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As the summer comes to a close I can say that I’m a very fortunate fool, I’m pretty healthy, pretty fit, with a very silly family and mostly, I get to do the things I want to do. This summer allowed me to return to two festivals I haven’t been to in several years – WOMAD and the BBC Festival in a Day. In previous years the GingaNinja and I have seen some amazing performances such as Mama Rosin, Robert Plant, Lenny Kravitz and even the mighty Status Quo!

This year was a little different, this year we had ASK along for the ride – now it’s true that it’s not her first festival as the GN and I at 7 months pregnant took her along to the Hop Farm in 2014. It was here we believe she cultivated her love of James Blunt and gave much kicking dance action to both Sophie Ellis Bextor and the brilliant Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot.

However, it would be nearly 3 years later before she got the chance to experience all aspects of festival life and we decided that WOMAD was a good place to start.

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WOMAD

We arrived early on the Friday morning to a relatively packed campsite and therefore had to park a little way from the camping. However, armed with a pull-a-long trailer we piled everything in and headed up to a relatively quiet, top of the hill spot. WOMAD is a well drilled festival and we were never far from either water, decent toilet facilities and warm showers.

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We had hoped that the weather would remain dry as this would keep our options open for what music to listen to but when it didn’t we decided that staying a little drier would make for a better experience with ASK. Over the course of the three day festival we saw some amazing acts from ‘World Music’ Trad.Attack! from Estonia playing amongst other things the bagpipes were a real treat. The Gubi Family (Beautiful), Goat (reminded me of Orbital), Las Cafeteras (brilliant), Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds (Inspiring) and The Ska Vengers (Cool). For me though the best thing I saw was Kuenta i Tambu who brought a level of energy to the stage that I hadn’t seen in years, it was bring powerful Afro-Caribbean music that really made you want to get up and dance (and we did). WOMAD had such a hugely diverse range of music on offer and although you won’t like it all you really won’t struggle to find something that you do like.

Importantly ASK found much of the music to her tastes and we danced to the fast moving, beat laden tracks and we snoozed through the gentler music. Although we went to WOMAD for us, we wanted our daughter to experience live music and the energy that comes with it and thankfully she loved it.

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We found the use of a trailer meant we had a mobile bed for ASK and added large umbrellas to keep her dry if it rained. This was perfect for when she grew tired it meant we could stay out and she simply snoozed until she was ready to party again. What we didn’t take was a buggy and although many did they might have regretted it once the mud got thick – we chose to transport ASK on the Unirider when not in the trailer as this handled all but the worst of the conditions with great aplomb (and as we sped around the arenas we were much pointed at, talked to and even photographed – weird).

WOMAD though is much more than music it’s an environment of creativity, play, education and experience. Each morning we sought out the children’s world and joined in with the many wonderful activities on offer. We made masks, hats, skirts, created patterns in t-shirts (£4 for the shirt, a real bargain). We sculpted clay, played numerous instruments, engaged in group games and had several interactive story times – ASK had so much fun!

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The food was almost universally excellent too and although we did some camp cooking you really don’t need to – we had the delight of trying lots of delicious foods and the raclette was amazing as was the mac and cheese we tried and the plethora of cakes, coffees and treats we tried were all delicious. Pizzas offered a good and easy option with prices generally being reasonable for a festival. WOMAD scores well for its food options and have certainly improved since our last visit in 2012. As a teetotaller I don’t drink but the GingaNinja did try some of the ciders and exclaimed that the Mango Cider was her favourite of the whole festival!

Ultimately WOMAD is highly recommended on all levels and while some would argue that it’s a bit of a middle class event I’d argue against that. They do their very best to be hugely inclusive, ASK didn’t pay to attend and you can pay in instalments for adult 3 day tickets and there are options around this. WOMAD has a wide range of music and although nothing you’ll get on Radio 2 it offers you a chance to learn something new. The craft, poetry and children’s sections are phenomenal and as a family experience you really can’t go wrong. I’ll certainly be going back and I won’t be leaving it 5 years between visits!

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Practical Advice

We adventure a lot with ASK – running, biking, hiking, climbing, ice skating, parks, cultural trips, educational trips, parties and that other good stuff but we knew that camping would be something we should be better prepared than usual for. There may be some useful tips in here for new parents about to embark on their first camping trip or music festival.

