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Be heard

  • You’re weird
  • You’re idiosyncratic
  • You’re a dick
  • You’re okay
  • You’re soooo fucking clever
  • You’re an idiot
  • You’re mind numbingly banal
  • You’re my friend…

these are all things I’ve been called over the years and I’ve been called many more but I’ve never been called normal and there’s reasonable reason for that too.

However, if anyone ever called me normal I’d immediately correct them as I don’t believe there is any such thing as normal – only perspective and opinion.

You may now be asking two things, the first is, ‘I thought this was a blog about running – what is this rubbish?’, the second is, ‘why am I reading this?’

Well I can answer at least one of those! I’m writing about ‘normal’ because as a parent I find it one of the most offensive things you can say and that I want to ensure that my child is as far from normal as possible.

I’ve never been a fan of words and descriptions that attempt to create a conformity to some arbitrary standard but what really got me irked was when my daughter, ASK said this, ‘I don’t want an adventure story tonight, I want a normal story’.

Let me add some detail…

Each evening ASK gets a minimum of two stories, one that is from a book and one that the GingaNinja or I will make up on the spot – we refer to these as ‘Adventure Stories’. The reason we have named them so is to create distinction between the two types of stories she receives and more importantly these off the cuff tales are high on adventure and adrenaline fuelled pursuits involving noise, lights, acting and action! I was very saddened when she said, ‘I want a normal story…’ what she meant was she wanted a story from a book. I was quite shocked to hear her say ‘normal’ because it was a wholly inappropriate use of the word and I felt compelled to explain to her that there is no such thing as normal.

I can see that we many of us wish to ‘fit in’ and be normal but to be normal suggests that anything outside of your own opinion of normal is abnormal, different and that is often presented in negative terms – so when ASK asked for a normal story what she was saying to me was that non-book based stories were abnormal.

Now I’m projecting adult sentiment upon a three year old that currently isn’t there. However, and perhaps this is the point, if I don’t challenge ‘normal’ now and prove that there is no such thing then she will accept social normality as right and that is unacceptable to me.

The funny thing is that normal is, in our society, in our language everywhere and we’ve been conditioned to accept it as the price of society, though I’ve always been careful about my usage of it in language. But society at large has made something of a beeline for being normal…

  • ‘That behaviour isn’t normal’
  • ‘Normal, hard working families’,
  • ‘Life will return to normal soon’,
  • ‘as normal you can be…’,
  • ‘[s]he had a normal upbringing’,
  • ‘Can you just act normally’
  • ‘I just want to be normal’
  • ‘Delivery is normally between 3-5 days’

I can be, on occasion, as guilty as anybody about being lazy in language, not being as verbally dexterous as I know I am capable of but understanding that I have a responsibility to support my young daughter in being as accepting of things that don’t conform has enabled me to think twice about what is being said and to even further promote diversity, difference and challenge.

This is not a call to arms to unburden ourselves of the shackles of modern life – not at all – we still have to live, it is more that perhaps we have become too blind to the ideas of what is acceptable. I suppose I would ask if we have become lazy about allowing boundaries to be defined for us? Let’s be honest the illusion of freedom still isn’t freedom.

Perhaps it’s a little like this, life has become that prepared, curated music playlist – you’ve listened to 5ive, Slam Dunk the Funk so you’ll probably be interested in Boyzone, but we won’t be showing you any Bach or Beck.

You’ve been spoon fed ‘bread and circus’ to make ‘normal’ acceptable and we, as a society then pass this message on generationally and therefore make a mostly compliant society.

I overheard two middle aged women reading a magazine, or rather browsing pictures, and on several occasions heard phrases like, ‘she just doesn’t look right, it’s not normal’. My grandmother often asks why I don’t dress ‘normally’ or wear ‘normal’ shoes and my answer to that is constant, ‘can you define what a normal shoe looks like?’ What they mean is, both my grandmother and the women I overheard is, ‘why don’t you conform to my idea of life?’

