Colour on the Common

27 April 2019

Because the fair has been on the Common for the last couple of weeks the parkrun start, finish and route has had to temporarily change. Last week, in an early Saturday morning haze, we totally forgot and ended up walking through the eerily deserted fairground.

Our mistake made for some interesting photographs of what would have normally been the finish funnel being set up. This week we remembered and took a more scenic walk to avoid disturbing the fairground workers sleep with our chatter.

This involved a longer walk than normal on the diagonal path from Bellemoor Corner towards the crossroads. It wasn’t what I’d call a hardship, especially crossing the little bridge and looking over the side at the Rollsbrook stream. Almost all the little streams hidden on the Common are tributaries of the Rollsbrook stream. It rises just south of Cuthorn Mound and runs under the Avenue then roughly south west across the Common to the southern side of the cemetery. One of these days I might try to follow its path to the Rollesbrook Valley Greenway and have another attempt at finding Conduit Head. Today was not that day though.

Today there were a thousand or so people gathered near the Cowherds Pub waiting for parkrun to start. Obviously my plans didn’t involve any running. Instead, as soon as the runners had set off I headed back towards the crossroads, keeping to the grass to avoid getting caught up in the run. About halfway between the finish funnel and the crossroads there’s a grassy trail running off into the trees. As soon as I reached it I turned away from the stream of runners.

Within moments the noise of the parkrun had faded away and I was alone. Birds were singing, the sky above was mostly blue and the bright spring green of the new leaves all around made me smile. I dawdled along the trail, stopping to watch a robin who didn’t want his picture taken, admiring the shapes of dead branches and enjoying the peace.

The trail crosses a makeshift wooden bridge and emerges from the trees just east of the artesian well. A little further west, at the crossroads, I could hear the marshal cheering the runners on. Turning west, I left the well and the runners behind and headed towards the faint hum of traffic on the Avenue.

When you’re in the middle of the Common it’s easy to forget you’re also in the middle of a city. With trees, trails, lakes and nature all around the hustle and bustle and busy roads seem like another world. The traffic is never too far away though. The Avenue cuts through the Common, dividing the west side, with the parkrun, Cowherds pub and Old Cemetery, from the smaller east side where Cutthorn Mound is hidden. It isn’t easy to cross the road here, it’s one of the main routes in and out of Southampton and almost always busy. There is an alternative though, the subway otherwise known as the Beyond Graffiti tunnel. This was where I was heading.

Beyond Graffiti began in the late 1980’s as a youth project run by youth workers Mike Banks and Jacquie Lee, to help and inspire young artists, musicians, poets, writers and the like get together, harness their talents and express themselves. The Beyond Graffiti tunnel grew out of this project when, in 2004, graphic designers Corbin Adler and Michael Flibb were asked to spruce up the old paddling pool kiosk and got local youngsters involved. The murals were so poplar the council agreed to set up a permanent art project in the underpass, somewhere young graffiti artists could paint and be creative without getting into trouble. Walking down the slope towards the tunnel always give me a little tingle of anticipation. The artwork is ever changing so you never quite know what you’re going to find.

Good graffiti in the right place is a joy to behold, at least in my opinion. I’m not talking about mindless tagging, names scribbled on street furniture and private walls. To me that is just territory marking, like so many dogs cocking their legs to say they were there, the signature without the actual artwork. There’s been a lot of that about lately, especially from a complete moron calling himself cams wasp, who thinks it’s clever to paint his name everywhere, even over the real artwork on the painted shops in Northam.

The artwork in the Beyond Graffiti Tunnel is constantly evolving though. Of course there are scribbled tags but they don’t last long and some of the real artwork is stunningly beautiful, thought provoking or amusing. There were a few that caught my eye today and I stopped to capture them before they disappeared.

So I slowly walked the length of the tunnel, taking a photo here and there. Then I turned round and walked back, thinking about other dull areas of the city that could benefit from this kind of sprucing up.

Soon enough it was time to leave the vibrant colours of the tunnel and head back through the bright spring greens of the Common to the equally colourful sea of Lycra at the parkrun finish. Most Saturday mornings I’m on the opposite side of the Common, wandering around the Old Cemetery looking at graves and wild flowers. Today, thanks to the fair, I had a far more colourful morning walk.

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Dismal day

5 January 2019

The second parkrun of 2019 began with a first. Young Cameron Sommerville-Hewitt, aged just 16, was trying his hand at Run Directing for the first time. This fine young man has somehow notched up more than one hundred runs and has a PB most people would envy (Commando certainly does). He’s been learning the ropes for a few weeks now and today, under the watchful eye of Event Director Rob, he donned the RD jacket and did a great job of organising things. When he turns eighteen he will be able to officially Run Direct on his own and will probably set the record for the youngest RD ever.

