Aliveandrunning June 23 2014 Juneathon Day 23

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Oh look!  An Anglais urticae has alighted on my verbena bonariensis. I’m not surprised because its larvae feeds on the common stinging nettle which thrives without embarrassment in our garden and in the adjacent field. In fact there are so many nettles they could easily support a swarm of these Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, blackening the sky like myriads of locust. In the meanwhile, a dozen or so flit around the verbena which is good this year.

I’ve trained 6 of them to fly above my head when I’m running locally ( they are not good at travelling in the car so I didn’t take them to yesterday’s Hatfield Forest 10k). The truth is I’ve become a butterfly whisperer. A noble calling but without much call for it.

Felix Dennis has died, aged 67. An extremely successful publisher in later years, he will always be remembered by a certain section of my generation as one of the co-founders of OZ, the 60’s counterculture magazine which was the subject of a high profile obscenity trial in 1971. Oz can be bought on ebay, should you be so minded, and I can recommend Tony Palmer’s The Trials of Oz, first published in August 1971 with drawings by Felix Topolski. John Mortimer was the defence QC and there were many famous witnesses speaking up for them. A still fascinating clash between culture and generations.

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A warm day in Cambridge. I felt  a bit lackadaisical after yesterday’s 10k and put off running until I had a heavy evening meal, a hot chocolate and it had started raining hard. Just over 2 miles; the second mile was easier and I could have continued but time was moving on. I got soaked through. I didn’t take the butterflies with me. They get in such a flap when it rains. They are prone to water logging and can’t flutter correctly. I gave them the day off.

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Aliveandrunning June 21 2014 Juneathon Day 21

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A lovely, leafy, sun dappled long straight path in Milton Country Park, the venue for Cambridge parkrun. On the immediate left (out of shot) is a large lake, so useful for nudging arch rivals into. We have around 400 doing Cambridge parkrun now but by the time this point is reached, we’re reasonably spaced out. I had a good run today and finished only 23 seconds outside my personal best. I think getting below 23 minutes is possible after Juneathon, after I’ve had a few days rest, if  it’s not too hot, if I start nearer to the front, if I do some distance training, if I can fortify myself with lashings of Brussels sprouts, if any of the Greek goddesses are smiling at me from above, and if I’m feeling invincible. So, if all this criteria is satisfied, I’m suited and booted. If only!

We have two timers at Cambridge and Lorna was one of them today. It’s always a slightly anxiety producing job because of the sheer number of runners coming through in bunches, overtaking on the line (and funnel), being joined by children who may or may not have run, pressing buttons hard enough to register as a result and being distracted by the crowds around you. I collected the signage around the course after the run which allows me to take part in the race and volunteer. I came back to the cafe just in time to have a delicious coffee with friends in the sunshine. No matter what time you do, parkrun is such a feel-good experience. Tomorrow is the Hatfield Forest 10k. There should be plenty of shade, at least at intervals. It starts at 10. I’ll have to make a decision about when and how much porridge to eat in the morning. Probably a large bowl around 7 am.

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Here is a fine bed of nettles I’ve cultivated over several years. The key to such an impressive display is to leave them to set seed annually and also to cut them down but leave the roots. They thrive on the challenge to recover their strength.

I can usually pull the young ones up successfully. The older, much more experienced nettles that have been around the block and attended the school of hard knocks are a different matter. They find novel and ingenious ways to sting me, I try to grasp them with gloves and they duck out of the way so I clutch thin air, they hiss and murmur insults. This time , it’s personal. I’m going to apply a lot of time , effort and cunning to make you history, a small footnote in my illustrious gardening career. Anyone for nettle soup?