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The old bike's a bit rusty... and so am I

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 21 2014

As she released the pressure round my upper arm and consulted the dial, the nurse looked concerned.

I was having one of those health checks your GP offers when you get close to your four-score and 10.

“It’s a bit high,” she said, referring to my blood pressure. Previously she had sucked a finger full of blood out of me for a cholesterol check. That was a bit high too. Not enough to worry about but higher than it should be.

My weight was also up on what the chart said was healthy. But my height seemed to have shrunk. I was only 5ft 7in, instead of the 5ft 8in I had always believed myself to be.

“Well I’m not going on those statins,” I told her.

“Exercise is the best way of dealing with it,” she said. “That and maintaining a healthy diet.”

Well I knew that already, but I thought I was exercising quite a bit already. After all I have allotments to dig, a boat that I am restoring, and until she died recently, a dog to walk.

Then I thought about it a bit. I only do the allotment on two days a week, and it might be a bit of gentle weeding rather than aerobic digging. And working on the boat didn’t always get me puffed out.

So I have dug the old bike out of the garage and pumped up the tyres. I’ve also bought a helmet for the ridiculous price of £30 but I am not going for Lycra. And the yellow jersey can wait.

I hadn’t ridden the old bike for years and both it and I are rusty. It’s a bit scary. Cycle tracks in this country are not worthy of the name and you are not even slightly protected from traffic. I might save myself from a heart attack, only to be knocked into the next world by a passing truck.

Bit by bit though, I am finding the routes where the cars are less likely to go. Sometimes there are pavements that are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians. Occasionally there are even exclusive cycle tracks, though these are few and far between.

When I was a boy I went everywhere on my bike. Everyone did. It never seemed like hard work. Your bike was just an extension of yourself. There were not many cars about in those days of course, so the roads were much safer.

But I have found cycling to be by far the best form of exercise. There is no way you would get me going to a gym, spending huge amounts of dosh to pound a treadmill, heave on a rowing machine or ride a bike that goes nowhere. Besides I hate the smell – all that stale sweat.

Exercise has to be meaningful. I can use my bike to go to the shops or visit people. Even if you just go for a bike ride at least you are seeing the countryside. It’s not just exercise for the sake of exercise.

I also have a rowing boat – a real one that actually floats. It needs a bit of doing up but I can’t wait to get that out on to the water. I know of no better exercise than rowing for tightening the tummy muscles.

The point is, we are constantly being told that increasing numbers of us are getting type-two diabetes caused by obesity from eating too much of the wrong things and not exercising enough.

Other deadly illnesses, such as heart disease, some cancers, and even dementia, are less likely to occur if we eat better and exercise more.

It’s not rocket science. If we eat better and exercise more, we are likely to stay healthier for longer.

No one can make you exercise. You have to do it for yourself. And only you can ensure that there is not too much sugar or fat in your diet.

The government or councils could help by providing more and better cycle tracks and other exercise facilities. But they probably won’t even though there is a good economic case for doing so. Think of all the money that will be saved on healthcare.

So it’s down to us as individuals. All I can say is, that if you want to stay healthy – on yer bike!

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Categories: Moans and groans

Out with stale males - but will anyone really care at election time?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 16 2014

With the kind of chutzpah you tend to expect from politicians, David Cameron declared that his reshuffle presented the best of modern Britain, which begged the obvious but unanswered question as to what sort of Britain we have been living in until this week.

Still, the reshuffle threw up enough changes to satisfy the hungriest of political commentators and observers, not least in the departure of the much-maligned education secretary Michael Gove, who will now get first hand experience of the challenge faced by many teachers every day - handling an undisciplined group of disinterested people.

For Kent's MPs, it proved to be a mixed bag. The much heralded cull of stale middle-aged males led to the unexpected sacking of policing minister Damian Green, the Ashford MP. What had he done wrong? Nothing at all.

Even the hard-nosed Police Federation lamented his departure, surely a first. But he fell into the political demographic being targeted by the PM and paid the price - the irony being that as a moderate, progressive Tory he no doubt believes that Mr Cameron may be doing the right thing in freshening up his top team. Having said that, in replacing Mr Green with Mike Penning - who is the kind of stale male Cameron wanted to cull, he is entitled to  be a little perplexed.