Despite all the brightly dressed runners, the morning was a dark, dismal affair but it quite suited my mood. The last few weeks seem to have been filled with losses. The first was my lovely neighbour of almost thirty years, then came a mother from my days waiting in the playground for my boys. They say these things come in threes and this was proved when we learned of the death of our martial arts instructor and friend, George. The first two deaths were not unexpected, both lovely ladies had been ill for some time. George’s death, however, was quite sudden and, although he was 83, it was a shock. His funeral was yesterday and today we planned to take some flowers to put on his grave. First though there was a parkrun to get through and some other graves to visit.

A walk in the Old Cemetery under a leaden, drizzle laden sky in the biting cold felt like a fittingly melancholy way to start a mournful day. While the runners were racing round with joyful abandon, I slowly wandered among the graves. Some, like that of William and Zillah Gear, felt like old friends. How many times have I passed by, smiled at the unusual name and wondered about the woman who once bore it?

The narrow path I chose turned out to be muddier than I’d expected but it led me to another familiar grave, that of Rebecca Arabella Dimmock and her husband, Charles. This grave first caught my eye because the name reminded me of TV gardener Charlie Dimmock and Rebecca Arabella seemed like a name that ought to be in a novel. Perhaps one day I will write it?

With no real aim I wandered this way and that, surprised to find Christmas baubles still clinging to some of the trees. Then I came across the grave of George Staur Madge, a wonderful name and an intriguing story. George was born in Southampton in 1834 but, at some point, emigrated to South Africa. Why is a mystery but he lived in Port Elizabeth, probably amongst the four thousand British settlers who’d set up home there in 1820 to strengthen the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. How long he stayed there is unclear but, in 1881, when he died, he was living back in Southampton.

Close by I stumbled upon the grave of Ethel Bertha and Hector Young. Hector was mayor of Southampton between 1929 and 1930. He accompanied Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) when he laid the foundation stone for the Civic Centre and was involved in the planning of the Sports Centre in the early 1930’s. Poor Ethel Bertha was killed in the Southampton Blitz on 24 September 1940 and Hector never forgot her. In 1962 he donated a window to St Michael and All Angels Church in Bassett in her memory. The window, showing the Archangel Michael defeating Satan, was designed by Francis Skeat. He also formed a charitable trust, The Berta And Hector Young Trust for the relief of hardship for members of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

My meanderings were taking me towards the oldest part of the cemetery and, as I approached the chapels, I came upon a bench overshadowed by a tree whose branches were positively weighed down by festive baubles and trinkets.

This is not a part of the cemetery I visit often so there were a few interesting graves I hadn’t spotted before. One belonged to Hubert Napoleon Dupont. Born, Alphonse August Dupont, in France in 1805, he studied in the College de Valogues and the theological school in Coutances and was ordained as a catholic priest in 1854 but later abandoned Catholicism and became an Anglican minister. Whether this decision and his marriage to Suzanne Charley in 1857 were connected is unclear. Between 1856 and his death in 1876 he was minister of St Julien’s, the French church on Winkle Street. The inscription on his grave shows he was held in high regard.

The next belonged to Andrew Lamb, although the decorative script made this difficult to fathom. Born in 1803, he was Chief Engineer of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, later better known as P&O. Lamb was an innovator. He introduced, among other things, a boiler system to stop the build up of salts, patent life boats, a boiler with flat sided flues, a steam superheating device and an improved method of feed water heating for boilers. All these things would probably be of great interest to Commando Senior, who would understand them far better than I.

Lamb didn’t confine himself to engineering feats. In 1861 he became the first chair of the amalgamated Isle of Wight Steam Packet Co and Red Funnel Steamers. Ten years later he became the chair of the publishing company producing the Southampton Times and he was a JP and alderman. He built St Andrew’s Villa off Brunswick Place, and raised funds to build St Andrew’s Church on the lane near his house. Lamb was, undoubtedly, a very clever and philanthropic man and his death in 1881 must have been a loss to the engineering world and the town. Beside his grave is the grave of his son, Andrew Simon Lamb.

The grave beside these two was intriguing. It is a simple wooden cross surrounded by a kind of low wooden fence. The cross is engraved with the name Hugo P Hickman. The really curious thing is a painting of a house leant up against the cross. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a painting on a grave and I couldn’t help wondering if this was Hugo’s house or if Hugo was an artist. Sadly Googling didn’t satisfy my curiosity. All I discovered was that the grave belonged to Hugo Pendennis Hickman, born 23 June 1925, who died on 30 July 2003. Still wondering I headed back towards the cemetery gates and parkrun.

As if the day hadn’t been filled enough with graves, after a coffee and a bite of lunch, we headed out again to visit George’s grave in Shedfield. The drive there was a sad reminder of so many other, happier, drives to George’s gym on Black Horse Lane. This one ended with a pretty Church and a lych gate, beyond which was a graveyard.

