Fancy Dressing Up

I imagine that my family’s dinnertimes are much like those of the Kennedys – that is, the other Kennedys. To clarify, there are some obvious differences: no one in my family was ever forced to have a lobotomy, nor have any of us run for political office. But in every other sense, we’re identical: good-looking, intelligent and we love a lively dinner table discussion (except Callum, who just begrudgingly puts up with them). The Other Kennedys, as I shall henceforth refer to them, apparently loved to quiz each other at meal times, a fact I became aware of after Lorelai mentioned it in an episode of Gilmore Girls. At one of our recent mealtime discussions, talk eventually turned to an upcoming fancy dress party the family was invited to, with the theme: “people from history”.

That’s great, I thought. There’s loads of those! My first suggestion was Richard III. I suggested my dad cut a hole for his head out of one of those cartoon road play mats that I used to play with my cars on as a child, and he could wear it as a poncho with perhaps a slightly off-centre crown. He could even glue some toy cars on the mat to take it to the next level.

Coming up with suggestions of historic women was harder. The obvious options were the queens: Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. My mother doesn’t really have the aesthetic for Liz, with short, very dark hair. The costume would also require the investment of excessive time and money. When I suggested Victoria, she was indignant but I maintain that it’s rather narrow-minded to only take that suggestion to mean post-Albert mourning era Vic; in fact, I’d watched The Young Victoria only the day before. Even Queen Victoria was young once! Alternatively, she could do the more iconic look but covered in gold as a nod to the Queen Vic bust that has finished many a Walford resident off. I sense she would not be on board with that idea.

Other options seemed scarce. Women have, as a general rule, been left out of the history books and the women we did think of didn’t have a distinct look. My mother resisted suggestions of Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale, the first woman to go to space, the first dog to go to space. To be fair, the latter idea would require a costume inside a costume which seems like more trouble than it’s worth. It’s still an amazing idea. My mother did not agree.

The idea I got most into, though ultimately can’t do because only my parents are available to go to the party, was for us to go as the musketeers. But with this suggestion came the inevitable squabble over who would be who. Naturally, I wrote my dad off as Athos: the eldest, haggard and greying, attempting to keep the peace between the others. The clear choice for D’Artagnan was my younger brother, Callum: youthful, athletic, with much to learn and the newest addition to the group. Dividing Porthos and Aramis up between myself and my mum was the complicated part. I insisted I was Aramis. My mother protested against getting Porthos. I can understand why. Porthos is the short straw. There’s really no way to make it work and, after the Victoria and space dog suggestions, my mother was getting far too annoyed with the rest of us to want to hear me suggest Milady de Winter (ya know, the villain of the piece) so we let go of that idea. I also don’t know if we’ve moved too far from historic figures to fictional characters.

As we began to quiz my dad about which mathematical symbol was the title of the last Ed Sheeran album (a definite quiz question at the other Kennedy house), it occurred to me that JFK and Jackie O might be the solution. Sure, it’ll fuel the “heh heh Kennedy” jokes for another year but they’re historic and they’re people! As it looks like me and Callum aren’t able to make the party, despite my enthusiasm about the theme, we only need ideas for my parents. If I did have to go, “Teen Kennedy” would be my call. Sure, no one’s heard of this particular Kennedy but when I’m walking around yelling, “I am a Kennedy, Google me!”, what the hell will that matter?

If you have any other suggestions, particularly for historic women my mum can go as, please send them my way! Warning: she’s definitely not open to anymore dog suggestions.


P.S. This week she mistakenly called me Geoffrey. That’s not relevant but it really tickled me.

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A Christmas Day in the Life

IMG_177208:00 – My alarm. Pavlovian instinct dictates that if I hear the Marimba tone in any other context, it induces violent rage. I’m so angry at Marimba. The worst thing is I can’t change it because I once set my alarm to my favourite song for about a week and then realised that it was the quickest way to turn love to hate, so changed it back to Marimba. I will live the rest of my mornings in this Marimba hell.

08:06 – Oh, actually… is it Christmas? I could be into that.

08:10 – My dad knocks to check for signs of life. “On for Parkrun?” he asks. I say yes but it goes against every instinct. (It was my idea but 9.2k two days earlier had unexpectedly done me in a bit.)

08:30 – My mum persuades me to wear a Santa hat. I’m skeptical. Festive cheer still buffering.

08:50 – My dad, who is usually unable to do Parkruns due to coaching commitments, has arrived at Poole Park and runs away from my mum, my brother and I. He proceeds to skip and jog and do other charmingly bizarre warm-up exercises. He’s making no bones about how seriously this is being taken. The three of us watch, a little entertained and a little embarrassed. Bless.