He is not a natural rebel, with consensual tendencies but his note of defiance in a tweet was intriguing, announcing that he would continue to fight for what he believed in. What could it mean? 

Also heading for the exit door is the Faversham and Mid Kent MP Hugh Robertson, widely praised for his stint as Olympics minister.

He decided to stand down as foreign office minister to take stock with his family about his future, which leaves open a variety of options. Having had arguably two of the most interesting ministerial briefs and overseeing the London Olympics, he may consider that he won't top that unless he gets a senior cabinet role. Might he decide to leave politics? A possibility as he has never made secret that he would like the chance to try his hand at another career.

Anti-fracking groups will no doubt be celebrating the departure of Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon, who has landed the role of defence minister after a lengthy parliamentary career and who may owe his elevation partly to his Euro-sceptic tendencies.

The question is whether anyone will, come May 2015, care two hoots about this reshuffle? Cameron is obviously concerned that many regard his government as being made up of a privileged, public-school educated male-dominated elite who, despite their protestations, have no real grasp of the daily challenges of "ordinary hard-working" families. 

I seriously doubt anyone will go into a polling both next year, reminding themselves that the PM changed his top team to include more women. Voters are not stupid and tend to see through this kind of opportunism but you can understand Cameron's dilemma. If he had stuck with his hand rather than twisted, he would have handed his opponents an easy target.

On balance, it seems the right thing to do but it also runs a risk. Some of those promoted are unknown quantities and lack experience at the top level. And beyond the confines of Westminster, there is a large constituency of stale males in their fifties who may feel ratheraffronted at being written off.

UKIP no doubt already has them in its sights.

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 Michael Gove's departure as education secretary is said to have prompted high-fives and cheers in staff rooms up and down the length of the country.

You might also have heard a smallish cheer at County Hall, where the relationships betwen KCC and the DfE have been slightly fractious to say the least. KCC started the ball rolling by joining a High Court challenge over the cancellation of various building projects under the BSF scheme scrapped by the coalition.

More recently, there has been the vexed progress - or lack of it - over KCC's attempts to create a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, which Mr Gove seemed rather cool about.

Where the new education secretary Nicky Morgan stands on selection is anyone's guess. But KCC will be extending the hand of friendship to someone who they hope just might be more sympathetic to their plan. 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

Let's hear it for the boys!

by Waking up Kent, with kmfm Breakfast presenter Garry Wilson Monday, July 14 2014

It’s been a hectic week in the kmfm studio as we’ve been awash, awash I tell thee, with some of the biggest boybands in the land!

We had a chat with the (very excitable) Vamps who, in turn, had a chat with our work experience girl. Happiness all round. Their new single, Somebody To You, is out now.

The luscious lads from hot new boyband Rixton also paid us a visit. Not only did they share tales of rock ‘n’ roll fun but they also let us get our paws on their ‘Wonka Purple Card’. Yes!

This little baby has a magic phone number to call, promising a delivery of anything you want, to anywhere on the planet. Including chocolate. Only the most showbizzy showbiz people have one of these cards, so we tried to make direct contact with Wonka himself.

OK, we got the answerphone, but at least we tried. The Rixton boys also had the momentous honour of reading our 6am quiz questions for the week. Good work, lads.

Check out kmfm.co.uk to listen to any interviews you missed or, indeed, enjoyed so much that you wish to revisit them!


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Mutant world-ending virus is such a strain

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 14 2014

by David Jones

This may seem an odd question for a summer’s day in July, but have you ever wondered how the world will end?

Will it end not with a bang but with a whimper? Will the ants take over, as H.G. Wells once predicted?.

I’m a bit of a sci-fi fan, so I’ve seen most of the movies about the end of civilisation. After 50 years in a newsroom hearing about people’s troubles every day, I feel the need for a large dose of escapism. I prefer my entertainment light years away!