The grave was already heaped with flowers but CJ bent to add ours to them all the same. George was a very popular man. So popular it had been standing room only in the church the day before. He was a real character. In his youth he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and became an instructor in unarmed combat. In later life he turned to teaching martial arts and this was where he met Commando, CJ and, much later, me.

Commando and CJ were rather good at martial arts. Commando learned Kung Fu before CJ was born and, under George’s tutelage, along with CJ added jujitsu, Karate and mixed martial arts to his repertoire. Fighting has never been my thing but George insisted on teaching me self defence. He found it amusing that I could only bear to train with Commando, as he was the only person at the gym I wasn’t scared to hurt. I can still hear him saying, “I’m going to teach you a naughty little trick now, in case someone comes out at you one dark night.”

George was a tiny man, not much taller than me and slightly built. Looks can be deceptive though. Even in old age he was more than a match for even the youngest and strongest of men. He was also full of interesting stories. The little grave seemed far too small to contain such a giant personality.

We couldn’t linger too long in Shedfield because, predictably, Commando had a race at Fairthorn Manor in nearby Curdridge. It was his last race as a Spitfire and my last stint as Spitfire photographer. We went. He ran. I took photos. There is little else I want to say about it except that a chapter has ended and our integrity is intact. So far this year seems to be all about endings.

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The Five parkruns of Christmas

Christmas 2018

For runners slightly obsessed with collecting parkrun milestone t-shirts, the parkruns of Christmas must seem like an extra Christmas present. There’s no other time of year when you can squeeze in a cheeky midweek parkrun or even two in one day and those extra runs certainly help rack up the numbers.

This year the official Christmas parkrun was on Saturday 22 December. It was a bright, crisp morning for RD’s Malcolm and Jill and Rudolph and Santa even turned up to warm up before their busy night. Then again, it might just have been Ian in a costume. Trevor, one of the amazing set up volunteers, used this run to notch up his two hundred and fiftieth parkrun and earned himself a shiny new t-shirt to go into his Christmas stocking. Of course, some people still had Christmas shopping to do at this stage but a few Christmas carols, played by Roger on his euphonium, helped them get round in double quick time before they dashed off to the shops for a spot of panic buying.

On Christmas morning, while most people were tucked up at home unwrapping presents, seven hundred and thirty two dedicated souls joined RD, Gill, for the first of the extra seasonal parkruns. Roger and his euphonium were there again to ramp up the Christmas spirit and the order of the day was silly or spectacular seasonal costumes. Even Commando broke out the elf suit, although he was less than happy about having his photograph taken in it.

The costumes may have been bright but the weather certainly wasn’t. It was damp and overcast but at least fairly mild. For once, there was no warm pub to retire to after the run. The Bellmoor was closed and so was the Hawthorne’s Cafe. Quite where the RD and token sorters worked their magic is a mystery but the rest of us went home to open our presents.

The third Christmas parkrun was the official Saturday one on 29 December. To my shame, I completely forgot it was Commando’s two hundredth and didn’t hang around to take photographs. Instead I had a quiet wander around the cemetery, where I discovered someone had spread a little seasonal cheer by decorating some of the trees with baubles. In fairness, Commando didn’t remind me of his milestone run. In fact he kept the whole thing very quiet. This may have had something to do with the Paris debacle. If he’d managed to complete that run he’d have hit his milestone on Christmas Day,

On 1 January, after a night of celebrations and probably a fair bit of alcohol consumption you’d think most people would want a lie in. The pièce de résistance in the parkrun calendar has to be the double parkrun on New Year’s Day though. ‘Doing the double’ is not obligatory of course, but there is no other time of year when you can run at two parkruns on the same morning and thereby get one step closer to your next milestone goal, whatever that may be.

For those not familiar with the double parkrun, it works something like this… some parkuruns start at the normal time of nine o’clock, others start later, at around ten thirty. This means the really didcated can go to one parkrun at the normal time and then hurry off to another later one nearby. As the New Year parkrun is almost always on a weekday and therefore an extra parkrun, it really does help the milestone hunters.

For us, ‘doing the double’ involved an early morning trip to Victoria Country Park for the Netley parkrun. As usual, we arrived far earlier than necessary, partly because Commando wasn’t sure about parking. As it was, we easily found a parking space on the shore just outside the park gates. It was bitterly cold and getting out of the car at all may not have happened if it hadn’t been for the beautiful sunrise over Southampton Water. We stood for some time watching the golden pink glow spreading over Fawley, the docks and the lovely commemorative benches overlooking the sea.

