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ill title Bhuna and Burma

They say that all good things must come to an end but it's never an easy time when they do. My chicken-keeping career has now run its course and there will be no more. For the best part of three years, Korma, Tikka and Bhuna brought me many hours of fun, not to mention hundreds of delicious eggs, and whenever I looked out of my kitchen window to see them scratching around on the garden, or chasing off a rogue magpie after their tit-bits, it never failed to bring a smile to my face. I lost Korma just before last Christmas. She had never really recovered fully from a nasty respiratory infection and then I found her collapsed on the lawn one evening and she died within minutes. Tikka succumbed to an internal haemorrhage just a couple of months ago, but Bhuna seemed to be managing so well as a solo hen; she was always the strongest and most robust of the three.

But then when I returned from Angela's wedding weekend in Sussex, John, a wonderful neighbour and my stand-in hen-keeper, reported that she hadn't seemed her usual perky self and had spent most of the last day hiding under a bush. A trip to the vets, a course of antibiotics for a mild chest infection, but she was never the same again. She ate less and less, even ignoring her favourite treats of tomato, banana or mealworms and no longer did she have the energy to chase off the magpies. She looked forlorn, struggling to cope with the summer heat and I knew deep down her journey was run. We returned to the vets for the final time: it was likely that she was in kidney failure - they could do tests to confirm it but there was no treatment at her age. I stroked her black feathers for the final time and bade her a teary farewell but I knew it was for the best. I couldn't watch her suffer any longer.

I look back on my hen days with fond memories and console myself with the fact that they lived a life few chickens ever get to live. Fruit and vegetables would rain over the garden fence from the neighbours and every Sunday a carrier bag of potato and vegetable peelings would magically appear on my garden gate for consumption during the week.

I would love to have more but they are such a tie when you live alone. A night or two away and John was more than happy to lock them away at dusk and feed and water them, but chickens aren't renowned for cleaning up after themselves and any break of more than a few days requires quite a lot of housekeeping to keep things hygienic - it's a lot to ask of someone. So no more, but the silver-lining of this particular black cloud was that it gave me a little more freedom, and my running shoes were getting restless again.

It has been an expensive year. Any father with a daughter knows from the minute that she is born that there is likely to be a wallet-draining event some time in the future and would be best-advised to start preparing for it. In my own case, Angela's big day had come along quite a few years later than it might have done and a post-retirement pension lump-sum certainly helped to ease the burden. It was a magnificent day in a wonderful venue and even the sun chose to shine brightly on us all.

But now it was me-time, and a bit of a holiday. Those that know me know I'm not a beach, swimming-pool, gin and tonic type of person - for me it's a question of where could my running shoes take me next. With a little more freedom after Bhuna's sad demise, I could look further afield - but not for too long: I would still have to rely on John to look after my cat but at least she was capable of making arrangements for disposing of her own waste matter! Dublin, Lisbon and Berlin were all half marathon possibilities but the lure of something a little more exotic was strong. South America and Australia are definitely on my to-do list but these would both involve several running events and an extended stay away from home. In the end it was Asia that sucked me in again. China and Sri Lanka had both been magical experiences although the relentless itineraries of running for ten or more days in a row were probably beyond me now.

Burma popped its head over the horizon - the Bagan Temple half marathon in November. Just a week away from home, but the prospect of visiting a country that has been largely closed to Westerners in recent times. In contrast to the ice and freezing temperatures of Greenland last year, it would be a return to sweltering heat and humidity.

Whenever I consider running in a country that is not really on the tourist trail, my first port of call is to read the advice on the Foreign Office website, and then usually to ignore it and cross my fingers. Although political tensions have eased in Burma since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, there are still parts of the country that are strictly off limits. Fortunately, our itinerary took us nowhere near those. 'Railway equipment is poorly maintained; fatal crashes occur although they may not always be reported.' No problem there as there are no train journeys involved! 'There are concerns over safety standards of some airlines operating within Burma.' Not so good, as we have three internal flights scheduled. There is a high threat of terrorism and attacks could be indiscriminate, but then you could probably say that about London. The fact is that if I had taken heed of the advice before my trips to Jordan and South Africa, I might never have gone and, as a consequence, missed two fabulous experiences. Nothing in life is without risk and, as the Foreign Office site concluded, as long as you take sensible precautions, most visits are trouble-free. I signed the race entry form, booked my flights and, the next morning, passed on the news to my grand-daughter Holly who was staying with me at the time.

We looked at the globe to see where Burma was and, as is the way of the world these days, she immediately grabbed her mini-tablet computer and began to feverishly research facts about Burma.
"Grandad, did you know that there are still wild tigers living in Burma?" A pause, and then "Grandad, some of the world's largest pythons live in Burma."

And then a deep intake of breath before saying "You do realise that there are elephants living in Burma, don't you?" Then, with hands on hips, she delivered the final rebuke.

"Grandad, why do you always have to run in countries where dangerous animals live?"

It was a fair question and, one day, I hope she will understand.