Conforming didn’t give us great innovation, huge creativity or adventurous exploration, following a societal norm puts constraints on us that we might simply not need. Within all of us i am absolutely sure that we have the capacity for great things if we only look that bit further.

At a time when the world is in trouble I’d urge all of us to say ‘fuck normal, be abnormal, be different, think wild, act beyond and accept that you don’t need limits’. The thing about being your own person is there are no guidelines, no rules – except that following a predefined, ordered path is unlikely to get you to where you want to be.

In the end ASK may choose to be a conformist, she may wish to adhere to a social norm but I live in hope that she will demand more from herself and the world around her.

Just something to think about

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Do you remember in 1997 when the Blair government swept into power and it filled the country with hope. Do you remember? We talked of tolerance, building great things, a global, connected UK, part of something bigger with our European partners but owning special relationships that would cement our post as a leader on the world stage.

Do you remember this?

I’m not saying it was all rosy, far from it. The invasion of Iraq will always be considered something of difficult point from this period and the Labour move right gave too much power to those who believe that ‘Greed is Good’. But it was an interesting time that was underpinned by attempts to move the UK forward in devolution, into a 21st century knowledge based economy and into an important global state punching well above our weight.

I entered adulthood at the beginning of this period and am grateful for it because all that I’ve built personally came out of my belief in the UK and its future. 

I roll forward less than a decade and I see the mess that the UK has driven itself toward. How did we become a country so inward looking? How did we hand over the reigns of our country to those that will govern for the few? When did reality television and beauty pageants permeate our politics? I’m not blaming one political party – they’re all pretty manky but we’re now at crunch time again.

I spent my weekend poring over the manifestos of the main parties that I might consider voting for and some I’d be unlikely to vote for. I was looking for the things that I could be confident will make a difference to the future of myself, my family, my country and our place in the world.

The truth is that all the major political parties concern me, the Tories look set to further turn the thumbscrews in the UK on all but the rich and powerful. Labour are struggling to break down a perception of ineptitude and the smaller parties carry no weight.

Castle MaySkull might be saying it’s taking nothing for granted but her manifesto says she is very much taking votes for granted assuming that the grey vote and the leave voters will simply agree to her need for an iron fist in the battle with the EU. Sadly though when you drill down into the Conservative or Team May manifesto it look out of ideas and is just too vague. I wonder who would be fooled by this?

Perhaps it’s worth remembering that when our backs are against the wall we aren’t all in it together, are we Theresa? 

On the opposite side we have Labour this time with some really interesting ideas but they are beset by the problem of a leadership that looks unelectable.

However, they’re the only party that says it, ‘will guarantee no rises in income tax for those earning below £80,000 a year, and no increases in personal National Insurance Contributions or the rate of VAT’. Can Labour really do this and protect the income of those that need it most?

They believe they can commit to their manifesto spending promises in ways other than raising personal tax, corporation tax seems a good start and let’s be honest there are a couple of projects they could probably bin to help them achieve it (HS2 anyone? Although I like the idea of a northern Crossrail).

The Labour manifesto actually looks like it was written for everybody and while people will quiz the numbers (even an old Trotskyist like me isn’t 100% sold on the numbers) this is a manifesto designed to give hope.

The question is can Team Corbyn win over the doubters or at least hold back a Tory landslide, because May went to the polls to wipe Labour out and win back the UKIPpers and if that doesn’t happen then what does that say about her position?

As for the Liberal Democrats, well they might as well be offering unicorns for votes, the manifesto has interesting ideas, tax rises, student maintenance grants and of course the second referendum on the deal the UK is offered on leaving the EU. However, the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to trouble the UK electorate greatly and therein lies the problem with them. People don’t trust them and as a consequence people may not vote for them.

So what does it come down to for me? Well I had originally been very conflicted over this election, concerned by Labour, appalled by the Conservatives and underwhelmed by the Liberal Democrats.

