Book Review (and confessional): Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Mad Girl

I had seen ‘Mad Girl’ reviewed a number of times – and knew of Bryony Gordon from her newspaper and magazine writing – so wanted to shoe horn this in to my Reading Challenge!

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Bryony Gordon has OCD.
It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.
A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.
Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.”

People often comment about my husband’s OCD – and whilst mostly this is in jest (as he’s a neat freak) I do wonder if it’s quite so innocent, as I know when he’s stressed by external factors (work, family, health) he will bleach toilets and hoover excessively. Bryony’s OCD isn’t neat freak – it’s about imagining she’s done things and forgotten about it, or rituals or phrases she has to repeat to ensure bad things don’t happen.  Now this is something I totally empathise with (although would never have considered it OCD) – doesn’t everyone have to make sure the light switches are facing the right way before they go to bed?  Or check the children at bedtime in ascending or descending age order?  Obviously if the light switches are out of sync or the kids are checked in a random order, something bad will happen over night?  But I’d already been made aware of other people’s experiences with PROPER OCD – counting things being the major one (tiles in a classroom ceiling then turning into number of times they’d swallowed in a day etc)  and knew this could be really debilitating – and Bryony’s OCD definitely falls in to the latter category.

The book charts her experiences and how the OCD has effected life from a child, through teenage years, early 20s and working life.  It is interesting throughout – and really feels like you know what Bryony went through – but it’s done in an amusing and self deprecating way,  It felt like I was in the pub with Bryony having a chat as I read it (although with less booze and illegal drugs than Bryony had when she was in the pub at some points in her life, so at least I could remember it afterwards).

Half way through reading the book,  I was reading my monthly Red Magazine – and came across a letter written by Bryony to ‘lovely Red reader’ – which clearly was written just for me!!  I ended up sobbing reading it on a plane (which slightly freaked out my 5 year old daughter who also commandeered the magazine to read – but preferred the pictures of pretty clothes!)

Red Mag On Plane

Partly it was the spookiness of it (I had weighed myself that morning – and weighed EXACTLY the weight that Bryony had got to when she’d been eating away her pain (although in my case this wasn’t the peak, the peak had been a stone further up a few weeks before)).  I Tweeted Bryony about this and she replied ‘I may be heavy but I am also strong’.  This was JUST what I needed to hear.  I should be proud of my body – it’s borne me 4 beautiful children (admittedly so have Victoria Beckham’s and Heidi Klum’s!) – and heavier people are harder to kidnap and all that?!

Bryony also talked both in the magazine article and in the epilogue of her book about how running has helped her mental health – which was something I was already very familiar with as a friend who is bipolar credits running with keeping himself sane – literally (http://www.runningformylife.uk/).  For me, it’s boxing.  An hour of boxing drills and sparring leaves me energised – and aching – but feeling strong and powerful too.

I think it was clearly meant to be that I read the magazine article whilst reading the book – as motivation to me to stop feeding my issues (literally) and do something about them.  I’m lucky that I don’t have OCD, it hasn’t caused me additional issues, like it did for Bryony – but I need to take care of myself and my own health – not just that of my family, friends, staff etc.

I think the perfect end to this blog post is to quote Bryony directly:

“All I want to do is let you know that if I can do it, anyone can. 
This is how you become more powerful than you could ever imagine,  You become unapologetically you on full beam, turned up to 11, you with the mega wattage,  Like a summer house boarded up for the winter, the sockets turned off, you have always had the power,  Not you just need to go and switch it on.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving the London Marathon*

Running a marathon is one of those things that appear on people’s bucket lists – along with a bungee jump, sky diving or climbing a particularly high mountain.  I can safely say that none of those are on mine.

However, my little sister Charlotte, after doing a half marathon last year, decided to capitalise on the fact she’d trained and was half way there and signed up to do the London Marathon 2017 – raising funds for Asthma UK.  She was massively dedicated to her training schedule – running come rain or shine, – and last Sunday headed off to run possibly the most famous marathon in the world through our capital city.

I should point out at this point that I’m not completely heartless – I waited for my sister to post her amazing blog about her actually RUNNING the London Marathon before posting this 😉  So please read what it was like to be an actual competitor!!!

But now – what it was like to be a spectator at the London Marathon!!!