09:00 – WHY AM I DOING THIS?

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09:10 – (Louder this time.) WHY AM I DOING THIS?

09:20 – I feel very aware of every ache and pain in my body. The sensation runs head-to-toe. Particularly toe. However, it also makes me feel like a brilliant, powerful musk ox.

09:24 – Nearly over. Nearly over. Nearly over.

09:27 – Over.

10:30 – Back at home, I’m feeling too lazy to shower. It’s just so much effort. It’s 15 minutes of heaven followed by an hour of pulling my hair out. I begin to wonder if I should cut my long hair off and return to the unflattering bob that carried me through high school. Maybe it would do for me what it’s done for Taylor Swift. No, I decide. I have to be game ready if ever HAIM need a stand-in.

10:40 – I should move.

11:00 – I am overwhelmed with the biggest wave of cba and look for ways to stall drying my very wet hair and putting my makeup on and, you know, generally turning myself into a human.

12:00 – My self-esteem has sky-rocketed since I last checked in. It’s at least 47% because of the fact that I’m wearing red lipstick.

12:03 – No one, other than my immediate family, will get to appreciate the effort I just went to. The only pictures taken of me today will be makeup-less, running shots. I open Photobooth with shameless urgency. THIS EFFORT MUST BE DOCUMENTED.

Documentation of effort.

Documentation of effort.

12:04 – I post my Photobooth picture. I have now balanced out the makeup-less pictures of me running. The internet has found equilibrium once again. Praise you, Photobooth.

12:10 – I go downstairs to show off the masterpiece I just painted onto my face. My dad doesn’t look up from his guitar as I pass him in the living room. My mum turns around, amidst her deluge of roasting and boiling and chopping, to comment, “Oh, you look lovely.”

12:15 – I’m beginning to wonder if the time I spent perfecting my red lipstick was worth it for, “Oh, you look lovely.” I’m forced to face the harsh reality that Christmas dinner will undoubtedly ruin the aesthetic. I should care about something more important.

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13:00 – The dinner isn’t ready but no one told my stomach. I am now loitering with intent. I sense my mother wants more space than I’m giving.

13:25 – There’s no sign of dinner yet but I’m sat at the table in a hope that this will adequately convey my eagerness and hurry things up. My stomach is making noises.

13:30 – I gobble up the starter like I just came off a detox or something. Prawn cocktail hits the very 70s spot. 10/10, would recommend to friend. Solid start.

13:45 – There is a painful wait between courses but I try to keep my urgent appetite under wraps. My brother and I end up in a discussion about the family hierarchy, in which my brother gets placed fifth. He questions why he is fifth in a family of four, to which I reply, “You’re fifth, Dad’s fourth, Mum’s third and the hypothetical family dog is second. The dog loses first place on the basis that it’s only a potentiality. If the dog was real it would be first, second, third and fourth.” He accepts this.

14:00 – We begin our main.

14:15 – Mum, Dad and I finish our Christmas dinner. Callum soldiers on.

14:20 – Callum’s still eating. We wait patiently, all stuffed.

14:35 – He’s still chewing on his beef. (We don’t eat turkey.)

14:40 – I suggest that when my brother eventually finishes eating, we relocate to the lounge to let our main course go down before dessert. My body does not respond well to being tested. Even the most delicious dessert fails to appeal when you’re full to capacity. I think any further information on this topic might be considered, in some cultures, “too much information”. You can expect many essays on this subject in my upcoming non-fiction book, ‘I Wish I Hadn’t Said Anything’.

14:53 – Nearly three o’clock. We begin unwrapping presents. I think we all feel a little bit smug about our restraint. I certainly feel smug. That’s not unusual.

14:55 – My dad selects my first present as I say, “Make it a good’un!” He goes for the one that is most obviously a box of chocolates. I must remind myself of the true meaning of Christmas, which, as an atheist, ambiguously resembles the American’s Thanksgiving tradition from what I can tell (turkey, more people than the dinner table can fit, etc.). I am feeling particularly guilty about my atheism during the Christmas period, not least because I ate a month’s worth of advent chocolate from a ‘Real Advent’ advent calendar detailing the ‘Story of Christmas’. (If I’m honest, the story hasn’t been updated since last year so it wasn’t really a page-turner. If you’re looking for twists, stick to Gone Girl.)

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My brother chose this necklace for me because “it looks like Twitter and you’re obsessed with Twitter.”

