Yesterday I headed back to London on the National Express coach. The benefits, at £11 return, are obvious. The downside is that I could have run back quicker.

Not really. On Sunday I ran in the Great Manchester Run and, thanks to the immense generosity and support of over 100 of you, we collectively raised (at current standing) £2379.83 For the British Heart Foundation. Thank you all… and if you haven’t had a thank you from me; either through Facebook, Twitter, email, or the frighteningly impersonal templated email sent through the Just Giving page; then please accept my apologies. I have tried to keep track of you all, but who knew so many of you would so kindly support me!

I picked this charity in honour and memory of my dad, Alec Hickson, who died at the age of 54 in 1983 from a heart attack. You can read more on this, including our shared passion for snooker, here. I’ll be 54 this year and so it seemed appropriate to both remember him and also, through the process of running, try and care for my own heart a little.

 

I’d like to tell you the run was great fun. But running isn’t an enjoyment for me. I can only think of three benefits from it; it raises money for good causes, it possibly keeps me healthy, and it’s the acceptable face of self-harm. When I was at university we would play a game where we’d sit in a circle and take it in turns to drop a baseball bat onto our hands. Each player in turn would drop the baseball bat from a greater height. It was good fun, more fun than running, but you can see the connection. We also used to chew tobacco and spit into spittoons. I do hope student life is the same these days.

Then there would be the time Simon Bligh would teach me how to break roof tiles when we shared a house together in the mid 80s and would return home late after our respective gigs, a little drunk maybe. He taught me to think beyond the tiles, to hit through them, and I did. And smashed my hand to bits. Simon tried to push my finger back into place but I nearly passed out. I went to bed, slept a little, and then at 6am dragged myself off to the hospital where a completely redundant X-ray was taken. I don’t think my body is quite like Tom Mix’s, but I can claim two broken ribs, two broken fingers, a broken nose, and a broken pelvis.

tom mix

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my broken pelvis

My ambition, beyond raising £1929 for The BHF, was to do the run in under an hour. I’ve only just started running again in the last six weeks, and the last time I ran a 10k was when I was in my 20s (I can’t remember the time but it was either 47 minutes or 53). Now, my first attempt at 10k took 70 minutes. I’ve slowly reduced that, but even so my last go was just over 63 minutes. To manage it in under an hour would take a bit of luck on the day.

I was in the Blue Wave of runners, with a start time of approx. 12.25.

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The organisers encouraged us to take in the sites as we ran. I did my best, in the first two kms, to high-five as many kids as I could and to grimace a smile at those who applauded and cheered us on, but to take in the sites as well? The bloody sites! Old Trafford!? Is this a joke? To make matters worse, they contrived a route that took me past the damned place twice! Why not rub it in organisers, why not really take the piss! (If this has no meaning to you- Old Trafford is NOT the stadium of the team I support.)

I managed the first km in 5.01, my best speed yet; though this caused some panic. What if I’d started off too keen, too fast? What if, 3km in, I was done? The second came in at 5.18, so still ok. After the third (5.43) my £10 bluetooth headphones gave up the ghost. I was on my own; no voice telling me my speed, no playlist made up solely of songs from the 80s and the nowties (an odd combo playlist of Sparks, Lloyd Cole, Grimes, The Jam, Haim, Hot Chip, Morrissey, Alvvays, 10cc, Gemma Ray, Everything But the Girl, Paul Heaton, John Grant, La Roux, and Christie- how the hell did a 70s tune slip in there at the end? Yellow River, if you know it. And, should you wish, you can click on the above artists to hear the tunes I should have been running to).

It was hard work, running. And, even at 3km, some folk in the best of gear (lycrad and lithe and looking the part) had slowed to a walk. I tried to keep nimble, hopping and skipping on and off the pavement to avoid the slowcoaches. I tried, but I know, to an outsider, I would have looked like their grandpa, on day release, celebrating one last gasp at freedom.

Two friends had come along to support me, and so I’d suggested to them the 6km mark where the BHF had a stall of sorts. At 5km I was struggling, so this became something to look forward to. I would say the 4-6km part is the hardest; you’ve barely got going and you feel leaden and dragging, and yet you know that this is only the half of it. Jackie and Mo had made Swing Your Pants banners. What can I say? Thank you. There is no doubt it helped spur me on.Mo and Jackie

And then you can feel like you are heading home. Around about 6-7km I knew I would finish it. But I needed to keep my pace up to do it within the hour. At 8km I tried to maintain a speed; not to go faster, but to make sure I didn’t start slowing down. The last km I trudged on, and picked up the pace at the 400m mark, and then the last 200m mark. I like to think I really ran that last 200m, fast; but the chances are I looked like the slow-motion bits from Chariots of Fire.