Firstly – the preparation.  This might not have been as excessive as it was for those actually running – but still, there were things to do!!  It was even making me an insomniac. I knew there was an app that contained lots of info and maps, and the same with London Underground apps for getting about – but I’d also been told that phone reception in London on marathon day can be akin to New Year’s Eve, when everyone is trying to use the services at once – so I printed out hard copies of everything too.

There was also setting up the app to ensure you were tracking the people you were going to watch – and other randoms who you could ‘stalk’ around the course.

Then there was the fact that all of the food outlets would be RAMMED – so needing to carry supplies with you. I didn’t go quite as far as Kendal mint cake and powdered meals – but you’re getting the idea!!

The night before I did not abstain from booze like the runners – and enjoyed a pint of G&T in preparation!

Pint of G&T

I have to say I didn’t sleep well with the night before – a combo of nerves and excitement, so was up bright and early on the Sunday morning ready to face our mission. Comfy clothes and footwear were put on (I’d considered wearing a sports bra and putting Vaseline on my feet – but thought that might be a few steps too far……)

My parents arrived at 8am – and we, along with my 2 eldest kids, were ready to go! (I’d left the 2 younger kids with my husband with the instructions he was to take them summer shoe shopping – a task almost as Herculean as running a marathon!!)

Elite runners

A friend had been to spectate last year and I followed her advice for getting into London.  We drove down the M40 to Amersham and parked at the station there. My Dad very kindly offered to pay for the parking – although it was actually free! But hey, it’s the thought that counts.

We’d decided to go straight to the first Asthma UK cheering Point at mile 12. This involved an overland train to Harrow on the Hill (which has replaced ‘Castle on the Hill’ in the Ed Sheeran song to us all now. All the LOLS!!) and 2 tubes round to Bermondsey.

Tube photo

This went RIDICULOUSLY smoothly – with us literally going straight from train to train. Consequently we were at mile 12 before Charlotte had even crossed the start line!!

As we were there so early we were able to watch the Elite men go through. There is a definite body shape for these amazing athletes – and I am pretty much the antithesis of this!!

After that came the masses. And there really were masses. It was quite hard to spot individuals, and at this point I was concerned as to how I would see my sister at all.

We spotted James Cracknell (randomly we’d rented his house in Devon over Easter – but I didn’t think it was the right time to tell him that his wifi appears to be dodgy) and then a friend of mine from back in the day at Southampton Uni (whom I almost missed as he’d put a bandana on post pre race photos and before getting to us.  Thankfully his ‘City of Birmingham Striders’ top gave him away!).

The marathon app predicts what time the runners will hit certain points, and so as it was a while until Charlotte would arrive, I moved away from the railings to let other people get close to the action. I was still tracking runners on the app – and at one point told my kids that ‘Chappers off of Match of the Day 2’ was about to run past – 30 seconds before he actually did!!

We then knew my sister was getting close. At this point her husband and kids weren’t there! I knew they were close too – but from ‘Find my Friends’ with their phones they were making slow progress (this happens if you’re stopping at pubs on the way!!!) Thankfully they arrived in time (that is my brother in law and not Richard from Guess Who, just in case you were wondering!!)

The Bates

and it was VERY emotional seeing out star runner in her amazing Little Miss leggings!!

There were sweaty hugs all round – and off she set again. At this point me, my Dad and my niece were all weeping RIDICULOUSLY! I have to say I’ve got emotional and cried watching the marathon on TV at home, but to actually be there and see someone you love doing it is intense!!

My photos from mile 12 are rubbish – and I won’t embarrass my lovely niece by including the photo of her sobbing!!

We were tracking my sister’s colleague who she has tirelessly fundraised with Charlotte for Asthma UK – but she was still 6 minutes behind – and we wanted to get off to the next cheer point at mile 20, so slightly guiltily, we headed off.

Because my sister had raised so much – she’d been given 3 tickets for the grandstand finish, so my brother in law, niece and nephew headed straight there – as not only did they need to get across London – there was also, unsurprisingly, tight security to get in – and they definitely didn’t want to miss her!

We ummed and ahhed about walking or getting the Tube – but decided to give public transport a go. It was really really busy – like leaving a concert or sporting event – but kept moving and we did another cross London journey in great time and made it to Westferry.