  • Buy a big enough tent (we bought the Coleman Octagon – an eight man tent which was perfect for a 3 person family and all their stuff)
  • Spread yourselves out, build a proper camp and develop outdoor space that’s yours
  • Get the child/children involved in the buying of any new kit
  • Have full waterproofs for everyone
  • Take a potty
  • Buy good quality ear defenders
  • Buy or rent a trail trailer
  • Use the mornings to do things they want to do to make doing your things more acceptable to them
  • Get to know other families

BBC Radio 2 Festival in a Day

Our second festival of the year was the BBC Radio 2 Festival in a Day. A very different beast to WOMAD but no less enjoyable. A few months back I’d seen that Blondie were on the bill an having just bought their new album decided I’d like to see them live as I’d always been a fan. Looking further down the list I saw James Blunt, Shania Twain and the wonderful Take That. I urged the GingaNinja to make sure she had all the computers in the house ready and armed when the box office opened and after much effort we secured a couple of tickets! Ace.

Having been a couple of times before we knew that it would be hectic and that food outlets would be rammed and so decided to take quite a significant picnic to ensure that both we and our toddler didn’t suffer from any food outages! Armed with a picnic blanket, buggy and food we got to Hyde Park with a couple of hours to spare but this was soon eaten up by finding a decent spot, lunching and getting comfortable.


The weather was looking a little ropey too and we prepared our ‘camp’ for it getting wet later on. By the time the Stereophonics opened we were all in the mood for a little dance and the band delighted as they smashed out new and classic songs. The remainder of the afternoon rolled on without much disturbance, the Radio 2 team bringing truly global musical talent to the stage for everyone to enjoy. It all started to ramp up though when Rick Astley appeared and from here on it was simply a succession of bigger performances. James Blunt was brilliant as ever and I delighted at his live version of Bonfire Heart which I sang to ASK every night for the first two and a bit years of her life to help her sleep. Shania Twain was much as you remember her and delivered a magnificent reminder of her heyday and potentially a return to huge success. ASK, the GingaNinja and I bounced around all day to music as it belted out around Hyde Park with the child periodically requesting the opportunity to sit on our shoulders for a clearer view of the action.


When Blondie came on though ASK recognised and appreciated the pop rock that she’s been brought up on and we both danced for all we were worth! For me Blondie was the absolute highlight of the day but credit where it’s due Take That gave them a real run for their money.

With a 9.30pm (ish) finish/curfew this compressed festival makes the most of its family friendly credentials. The toilets are decent, it isn’t too overcrowded, it’s fairly priced at £50 for general admission and the music has all the toe tapping hits you could wish for. The biggest concern are the stupidly long queues for food and drink but by the food being within earshot of the music the organisers get away with it (just).


Ultimately the Festival in a Day is a wonderful experience and if you’re within spitting distance of London, love the music of Radio 2 and don’t mind the potential of getting wet then it’s a no-brainer!

And so… as parents what we learnt was that ASK loves music, lots of different music and being around these big events. She had no fear of the scale of it all and simply did her own little thing (singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ for example while the stage was blasting out pop classics). The most important thing in terms of enjoying a music festival with a toddler is to be prepared, it didn’t take much effort to get us ready for either event but doing our research and adequately readying ourselves meant that everyone had a brilliant time.

And will we go and do more festivals with her? Damn right we will!

 

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February started as January had finished – well, but there has been a recent dip that’s arrived at a most unfortunate time. These are top 10 points from my February 2017

  • A little over 140 miles run.
  • After much trouble I finally got a medical certificate signed for this years foreign ultra marathons
  • I dropped 2.8kg in weight through nothing but eating less and exercising more. This brings my total weight loss for 2017 to 5.3kg
  • I was informed that my entry to the UTBCN was incomplete but after much back and forth I was finally able to complete my registration!
  • I completed my first race of 2017 and my favourite race (even with its mild course alterations) the Vigo Tough Love 10. Awesome (Read the review here)
  • I shaved off my ultrabeard
  • I entered the Marlborough Downs Challenge
  • I pulled a calf muscle on a short central London RunCommute which ruled out my last weekend in February 49 mile training run in favour of trying to heal and protect my running at the Hockley Woods Trail and the Amersham Ultra
  • I caught the Adventure Show about ‘The OMM’ and am more convinced than ever that this is an event I’d love to do – so have started looking for a partner! All offers welcomed (Watch the Adventure Show on iPlayer by clicking here -available until mid March)
  • I bought quite a lot of new kit in preparation for some of this years adventures – naughty UltraBoy!

