bought this cottage through an extremely convoluted chain of events. 


English Heritage Listing: Cottage. Late C15 & C17, altered C18 & C20. Cruck timber-frame with painted brick infill, thatch roof. 1½ storey, 3 bay and smoke bay, added hip bay.

We were looking for a house with a cellar for our growing wine collection, initially around Kingston and Surbiton. We had planned a weekend in the Cotswolds courtesy of a free voucher I got for completing a customer survey. The Cotswold hotels were full so we changed location and booked into the Watersplash Hotel in the New Forest. There we saw a brochure for a Roman fort in Fordingbridge so off we went. Unfortunately the fort was closed so we parked up and went for a pub lunch. On the way we passed an estate agents window featuring Avon Cottage. We had previously discussed the possibility of a second, holiday home and called into the estate agent to enquire about cottages with cellars. "Only that one in the window". "Too large and expensive, that would have to be a main home!" 

We were both travelling a lot for work so we didn't have to live in London provided we could get to the airports in a reasonable amount of time. We had a chat over lunch and afterwards went back to the estate agents and said that if they could arrange a viewing the next day we would be interested. The owner dashed back from her daughter's to do the viewing, we saw the cottage on the Sunday, made an offer on the Monday and it was accepted on the Wednesday.

Avon Cottage was home for us and several cats over the next 13 years. I have many happy memories from there and was sad to see it go. You don't really own a house this old, you are only custodians. In the words of William Morris "we protect our ancient buildings, and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us". I believe we left it in a better state than we found it. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Avon Cottage"

Inglenook fireplace with room for four to sit inside.


28 Fairfield Street, Wandsworth. 2005–2015. A lovely Georgian style, semi-detached house built around 1856 with four bedrooms, three reception rooms and with font and back gardens back plus, most importantly, a cellar.


Planning ahead we intended, in 5 years time, to move from Avon Cottage back into London. Mary went online to suss out the market with ridiculously specific requirements: in the Tonsleys in Wandsworth (1 km square area), at least 3 bedrooms, separate living and dining rooms (not knocked into one), downstairs loo, cellar, garden and costing less than £500,000. Blow me down if the exact property popped up 10 days later - 5 years ahead of schedule! At the time it was the cheapest four bedroom house in the whole of SW18 because of its location on the Wandsworth one-way system.  

It was so unique and so perfect we just had to snap it up regardless of the consequences. That is how we came to own two main homes concurrently for a year and a half. It had lovely high ceilings that spoiled us for modern properties.


Our retirement plan included downsizing from 28 Fairfield Street. Seriously, do two people need a four bedroom, three reception property? And it was stuffed full at that. So we put our house on the market and went flat hunting, finding this next gem. 

41 Heathfield Square, Wandsworth. 2015-present. A mid Victorian two bedroom, ground floor flat directly behind Wandsworth prison, built around 1870 as Officers' Quarters for the prison guards. It looks out onto a communal green the size of a football pitch.



Our buyer messed us about a bit, more from incompetence than malice, which meant the sale and purchase were out of sync. Removals were booked and non-cancellable, financials all set up, etc. We learned about "Licence to Occupy" which enabled us to break the chain and move in a few days before completion.

The estate agent's photo. That red feature wall was first on the decorating hit list!


Garage 50, Strickland Row, Wandsworth. 2017-present. A garage. We used to rent a garage from Wandsworth Borough Council behind the Fairfield Court flats but when we moved to Heathfield Square we really needed closer storage facilities. This garage is literally at the end of our street.

6A Benson Row, Penrith. 2019 - present. A three bedroom, two reception room, mid terrace 1850’s house in Penrith. 

Intended initially as a third holiday home this time in the Lake District and eventual second retirement home . We used the proceeds from the sale of Trullo Azzurro to fund this purchase. However since Covid lockdown it has become our main home ahead of schedule.

Originally three back-to-back, one-up one-down houses they are now all knocked into one larger property. Nicknamed "The Money Pit" because of the silly amounts of money we have spent doing it up. Now a very cosy and comfortable place to live. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Penrith".


The living room:



That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Benson Row - 20

Penrith, Cumbria. December-2020.

We are declaring victory on the Money Pit. We no longer have an Oubliette just inside the front door and all works are complete. Well not strictly true, we still have to choose a hearth stone and there is some minor decoration to be done but the works are, in essence, complete. Break out the champagne!

It has been a long old slog. We started the buying process in November 2018 but did not complete on the purchase until March 2019. Then the work began:

2019

  • March: purchase completion
  • April: furniture buying
  • May/June: kitchen design and the fateful decision to knock through into a kitchen / diner
  • July: destruction of the wall, staircase and landing
  • August: construction of the new staircase and landing
  • September: new boiler, underfloor heating in kitchen, beam strengthening, wall reinforcing
  • October: bathroom / front bedroom restructuring, shower installation, cellar expansion
  • November: decorating, completion of shower, the saga of matching the paint colour
  • December: more decorating, carpet fitting 

2020

  • January: decorating
  • February: kitchen installation starts
  • March: lockdown with kitchen worktop fitted in the nick of time
  • April/May: Mary destroys anaglypta in living room
  • June: Mary destroys false wall in living room to expose fireplace
  • July: Mark repairs and redecorates living room
  • August: front room flooring starts and stops
  • September: rectification work on joists, new front door
  • October: chimney removal, we have a hole in the living room floor
  • November we no longer have a hole in the floor, chipboard is down
  • December: we have floorboards, yeah!

