Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Boy of boy - do I really do this???????

It is always nice to get letters from people who read this column/blog.

And so I was extremely pleased to receive a lovely note from a Bathampton lady called Pam who said that she enjoyed this column and the other ones on the opinion page of the Chronicle . There was, however, a sting in the tail which I hope Pam won’t mind me sharing.

Her note said: “May I make a small request of you? In nearly every column you write there appears the words ‘boy oh boy’. A habit perhaps? What does it add to the general sense of what you write? Please could you erase it from your opinion page – I would really appreciate that”.

To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by this. I though I must have used the phrase once or twice – but do I really use it that often?

Sadly (for me) the answer was quickly at hand. The letter had been, ahem, ‘helpfully’ read out to the whole editorial team by our reporter Siobhan and immediately one or two of my colleagues checked our computerised archive to see if Pam was right and I was wrong.

To my amazement we found (and it’s a good job this isn’t a video column otherwise you would see my cheeks blazing red) that over the years the phrase ‘boy oh boy’ had emanated from my computer keys and into print no less than 15 times. And, pointedly (and perhaps this is why my new Bathampton friend decided to write) it had appeared every month for the past four.


What made me flabbergasted is that this is not a phrase I thought I used very often but the printed words cannot lie (well, some of them can but that’s another story). I found I’d used it to write about everything from Monty Python to the BNP appearing on Question Time.

How utterly embarrassing.

I think, on reflection, I’ve probably latched on to phrases such as this in everyday life because – and I think I may be an exclusive editor’s club of one on this – I do not swear. Ever since my children were little (the best part of 20 years now), I have managed to avoid swearing which has perplexed many of those around me who find it utterly incredible.

I remember somebody once saying “but what on earth do you say if you hit your thumb with a hammer while hanging something up”? I just looked at them, equally bewildered, and said “ouch, of course”.

I suppose what this whole incident has done – apart from causing much merriment to my colleagues which is never a bad thing on a tense Wednesday deadline – is to prove that even when we may not notice it we can all slip into our own chosen phrases and words rather too easily.

I know, for example, that too many things in my world are ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ or ‘bizarre’ because they happen to be three of my favourite words. But, just as every English teacher has taught their pupils for decades about overusing the word ‘nice’ I think Pam has given me a timely reminder that the English language is a glorious, multi-faceted object of beauty and we should all try and use our own internal Thesaurus’s more often.

Bath at its best on Half Marathon Day

This wa sprinted in the Bath Chronicle on Thursday, March 10

OK, I admit it, I did have the best ‘seat’ in the house but boy oh boy, wasn’t Bath’s half marathon day a fantastic occasion?

As I said in last week’s column/blog, I had both the honour and the privilege last Sunday morning of starting the Bath Half Marathon and, standing on the gantry with my starter hooter on hand, I was able to really take in the magnificence and scope of this remarkable city event.

Even driving into the Bath before the start of the event, you could really sense that the streets were alive with anticipation. The whole town centre seemed to be buzzing and even though it was probably a degree or two colder than most people would like, there was an intoxicatingly warm and friendly atmosphere wherever you went.

As I took to the stage and looked down Great Pulteney Street, I can genuinely say it was an inspiring and moving sight. And it was the contrasts among the thousands of competitors which I really loved.

Right in front of me at the starting line I saw the eager elite runners all totally focused on their stopwatches and barely exchanging a word or a glance at a fellow competitors. And yet just a few minutes later, I was passed by camels, bananas, one or two remarkably under-dressed men and seemingly dozens of people running for a breast cancer awareness charity and wearing large inflatable boobs to make the very dramatic point.

As somebody that has followed sport all my life, I found this contrast to be really amazing. By and large in most sporting events you don’t get top class professionals taking part at the same event as people who are doing it for the sheer fun of the day but that’s what you get at a half marathon. As the elite runners team jerseys moved on, it was a joy to see so many people wearing t-shirts of every charity you can name – and some you probably can’t.

For, and this must never be forgotten, although a lot of people were quite legitimately running for themselves and for personal reasons, so many others were primarily hitting the streets to raise as much money as possible for the concerns that are dear to them. And that is why a staggering £1.4 million was raised last year alone for charity by those who took part in this outstanding community event.

Overall, I came away thinking that I’d truly seen Bath at its best. Apart from the thousands of local people taking part in the main event – and the 1,000+ involved in the lovely family fun run that went alongside – the streets throughout the city were littered with well-wishers urging people on and probably providing a vital boost to people as they hit the various ‘walls’ one would face over a 13 mile trek.

Of course, as I mentioned last week, it did make me wonder if I could do it. I’m not the fittest of individuals (something of an understatement there) and (creak, creak) I’m not as young as I was but then again I saw people whose size, age and general disposition made me realise if they can do it, then maybe, just maybe, I could too.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Taking part in the Bath Half Marathon - well, sort of

As I have said in this blog before, I am touched and humbled at the number of things you get asked to do as the editor of a newspaper.

To have the role of the newspaper recognised is something for which all of us involved are extremely grateful as it shows that the community appreciates the commitment we have to local life.

As such, over my years as an editor I have had the privilege of judging everything from a dog competition to a beauty contest, from hosting political debates to rock concerts and from opening everything from a fete to an Oxfam shop. All of these things, crucially, have not been about me but about the papers I represent – and I never take any of these kind invitations for granted.

However, I think on Sunday, March 6, I will top the lot.

For I am honoured to have been asked to start Bath’s biggest community event of the year – the half marathon with anything up top 15,000 competitors.

As far as I can tell, this merely involves getting the race going and making the shortest speech of my editorial career (here’s a sneak preview of it, it is ‘Good luck everyone!’) but I am genuinely moved that the paper has been asked to be involved in this way.

It will be particularly pleasing for me as I know a lot of the people who are taking part, all of whom are doing so for a wide variety of excellent charities. Indeed, my two most senior colleagues on the Bath Chronicle editorial team – deputy editor Paul Wiltshire and chief sub/assistant editor Graham Holburn – will be among those lining up at the start of the race, probably wondering how I got to do the easy, cushy job while they have to do all the running.

The truth is, and it seems a terrible admission considering the role I’ve been asked to perform, running and me have never been great bedfellows. During my occasional “gym’ll fix it” periods I find I am pretty good on the rowing machines and other cardiovascular equipment but when it comes to the treadmills, I walk very well, but the moment I start to run something weird happens.

I stop.

Quite quickly.

I’m hoping therefore that from my position on Sunday I will be inspired to maybe see if I could get back on that running track again. I know so many people who have said that, like me, they never thought they could run but have then set themselves goals such as a half marathon and achieved it that it proves that no one should give up in this direction.

I’m sure Sunday will help to convince me that half marathons really are for everyone.

Of course, although I will know a number of people in the race I know that with so many others coming from outside the Chronicle circulation area, the vast majority won’t have a clue who that chap is setting them on their way. I fear, therefore, that as I am often compared to my “lookie-likies” that there will be people who will leave Bath thinking that the race had been started by Adrian Chiles, Boris Johnson or even Keith Chegwin.

So, I look forward to seeing a few of you on Sunday – I’ll be the one without the trainers.