Thursday, April 17, 2014

The birdy has flown

Having missed Eleanor at the start of the London marathon I had to post the Bluebird of Happiness to her. So yesterday he flew all the way up to Yorkshire to meet Louis.

Eleanor sent me these lovely photos of him opening the package:

What's this then?
Here's some bunny paper for you mummy
Just checking the quality of the crochet!
I love you birdy!
My birdy
Louis's smile just melts your heart doesn't it!
Thank you so much for sharing these lovely photos Eleanor.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Crocheting to link people with dementia, and their families, together - you are not alone

So here we are again, at the start of the London marathon. It was my 9th running of this marathon and my 34th marathon in total. As usual we had to leave home at silly o'clock to get there in time so we'd already been in Blackheath for 1.5 hours by the time I had to go and register with Guinness World Records adjudicators.

I was greeted by the lovely Amarilis who has now returned from maternity leave (you can see a photo of her and the little crochet boottees I made for her baby here). Then Damian arrived and there was more hugging and catching up to do. I wasn't able to stay around for the group photo because I had a TV interview to do in a different area so we decided I should get into my running gear and have everything checked so that I could head off.

Heading back to Mike to get into my outfit
Attaching the timing chip to my shoe
All blinged-up and ready to go
Cheeky pose!
Part of what I was doing on marathon day was to start crocheting a blanket when I got up in the morning (4am since you asked!) and I continued working on it during the journey into London. Here's what I managed to do before the start:

Blankie beginnings
The joy of using a chunky yarn is that your work grows really quickly! I used a really nice granny heart pattern from Kara's blog as the centrepiece. I chose it because I liked the raised edge which made it very tactile. Then I just did some basic granny rounds in many different colours of Lion Brand Hometown USA - I love the range of bright zingy colours and this yarn is so soft, not at all like the scratchy acrylic yarns I grew up with.

The blanket then went into my baggage and onto one of the many lorries that transport our stuff to the finish area. The idea was that I would add the chain I crocheted during the marathon to the blanket and then it would be donated to someone suffering from dementia to let them know they are not forgotten and to wrap them in love * see below.

Then I was checked by an adjudicator, briefed with my final instructions and headed off to meet Eleanor to give her the little crocheted birdy for her baby. Sadly, the best laid plans often go awry when public transport is involved and she couldn't get to our meeting place in time. We tried to meet up in another area but couldn't find oneanother and by then I was rushing to get to my interview so had to dash off without meeting her! Hey ho.

Waving goodbye to Mike to go into the Red Start area
The interview with Helen Skelton was great (she's lovely) and was shown on the morning in the general marathon coverage on the BBC and then again in the marathon highlights. All fab publicity for Alzheimer's Research UK and it was brilliant because a lot of the spectators had seen it, as indeed had many fellow runners, and were looking out for me en-route.

There seemed to be a lot of tooing and froing between starting areas for me yesterday which helped pass the time. Before I left the Red Start area I had the presence of mind to nip to the toilet before I left as the queue wasn't too long and I knew I'd want to go before the start of the marathon. Thank goodness I did as when I got back to the Green Start the queues for the toilets and for the baggage lorries were huge!

The weather had been overcast and cool first thing but by 10am when the marathon started it was already getting rather warm. Hmmm, not great when you're wrapped up in yarn. As usual I started near the back of the field with the people wearing large costumes; amongst them there was a man with a fridge on his back (yes, really), a telephone box, a giant fire extinguisher, a womble and the Jamaican bobsleigh team carrying a huge structure.

I settled into my own rhythm but was a bit miffed when the telephone box went striding off ahead of me. Humph! I'm experienced enough not to get carried along by the speedier runners and just stuck to my own pace.

The race was mostly a blur of crocheting, attaching chains to my waistband, tying-in new yarn, waving to spectators and trying not to trip over the speed humps on the road - they are tricksy little blighters and you can easily trip up on them.

Lots of fellow runners came to say "hi" and wished me well as they went past - I just love the camaraderie you get in a marathon. Plus, the spectators at London are always brilliant and they don't just stick around for the speedy runners, many stay out there for hours on end to support the slower runners. I was delighted that lots of people shouted out that they'd seen the interview with Helen.

As it got hotter and hotter, more and more people started to walk which doesn't often happen in the early stages. This meant that I was forever dodging around people which made it hard to concentrate on what I was doing.

In the area around Narrow Street it became increasingly difficult to get past as it lives up to it's name and is indeed very narrow. I was looking out for a sea of purple where the ARUK supporters would be and was delighted at how many people were there supporting this year. Their numbers had been bolstered by the ARUK London Supporter's Group.

Tim, head of communications at ARUK, had his chief photographers hat on and snapped this photo of me as I ran past.