15:05 – My brother surprises everybody with the unprecedented amount of effort gone into his presents (though, not his wrapping). My mum, dad and I are all as much shocked as grateful. Probably more shocked. Callum really stepped up his Christmas game this year. Such moments in my younger brother’s life tend to live on forever, so we will probably still be talking about Callum’s Big Christmas in the year 2053. I’m okay with that, though. So long as we also remember how bloody slowly he ate his dinner. I mean, really! (When reached for comment, Callum had this to say: “The beef was chewy.”)

15:12 – I unwrap BJ Novak’s One More Thing. Everybody asks me who BJ Novak is.

15:23 – My mum unwraps the new Take That album – a gift from me. She remarks on the backwards nature of the exchange given the many Christmases that I had Take That albums and concert tickets bestowed on me. “How the turntables…” I say in response. It falls flat. After a pause, my dad quietly tells me, “It’s, ‘How the tables have turned’, Jess.” I may have over-Gilmored.

15:35 – I unwrap a Parks and Recreation boxset, The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy and gladly thank my mother for generously giving me all of Chris Pratt’s 2014 filmography. Sorry Jesus, it was Pratt who put the Chris into Christmas this year, buddy.

15:50 – We bask in the glow of Christmas lights and unwrapped presents.

16:10 – Dessert. My mum asks if I want my chocolate brownie gateaux heated up a little. I say yes. Heated up is always better.

16:12 – No, it’s not. The cake seems to have shrunk and liquified. We’ve made a strategic error.

16:13 – Tastes okay, though.

16:14 – My brother smugly savours his chocolate cheesecake, undamaged from microwave misadventures, as he looks on from the other end of the dinner table. Damn you, demon boy.

16:20 – We watch The Lego Movie together, at my suggestion. Even my brother is in for a viewing party. My dad is confused within about 20 seconds. No one attempts to help him. We all know it’d be fruitless.

16:25 – EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. EVERYTHING IS COOL WHEN YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM.

18:15 – I go next door to visit my nan, who is particularly taken with my nail polish. This has long been my biggest talking point with family members outside of the Kennedy core four. It’s a relief. It’s infinitely preferable to university- or career-related questions. Yes, let’s talk about the manicure I gave myself. My granddad is forcibly pulled into the conversation and nods his befuddled approval.

19:15 – I head back to the house for the Miranda Christmas special, ready to curl up with comedy. Soon, I realise that it’s rather light on the funnies but stick with it out of curiosity.

19:45 – They’re crying and I’m confused about it.

19:50Call The Midwife comes on as I attempt to piece together what just happened on Miranda. Given that I rather enjoyed the last Call The Midwife Christmas episode, I indulge myself. Also, I once met the nun-cum-not-a-nun-anymore on a tube so I feel some degree of loyalty towards this show.

20:00Call The Midwife is tedious so I opt to look over my presents more thoroughly. Picking up Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, I begin to thumb through it, eventually reading the preface casually and then all of a sudden it’s…

22:37 – …and I’m 150 pages in. Downton is on in the background (equally tedious, even longer running time). Amy’s so hilarious, I think to myself with a sigh of admiration. Oh, Amy, you poetic, noble land mermaid.

22:40 – My mum tells me she loves me and remarks upon what a nice day it’s been. We are all impressed by my brother’s sunny disposition.

22:42 – My mum repeats that she loves us. I think my dad is asleep. Either that or there’s a pneumatic drill nearby.

22:43 – Gushing continues. My mum notices the chapter title, “Humping Justin Timberlake” but says nothing.

22:48 – Poehler’s still hilarious. It feels ever so slightly weird to be reading her sex advice chapter while sat next to my mother while she watches Downton Abbey, but I work through it.

22:51 – I momentarily stop reading because Carson proposes to Mrs Hughes. I don’t care about Downton, but I think everyone can agree they were the real love story of that show. Maybe it’ll be like Moonlighting, I muse; now they’re together, the show will lose all its appeal. Then I remember it’s been terrible for years.

22:52 – Maybe it was never good.

23:45 – It has come time for bed. I attempt to gather my presents but, delightfully, there are too many to take in one load. My dad helps out and I’m soon arranging my newly unwrapped presents on my bedroom floor like I’m keeping them there on display. I am like a six-year-old child, standing over my haul of gifts. I feel mighty.

00:00 – I think it might have been my favourite Christmas yet. Casual and quiet with the core four. In the words of Amy Poehler, YES PLEASE THANK YOU.