I only had my watch to go off. I thought I had done it in an hour. As I went through the finishing arch the time above, for the Blue Wave runners, was 1 hour 3 mins.

bty

As I sat in the BHF tent the rains came down. Miserable Manchester rain, nothing new.

sdr

And then this tweet came through from my friend Cheryl. I had run it in 57.44. This was the official time from the website (we all have chips placed behind our numbers that know our every step).

And it made me cry. Just a bit. No one noticed. It was raining.

cheryl

I’ve had another run today. 7.45km in 47.55. Slow. It’s amazing what you can do with a little support and a good cause.

Thank you to Sam H, Darren K, Su H, Dave K, PM anon, John S, Sarah F, Paul K, Rik KM, Andrea and Frank, Jonny C, Robert N, Jenny S, Jackie H, Hazel D, Phil M, Ted B, Cheryl and Eric, Stephen B and family, Simon B and family, Clare and Bruce and Charlotte and Issy, Hannah J, Matt and Jill, Lynne B, Sarah L, Stephen K, Lee S, the Williams family, Chris S, Keith R, Gail E, Jamie D, Helen S, Douglas S, Stephen B, Chris W, Lucy and David and family, Linda and Alexei, Sue W and her mum Rose H, Mick H, Simon B, Anne-Marie, Pixie45, Michelle F, Vince R, Margo M, Andrea M, Neil P, Toby W, Dana N, Caroline S, Pia A, Alwyn A, David and Deb and family, Johnathan O, Mo O, Janey E, Sean U, Lianne E, Sharon R, Paul H, Hannah V, Suzanne O, Scott R, Paul C, Jennifer S, Dave K, Ensign Deb, Colin D, Janine K, Paola N, Alexander T, Sarah B, Amanda D, Steve P, Craig H, Tony J, Lynsey S, Luke W, Robert R, Barnaby E, Helen R, Justin E, Julian B, Brian M, Peter E, Ben and Sarah and Eve Lola and Dylan, Emma R, Stephen B, Neil G, Dave F, a different Neil G, Chris W, David C, Paul and Alison D, Sharon and Andy and Kate and William, Charley and Simon and Pete and Georgie and Jack, Jamie A, Gerald P, Kirsty R, Mandy M, Alison J, Gill and Jake, Steven M, Lisa and Toby and Connie.

You all raised £2,379.83. Then there’s the Gift Aid of £517.78. That’s a fantastic total of… oh, I can be bothered adding it up. Nearly £2900! I only was aiming for £1929 (the year of my dad’s birth). And no! That doesn’t mean some of you can have your money back.

Indeed, if anyone reading this feel’s they’ve missed out, it’s still not too late. Just click on this link.

But thank you. From someone who doesn’t enjoy running, you’ve made me feel it all was incredibly worthwhile. xxx

sdr

In my last blog post I wrote about my dad, about snooker, and about why I am going to run the Great Manchester Run in his memory. Thank you all for your kind comments, and thank you so much for sponsoring me and donating to the British Heart Foundation.

My plan is to run the 10k in less than an hour. That should be easy; after all, I ran 10k in 47 minutes, 30 years ago. Oh, and I haven’t run 10k since then. And I only started running with any kid of idea of a plan a few weeks ago. Still. I WILL do it in less than an hour.

So far I have managed 10k in 70 minutes. Yesterday I ran just under 5 miles in 50 minutes (I swallowed a fly during my third mile, which led to at least a minute and a half of trying to sick it up). So, I have some kind of self-imposed battle on my hands.

I run to music, when the earphones aren’t falling out of my ears… adding precious seconds to mph. My music choices aren’t particularly conducive to good running speeds: Joy Division slow the pace, Sparks make me fly. But here’s one that came up unexpectedly the other day, and it helped me think about the long haul.

 I was thinking of doing a ‘Hearts’ song countdown for my blog posts in the lead up to the run on the 23rd. But (of course) as soon as you look into the world of ‘heart’ songs you realise they’re not really on the side of running and health and looking after the damned thing (even Young Hearts Run Free, the only song to combine the Great Manchester Run and the BHF, excludes someone old like me). Instead, they’re about hearts being broken, eclipsed, or (in the case of Phil Collins) “two hearts, believing in just one mind”. (Note to Phil: No one has any idea what that means).

Here’s a heart song that works. A healthy heart is, no doubt, a good heart. Here’s Feargal Sharkey, with his shockingly powerful hair. If you don’t like this, you’re an idiot.

Oh, and please, if you can, sponsor me. Just click on this highlighted link.