You can take your pick about the ways in which Armageddon will arrive: there’s an asteroid impact; nuclear war; a giant solar flare; a massive volcano eruption, or a pandemic, a disease of global proportions.

The latter is one of the movie makers’ favourites – we’ve had Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman, Contagion starring Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow and, of course, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

The Danny Boyle film is particularly fascinating because it tells the story of a small group of survivors and their struggle to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world following the accidental release of a deadly virus.

That could never happen, could it? Pure sci-fi hokum. But truth has a nasty habit of being stranger than fiction.

I was horrified to read last week that a virologist in the USA – already controversial through his research in making influenza viruses more infectious – has now gone one step further.

He has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu so that it can escape the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies.

No doubt he would say it’s all in the long-term interests of beneficial medical research and that nothing can possibly go wrong as his “new” virus is kept under lock and key in ultra-secure laboratory conditions.

But what we now have, thanks to Prof Yoshiro Kawaoka, is a strain of a flu virus with the capability to cause a deadly pandemic because we have no defence against it.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Prof Kawaoka is a mad scientist about to cause the end of the world.

No, what worries me is that once these mutant strains of a virus have been created, it’s going to be impossible to get the genie back in the bottle.

Who’s to say what might happen next time if an even more deadly and incurable virus is artificially created, perhaps by someone whose motives are less altruistic than Prof Kawakoa’s and under less secure laboratory conditions?

Then Danny Boyle’s grim vision of our future might not seem so far-fetched after all.

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Have the Conservatives shot the UKIP fox in Thanet?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, July 8 2014

Whatever other qualities Craig Mackinlay may have, it is pretty clear that when it came to the Conservatives choosing their prospective candidate for Thanet South, his former involvement with UKIP was a trump card.

Ordinarily, would-be MPs who have dallied with other parties are often treated with suspicion by constituency activists but in this case, it worked to his advantage.

Former UKIP man to contest Thanet South for the Conservatives>>>

The threat of a significant challenge by UKIP in a key UKIP target seat in 2015 may not have caused a meltdown in Conservative ranks but there is no doubt there was a certain sense of panic about how to respond.

The prospect of the charismatic leader Nigel Farage being UKIP's candidate only served to add to the Conservative anxiety. The indignity of possible defeat next May and becoming a footnote in parliamentary history was beginning to cast something of a dark shadow.

So, handing the candidancy to the avowedly Eurosceptic Mackinlay, who fought two elections as a UKIP candidate and was briefly leader, was a shrewd tactical move.

He didn't lose much time in getting on the front foot and suggesting there was no reason why Nigel Farage should stand, now there was a Conservative running who was equally scepticalabout the EU. We can expect more of this in the run up to the election.

For his part, Nigel Farage has a dilemma. Had UKIP got through its selection process and adopted the leader as its candidate earlier, it could have argued that it was forcing the Conservatives' hand.

If Nigel Farage now looks elsewhere in Kent, he faces being accused of running scared - ironically, the charge levelled by the party when current MP Laura Sandys, who is on the pro-European wing of the Conservatives, announced she was standing down.

He has responded to questions about his intentions by saying that Thanet South is one of several constituencies in the mix.

But he has also been compelled to say that he will announce where he wants to stand in a few weeks, which does make it look like he is responding to events rather than leading them. The suggestion is that UKIP will seek to depict Mackinlay as "UKIP-lite" and depict their candidate as the real deal.

I have until now thought that he would opt for Thanet South above Folkestone and Hythe or Dover and Deal.

On balance, I still think he will but the odds have lengthened a little and strangely, UKIP are for once on the defensive.

 

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Categories: Precept

Why we can still win the race by running like a girl

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Monday, July 7 2014

If you were asked to run like a girl, what would you do?

Think about it, just for a moment, and then think what you would do if you were trying to show your daughter, niece or granddaughter.

Would you do the same thing?

A video of young women, girls, men and boys being asked that very question has gone viral, and for good reason.

Each were asked to demonstrate how they would run, fight and throw like a girl.

Most of them pranced around in small dainty steps, flapped their hands in the air and feigned pathetic attempts.