Winning

photoWhen you heard (because it was all over the news) that I won an award on Saturday, I imagine your first thought was that it must be Glamour’s Woman of the Year. A reasonable assumption, and you can send your complaints accordingly, but no. I won the award for Best Improved Runner at my club. Equally prestigious. Not counting third place in an Irish dance recital when I was seven years old (which may have been more of a pity prize than anything, since I was struck with terrible stage fright and burst into tears), this is the first award I’ve ever won.

On Saturday morning I did what I do every week and forced myself out of bed at 8am, shivering my little butt off, to go and do Poole Parkrun. This particular week marked my 34th 5k since Christmas Day last year. The pacers were out for the occasion so I was feeling particularly motivated, especially after a promising training session on Thursday, and decided to make Mr 26 my mark – lucky man. Before Saturday, my PB was 26:34 and I was ready to beat it – it had been a whole two weeks, after all. Armed with my trusty playlist and my luminous Boscombe 10k woolly hat, I gave the 26 minute man a good chase for those three-and-a-bit miles. Sadly, he still beat me.

While I was feeling a little downbeat about how the run went, I wasn’t too far off the elusive Mr 26. Turns out, and I don’t want to break a scandal (except I kinda do), Mr 26 was actually more like Mr 25:40. My time was 25:55! New PB and I’m into the 25s. Success. It was a lovely way to begin a big ego trip of a day, really.

photoAt the awards bash in the evening, I was given my prize alongside my fellow award-winning Kennedy, the Roadmaster of 2014 (and, let’s face it, every year), my mum. People very kindly made a nice little fuss, though all it did was remind me that my mortification over public attention has not lessened since my jigging days. Best Improved Runner was based on runbritain handicap points, comparing the start of the year to the end. In my case, I had a handicap improvement of 8.4 points before the mid-November deadline.

Since my dad will read this more times than anyone else, I feel I should cater to my audience a little bit and quickly add that I’d still be the couch potato of yesterday were it not for the patience and encouragement of my mum and dad (also, the music of Taylor Swift). My mum was the one who put up with me when it was all new and I just whined incessantly throughout our 2 mile walk-runs, and has since come with me to every Parkrun. While I’ve been ticking off the 5ks with my mum, Thursday sessions on the track with my dad (and an enthusiastic crowd of other lovely people) have completely upped the game when it comes to my speed – having taken me from a 31-minute 5k to a sub-26er in only three months.

I’m thrilled to end the year with this small but rather validating achievement. It’s been a year’s worth of fighting against every natural instinct, ignoring all of the blisters and chasing humans half my size around a 400m track that’s got me to here. I’m excited to push myself even further in 2015, with my eyes on a few more races and, hopefully, a few more PBs. I’m not a natural athlete by any stretch of the imagination but man, I love it. If you’re not a runner and are thinking about potential new year’s resolutions, it’s time to lace up those trainers and hit the road.

My First Race

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Parkrun for some time. If you aren’t aware of the Parkrun event, it’s a free weekly 5k run and many are organised all over the place. I was hoping simply to be fit enough to get around the course without walking. On the Saturday prior to Christmas Day, I declared – I’m very dramatic, you see – that I felt ready up to the challenge.

“And when was the next Parkrun?” I hear you cry. Well, it was Wednesday morning – when I usually train with my dad. In case you’re not good with days, and let’s face it no one is at Christmas, the other thing that not-so-coincidentally fell on that Wednesday was Christmas Day. We quickly decided that this was the perfect opportunity for me to run my first race. I really can’t stress enough just how quickly this decision was made. Almost too quickly. Had I run at the same pace as I made this decision, I’d have been setting records.

Aside from a weird dream I’d had about getting on a bus mid-race, I was really excited for the run. I was ready to do it. I knew I could finish. It was time. An added bonus of the timing of the Parkrun was that my dad, who’s usually training some far more talented athletes than I on a Saturday morning, was able to be there. Given that my dad set this whole snowball in motion as the first runner in the family, it felt only right that he be there for my first race, relaxed as it was. In the end, the whole family came out. Mum decided last minute that she was going to run too, meaning that I ended up with what appeared to be two bodyguards, and my younger brother just came for the entertainment.

It went pretty well really. I didn’t come close to walking or falling over. That was my primary mission. The hailstones provided an unwelcome little treat but besides that all went smoothly. I finished in 34:41. I was happy enough with that for a first time. It was a lovely way to start Christmas Day. And, let me tell you, I’d never deserved my Christmas dinner more!

I’m pleased to report that I’ve since run another of the Parkrun 5ks. This time even my brother ran, so we had family results ranging from 5th place to 415th. I lost 154 seconds on my previous time on the Saturday. My brother took pains to warn me not to ever expect such an improvement again. For a second there I was thinking, “Wow, at this rate, I’ll be winning in a month.” Maybe not.