My large deramores badge had started to peel off and my yarn kept getting stuck underneath it!
As it got hotter my hands got very sweaty (sorry if that's too much info!) which meant the yarn dragged and became difficult to work with. Then there were lots of people out with hoses trying to help cool down the runners and I got sprayed several times just to make things even harder.

We redheads don't like the heat at all and by mile 20 I was getting rather overheated. Although I'd paced myself to finish in around 5:50 - 5:55 I decided not to risk making myself ill and so I increased my pace for the last 6 miles to finish in 5:40:47. After all the dodging around people my GPS watch told me I'd run 27.10 miles.

I was greeted by Fran from the press team at VLM and people from Guinness World Records and after lots of hugging it was time to measure the chain. I had no idea how long it was but I was jolly glad to get rid of it as the weight had been hurting my back!

Of course, the chains had been jiggling around tied to my waist and were quite tangled so first of all I had to to carefully cut them off my waistband. Then we wound them into loose hanks and the measuring began. Crochet is stretchy and so they were careful to find a neutral position as they measured (i.e. somewhere between slack and stretched).

The measuring process
It soon became obvious that it was a bit longer than my previous chain of 77.4 metres. This wasn't really a surprise because last time I did it my neck and shoulders were still very sore following a road traffic accident and I struggled all the way round even with a lightweight yarn.

So what did it measure?

139.42 metres.

Tee hee!

Here's my new Guinness World Record certificate
* When I saw just how long it was I realised that I'd have to revise my plans for the blanket as there was just too much of it. So what I've decided is that I'll take a section of it, undo it and crochet some more rounds onto the blanket. That way, the yarn used will have been part of the chain that I created whilst running the marathon and there will be enough yarn left to make another blanket for someone else.

Finally, at last, I could head off to meet Mike who was bursting with pride. After much hugging he took the obligatory post-London-marathon photo, which is always my favourite.

You can see someone's had a good day shopping in London!
Usually we head off to a pub to meet up with fellow runners or just head home, depending on how tired I'm feeling. This time we were off to the Phoenix Artists' Club where we held the first ever ARUK Supporters' Day to meet up with the team from ARUK and fellow runners and their families.

It's probably only about a 15 - 20 minute walk from where we were but Mike had a surprise for me - we had a ride in a rickshaw. It was a complete tourist rip-off but we didn't care and we giggled like teenagers and ate chocolate as the driver pedalled away. We saw lots of fellow runners and their partners doing exactly the same thing!

It was lovely chatting to fellow runners and the ARUK team. Tim was taking photos of everyone for their social media sites so I had a few more mug shots.

He'd also created a whiteboard for people to hold with their reason for running the marathon. As always I ran in memory of my mum, which is what I wrote. 

However, this time it was also about joining people together, hence the crochet chain. It's wonderful to have another Guinness World Record but I really hope that people understand the metaphor of the chain; linking people suffering from dementia together.

Thank you to everyone who's supported me and to my fellow runners - together we can defeat this devastating disease. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chirpy, chirpy, cheep, cheep

I enjoyed crocheting Happy the hippo so much that I decided at the last minute (i.e. 2 days ago!) that I wanted to make another of Hedi's designs for my running chum, Eleanor who I'll be seeing at the start of the London marathon on Sunday. She has the most gorgeous smiley little baby ever and I thought this would be perfect.

So here we have the Bluebird of Happiness. I took some photos outside but it was jolly cold and windy so we came back inside to finish off.

I chose this bright turquoise blue and set it against a day-glo red as little people love bright colours. The stuffing is quite safe for toys and as it's made with acrylic yarn it's easy to wash.

I did a few modifications as usual.

I didn't like the way the tail turned out using the instructions and when I checked on Ravelry I saw that a lot of people had very curly and rather thin feathers. I've made them more robust so they stand up better.

As it's a gift for a baby I didn't use eyes, I just did a bit of embroidery using dark brown yarn.

I also changed the beak completely as the written instructions made a beak that was far too wide. I also pushed a tiny bit of stuffing into to as well.

More birdies:

This was the view that greeted me this morning when I opened the bedroom curtains. We created this little splash pond in the front garden for wildlife and for the reflections. Little did we know that the ducks would claim it as their own!

Then, as I was opening up the curtains in the music room I spotted the first ducklings of the season. This is Mrs duck whose brood was attacked last year. I notice that Mr duck has stayed around to keep his family safe which is unusual as they often disappear to leave the duck to raise them alone.

The proud parents
The 2 remaining ducklings in that link grew into fine drakes and disappeared during the winter. A few weeks ago 2 drakes appeared and seemed to know me as they came really close to me. I nicknamed them Tweddle-dee and Tweedle-dum until I noticed one of them had a bit of a limp and I realised that they were Titch and Quackers but all grown up!

Titch (left) & Quackers, June 2013
All grown up now

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A happy hat

My trusty marathon cap was looking rather tried and faded; it used to be a lovely vibrant purple!

