Phone Box Thursday: Bargates, Leominster

Another defibrillator!

Red phone box
Red phone box, Bargates, Leominster, 18th September 2023.

(Coordinates 52°22’64.2″N, 2°75’12.9″W.)

As you can tell from the dedication to the late paramedic, this is a relatively recent defibrillator – in the 2021 Street View image, the phone box looks fairly tatty and unloved. It’s been given a coat of paint and looks to be well cared for now.

More from the area next week.

Life without alcohol: five years sober

It’s funny to think it’s been half a decade since I last drank alcohol. The time seems to have gone so quickly.

There are still tiny things I miss. Being able to go into a bar and look glamorous holding a glass with a stem, rather than a tumbler. (I replicate this at home with alcohol-free fizz in champagne flutes, but options are limited in bars.) Spending silly money on fancy luxury champagne because it’s a special occasion. That kind of thing.

But that’s not what I usually did, of course. What I usually did was get a cheap crate of Strongbow and drink it straight from the can. The crate would be empty by the end of the day. It was the opposite of glamorous.

My life is immeasurably better without alcohol. It can be more challenging without that escape button to press, but it is better. I am fitter, healthier, more mindful. I make better decisions. I am calmer.

I never want to go back.


It’s my thirty-ninth birthday today. I only have one year left of the extraordinary decade that is my thirties. I intend to make the most of it and be as ready as I can be for my forties, which I hope will be an even better decade for me.

I didn’t think I’d still be learning about myself at this age, but every year brings more wisdom, experience and confidence. This year I intend to say ‘no’ a lot more and focus on identifying the things that are right for me.

I celebrated my birthday with family, cake and presents under the Christmas tree in Edinburgh this morning, and am now back home in Newcastle for a quiet evening with pizza and TV.

Birthday cake
With my birthday cake, made with care as ever by Dad. (c) John Cooke 2024.

parkrundays: Oriam #131 and Portobello #365

Oriam was not the plan for the 30th of December!

The plan was Edinburgh (Cramond) for the first time in four years – a nice sprint up and/or down the promenade, depending on which direction the wind was blowing. I was confident I would beat my course PB of 29:50 and perhaps even sneak another all-time PB if the conditions were right.

However, the conditions were not right. The conditions were in fact so wrong that Edinburgh, along with many other parkruns in the area, cancelled on the morning. Too icy!

As such, it was a last-minute dash to Oriam instead. I had also not been to Oriam in four years, and I was also confident of a course PB – though I couldn’t actually remember what my existing course PB was! I only remembered being fairly slow on the one previous occasion I had visited (for my 100th parkrun in December 2019), largely due to the insane mud on the course.

It’s a shame that I couldn’t finish 2023’s parkrunning with a fast parkrun, but as far as traily/hilly courses are concerned, I kept up with my very respectable recent efforts. To my Jesmond Dene 28:41 and Pendle 28:42, I added an Oriam 28:30 – which was an 8 minute 7 second course PB, following a 36:37 back in 2019. Not bad after a slightly manic morning with the change of plan!

No photo for Oriam as I was too distracted (and wanted to get home and out of the -2°C weather – brrr).

Thankfully Portobello went ahead as planned on New Year’s Day after cancelling on the 30th. Geth and I have been doing our NYD parkrun there ever since we started NYD parkrunning! It was even more rammed than usual – like sardines at the start – and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear later that they’d broken their attendance record (with 521). Hats off to the run director, who did a superb job with the briefing after the megaphone failed, and to the crowd, who maintained a respectful silence while this was going on.

It took me about two minutes to get through the Portobello bottleneck but I still got a really decent time – 26:52, which was a course PB of about 7 and a half minutes! About as good a start to 2024 as I could have wished for.

Not the best picture but I was having a lovely parkrun! Photo from Portobello parkrun Facebook page.

…and this is 2024!

Happy New Year everyone! Still with the Cooke family for the Christmas break, with everyone here having a lovely festive season.