We knew Asthma UK had a steel band at this cheer point – which meant there location was very easy to find! They were great – but very very loud!!

Samba band

We reckoned we had about an hour until my sister arrived – and we wanted to escape the noise – and I was desperate for a wee! I saw a small child going in the gutter next to a skip and did consider that (but then realised I was sober!) Mum had spotted a cinema, so we thought we’d pop there for refreshments and a wee (although sitting down in a comfy chair in a darkened room was also appearing!!)

Dad treated us (and did actually have to pay this time!) to nachos, sweets, water and coffees – and the cafe staff were lovely and amenable (even meeting Mum’s exacting coffee requirements!) We realised the loos were past where you needed to have a ticket to get to – but having just spent £20 in the cafe thought the staff member would let me through – but no, tickets only. The nice cafe man pleaded my case – but the chap stuck to his guns. (I did enquire what the cheapest ticket I could buy was to go for a wee – but decided £11.90 was extortionate for watching a film let alone just for a wee!!)

We headed outside – with me huffing and puffing about pedants. Everyone else camped out in the glorious sunshine (well done London on the weather, Dad could even sunbathe) and I went in search of a loo.

Dad

Thankfully the doorman at The Marriot was much more accommodating and so I partook of their facilities (and wifi simultaneously!).

After that it was back to the railings. At this point all of the runners looked tired. Whilst at 12 miles everyone has been bunched together and running – the crowds were much thinner and a lot of people were walking. I should add at this point, that walking is often in people’s training plan and plan for the day.  My sister had a 5 minute run, 1 minute walk plan – from  the start.  (Although kept getting overexcited and running for longer than 5 minutes!)  She’d found that overall in training this gave her a better time than just running and getting gradually slower and slower and slower.  Unfortunately lots of spectators – and some fellow competitors – don’t realise this, and often shout encouragement at walkers – who quite stroppily reply ‘IT’S MY PLAN – I’M SUPPOSED TO BE WALKING AT THE MOMENT’!!!)

We shouted encouragement to lots of people as they went past.  Interestingly my son seems to emulate his father rather a lot – and shouted encouragement mostly at attractive younger female runners!!

Then we saw her (after a false start as there was another Asthma UK runner with a similar hairstyle – but minus the funky leggings!)

She was a bit teary, and sounded a bit like when she was a small child, telling Mum  that she was really tired and it hurt and needing a hug.  Turns out that she’d found the bit between our 2 meetings the toughest of the whole race. More hugs.  More passing on of half drunk bottles to Mum (because she knew Mum doesn’t like waste and would be hating the sight of things being thrown onto the roadside!!)  And off she went again.  Sods law the Asthma UK steel band were on a break at this point, so she didn’t even get to hear them!

We then knew the next bit was going to be the riskiest – would we get to mile 25 and the final Asthma UK cheering point on Embankment before Charlotte did?  There was a minor incident getting on the DLR going in the wrong direction – but actually that probably worked out for the best, as it was much easier to change platforms at the wrong station than it would have been at Westferry!!

When we got to Embankment it was the busiest that any cheering area had been – but we battled up to where the final Asthma UK purple flags were flying.  The app said she wasn’t far (but the app sometimes wasn’t right up to the minute) but clearly it was playing the game, as it wasn’t long before she appeared!  Some of the lovely other cheerers had let us get to the front as she was coming – and so we were able to have hugs – and this time pose in a selfie with Charlotte (although I’m taking a photo of her taking the selfie)

Marathon selfie

The end was in sight (well, not literally, she had to go around a couple of corners and there were some big landmarks in the way) but Charlotte knew that it was only a mile or so to go – and that she’d see her husband and kids again before the end.

So that really felt like our marathon as spectators was over.  The atmosphere was still great – but we headed off to where we were all meeting up afterwards.  There was a slight issue with us being given incorrect instructions of how to get there by the Asthma UK team – and if I’d run 26.2 miles and then been told this I would not have been impressed – but as we’d hardly done any steps all day, it was actually quite a pleasant walk – and we managed to get some sight seeing landmarks in too!

