Monthly Archives: October 2016



I’ve been on something of a mission this week.

It was sparked initially a couple of days back after I wrote this week’s column, and realised what an astounding amount of angry capitals it contained.

So I had Pete read it too. And if you feel a sense of déjà vu, you’re right to, because his next words were, “but aren’t you being a bit ranty? You know – like, AGAIN?”

At which point, as one would, I went harrumph a couple of times, before telling him that sometimes a woman needed to rant – how else, pray, were we going to make the world a better place?

“Well, perhaps, at the end there,” he bravely persisted, “you know, where you’ve written ‘this is appalling!’ – you know, AGAIN – you could maybe end on something more positive?’

I told him I’d think about it, knowing I wouldn’t think about it, precisely because he’d suggested it. (Which is the way of writers sometimes, I’m afraid.)

But then, the next day, I re-read it, and had something of a perspective-shift, and then again, when I posted something about Donald Trump on facebook, and was told by a kindly friend to ‘calm down’.

Hence the mission. Which was to get into a Zen kind of mindset. Not that I’m sure what Zen Buddhism is, exactly. I just remember that it’s something about ‘being fully alive’, and that in time of stress, whatever your spiritual persuasion, the very best thing you can do is count your blessings.

So that’s what I did.

The branch of Lidl, for instance, just round the corner from Cardiff Uni.

More than any other supermarket, I find that Lidl branches have their own personalities (See also Caerphilly Lidl, which has the most amazing mountain view) and this one – whose clientele are, for the most part, students – is no exception.

Call me sentimental, but there is something almost viscerally joyful about being in the company of newly-minted 18 year old undergraduates, shuffling round the supermarket in sweet, benign posses, holding packs of mince, considering onions, scratching heads and torsos, asking, ‘didn’t Josh say he knew how to make meatballs?’ Or, ‘loo rolls. I mean, seriously. DO NOT forget the loo rolls.’ Or just standing in the queue, lightly sleep-fogged at two in the afternoon, looking dreamily into the middle distance while their baskets tell their stories. Here a tin of beans, here a packet of 19p pasta, there a bag of doughnuts or croissants from the bakery – which you know will be devoured before they are even home. Is it strange to say I want to hug them all? I hope not.

Then there’s a bright new academic year, bedding in for me too. I have a new crop of students every autumn and every New Year, and by week three, I feel the alchemy – feel the vibe begin to settle. The frisson of seeing talent. The pleasure of being useful. The potential of being someone, who, a little way down the line, might be remembered fondly, as having been an inspiration. Why else does anyone teach, after all? And as someone who works almost always at home, there is great pleasure to be had in the whole ‘dressing, driving, parking, entering my classroom’ dynamic. In the eager faces. The quiet passion. The fervour.

I have Glastonbury tickets. WE have Glastonbury tickets. We feel – no word of a lie, this – beyond, beyond blessed. Let there be mud! Any amount of it.

The mattress currently sitting in the middle of my hall. Georgie has a new bed so it’s heave-ho to the old one, but since our tip-going timetables don’t dovetail till the weekend, there it sits, in sprung stasis, before we take it. And we bounce on it. All of us. Because it is there. (The cats love it too. I have this week been abandoned. There they sit. Tiny lion-guardians of the temporary bedchamber. Unmoving. Stern. Statuesque.)

My dear friend Debbie – the greatest blessing of all, this – texting a picture of her newly decorated dining room. She’s been so ill. So frightened. So subsumed by the long months of chemotherapy, not yet finished. Yet this week, in a pocket of between-cycles energy she has painted her dining room. It’s a deep marine green colour, like the scales on a mermaid. It’s called fish tale, but it could just as easily be called sunshine – because seeing it is exactly like the sun coming out.

And the sun IS out.

Mission accomplished.


First published in the Western Mail Weekend Magazine Oct 15th 2016

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Funning old business, going running. I’ve always thought that, sometimes in the middle of actually running. Round some lake, up some hill, along a promenade, panting. No purpose, except for the one that’s inherent – you run, it seems to me, for the bit that comes after – being able to say how far you ran.

I jest, of course. Running is the best kind of exercise – unbeaten in the ‘jeez I am cream crackered’ stakes. (Unless, of course, you Iron Man or Tough Mud or Tri-ath. But you don’t count, because YOU ARE INSANE.)

Running’s also weirdly addictive. I know this because I look back and still find myself wondering. Did I really do the Cardiff half-marathon? Yes, I did.

I started running back in early 1985. And then stopped running. About half an hour later. Then tried again, in ’94 (we had just arrived in Wales then), dressing sensibly, putting the doorkey on a bit of string to wear round my neck, prepping a water bottle, stretching out, and so on. Had I been asthmatic, I would have also taken a puff of my inhaler, but since I wasn’t, I simply took a few preparatory deep breaths. You can do it, you can do it, you can DO IT. (Even though I doubted that I could.)

Duly pumped, I set off, on a perfect spring morning. And, apart from the first bit, when I thought I was going to die, I made excellent progress round the village. “There goes Lynne! Doing running!” I could imagine people saying it. Lynne, the runner. Lynne, who runs. Lynne “Forrest” Barrett-Lee. It was the beginning of an exciting new chapter in my life. A world of fresh air and exercise and exciting new apparel. Why, very soon I would go to a high-end running retailer and ask the important question – did I pronate or was I neutral? And at some point in the future, should they invent such a wonder, I might treat myself to some sort of clever doohickey that could not only time me, but plot my progress via satellite! Oh, imagine! Oh, I so hoped they would!

I eventually returned home (loneliness of the long distance and so on), flushed with bloodflow and giddy with success.

I had been gone all of eight minutes.

Seriously, though (because, as runners know, running is a serious business) it really was the start of something life-changing for me. Oh phooey. I hear you say it. But it really does seem like that, because becoming a runner marked an important psychological watershed. It took me from being someone who thought of themselves as vaguely unfit, to someone who thought of themselves as, well, as a runner. Hard to articulate, but enduringly precious. Not least because it’s a mindset that never seems to leave me. I can go months without running and expect, if I attempt to, that I will soon be so breathless and racked with pain that I will have to stop again.

Yet I don’t. Yes, it’s hard, but you soon find a rhythm, and a place in your head where the pain doesn’t matter. Where the miles amassed mean so much more.

And more still, if you run in the company of other runners. Where the term ‘the spirit moves you’ is so apt.

Not that I meant to run a half marathon, exactly. It was my sister’s fault – she’d won a Runner’s World competition, in which the prize was a Marathon Training Weekend. And guess what? None of her friends would go with her.

So muggins here – she of the fancy kit but strict ‘5K’ limit – agreed (not the word, quite) to go. And let me tell you, gentle joggers, it was not for the fainthearted. 5K? That was the pre-breakfast warm up. On BOTH days. Kenyan Hills? I have never been so terrified on two legs. Then the biggie. The far-as-you-like-and-probably-much-too-far training run. Through a forest (very scenic), en masse.

To this day I don’t know how, quite, but I ran for nine and a half miles. Nine and a half MILES. That’s fifteen kilometres. Another three and a half miles and I’d have run half a marathon. Half a marathon! Imagine! I could not have felt better. I was a lioness. A titan. A goddess in lycra.

Six months later, still a she-lion, I ran the Cardiff half marathon. Which – no halves about it – is a very long way. Good luck to everyone who is running it tomorrow. Especially if it’s your first. You can do it too.

First published in the Western Mail Weekend magazine. Oct 1st 2016

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