At the Saturday race, there was a huge turnout of runners we knew. There was no training that morning so everyone was using the Parkrun as a substitute for the training session by doing what they call “tempo runs”. What may have started out as a training run quickly seemed to turn into race mode. Those rebels! Callum, my brother, seemed very pleased with himself as he lapped me (just in time, might I add). One thing I did rather enjoy was that a lot of my parents’ runner friends who were there did a double take as they spotted me running. It warms my heart to know that the lazy reputation that I’d effortlessly cultivated for years has been so hastily undermined. Ah, Christmas.

From now on, I’ll be making the Parkruns a weekly appointment. And, thanks to some helpful Christmas gifts, I’ve got all the right kit for it now too! My next goal? A sub-30 5k, and 50% on the age-graded Parkrun scoring percentage.

Now I Run

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In the last few weeks, there has been one significant change in my life: I run now. That’s a thing that I do. Twice a week, in fact. What might seem inevitable (it’s kind of a Kennedy thing), never felt that way when I was standing at the sidelines watching my parents and brother racing. If I had a penny for every time someone has asked me, “So when are you going to start running?”, a whole lot of people would have had pennies thrown at them. NEVER. I’m not athletic, I’m not competitive, I’m not interested.

Now I must sit here and eat my words. I don’t really know what prompted me to suggest to my mum that we go for a run, but at last those box fresh trainers that Dad had optimistically bought me years earlier were seeing the light of day!

I have the incredibly good fortune of having two parents who know running well enough that I’m well looked after (“Do your stretches.” / “Can’t I just lay down and cry?”). Both my mum and dad have been incredibly generous and patient with me, giving up Saturday and Wednesday mornings respectively to keep me company. I don’t think I could do it without the motivation of their support and encouragement at the moment. It’s a bonding exercise (ha, literally!) – when I’m not swearing in a fit of running rage. I really am sorry about that, Mum.

Of course, it hurts. I think I’ve had stitch every single time. For the first two or three weeks, I couldn’t talk at all because I had to focus on controlling my breathing for the entire duration. I am suddenly very aware of every muscle in my body at the end. Once Mum asked me what kind of pain I was in and I replied, “It feels like a Teletubby cut a hole out of my stomach to stick a TV in.” On reflection, I’m as sceptical over the accuracy of that statement as she was.

I think the moment I realised that there was a difference between pain and injury was the biggest breakthrough I’ve had. Stopping doesn’t make a stitch go away so you might as well keep running. So I do. And I’m so used to it now, it doesn’t hurt in the same way. I’ve made peace with the discomfort. At the end, if I’m not in some discomfort then I know I haven’t pushed myself and don’t feel happy with what I’ve done. Is that normal? There was one particular week where I felt like I’d run really slowly, and it had been a little bit of an obstacle course (due to lots of puddles and fallen trees) so I’d never found a rhythm, but at the end I pushed so hard because I knew it’d make me feel like it had been worth coming out. There was a very determined mantra of, “One foot in front of the other” running through my mind throughout that. That’s all it is, one foot in front of the other. Mum commented that she was glad my stubbornness had finally come to some use.

The thing that always put me off tying up the laces of my blindingly white trainers and getting out there – all of that pain – is now part of the draw. I enjoy my Wednesdays and Saturdays more than any other day because it’s a perfect way to start a day – fresh air and a guiltless break from uni work! I’ve been running two miles on each outing. For me, that’s challenging. But I plan to keep challenging myself. Hopefully soon what I find challenging won’t sound quite so pathetic. I’m not trying to break any records. I just want to feel fit and healthy. And I’m feeling more so with every jog. I can even (kind of) hold a conversation when we’re running now.

It’s also made me appreciate more how incredible Mum and Dad’s achievements are. Right now, the thought of a third mile makes me tremble, let alone a 26th! They’re amazing (read: insane). As well as the crazy parents, two weeks ago I watched my little brother claim his biggest win yet: a 10 mile race on home turf, in a mere 56:52. The boy’s a machine! A running machine! It was a really wonderful day, though, and those crazy parents were beaming. You can even read all of my dad’s proud dad feelings in his write-up of that day.

It’s been a good few weeks so far. I’m hoping I can do a Parkrun soon – something laidback to start me off. I’m optimistic that I’ll be sticking with this running lark, thanks to my parents’ unwavering support. And also because it would probably be super embarrassing to make a blog post about it and then stop. Besides, it’s fun!