However, having read the bulk of the manifestos I’m confident that the best of the options is the vision being put forward by Labour. No it’s not perfect and in an ideal world I’d have another option – one that was steadfastly against the stupidity of leaving Europe but that option doesn’t exist. I’m still disgusted at the EU referendum result and I still hugely disappointed in the Labour/Corbyn level of support for remaining in the EU. But I have to support a Labour manifesto at this election because the other options are simply too terrifying to contemplate.

And if I want to be part of Europe? Well maybe I’ve got to stand myself at some point – no point bleating on if you’re unwilling to get your hands dirty.

But…

What am I asking you to do? I’d urge you all to ensure you register to vote, I’d urge you all to listen carefully to the words of politicians, read their manifestos and when you get the chance, question them.

Too many broken promises from all sides have been made and look at the UK now, it wasn’t the EU that made this mess – it was us and a succession of lying, cheating governments. I do care who you vote for because I have an opinion but all I can ask of you is that you make the most informed decision that you can. 

Forget party lines, look at yourself, your family, your work and everyone else’s situation and select the option that will give all of us a better, fairer quality of life.

And if you think that Theresa May and her vision will do that then god* help us all.

*Other fictional characters are available.

There’s lots of really good running and fitness blogs out there, some more regularly updated than others, I’m a regular contributor to blogging not because I’m particularly interesting but because I like to keep a record of the things I’ve done and I believe at least some people get something out of my wittering.

When I started blogging (about design related things) I never imagined that I’d end up writing about my running adventures – now five years later the design blogging only happens when I feel the need to change jobs and the running blogging has morphed into a blog about my adventures in life and running. Three and a half years ago I started writing under the UltraBoyRuns moniker and I’ve never looked back, I find it therapeutic and I find it rewarding but the question I mostly get asked about it is, ‘How do you find things to write about? How do you find the time? Why would I write, surely nobody would be interested in what I’ve got to say?’

Everyone will have their own way of doing it, their own things to say – I can’t tell you how or what to do but I can tell you how I go about it. Below are they key stages I go through to bring a blog piece to life. Hopefully you’ll find something useful here.

Read lots: While I have ideas for blog posts that simply pop into my head I also draw on my environment, I read lots of blogs, newspapers, news reports, advertising, social media postings, business reports, research (and not just about health and fitness – that would be quite limiting). This quality research and inspiration time is the foundation of good blogging.

Adventure lots: You’ve got to have something to write about and the best way I believe to have something to write about is to go and do things. So in the last few months I’ve written about Haria Extreme, adventures in ice skating, Lanzarote theme parks, running in the Arctic Circle, trespassing on to the airfield at the Isle of Skye and a whole host of other stuff.

I genuinely believe that life should be filled with and fuelled by cool stuff. Life shouldn’t be a passive experience, it’s for living and your blog will benefit from a life less ordinary

Brainstorm ideas: You’ve done loads of research, you’ve had groovy adventures, you’ve sat down to write about something and it just won’t come. Jot a few ideas down in a list, on some paper, on your computer, watch some TV, listen to music, relax, let all the things you’ve seen and done roll round in your head and a title will come.

Join in social media (Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Reddit) conversations: Social media isn’t for everyone but amongst the crap there are little gems of ideas, conversations, arguments, very real people discussing serious and silly topics that might give rise to new posts to inspire you or might give you a thought for a post you can bend to your own experience. Twitter I find especially useful for insight into how individuals look at a topic even when expressed over 140 characters. Interacting in these conversations also allows you a mouthpiece to express opinions as well as get them which in turn can have the effect of supporting the building of a readership. It’s not rocket science – you’re engaging in community and the community might want to hear what you have to say.