But the youngest girls sprinted with all their might, showed off some impressive martial arts and powerfully launched imaginary javelins into the air. To them, “run like a girl” simply meant “run as fast as you can”.

So why does “like a girl” sound like such an insult to the rest of us? One girl simply points out: “Why can’t ‘run like a girl’ still mean “win the race?”

Men are usually physically stronger than women – that’s just the way it is – but that should not mean that girls feel second best. Not all men are physically stronger than women and coming second doesn’t mean you’re weak.

I’m ashamed to say that when I watched the video, I too conjured up images of prissy, weak actions.

Girls growing up these days are different, thank goodness. We’re no longer the shy, fainting Victorians afraid to show a bit of ankle.

Girls (and women) love football, rugby, cricket, athletics and more. The increasing coverage of netball by Sky Sports shows that somebody, at last, has finally realised how many thousands of women play the game every week, and have done for some time.

I’ll be joining Life Presidents, players and committee members of the Medway Netball League in Rainham this Saturday to celebrate its diamond anniversary.

And if you want to see how a netballer throws, join a team – we’ve a pretty powerful shot!

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I’ve just come back from a week in Dorset.

Not just anywhere in Dorset but – by sheer coincidence – close to where they’re filming the second series of the gripping drama Broadchurch.

Despite my best efforts to track them down, I can confirm that although I have been to the newsagents, the church, the beach and the police station all featured in the storyline, I will not be loitering in the background of any crowd shots as I couldn’t find them.

Not one glimpse of David Tennant, not one.

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I'm An Addict!

by The Ramblings of a Menopausal Runner, with Hilary Jones Saturday, July 5 2014

It’s official.  After nearly a year it appears that I can’t function on a Saturday unless I’ve had my fix – my parkrun fix of course ;-)

The only things which have kept me from turning up at 9.00am on a Saturday morning, be it to run or volunteer, have been work or “social” commitments - until today.  And the culprit was a niggling ankle which has been the bane of my week.

On Monday I went out for my “long” run and about 3/4k in I started to notice a bit of a niggle down the lower left hand side of my leg but being a runner and, remembering Sakyong Mipham’s words that pain is temporary, I carried on and the pain was indeed temporary.  It wore off and the rest of the run and day passed without incident.

The next morning, however, I was reduced to going downstairs one step at a time, hanging on to the wall for balance.  Not a good sign!  I’m used to my legs being a bit stiff in the mornings nowadays but this was a bit extreme, and the stiffness does usually wear off pretty quickly.  Not this time though.

So the ancient pack of frozen vegetables and the Jointace Gel have been in constant use ever since and although the discomfort has receded a little, there’s still a niggle.  Then yesterday I had a brainwave and decided to dig out the Skins compression socks I’d used a few years ago to overcome sore calf muscles.  So I’ve been wandering around the house and garden with socks on.  Yes, socks plural, but both on one leg – double compression for a speedier recovery, surely!?  So sad am I that last night I even went to bed with the socks on. 

I had fully intended to turn up for parkrun this morning, even if it meant hobbling around the course but the overnight rain left me envisaging tragedy on the back of the course where there’s a steep downhill uneven but fast bit of track.  I imagined slipping on a bit of stone and doing untold damage to my foot which would lead to the end of my running “career” (you all know how night time exaggerates your imagination!!).  Although to my defence I do know another parkrunner who’s come a cropper on that stretch so it wasn’t totally beyond the bounds of possibility.

So I decided to be sensible and put my run on hold.  I did think about just turning up and hoping for a bit of marshalling duty but the self same rain put paid to that!  And that decision made, I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself ever since – I have in fact felt bereft!   My Saturday morning routine has been out of kilter – parkrun, home, shower, coffee, reward croissant, Saturday Kitchen – gone!  Okay, from “shower” onwards remained intact but there was no calorie burning in the bag to work off that croissant!

In an attempt to alleviate the leg situation I have been to the gym to use the grid foam roller and the power plate and so far, so good, only the odd twinge.  I shall keep off the running probably now until mid week and then re-evaluate the situation but if anybody has any ideas as to what it might be, I would welcome any feedback!  My self diagnosis at the moment is tendonitis!!

