It’s been a while, but it’s always good to get my thoughts down and also talk about running.
The running has been, well, patchy. June had the Hawkesbury 5k, preluded by a Parkrun with Libby and a lovely chance to catch up with buzzers which is always a high point and a week later Hawkesbury runners had our second ever formal run as a team on the Cotswold Relay and of course an excellent excuse for celebratory beers and food at the Beaufort.
July had the Frampton 10k a lovely run by the meandering Severn, in 46 mins and a run of discovery at my In Laws near Horwich and venturing into Pie eater land of Wigan on the Pilgrims Way, I’ll be back for more of that Way in future for sure.
The end of July saw an abortive Marathon on the Cotswold Way (18 miles covered, but enjoyment ceased much earlier), then over to Guernsey and whilst the family believed we were there just to relax on holiday, I went out over two runs and covered 32 of the 36 coastal miles of the island in preparation for next year’s Guernsey Ultra. All of it was stunning to look at, but the 12 miles of the south coast was brutal with at least 1500 steps. It was fascinating and bleak to be overshadowed at many points by German observation towers and gun emplacements.
The highpoint in August was running around Lymn Park Parkrun with Prosecco dripping over my hands. It was fab to be with Jenny & Dave on their special day and I have that PR on my to do list and give it a proper rip.
Then thoughts turned to Snowdonia and elevation beckoned and a plan was drawn up. One that just about could cope with the silly hours at work as my “labour of love” an 18 month project drew to a crescendo as it neared its 1st September Go Live. A weekend at my parents helping out as Dad was still recovering from an exhausting sailing crossing back from Cherbourg to Gosport. Gardening then shopping and enjoying their company. I managed to get 12 miles done early on Sunday morning, finding the only decent hill around to do reps on whilst dodging mountain bikers who were cris-crossing the trails.
The plan no longer exists, the plan doesn’t matter. A phone call on Monday 21st Aug saw me over to Frimley Park Hospital where my Dad was admitted with, thankfully, just a chest infection. My sister Kate and I were there and we all as a family went home that night to Fleet. Dad had a horde of antibiotics to take and was in bed all day, in “my room” as I still think of it. For the first time ever I looked at him, his body and saw an “old” man. He was so active, a solo sailor at the age of 78 and a keen walker.
I thought about heading home, but he wasn’t quite right and it was great to catch up with Kate & Mum. The scare on Monday night was, in hindsight a blessing. I’m sorry but what happened next I need to write down, I’m conscious it may be unsettling to some.
Just before 9pm on Tues 22nd Aug there was a horrible sound from the room that my Dad was in. It is still indescribable, but I hope to never hear it again. When I saw him he was half out of the bed and not moving. My sister called 999 and under their instruction I was performing CPR on my Dad within 30 seconds. At the end of the 30 seconds before I started CPR, as I held him, as I tried to find a pulse as I tried to check for breathing as I called his name, I knew. Within minutes we had first responders, then ambulance crew, then the cardiac specialists, 7 in total (not including the one that came with the spare keys to the ambulance after the crew locked themselves out).
As harrowing as it might seem, being there, doing something, however futile, was the best place to be and the best thing to do. It was quick, absolute and we, the family, were all there. There’s no “good way” to die, but there are many worse. All those that came through the door that night were hugely professional, immensely calming and so supportive.
With foresight I’d packed the running kit and so a cathartic run a day later, it was just as dawn broke, the Radio 4 theme tune playing in my ears and tears running down my cheeks. It was horrible and perfect in equal measure.
The last weeks have been a double life, of days in Fleet, first waiting, then planning and then doing. The other life has been at work, they’ve been great and I could have had more time off, but I needed to see the project successfully through to its conclusion. A bit of running when it could be snatched, a moment to clear the head, to almost think of nothing.
The funeral was yesterday, it was hard, much harder than I thought it would be, but then, what can prepare you for such events. My reading had been practiced, read to all the family in advance but nothing can prepare you for the raw emotion. “Just a look”, a flick of the eyes up as I struggled to compose myself, to see Jim & Dave, to feel the support, to press on.