This year’s New Year Resolutions:

  • Get rid of at least half of the stuff in my house, preferably two-thirds. A lifetime of hoarding has left me with so much stuff I don’t use that’s just getting in my way. I’ve got to the point where I just want it gone.
  • Spend six months making a polished game for IFComp (the biggest text adventure game competition of the year) rather than making six small, rushed games for smaller comps and jams and burning out by the middle of summer.
  • Run big marathon PBs at Manchester and Yorkshire and continue to take chunks off my half marathon, 10k and 5k PBs.
  • Be more focused with my strength training.
  • Try to work with my fickle changes in interest when it comes to my hobbies rather than fighting the former and seeing the latter as chores. Right now my biggest non-running passions are fashion and Duran Duran. At some point in 2024 it’ll be videogaming again. At some point, maybe in several years’ time, it might even be Doctor Who again. That is fine. It’s fine that I neglect some hobbies while I’m passionate about others. It doesn’t make me a bad fan or a bad person, and I don’t need to catch up with five years’ worth of online discussion all at once if I come back to something after a while.
  • Play ukulele again. And, in the spirit of the above, not be demoralised that I’ve pretty much forgotten how.

And here’s the annual ‘happy birthday’ to my blog! It’s been going for six years now. Even though it’s mostly just parkrunday and Phone Box Thursday posts at the moment, I still really appreciate having an outlet that’s just mine.

So that was 2023…

I feel like I get busier and busier every year. Last year’s main resolution (‘be less busy’) most definitely did not happen!

Business is doing well. I’ve got a couple of important contracts at the moment that are providing me with steady work and will continue to do so in 2024. The day job (my proofreading business) is nicely balanced and provides me with time for all my side hustles and hobbies.

I released six games this year (seven if you count the short demo I put into SeedComp round 1), which equals my record from 2020. However, I wasn’t happy with the final releases of most of those games – they were all rushed due to jam and competition deadlines – and so in 2024 I want to focus on taking my time and making a quality product. As such, I expect I’ll only release two or three games next year.

Running has been an extraordinary journey this year. At the start of the year, I was still really struggling with my ankylosing spondylitis, and after a disastrous half marathon in February, I had to defer my place in Manchester Marathon to 2024. However, I was able to start biologic therapy for the spondylitis in the summer, and the pain has all but disappeared – meaning that I could finally start training properly in a way I’ve never been able to do before. My mileage is up to a baseline of 30 miles a week, and all the extra running has paid off – I’m hitting PBs I could never have dreamt of this time last year. The only thing that I felt was missing in 2023 was my annual attempt at the marathon, and I’m going to make up for that in 2024 with two marathons and an ultra. I feel like I’m finally free to discover what I’m actually capable of in running, and I’m so excited to see what I can do in the marathon.

The extra running has also meant that I’ve finally been able to shift the pandemic pounds and am back down in my ideal weight range! Which means I can run even faster. I’m in a really good place with health and fitness. I still owe a lot to the Town Moor Bench Runners (Benchies), as it means I’m out for a social run with them three times a week and have a really good running routine as a result.

I only visited one new-to-me parkrun this year (Denton Dene, which started in west Newcastle this summer), but I hope to do a few more in 2024! I also completed the fourth year of my daily run streak today – with a half marathon, which feels like such a different thing from what it did at the start of the year. I’ve run every day since 1st January 2020 and have no plans to give up the streak any time soon!

Music-wise I mostly listened to Duran Duran, including their new Hallowe’en album, which I really enjoyed. I also went to see them in May, which was fantastic as ever! My only other gig of the year was seeing Holly Johnson in November. I’m going to start catching up with belated reviews of these gigs soon.

I don’t think I watched any new TV and films this year, with the exception of the annual Strictly series and The Super Mario Bros. Movie (which we bought on BluRay – no cinema visits in 2023). I sometimes semi-watch what Geth puts on the TV in the evenings, but as ever it’s mostly YouTube.