It's done almost all my marathons with me, through snow, sleet, torrential rain, & baking sun so has become a trusty old friend and I didn't want to get rid of it. So the only thing to do was to smarten it up a bit with some bright granny squares.

I used different colours of 4ply yarn and just joined them into a strip (using the join-as-you-go method) and then sewed them in place. It didn't matter that I obscured 'redhead' as I have that on my vest, front and back.


I felt the back needed a little something too. Something that would make runners coming past me smile.

A simple granny heart fitted the bill perfectly. This has to be one of the easiest heart patterns and is one I've used since I was a small child (I love hearts!!!!) and came from a really old book of crochet I had which has long since disappeared.

I had to nip into London today to collect my race number and visit the press office and so I wore my ARUK tee shirt and cap and lots of people smiled and remarked on the crochet. Good, I wanted it to be a happy cap and that's exactly what it is now.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The dreaming spires of Oxford

The ARUK Conference 24th-26th March

I'm still playing catch-up with my posts (yep, same as usual!) but in my defence this time I had to write a blog post just for ARUK to use on their website before I did my own blog. OK, I've got my excuses out of the way so here I go.

Before I departed there was some guilt-baking to do! I know Mike's perfectly capable of cooking for himself but I like to leave things that have been prepared with love whilst I go swanning off, yet again, to talk about dementia or run a marathon.

Here we have a poppy-seed knot loaf made with half white flour, half spelt which makes it really tasty.

I headed off for Oxford on the Monday afternoon because it's a long drive and the proceedings started early the next day.

As a lay Champion for ARUK I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend their annual  conference amidst the dreaming spires of Oxford.  There is a park-and-ride scheme, to reduce the amount of traffic, whereby you leave your car in one of several enormous carparks outside the city and then catch a bus into the city centre. The one I'd chosen was just off the motorway and was very easy to find. 

Then I had to catch the bus and I knew the number of the stop where I should alight but when I asked the driver he didn't know where it was; even worse, when I told him it was was quite near too Balliol College (one of the famous Oxford colleges) he said he'd never heard of it! I trusted my instincts and got off on the High Street and ended up about 200 metres from my hotel. This was a relief because my bags were quite heavy even though I'd tried to travel light and had worn my running kit under my jeans!

Here's the view from my hotel room; I love the mellow colour of cotswold stone.

Once I'd phoned Mike and settled myself in I went off for a walk and to find something to eat before it got dark.

I enjoyed wandering the streets and looking at the wonderful buildings but I couldn't help noticing how much like any other High Street it had become. Same old chains of clothes shops, fast food outlets etc. The other thing that started to annoy me was the unsympathetic signage used in such beautiful old buildings.

I hate the way Pret have plasticised the ground floor with that hideous frontage and excess of signs hanging on the 1st floor 
Whereas the signage for this Beefeater Inn is unobtrusive and blends in well

I walked over to see the entrance to Balliol College and had a peek inside. Then I headed off for something to eat and had an early night.

The next morning I was up bright and early to go for my run. It was raining and dreary but it was still nice to run somewhere different.

Such beautiful buildings.

First of all I checked out route to the Said Business School where the conference was being held. Then I headed back towards the hotel to work out my route to Keble College where I was going to attend a banquet that evening. Just look at the magnificent brickwork.

On my way back I ran past Hertford Bridge which is often referred to as the Bridge of Sighs because it looks like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice!

Next it was time to freshen up and head down for brekkie. Here's my bathroom selfie showing my frock and cardigan combo for the day. I chose to wear black lace-up shoes with a bit of a heel - please will someone remind me not to do that again if I'm going to be on my feet most of the day together with 1.5 miles walking there and back?! (***see below)

As I approached the conference centre I was greeted by a giant poster with the faces of 2 fellow supporters, Patrick and Carol Franklin-Adams, so I felt at home immediately. 

As I entered the building I felt a wave of excitement as I met the ARUK team and the first thing I did was to grab a coffee and immerse myself in the crowd of researchers milling around.

But surely a conference full of researcher talking about science would be boring for anyone other than fellow Scientists, I hear you cry?! Well, I’ve been a fund-raiser and campaigner for ARUK for over 9 years now as I firmly believe that science and innovation hold the key to defeating dementia and this gave me a chance to mingle with the people whose work I help to fund and I hope will lead to treatments and cures for dementia.

The ID tag was a very clever design. It had 3 parts with your name, a list of the programme for each day, a map and layout of the conference centre and a map showing the various conference venues.

I wanted to use the occasion to learn as much as I could about the various types of research projects underway at the moment. The only way to do that was to walk up to someone, confess that my only scientific credentials consist of my O levels in Chemistry, Physics and Biology and a life-long fascination with the workings of the human brain, and ask them to tell me about their specific area of research. 

So that’s exactly what I did! 