The wake was a chance to hear stories of elements of his life I did not know and trust me, there were many, many stories. It helped. As did another run today, back to where I’d run 4 weeks ago, but with a lovely encounter with a deer, just standing and watching each other for 5 minutes.
I’ll leave you with my reading from yesterday, just so you get a flavour of my Dad, and so I can ensure they are not lost in the future.
“Dr John David ‘Andy’ Anderson OBE; aka Dad.
My earliest memory, is of him scarring me to try and cure my hiccups. This coming from a man who used to have to lie on his back in order to alleviate himself of the same issue (including on the side of the road during a nasty bout whilst driving).
My second is of having to plead with him to be allowed to play with the Hornby rail set, the fact that it was Christmas day and it was MY Christmas present seemed not to bother him too much. The rail set was one of his passions, of which he had many through his life.
Another passion of his, that of computers, meant we were early adopters of the BBC B computer. However it did almost lead to a divorce case which would have seen the game “Elite” named as the third party.
Dad’s work meant a lot to him, he said to me early on in my career that you have to enjoy your work as you spend a lot of time doing it. That has stuck with me throughout my working life and I’m very thankful for the advice.
His work had some tangible benefits for me as well as he would often bring interesting things home. The Challenger One tank gunner training rig was a big hit, also the RAF “steady hands” rotating drum test which he still used to bring out at parties.
Having moved to Fleet and with plenty of army land to roam around on at weekends I soon became fixated on the military. He and Mum were concerned I might decide to head straight into the army. Ever the psychologist, Dad found a subtle way to change my perceptions.
When he returned from Northern Ireland the shock of him being around forced mum to enrol him on night classes to get him out of the house and the Indian Cookery course paid absolute dividends over the years (well once he’d worked out how little chilli & ginger is actually required) and became yet another of his passions.
His work with Sid Irvine in the late eighties led to a wonderful working partnership which did seem to be based largely on a serious game of obscure whisky one-upmanship. I’m not going to complain, it led to my appreciation of the fine drink which I will always associate with Dad.
Sailing was without doubt his lifetime passion, kindled early on with trips across the North Sea, put on hold for 20 years and then sparked once more with Elite. For me it meant a two week sailing summer holiday during my teenage years exploring Brittany and the Channel Islands. Mornings waking up to the Radio 4 Theme tune just before the shipping forecast and going to sleep with Sailing By, the piece you heard at the start.
I now recognise that Dad truly came “alive” whilst sailing. All the things to plan and do, tinkering and pottering he was in his element, he relaxed more, became less stern and opened up more. Many a tale was told, especially of his work, which is probably still covered by the Official Secrets Act. It did however give light to his mischievous side, such as trying to make himself look like Gerry Adams whilst flying from Belfast to London, just to wind up the spooks.
One of the regrets I will always have is not being able to sail a leg of his round the world voyage. It was at the start of my working life and getting leave at the right time never worked out. I did manage to have an afternoon with him, Kim and my Father in Law, David in Santa Cruz, Tenerife. It was made more memorable because the older generation decided to rescue carnival hats from a skip and wear them on the promenade, until they realised they were a little bit whiffy.
When I next saw him almost two years later I think we’d both changed and our old father / son relationship was gone and was replaced with a mutual respect. I’d certainly physically changed as Dad gleefully pointed out that I had the “Anderson patent bald spot”! Thanks Dad.
I mentioned earlier that Dad opened up more whilst sailing, which of course meant that I found he wasn’t one for offering up information freely or maybe he just didn’t consider some things “news worthy” until something triggered him to say something.
The most impressive ‘slip of the mind’ was granted to me as I drove back home from the birth of my son. I rang my parents and when Dad answered I pronounced the birth and told him that we’d named him Jack after Dad’s father. Dad very calmly replied “Oh that’s nice, but you did know he was actually called John didn’t you?”
Well let’s just say we played it safe with Annice and named her after Kim’s side of the family!
It took Dad a few visits / sleepovers of the grandkids before he realised that he didn’t have to act like a parent and could have fun with them instead. Sailing of course played a big part in that and he and the kids spent hours perfecting their crabbing techniques, which I’m sure they can tell you about later.”
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