Snooker Legends

May 4, 2016

As I sat watching the 2016 Snooker World Championship Final (congratulations to Mark Selby – and Leicester City Football Club – what a time to be a Leicesterunian!), I thought back to my first visit to the World Championships with my dad, Alec Hickson, in 1973 (when I was 10 and my dad was 43 and the final was the best of 75 frames, played out over five days: Ray Reardon beat Eddie Charlton 38-32). In 1973 the tournament was sponsored by Park Drive, and it took place at the City Exhibition Hall in Manchester.IMAG2448

It was a crazy affair. No one was told to turn off their mobile phone (possibly because they hadn’t been invented) and only a few frames of the final were televised. My dad took me along in the early days of the tournament, Round 1, when there were loads of tables on the go, separated by partitions, and you could wander freely from table to table, just hanging around and watching before moving on to wherever the most shouts were coming from. And if you wanted a player’s autograph you just went up and asked; not at the end of the match, not even at the end of a frame as the referee re-racked, but as a player sat glumly sipping a pint and sucking a Park Drive, whilst his opponent did all the work at the table. Here’s the autographs I got in 1973.

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There’s Jackie Rea and Pat Houlihan (Pat won 9-2, but went on to lose 16-3  in the second round to Alex Higgins), Dennis Taylor and Cliff Thorburn (Thorburn won 9-8), John Dunning and David Taylor (Taylor – known as the Silver Fox many years before Phillip Schofield claimed the title – won 9-4), Jim Meadowcroft (who had a walkover since his opponent Kingsley Kennerley withdrew), Maurice Parkin and Warren Simpson (Simpson won 9-3), Bernard Bennett and David Greaves (Greaves won 9-8, before losing 16-1 to 59 year old Fred Davis), and Geoff Thompson and Graham Miles (Miles won 9-5). I collected autographs from 14 of the 16 players in the first round. The only ones I missed out on were Perrie Mans and Ron Gross. Maybe next year.

In 1974 the tournament was held at Belle Vue in Manchester. How lucky was I, at the ages of 10 and 11, to have the World Championship so close to home two years in a row! (In 1976 it went to Australia). More autograph pestering was in order.

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 And this time Perrie Mans was there. Also some of the big hitters; Fred Davis, Rex Williams, John Pulman, Eddie Charlton, John Spencer, Ray Reardon!

And, down at the bottom, another Charlton (not Eddie) was there as a spectator: Bobby Charlton!

But here, in close-up, is the star autograph:

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“Best wishes & good luck, to Simon Hickson from Alex Higgins”.

Well!

I was only 11. I blew it really, my once in a lifetime meeting with The Hurricane. He took time to talk to me. I remember him asking my name, and then I remember him saying “Hickson, it’s a bit like Higgins isn’t it”. And all I said back was “No”.

Things changed once it moved to Sheffield. We’d still go, me and my dad. I’d race home from school, he’d race home from Trafford Park where he worked at GEC, and we’d do the drive over Snake Pass to The Crucible. But you couldn’t get to the players anymore. The Crucible wasn’t some vast exhibition centre where you could come and go. The Crucible was a Theatre! But still, in the earlier sessions, there was a partition, and two tables in action. My dad (phoning to book tickets? Or applying by post? or Pigeon? This is a long time before computers) would always try and get us seats that straddled the partition, giving us the chance to watch two matches at once.

A little aside on the business of getting tickets: My dad once went to see a round robin match; six players taking it in turn to play each other. He got tickets for a match featuring John Spencer (three times World Champion; 69,71, and the first to win at The Crucible in 1977). He phoned up for the tickets and was told to pick them up at an address in Radcliffe. He drove out to the address and found himself at John Spencer’s house.

As I got older I started to play snooker more, and by the time I was at university, between 1980 and 1983, I was on a snooker team captained by my dad; Potters ‘B’, named after Potters Snooker Club above the Rialto in Salford, and ‘B’ for not being the ‘A’ team. I was away at Manchester University, but I’d see my dad once a week for our match. My dad was a strict but fair captain; three losses in a row and you’d lose your place, until the next team member lost three in a row. I spent a lot of time on the bench.

potters-001

Along with the Salford District Snooker League weekly games were the individual handicap tournaments and the doubles tournaments (in which I’d team up with my dad). In the 1982/83 season my dad made it to the semi-finals of the Individuals tournament, and for this he got a trophy. The trophies were presented at an end of season bash, where there’d be a bit of entertainment hosted by the unusually haired Mick Miller.

Mick Miller The Comedians

And the trophies would be presented by… well, this was a special year. A young lad turned up to present the trophies, same age as me. 21 years old, a year on from losing 15-16 to Alex Higgins in the 1982 World Championship semi-final.

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Yes. Jimmy White.IMAG2547

Jimmy White with my dad.

This was May 1983. Three months later, in early August 1983, at the age of 54, my dad died of a heart attack.

I’ll be 54 this August and, in memory of my dad, I’m going to run the 10k Great Manchester Run, raising money for the British Heart Foundation.

If you can, please sponsor me. In memory of a snooker legend.