We could then move back into our living room and retrieve the furniture and possessions that were previously scattered throughout the rest of the house and in a friend's garage; normality has been restored. We are pleased with how it has turned out:

Living room. 


Kitchen end of Kitchen / Diner.


Dining end of Kitchen / Diner.


Downstairs toilet and shower room under the new stairs.


Upstairs bathroom.


Back Bedroom - Ours.


Middle bedroom - bunk beds suitable for children or adults.


Front bedroom - guest bedroom.


When the rest of the world returns to normality we will be open for visitors. Come visit the lovely North Lakes!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Parkrun Tourism Part 04 - 2020

All over the place. 2020.

Parkrun tourism continued while we could with another 6 locations added in the first three months of 2020 (showing location, date, my time and number of participants) bringing the total to 26 unique locations. 

Then Covid hit and that put the kybosh on our plans. We ended up in Penrith, Cumbria so when parkrun resumes in 2021 (hopefully) we should be able to tick off some northern and Scottish events.

Eastleigh. 01/01/2020. 31:00 [155 / 300]

We spent New Year’s Eve in The New Forest with our friends Bob and Lynn. Last time we were down there we did Moors Valley parkrun but they were not doing a New Year’s Day run. Instead we went to Eastleigh which is conveniently on our route home and didn’t take place till 10:30. Given the New Year celebrations that was probably a good thing.


I was surprised at the number of people who were doing a New Year’s Day double. The course is one of the hillier ones and is entirely on grass which, given the recent rains, meant it was horribly boggy and slippery. Here I really don't look like I'm having fun.


Parkrun tourism done we headed off home to Wandsworth.


Skegness. 18/01/2020. 28:40 [79 / 226]

Attending the Great British Rock and Blues Festival at Butlins for the third year, we were overjoyed to see that Skegness had started a parkrun. The previous two years we would have had to drive 45 minutes to Boston. That would have meant getting up early, missing breakfast, and by the time we got back breakfast would have finished. Instead we had a leisurely start and a very short drive down to the Boating lake.


It’s a nice course by the shore, only two laps, all on tarmac paths and pretty flat apart from a couple of small inclines. Friendly event with lots of very cheerful volunteers.


Letchworth. 18/01/2020. 31:38 [43 / 86]

On our way back from Skegness we stopped over with friends in Letchworth. If I thought Eastleigh was muddy it was because I hadn't met Letchworth! Not so much parkrun as cross-country run. Some of the course was along bridleways and then through fields where one gateway was a quagmire and there was no way round it.


Unsurprisingly it was my worst ever parkrun time. Chatting to the guy with the stopwatch while waiting for Mary, he confided that most people's time is 10% slower, but apparently it is lovely in summer.


Poolbeg. 15/02/2020. 29:53 [169 / 204]

Mary was on a mission to do her 50th Parkrun on the 29th February. That meant she was committed to doing a parkrun every Saturday in 2020 without fail even if she had to hobble round on crutches. We were in Dublin for Valentine's day so we had to do a Dublin parkrun despite being battered by Storm Dennis. It was down on Dublin Bay along the coast and horribly wet, cold and windy. But it had to be done!


The Poolbeg Stacks, the thermal station chimneys sticking out of Mary's head, are among the tallest structures in Ireland and are visible from most of Dublin.


Bushey Park. 15/02/2020. 29:28 [563 / 1029]

When Mary realised that February 29th 2020 was the first ever Leap Day parkrun since it began and the last until 2048 she was super keen to complete her 50th parkrun at her home location of Salento on that day.

We had booked the flights, the car hire and, as a treat, a Gatwick hotel for the way back because of the late landing. Coronavirus put the mockers on that. With two ageing mothers and a weekend cottage booked with a group of friends we could not take the faintest risk of transmitting the infection nor having to self-isolate on our return. So we binned the flights and cancelled the car and hotel.

That left the question of where to do Mary's 50th if not her home event. After some discussion we decided it really had to be the "mother ship" at Bushy Park. We absolutely could not risk missing the 9 o'clock start so rather than use public transport we Uber'ed our way over.

Sporting her Italian "Arriva un parkrunner" T-shirt she power-walked her way round in a respectable 44:12.


The obligatory photo frame shot.


The course is one giant hourglass-shaped circuit.


Achievement unlocked! Red 50 T-shirt earned. Mary was then counting the Saturdays to see when she can get to her 100th.

Tyne Green. 14/03/2020. 29:07 [105 / 196]

Mary had planned a weekend away near Hadrian's Wall with friends to celebrate her birthday - originally booked for January but rescheduled to March. Not too far from our home in Penrith but far enough to make a another parkrun venue possible. Carlisle was too close to home, we could do that any time, so Tyne Green was the obvious choice.


We left our guests snoring and headed off to Tyne Green. It is a single lap, out-and-back course along the banks of the River Tyne. At one point the narrow path is sandwiched between the river and the railway line which meant we got to wave to the train driver as he passed.


Then Covid lockdown hit and that put an end to parkrun tourism for the year. Here's to a better 2021.