When we eventually got to the meet and greet, we were told Charlotte was already  having a massage.  Us five, along with the rest of Charlotte’s family and friends congregated waiting to welcome our conquering hero! Before she arrived we were discussing our various ailments – blisters, tight calves, back ache, sore knee, sunburn, trauma from witnessing the use of a female urinal – honestly, it was tough work being a spectator.

And then she and her medal were there!  Clearly there was more weeping by the usual suspects.

WINNER

We then got to hear a bit about Charlotte’s day (whilst she drank prosecco and ate a plate of food!)  She was literally BUZZING with adrenalin (at least I think it was that, and not that she’d become a cheap date with a small plastic glass of fizz!) and wearing her medal with pride.

I am still slightly perturbed that there’s no medal for being a spectator, and am thinking of marketing those – along with spectator’s T-shirts (perhaps detailing what ailments they’ve suffered being a spectator) – at London 2018?!

All in all it was an amazing day.  I am pleased that it hasn’t made me want to sign up for a marathon #phew – but I am in awe of everyone who got round that course last Sunday – in fact, anyone who does a marathon at all.

As I said to Charlotte – she might not have won the marathon, but she won her marathon, and I couldn’t be prouder of my little sister.

Charlotte - marathon

 

* As a spectator!

Book Review: Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

Running Like A Girl

We’ve just been on holiday to Devon – and the owners of the holiday house had a huge selection of books to borrow – and this one took my fancy.  I devoured it in 2 sittings  – admittedly with a glass or two of prosecco whilst sitting on my bum in the April sunshine that flooded the decking late afternoon …..

Here’s the Amazon blurb for you…..

“Alexandra Heminsley had high hopes: the arse of an athlete, the waist of a supermodel, the speed of a gazelle. Defeated by gyms and bored of yoga, she decided to run.

Her first attempt did not end well.

Six years later, she has run five marathons in two continents.

But, as her dad says, you run with your head as much as with your legs. So, while this is a book about running, it’s not just about running.

You could say it’s about ambition (yes, getting out of bed on a rainy Sunday morning counts), relationships (including talking to the intimidating staff in the trainer shop), as well as your body (your boobs don’t have to wobble when you run). But it’s also about realising that you can do more than you ever thought possible.

Very funny, very honest and very emotional, whether you’re in serious training or thinking about running for the bus, this is a book for anyone who after wine and crisps for supper a few too many times thinks they might . . . just might . . . like to run like a girl.”

 

I really liked the writing style – it felt like chatting with a mate.  I also empathised with the large boobs.  I think I was all the more empathetic as my baby sister (she’s not actually a baby – just 6 years younger than me) is running the London marathon on Sunday.  I get super emotional watching it on TV – so what I’m going to be like being a spectator at the course watching someone I love run it, I dread to think!!  I wept a number of times reading this book – it was really inspirational – and I also felt it’s given me some top tips as a spectator and sister / friend of runners. I texted my sister to tell her I’d read an excellent book to prepare for her London marathon – and she replied to say she’d read it last year and loved it.  Great minds and all that!

Whilst the book is fundamentally about the author’s running journey (pun intended, and copied from the book) it also looks at family relationship and also mental health. The mental health element has been of interest to me for some time – as I know running has really helped a friend through his own mental health issues – his website is really inspiring.

There was also some travel – as Alex ran marathons abroad – even if her view of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francicso wasn’t what she’s hoped for!!  When the husband and I went to Boston last year, he had to have his picture taken crossing the finish line (whilst we were out shopping!)

Mark Boston Marathon

The section on  the history of women and long distance running was also really interesting – I am amazed that so recently women weren’t allowed to compete in marathons.  In 1967 Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (albeit not quite officially, as she’d registered by her initials and not her name – and officials tried to stop her – unsuccessfully – getting round.  Her boyfriend at the time barged the official trying to stop her to the ground).  Then a few days ago – spookily, as I was reading about her – Kathrine ran the Boston Marathon again on her 50th anniversary.  Now that’s ‘Running Like A Girl’!!

It hasn’t *quite* inspired me to run anywhere myself yet (I’m hoping I don’t get too excited on Sunday and over commit to anything!!) but it did make me go off for a march from the house up to the beautiful Baggy Point near Croyde – only a couple of miles, but you have to start somewhere, and Alex herself started with walking – so who knows……..