Photograph your adventures: Nothing offsets a great blog piece better than a quality or narrative enhancing photograph. I very rarely add professional photographs to my site but then in my role as a graphic designer I do quite a lot of photography so I like to think that some of that experience translates. However, the acquisition of an action camera (GoPro Hero 4) and the use of my iPhone 5S have meant that I’m pretty much able to capture all the run and race photographs I ever need and they simply help me improve the telling of my tales.

Note down a list of working blog titles: As part of my working process whenever a new blog topic comes to mind and I’m happy with it I note it down and then add it to my working list to be expanded on and developed later. This can be anything from being inspired by a tangent in a post I’m writing, a post from someone else that I’m reading or something I’ve seen or heard.

Pick relevant blog posts to write about and know your audience: You’ve got to write about things you want to write about but you’ve also got to have a focus. My original blog mixed graphic design, art, running and general gubbins – but that proved too scatter gun and so the audience was never quite sure what they were getting. UltraBoyRuns is all about adventure, that said though, this year I’ve used it to discuss politics, refugees and my ongoing fears about the way Britain is headed. You just have to be careful not to stray too far from your original intention otherwise what you’re saying becomes confused and you yourself will lose interest in what you’re doing

Know where you are headed and understand the value of a structure: Try and know roughly where you are headed with a post otherwise it will ramble and be less coherent. It’s okay for posts to be long just ensure they have a structure and narrative that lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Be Interesting, be passionate: One of the hardest things to do is to believe that your life is of interest to anyone else. But everyone, no matter who they are does and witnesses interesting things. When you write, when I write, I try and look at the finer detail to bring out interest. For example in a recent post I could have written ‘I had 5km of pain and then found a bush to take a poo behind’ instead I looked at the detail of being ‘bent double in agony’ ‘stabbed by the protruding thorns of the bare bush I was cowering behind’. Adding colour and texture, while remaining true means your readers can join you on your adventures, even if they are about poo.

Find your most creative time: The only time I write is when I’m on the train, I’ll occasionally do backend blog maintenance at home but mostly it’s all done on my phone in the 50 minute (plus delays) train ride I have (usually the morning commute). Blogging requires me time and RunBlogging requires quite a lot of me time given that you’ve got to do the time on your feet too. I understand we all have busy lives but you may find that by writing something like this it allows you to blow off steam. Blogging shouldn’t be a distraction from the things you feel you just do but it giving it half an hour a couple of times a week is what I call ‘me time’.

Try not to care who reads it: If you’re writing as a way of getting Salomon to notice you so they’ll send you free kit then this blog post probably won’t be of any interest to you (and it’s quite hard I believe to get the big boys to be sending you kit). I tend to think you should write honestly about real experience and (much like a race) leave nothing out. This way not only do give an honest account of who you are but you’re audience will enjoy it all the more – yes you may never be as popular as Usain Bolt but does that matter? write for yourself and an audience will find you.

But your blogs seem so quick (post race)? My blogging post race may seem quick – usually the following day or two but that’s because I do lots of the preparation work before the race began and I have dedicated time on my commute to use

The writing of a blog post normally takes me between 45 and 90 minutes or two commutes. The pictures will already be on my phone and I will have already worked out the structure of the posting before I start. I still require inspiration to start and that may be an incident in the days leading up to an event or it might be a conversation had with someone or it might even be my thoughts as I’m holding my medal for the first time.

Then it usually just flows from there. 

Tell people: the bit I hate is telling people about my blog posts, I still to some degree assume nobody wants to read what I write, this years ‘hits’ suggest otherwise though and so each blog post goes out to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (although I think I only know a dozen people of FB so I can’t remember why I bother!). If I’ve posted late at night I might tweet a reminder in the morning so that those interested might see it and I’ll add relevant hashtags but ultimately that’s all I do. I write for me and if someone else is interested then I’m deeply honoured and humbled. You might find more interesting ways of telling people about your site such as in forums and adding it to communities such as The Running Bug but you’ll decide how far and wide you want to branch it out.