 

In the meantime, I’m hoping I’m in tiptop condition for next week’s parkrun fix– I have my eye on a 50 t-shirt but I still have 14 runs to go!

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Categories: Running

Why Nigel Farage is the elephant in the room for Thanet Conservatives

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 2 2014

It is perhaps a measure of UKIP's spectacular growth as a political party - or movement  - that when Thanet Conservatives meet this week to decide who they want as their prospective parliamentary candidate for Thanet South,  the name many will be thinking of first is Nigel Farage rather than the three shortlisted for the role.

He is, as one Conservative put it, "the elephant in the room."  Which is what makes the selection of someone to succeed Laura Sandys so intriguing. On paper and under different circumstances, this probably would be a seat where the Conservatives would be in a two-way battle with Labour and the Conservatives might expect to win.

The Thanet South Conservative shortlist>>>>

But there is a fly in the ointment. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has dropped several hints that this is a constituency he may contest at the general election and the Conservatives are acutely aware that would present a major challenge. Thanet is now an  area where UKIP is well entrenched, with seven county councillors, all elected last May and in the process, ousting some long-standing Conservatives.

So, one of the key considerations of association members will be which candidate would be best placed to neutralise UKIP and the Farage factor? The association has already made clear that is after someone prepared to champion an 'in-out' referendum even earlier than David Cameron has committed the party to, although a statement to that effect on the association's website is no longer there.

One of the three shortlisted candidates is Craig Mackinlay, who was a leading figure in UKIP for 12 years and fought a couple of elections for the party before rejoining the Conservatives in 2005. His credentials on this front are therefore sound and if the UKIP threat is uppermost in members' minds, might be considered a favourite.

UKIP would find it awkward to contest a seat where the Conservative candidate is a hardline Eurosceptic whose views are barely any different from Nigel Farage.

On the other hand, UKIP might feel that they can exploit a candidate by suggesting that if voters want the real thing when it comes to the election, you can't get a much more authentic voice of Euroscepticism than Nigel Farage.

Away from Europe, another factor is that Conservative Central Office is known to be anxious for there to be more women candidates at the election as several current MPs are standing down.

There have been some rumours that this view has been communicated rather firmly  to Thanet Conservatives. As the only female candidate, if this factor comes into play, then the odds might swing towards Anna Firth, a barrister and Sevenoaks district councillor.

In terms of their CVs, the shortlisted trio are all very able and whoever gets the nomination will be a good candidate.

But if Nigel Farage does eventually opt for Thanet South, the Conservative candidate will be pitchforked into the cauldron of an election contest where they will be taking on a party determined  to secure an historic parliamentary breakthrough.

 

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Categories: Precept

Music

by The Ramblings of a Menopausal Runner, with Hilary Jones Sunday, June 29 2014

It may well be the food of love but is it the food of runners?  Oooh, controversial Jones!  For some time now I’ve been intending to blog about music and running and hey, here it is!

If you’d asked me a year ago about running and listening to music, I’d have said, yes, definitely, I can’t run without it.  I need the beat to keep me going and deter the boredom factor.  I would have freely admitted that after a run I couldn’t have told you what I’d listened to but I would have been adamant that I couldn’t have done it without the music. 

Dr Costas Karageorghis, a renowned sports psychologist at Brunel University, would probably have agreed with me.  He was involved with the Run to the Beat Half Marathon which proudly promoted itself as “London’s music half marathon”.   The idea being that live music would be staged at numerous locations around the course to encourage the participants in their endeavours.  Except the year I did it (also the first year of the event), it rained before, during and after and I think I remember passing only two bands on the course.  Were the other bands prevented from appearing because of health and safety concerns, because they didn’t want to get their hair wet or was it just the fact they didn’t want to get up early on a Sunday morning, possibly after a gig the night before!?  Who knows, but it was so wet on that run my MP3 player eventually drowned about half way around so I had limited musical accompaniment!