Videogaming was a bit of a wash, as I just didn’t have time with all my other stuff going on (and I’m not the kind of person who can just grab an hour for gaming here and there – I need a whole day). However, I did play and complete Final Fantasy II (largely because Geth wanted to play the Switch version and I didn’t want to be spoilered), played two out of three episodes of the Sea of Thieves / Monkey Island collaboration (I need to find time for the third in the new year), and finally finished Bravely Default II after playing it on and off for over two years. I’m still working on The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles… hoping to get it finished soon!

My successes and failures regarding last year’s New Year Resolutions:

  • House stuff and decluttering 1: wear (or get rid of) (or both) every item in my wardrobe, with possible allowed keepsake exceptions such as my wedding dress. Clothes are the biggest decluttering target for me. Um… well, I’m a lot more aware of what’s in my wardrobe due to my ongoing use of the YourCloset app to log what I’m wearing. I have donated a lot of clothes, but I have so many. I’ll get back to this project with a vengeance in the new year.
  • House stuff and decluttering 2: paint at least one room. A fail. I really did want to, and I still have the paint ready. Hopefully soon.
  • Rollover from last year 1: finish at least one of my longstanding unfinished game projects. I suppose Lucid Night and Marie Waits might count, as they were both originally planned quite a few years ago!
  • Running 1: do better in races than last year. This is a fairly low bar to clear. It was indeed a low bar, but I cleared it in style. I have huge new PBs in the half marathon, 10k and 5k distances.
  • Running 2: run more races than last year. I miss 10ks. Another definite success! In contrast to last year’s four races, I ran eleven this year – including five 10ks.
  • Running 3 and rollover from last year 2: take part in parkrun every possible parkrunday. I’m not intending to travel to any non-parkrun countries so it should be doable if I’m lucky with health and weather. Not quite. But I did do pretty well this year – I only missed three (four if you include Christmas Day, which I never attend).
  • Rollover from last year 3: catch up with Doctor Who. Nope. Too busy! I’m still buying the BluRays, so I’ll catch up with it at some point.
  • Rollover from last year 4 and the most important on the list: prioritise videogaming. I did sometimes, but at other times, other things took priority. This is something that can be a bit dependent on my fluctuating interests.

Resolutions for 2024 tomorrow! They’ll be similar, but I want to make a bit of a fresh start this time round.

Merry Christmas!

I’ve done my best to clear the decks for a good break this Christmas, so I’m trying to do as little as possible. Hope everyone reading has a lovely festive season!

Pleased to say I survived Whamageddon for the first time ever! This was largely due to a noble act by Geth at parkrun on Saturday morning – someone was playing the song on the start line, he recognised it and dragged me away before I could hear it (his hearing is a lot better than mine), sacrificing himself to Whamhalla in the process. In future years I’ll be taking myself out of the game by playing the song in the early hours of 1st December – the last few days have been a bit unexpectedly stressful! I did really enjoy playing the video on YouTube at 2am this morning though!

A lovely early run with my headtorch this morning to start the day, and soon we’ll be having breakfast and presents with the family.


parkrundays: Pendle #426 and Town Moor #604

A quick parkrunday catchup.

Last week I was at Pendle again while visiting the in-laws. The course was muddier than usual but I was pleased to improve on my September course PB, taking off another 54 seconds with a 28:42. Up until August 2023, 28:42 was my all-time parkrun PB, set in 2018 in much more amenable conditions at Town Moor, and so to equal that on the toughest parkrun course I do semi-regularly was pretty special. I was really pleased with that.

Working hard for it! Photo from Pendle parkrun Facebook page.

Today I returned to Town Moor, scene of my new all-time PB a fortnight ago. The conditions were not good at all – 45 mph winds on the Moor – and so I didn’t expect to get anywhere near that time. But somehow I managed 26:10 – so another 13 seconds off the PB! Can’t believe it!

Next week I’ll be visiting a parkrun I haven’t done for nearly four years! Looking forward to it…