February has been a mixed bag essentially but it’s also offered a lots of excellent challenges, lots of buggy miles, lots of hills, lots of mud and I remain on track with both weight loss and my relentless desire to prepare for this year and beyonds challenges. However, enough about me – how are your preparations going? 


Born in Liverpool, lived all over the UK, lived in Europe, lived in South East Asia and fortunate enough to travel across countless countries around the globe since I first left the UK aged 17 – nearly 21 years ago. But for my entire life I have been European and a citizen of the world and that is under threat.

As a man reaching the age of 40 in the next couple of years I’ve taken to combining my love of running and coupling it with seeing the very best that (currently) Europe has to offer on its trails. France, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Iceland and soon Spain have all had me running across them either in training of racing and being European means I’m welcome in these countries – I’m not an outsider – I’m greeted with a warm charm whatever I go because I’m part of something great.

Europe.

In a few weeks time the UK government will ask its citizens if they would like to remain part of the European Union – it will pose an ‘in’ or ‘out’ question.

The answer you’re looking for is ‘in’. Ignore the rhetoric of both sides political games and number crunching – it’s all guess work and stupidity. Don’t look at the Daily Mail, the BBC, Guardian or The Times, etc – they all have bias.
Look inside yourself and I’m hoping that you’ll find the answer for yourself but if you don’t here’s a few handy hints;

Immigration: Had Hitler defeated Churchill would you have hoped that say America or Canada would have taken us in? Would you have wanted to be safe, in a country where persecution wouldn’t have been hanging over you daily? Then why do you worry about taking in refugees? These people need us and as a part of Europe we are better placed to help than we ever will be alone – let’s not forget though when we stand alone we will still have international commitments – Europe isn’t the problem – our fear is.

Perhaps we could also try and remember we are a nation built on immigration – even if you want to exit Europe you must realise the benefits of a diverse and often progressive society?

Money: we pay a tremendous amount into Europe? I can agree on that point but we also take a tremendous amount out, European money is everywhere helping develop and re-engineer cities like Cardiff and Liverpool, it puts money into projects that the UK government wouldn’t back or worse can’t afford to back. 

Our inflated opinion: the UK is a small island nation that punches above its weight – partly because of historical dominance and therefore we are still welcome to the global party – but we stand on the shoulders of our European neighbours increasingly because we are better together, stronger together and more influential together. You can’t build a stronghold with just one brick, you just have one brick – in Europe we have a home and it’s a good well built home.

Sure it’s not perfect and all homes can be improved – we all know this, but if I asked you to name me one perfect political movement then you’d struggle because there isn’t one. Individual governments, individual countries are no better than the EU – for the UK they’ve just become a bogeyman and they’re not. You need to think carefully about what you do when you vote.

If you vote out I believe we are then on a course to destroy our country and if you want to know what we’ll end up like, then go watch ‘Escape from LA’ it’s like a documentary of the UK post Brexit.

And so to running: When I next go running in mainland Europe I want to be able to know that the ground I’m running on is my stomping ground is a Europe I’m part of and a Europe I’m welcome in. 

Scaremongering: I heard that they’re going to ban all British runners from European events*, something about being ‘back of the queue’. Something to think about.

Please vote: please do take the time to vote – this is your future as much as mine.

*This statement is a lie, much like a number of the in and out campaign messages! 

 

I was having a think the other day about televised sport and in particular – free to air televised sport. I have a very limited interest in football any more and sports like rugby, cricket and even track based athletics have never held my attention for long periods. However, my boss introduced me to the crown in Scotland’s TV sporting output – The Adventure Show.

The Adventure Show looks at the best eventing north of the border that’s just a little more obscure, a little on the wild side and a genuine contender for ‘crowd pleaser of the year’.