When standing still in the biting wind became too much, especially for Commando who was only wearing shorts, we headed off into the park. Ahead of us the sky was aflame, casting the trees and the hospital chapel into silhouette. The beauty of the morning was made even more magical when Commando took me on a short detour to see the fairy garden that is being built near the park entrance. A dead cedar tree is slowly being cut into fantastic fairy castles, complete with turrets Rapunzel would envy. In the morning light I could almost imagine a crowd of fairies hiding amongst all the logs. This is certainly something I will have to come back and see again when it’s finished,

Netley parkrun doesn’t get the massive number of runners that we are used to seeing on Southampton Common, but a surprising number of people had turned up for the first run of 2019. Several were familiar faces from Southampton, including Kali, who is normally a key member of the set up team on the common. This was a little worrying. If he was here, who was setting up there?

The Running got underway fairly promptly and I was left waiting, with a pile of jackets donated by various running friends tied about my waist. Even if I’d wanted a walk, or had time for one, I could barely move under all those layers.

Luckily, I didn’t have too long to wait and I was, at least, mostly warm, although my ears and fingers could probably have done with a few extra layers. Commando finished running just behind John and Rob. He got his barcode scanned and, much to my dismay, took his coat back. Then it was time to walk back to the car and make our way to Southampton Common.

At this stage I hadn’t had my usual morning coffee. The cafe at Victoria Park hadn’t been open and neither the Hawthorns or the Bellmoor would be either. As we drove towards town I formulated a plan. The second parkrun didn’t start until ten thirty and, as it was now around quarter to ten, I had an idea Starbucks on London Road might be open. We had to drive that way anyway and, if it was, I was pretty sure I had time to get a coffee and walk to the Common before the running started.

As it happened, my plan worked like clockwork, Commando dropped me in a London Road and went off to find a parking space at the Common. My walk to join him was made all the better my a coffee to warm my frozen hands and I arrived with time to spare. Feeling rather smug, I followed the stream of runners towards the start line.

Any worries I’d had about the set up we’re quickly dispelled. Even without Kali, the finish funnel was in place and RD, Kate, was waiting. It took me a while to find Commando amongst the crowds but I bumped into quite a few friends on the way, several I’d already seen at Netley earlier, including Kali, who’d managed to dash from Netley to Southampton in time to make sure everything was set up properly.

When I did catch up with Commando, he’d nabbled himself one of the new blue pacer bibs for his second 5k of the morning. Pacing is his speciality and, today, he’d chosen a relatively slow, for him, twenty five minute time.

These extra runs really do make a difference to runners who are trying to reach milestones. For John, Netley had been his two hundred and ninety ninth run, meaning he was now about to hit his three hundred milestone. There were no fancy costumes, banners or balloons but I did take a photo to mark the occasion.

Before long it was time for the one thousand and forty eight runners who’d made it to the Common to line up on the start line. After the usual briefing, they were off and I tramped back across the grass to the finish funnel. While I was chatting to token meister, Barbara, we watched an escaped zero from someone’s celebratory one hundred bunch slowly drifting above the tree line.

All that was left to do now was take a few photos of the runners as they passed on the loops of the figure of eight course, find Commando in the finish funnel and get his token scanned while he did his normal funnel managing job. Finally, the five parkruns of Christmas were over for another year. With luck and injuries permitting, we will do it all again next year and Commando will collect his two hundred and fifty t-shirt.

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A parkrun milestone

4 November 2017

Some Saturday mornings parkrun doesn’t seem like such a great idea and I wonder why I’m getting out of bed early to watch a lot of runners going round and round The Common. This Saturday, with rain beating down and wind making it all seem worse, was a case in point. There was no way I was staying at home in the warm and dry though because this was a very special parkrun. John Grant, the founder and Chairman of the Itchen Spitfires Running Club and the Event Director of Southampton Parkrun, was about to run his two hundred and fiftieth parkrun. Obviously, the Spitfires had a few surprises up their sleeve for him.  Continue reading A parkrun milestone

Behind the scenes at Southampton parkrun

23 September 2017

In our house it wouldn’t be Saturday if it didn’t start with a trip to Southampton Common for parkrun. Southampton is the busiest parkrun on the South Coast  with between seven hundred to a thousand or more runners each week. As September parkruns were part of the Spitfire Championship and October sees the thirteenth anniversary of the very first parkrun, I thought I’d take a look behind the scenes to see what goes on to make this fabulous free event happen every Saturday morning.  Continue reading Behind the scenes at Southampton parkrun

Happy 5th Birthday Southampton parkrun

8 July 2017

This morning it was quite bizarre to rock up at parkrun and find the Run Directors were actually the 118 twins complete with moustaches. Ok, so Rob has usually got some kind of facial hair going on but I’ve never seen Kim with a moustache before. Oddly, it kind of suited her. The reason for all this frivolity was a birthday. Southampton parkrun turned five years old this morning and everyone was in the mood to celebrate. The theme was heroes, obviously. Continue reading Happy 5th Birthday Southampton parkrun