In any event, until around this time last year I have always run with music but then along came parkrun.  As I didn’t know the etiquette on my first run, I took my music with me but in the end I was so keen to know what was going on, it remained in my pocket!  And it’s stayed there on a parkrun Saturday morning ever since. 

Then last September I took part in the BUPA Great Yorkshire Run in Sheffield and because I had a running buddy on that occasion, it would have seemed rude to stick my earphones in, especially as he had sacrificed his race for my benefit (see here http://ramblingsofamenopausalrunner.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/thank-you-sheffield/ for more details) .

The following month I ran the Givaudan Ashford 10k – another very wet run and absolutely no point in risking the life of my iPod nano (yes, we’d progressed from an MP3 player courtesy of The Daily Telegraph). 

The next run was the Paddock Wood Half back at the end of March and this event was promoted as a “music free” run.  In fact if you were caught wearing headphones you would be excluded from the race.  So on this occasion I had no choice.  Bit daunting, 5k and 10k without music had been bearable.  How would I cope during a half?  Perfectly well, as it turned out.  I even had a little chat with another runner on the way round.

And now, when I go out for my “training” runs, I very rarely take any music with me (possibly partly due to a lack of pockets during the warmer weather!).  I think I may have been partly influenced by a book I read following a reader review in Runner’s World – “Running with the Mind of Meditation” by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (I shall be blogging about this book at some point in the future).  I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone who runs.  Unlike the reviewer, it has not made me run any faster (yet) but it has made me look at my runs differently (but more of that another day). 

Anyway, I digress!  Not like me, I know!  So what am I trying to say?  I suppose if you think you can’t run without music, give it a go.  You might be surprised and by the sounds of it, you might have to get used to it!  At last week’s Amba Hotels City of London Mile, while waiting for the start, we were advised that music was not allowed and I was surprised to hear them announce that all organised runs except parkrun are now music free zones – really?  Has anyone else heard that?

Another benefit I have personally discovered during “quiet” runs is you seem to get more respect from other runners/walkers/dog walkers/cyclists if you’re not wearing earphones.  And, if you’re deaf to the world during an organised event, you’ll find you miss the humorous quips and friendly encouraging banter from other runners.

 

What do you think?

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Categories: Running

Would offering a lift make me a bad person?

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Monday, June 23 2014

I drove past a young teenage lad on Thursday afternoon. He must have been on his way to a friend’s because although he was in his school uniform, he had no bags with him.

All he had on was his trousers and a short-sleeved shirt. And it was just starting to rain.

It was a country lane and given the direction he was heading I knew he had at least a 20-minute walk uphill until he reached a house. He was undoubtedly about to get drenched.

I wanted to stop and offer him a lift but these days, you just can’t. Any adult offering a lift to a child, however innocent, would probably terrify the life out of them and wind up with an angry parent on their doorstep and a trip to the police station.

I’m not sure things were any different when I was a kid – my parents were always warning us about stranger danger and at one point, I even starred in a police safety video about the dangers of getting into the car of someone you didn’t know.

But even giving a lift to an adult makes you stop and think.

I pass a chap in his late 20s every morning. Again, it’s in the middle of nowhere and I know, from the various points I’ve passed him on his route, that his walk is at least 40 minutes if not more.

I feel so guilty driving by, especially during the winter, but I’m just not brave enough to stop.

Would you?

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I had my ear pierced a few weeks ago, a stud in the top of the left one.

It came after a couple of years of deliberating. First of all I couldn’t decide whether I could bear the pain, then I couldn’t decide which ear to put it in and then I just faffed around some more.

Then a close friend of ours died suddenly, and I decided I’d had enough of faffing.

So I did it. I rocked up at Medway Tattoo and Piercing Centre in Rochester and asked to have my left ear done, based on nothing more than it’s the same ear TV presenter Emma Willis has hers, and I’d read an interview with her a few days earlier.

The piercer was professional and as he gently pushed the needle in my ear, there was no cry of pain.

After so much procrastinating, I was pretty disappointed it didn’t hurt more.

I love it but there’s just one thing. It’s no Pat Butcher adornment but my middle-age act of rebellion hasn’t been noticed by my mother. Until she reads this, of course.

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