Why do I mention this? Well, I want to see the same thing down here on the BBC (or other terrestrial option) proper. I’ve got nothing against cookery programmes, DIY shows and pricey period romps but think about a show dedicated to mountain biking, ultra running, sky running, orienteering, kayaking, triathlon, coasteering, OCR and all the other things we, as adventurers, want to see more of.
The BBC Trust found in their own research that …members told us that audiences across the UK think the BBC’s services are performing well. However, Councils suggested that more television programmes made by BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be broadcast on the national networks 

However, according to an analysis published in the Radio Times, ‘£35 million will be cut from the BBC Sport rights fund, and with several deals set to end soon, that means much-loved terrestrial sports could go.’

We’ve already seen a steady decline in sporting coverage over the years on terrestrial TV as sport has become bigger and bigger financially and Murdoch has moved almost everything to a pay for view model. Therefore BBC and other terrestrial options have focused on the gala events such as the Olympics and then exploited them with over-analysis and spread ideas thinly – glossing them over as bonus content. But maybe there could be a shake-up in strategic thinking and this could in part be by looking at what our country is actually doing and bringing them some of that. 

I was looking at the list of what the BBC currently holds and what they’ve given up/lost (Wikipedia not necessarily the font of all knowledge I grant you), which you can see here but it provides an interesting insight to the focus of BBC Sport. There’s a lot of sport, especially in the radio coverage, but very little that crosses those boundaries between sport, entertainment and real adventuring people, not parodies of real people like ‘Total Wipeout’.

My idea would be to bring real sporting people to the fore, much like the Adventure Show does. I can imagine a piece of programming which follows the adventures of people like @abradypus or @borleyrose – dedicated hours of television where adventure was the key, not just running, but everyday people being brilliant. Think of it as an outdoor double bill being paired with Countryfile.

The UK is currently in a golden era of adventuring – you only need to look through social media to see the kind of insane stuff that people are getting up to – shouldn’t we be promoting this? Let’s also remember that BBC Trust research found that, ‘77% of audiences thought that fresh ideas were important but that only 61% thought the BBC had fresh ideas’. Time for a fresh look at what you’ve already got and how that could be further improved?

It’s a simple idea that might give BBC sport a return to credibility with real people at a fraction of the  cost of your sporting crown jewels. I’m not saying we get rid of the Olympics, football, athletics or our once a year fascination with tennis but these things are all riddled with scandal, financial irregularities and cheating – why not look at sports that are a little more niche on the outside but infinitely more inclusive on the inside. 

Trust me BBC (ITV, C4 and Five) watching Susie Chan at the MdS or Cat Simpson crossing the Atacama or James Elson winning Country to Capital will make for compelling viewing. It harks back to a time when the BBC had programmes like Kickstart, minority sports that today would be considered cool – believe me, bikes crossing wet and slippy logs inspired me to a life more extreme!

It’s not just that though, I’ve written previously about struggling to connect with sporting ‘celebrities’ and I don’t believe this is just me. As a nation we aren’t as fit as we should be and I wonder if a programme such as this would help in the promotion of wellbeing – not focusing on the elite and instead focusing on ‘those that do’. Inspiring equally real people to engage in sport.

I’d like an adventuring show that looked at costs, promoted the best of low-cost adventuring to ensure this didn’t become the equivalent of a Top Gear, that while entertaining, was well beyond the reach of mortal men. I’d like to see kit explored, nutrition, attitudes to the psychology of sport and other nuggets that could provide a gateway to exploration for everyone. Of course at the heart of it I’d want to see entertaining, breathtaking adventuring with gob-smacking scenery. 

For those of us who’ve watched The Adventure Show (I do it via iplayer as we don’t get it in London – do we Beeb??!!) I think we can see it’s not made for a million pounds an episode! This stuff is happening regardless of whether you televise it or not so maybe you should get more involved. To the BBC especially, you’re a public service broadcaster and while I think you do a brilliant job with the resources you have I believe sport needs a rethink.

Come on Beeb, come adventuring with us and bring the nation with you! Get in touch with Triple Echo Productions and see if they fancy extending the Adventure Show nationwide! Or talk to the ever growing adventuring community and see for yourself the potential of joining us outside.

As an aside, if you aren’t going with thought number one can you at least dump the London Marathon and Great North Run from the schedule and replace it with some less charity focused races! I’m a bit sick of the celebrity and fancy dress focus of the coverage. 

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