I heard about the relationship between tau tangles and fyn, amyloid beta aggregation, looking at the disease at the sub-atomic level, dyslipidemia (aka high cholesterol) which was of particular interest to me as I have high cholesterol despite a healthy lifestyle and diet, the effect of inflammation on the development of dementia and many more interesting subjects. It was wonderful to meet so many young and enthusiastic researchers.

For the first lecture I sneaked into the main lecture theatre and settled at the back as I needed to get out quickly to do a few interviews. It was packed to the rafters and when Rebecca Wood gave the opening address she recalled the very first conference they held when there was only a handful of people! It just shows how far ARUK has come as a charity and I felt proud to be a part of that.

Throughout the programme of lectures I attended I was worried that I wouldn’t understand what was being said. What I found though was that even if I didn’t understand exactly what some of the scientific terms meant, I could see the process that the researcher had gone through in their work, including dead-ends, and that was fascinating in itself.

After the first coffee break I went into the 'quiet room' to listen to proceedings. This was where journalists could sit and write and come and go as they pleased. On the left of the picture is Tim who wanted to do some photos and stuff for Twitter with me during the morning.

There was a massive screen so we could watch the lectures too.

Tim and I headed off to see Oli and Josh from the media team. Oli filmed several interviews with me about why I was excited to be at the conference etc. Lots of supporters had asked about texting to make a donation so Oli took loads of photos of me holding this board - we did happy smiling face, sombre face (I'm not very good at that!) and neutral face. I have no idea which face this is!

At the end of the first day there was a debate entitled ‘Genetics versus the Environment’ in which each side presented their case for investment in their area and the audience voted at the end. In the case for the Geneticists, Prof Kevin Morgan presented a strong case in which there was much talk about the genome and drug development whilst the case for Environment, presented by Prof John Gallacher focused on health aspects, eg diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, depression and obesity. I was surprised when the Environment won as I didn’t fully understand how someone could reduce their chances of developing dementia if they were genetically predisposed to the disease. I reasoned that the answer lies somewhere inbetween the two disciplines.

***That evening I changed into my dress for the evening and went to put my shoes on when I got the most almightily cramp in my right calf. I've having a few problems with this for a while and it makes me scream with pain sometimes. This time Mike wasn't around to help me and so I had to try and stretch it out. After about 5 minutes the pain subsided and I tried again to put on my shoe. Same thing happened. So I just gave up and put my running shoes on which looked ridiculous with my frock and so I had to change into a shirt and blouse combo which didn't look much better. I reckoned it wouldn't matter that much as I'd be sitting down at the table all the time.

There are lots of photos of Keble College and the banqueting suite here. In my photo it looks like a scene from Harry Potter and we all commented that we expected to see owls flying around!

I loved the place name with my chosen meal on the reverse and the service was brilliant. The food was excellent too.

During dinner I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Jo Rushworth (University of Leeds), Dr Sebastian Crutch (University College London) and  Prof Peter Lantos (a Trustee of ARUK).  I was fascinated to learn about their areas of research: Jo explained how having identified the process in which clumps of a harmful protein attach themselves to brain cells causing them to die, they were able to stop this by using extracts from green tea and red wine. Although I realised this was still in the early stages of research it was good news for me as I enjoy both those drinks! 

Sebastian is a leading expert on rare forms of dementia such as posterior cortical atrophy and frontotemporal dementia. I was impressed by how well he was able to explain his work in a way that I could understand. I told them about how I try to attract attention to ARUK by running marathons, sometimes knitting or crocheting at the same time, and we had a lively discussion about other possible fund-raising activities!

The next day the weather was much brighter so I took more photos on my run. Here's a selection:

Part of the High Street just waking up at 6:30am 
The entrance to the Oxford Botanic Gardens, sadly not open 
Punts on the River Cherwell which joins the Thames in Oxford
Glorious stone 

It certainly was a long wall!

The museum of the History of Science
The next images were taken around 8:30am as I headed off to the conference centre.
The High Street a bit later in the morning

Day 2 was a short one for me as I wasn't staying for the whole day. I met up with some of the ARUK team and then headed off for an interview with Hannah who does the Naked Scientist podcast.

Spot the running shoes - there was no way I was wearing heels again!
Me and Dr Laura Phipps from ARUK 
Then is was just a case of heading back to the hotel to collect my things and catching the bus back to  my car. I've never liked buses much but I have to confess that I thought these buses were lovely. When they pulled up at the bus stop they used some sort of hydraulic wizardry to lower themselves so that it was easy to step on and off then rose up again when they set off. Very clever and excellent for the elderly and less able-bodied.

Attending the conference made me realise just how important this sort of event is for researchers to meet up and exchange ideas. I came away feeling excited for the future, knowing that the money raised by myself and fellow supporters of ARUK is being put to good use by our researchers.