Have fun: The most important thing though is to have fun in your adventures and your writing and follow your own path – these suggestions above are just that – suggestions. They work for me but I’d be interested to hear about how other people do it. Enjoy

The key points

  1. Do Research
  2. Do Adventure
  3. Do Brainstorm
  4. Be Organised
  5. Be Passionate
  6. Be interesting
  7. Be True
  8. Be Confident
  9. Just Enjoy

Do you remember a time before the referendum when we were all worried but knew it would be okay?

We’d stay in Europe and we’d have at least another 4 years of a democratic White House in the US. The world seemed unstable but that common sense would prevail.I’d been participating in the debate for the Referendum, very much on the side of remain and although it looked perilously tight we should pull through.

I tell this as a true story – I had not intended to as it upsets me greatly, it is told from my perspective but it is very much what I witnessed and in light of the horrific results in the US presidential election and the ongoing referendum fall-out it seems appropriate to try and put into perspective why this image summed up the referendum for me.

A battered Y registered, turquoise Opel Astra with a near collapsed suspension thundered up behind me. In the car was a rather grubby, drawn faced looking man with the stench of tobacco and weed about him I noted as he pulled up beside me, his one arm driving technique making me take a step further back on to the pavement. In the back of the vehicle three children sat, but I barely had time to notice them as the driver bawled at me ‘where’s this fucking polling station mate?’

I offered the information he was looking for, ‘first left and a couple of hundred metres up on the right, it’s the local church centre if you know it?’

He pulled away without saying a word and by the time he had driven up I had pretty much arrived too. There was a queue and he was before me, turned out his name was ‘Michael’ and he had been speaking to some of the others about his vote. I listened because here, in this man, I could hear the voice of discontent and also the level of ignorance that hadn’t just invaded my community but much of the country.

‘Kick ’em out,’ he said, ‘I mean not all of ’em – Alvin at the Chinky does a lovely lemon chicken’. Michael was making me want to vomit, partly due to the smell, partly due to his quiet tirade. Perhaps he didn’t realise that the pizza he had recently ordered is more famously associated with Italy or that his Opel Astra has long standing German links. The people around him didn’t shuffle uncomfortably at his words, they merely smiled politely, they were older and tried at least not to encourage him.

Michael eventually voted, I’ll assume ‘Leave’ and I voted ‘Remain’ we both left.

He opened the door to his car, telling his children it was time to pick up the pizza (that’s how I know what was on the menu that evening) and he left, driving as wildly as when I first encountered him.

I returned home in dismay, worried about the result.

I can’t know for sure but Michael didn’t appear to be a regular voter – his lack of knowledge of the polling stations location despite his local accent suggested he had made a special effort to vote. But the things he said while waiting where hideous and given the evidence of the months since the referendum result we can see that he really isn’t alone.

I know not everyone who voted ‘Leave’ is a Michael, but I wonder if we really want to hand the keys of the UK to people like this? If they get what they want where do they stop? Michael didn’t mind Alvin at the Chinese takeaway but I wondered how he felt about the local barber who is actually an Iraqi refugee. A young man who fled conflict in his own country and has made a good life for himself here, married to a lovely Polish lady and now with a British born child. How far does the anti-immigration view go? How far has hate in England and Wales engulfed our nation and our national identity? 

Last night I was told by the lovely Lesley that ‘we’d lost’ but to everyone who thinks it’s okay to just accept defeat then I’d ask you to look again.

Do you know a Michael? Do you want the future of the UK to be determined by a vision built on fear and loathing. I want my daughter to know I fought every single day to give her an inclusive, tolerant future and if that means being less tolerant of the ridiculousness the people of the UK and the Westminster elite have brought down upon us then so be it.

Being an ultra marathon runner you come to realise that the starting gun or vote is just the beginning of the race and I’m hoping that those who want to be part of the EU feel like endurance runners because this race has a steep profile, lots of evil elevation and big fast downhills but by holding steady, getting our nutrition right we might just finish this. Let’s hope those who dream of an EU-less UK have gone out too quick and blown up at checkpoint one.


What kind of world do you really want?

One ruled by a Putin or a Trump or both? Businesses run by people like Philip Green? Weak political figures ruling our country like David Cameron and Theresa May? The media run by the ‘double D’ of Dacre and Desmond the likes of the ‘triple M’ Maxwell, Murdoch and Morgan? And our circus run by Simon Cowell, Ant, Dec or Alan Sugar? Maybe you want the good of days of Margaret Thatcher and Bernard Manning? Or maybe you dream of a time when Oswald Mosley was bumbling around and the Daily Mail cried ‘All hail the blackshirts’.

Perhaps you’re the type of person that goes shopping and wishes that all accents sound like yours or that the only skin tone different to yours comes from two weeks in Magaluf.

Maybe you feel that refugees are someone else’s problem, that The Daily Mail, The Express and the Murdoch Empire have a point.

Maybe you worry more about people with names like Kardashian rather than people who will probably die with no name.

Perhaps you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind foreigners who take over football clubs and big business but you mind them in the NHS and your local takeaway.

Maybe you’re the person who thinks fame is better than talent and that any religion outside your own is wrong and probably dangerous and full of hatred towards others.

Maybe you don’t care about Sterling and it’s dramatic drop against the dollar and the Euro. You were probably unmoved by its terrible performance as a currency and you probably don’t care about the fact it rallied (a little) after the result of this weeks high court ruling.

You probably don’t care that people, post referendum result, are being abused for being from other countries and you’re the kind of person who thinks Al Murray isn’t a character.

Maybe you’ve just buried your head in the sand, you probably deny global warming and think Fracking is a good idea.

You probably think the banking industry considering pulling out of the UK is a positive and that devolution is something that turns Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish into Neanderthals rather than the opportunity of greater independence.

You might be the kind of person who looks at Donald Trumps ‘Wall’ proposal and think that would be handy for keeping Johnny Foreigner out.

If any of that looks familiar then the chances are you voted to ‘Leave the EU’.

Sadly not all of you are like the people I’ve described above, some of you who voted Leave are the clever, the wise and the witty. I really should despise you for taking a country I love into the darkest of possible futures. But… you’re the people who can now make a difference to our country.

You have the opportunity to look again at a refugee and see a person, you can look at the deep fear in the country and uncertainty and choose to change you view on our future. You can see the rises coming in the cost of living that are only just beginning and say enough is enough.

Maybe you can do me a favour and have a little look outside and ask yourself if ‘that’s a place I want to live?’

It’s never too late to stop something stupid, it’s never too late to help your fellow man, it’s never too late to stand up and be counted. Greed, hate, envy, mistrust – these are the new cornerstones of our future. I want you to look at yourself, your neighbour, your fellow man and ask what the future holds for each of them. Are you prepared to make a tough decision to improve the future for everyone and fight for our right to be a European?

Don’t listen to hate, don’t listen to the Trumps or the Farages of this world, they are wrong about the future. Remember the EU didn’t create our problems we did, the UK did and only together with the EU, working together, being stronger together, can we achieve our maximum potential.

It is togetherness, positivity, innovation and curiosity that will drive our future. In light of the High Courts ruling that Parliament must be involved in the process of leaving the EU we have a genuine chance to re-evaluate our position (on all sides). I want to urge us all, be you a politician, business leader, cultural icon, religious leader, media magnate or person on the street – get involved.

Fight for the future – this one really is worth it

And in a related matter I’d urge Americans to do the right thing, we might have screwed up but you do not have to. Vote Clintonyes she’s not perfect but she will not take the world into the abyss and she will help to progress our world.

And to everyone else, take on board the Bill and Ted mantra, ‘Be excellent to one another’.

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