Life

A Time of Reckoning

Well! What a year that nearly has been.

I’m sitting in the liminal space between Christmas and 2022, eating chocolate. Not just any chocolate. Not even M&S Chocolate. But home-crafted orange chocolate fudge courtesy of my wife.

Dreaded double line

To be fair there’s not a lot else to do given that we’re in the back end of isolation. Having finally been caught by Covid a few days before Christmas after it has ebbed and flowed in this country all year, our festive plans had to be radically changed, and instead of taking a sizeable section of a pig down to London to carve with Anne’s eldest and his family, we had to plead mitigating circumstances with the butcher and stay put.

Luckily, with our boosters, we’ve had not much more than light colds and Christmas was not fully cancelled. The two of us were well-stocked and once we had broken the bad news and other peoples plans were re-made, we have settled ourselves to a bit of a chilled out ten days, with fine food and liberal libations. Our trip to London is only postponed as we’ll be allowed out by New Year’s Eve so all is good.

A scrummy Christmas lunch even if it is just the two of us.

But while I have this time I’ve been pondering on the roller-coaster that has been 2021.

It began with mighty fine intentions and a resolution list that actually got publicly declared, so we’ll see how I did on that below.

January also gave us the very sad and all too sudden news that one of Anne’s brothers had passed away. Mark had Motor Neurone Disease but none of us were expecting him to go so soon.

At the end of March and into April, there were the beginnings of an inkling that my dad was poorly, and then several crazy months as things developed unbelievably quickly, culminating in his death, at the beginning of July. Intense times, but in the midst of those months, I spent a lot of time with my siblings. We always knew we had each other’s backs but it was good to know we got on so well during the stressful times, able to laugh together and cry.

Plus somewhere along the way, while my dad was sick, that little nervous Pomeranian, Rocco, who was spending his retirement with us, got suddenly ill and had to shuffle off this mortal coil too!

On a happier and momentous note, my amazing grandma turned 100 this year in May. We managed to pop down to see her for lunch at the beginning of this month, and as I asked her about her youth, she told me, with a glint in her eye, that she did go to school but she didn’t learn anything!

At the back end of July, I managed to stay in the tail-wind of two of my brothers-in-law as we cycled, over four days, from Lincoln to Liverpool to raise money for an MND charity.

In September we had a family holiday, a smaller version of the one we’d all planned at the beginning of the year, where we released our dad’s ashes to the sea, and toasted his life.

I also began a part-time Post Graduate course in September with the Open University, on Creative Writing. It will be for one or, if I do well and carry it on to a Masters, two years, and I’m very excited by it so far. I’ve no idea what it will do to me, or what it will open up for me, if anything. For a long time, I’ve thought that I liked the idea of writing, but was too much of a lazy sod to do anything about it. My regular blogging this year gave me that opportunity to begin practising the craft, perhaps developing a bit of a voice, and this course is my reward to myself. It’s a little bit very scary, because I’ll be putting myself out there to be judged by other people and I don’t know if I will pass muster. I also don’t know if I’ll give up, because it’s really hard work, and I know I can be a shirker. But for the moment, despite it being tough, I’m enjoying it immensely, and that will do for now.

Finally, this year has ended with a birth, to balance out some of the deaths. My brother and his wife (but mainly his wife) have just had another little addition to their family, and when we’re fully better, we are hotfooting it to Sheffield, to meet the little tot! Cannot wait!

So how did I do with my list.

Yoga
Well, I’ve done pretty well on the Yoga front although it still comes and goes in waves of effort. I can say that there has hardly been a week where I’ve done nowt of it, and quite a few weeks where I’ve practised four times or more. It is still a habit I’m trying to form and with the extra sitting on my buttocks that I’m doing for my course, I will need to try and keep the attempt going. Adriene will be doing another 30 day bobbins in January, and I’ve signed up for it yet again!

Running
I have run nearly 200 more miles this year than last year (842 miles), and actually, looking at my stats for all the years I’ve been running since 2013, it’s my second best mileage ever, so I’m fairly pleased. But given that’s included some busy off-months over the spring and summer, and a lazy arse December, I know I can do better. So I’m going to kick into the new year with another 100 miles attempt and work it from there.

WordPress
I still only know the basics, but that will suffice for now. I do need to try and push my ‘followers’ numbers up by remembering to advertise the fact that people can follow me.
Work in Progress.

Short Story Writing
That went out the window from dot, but I realised that I’m a bit pants at making stuff up. No. That’s not completely true. I find it really, really hard to do fiction and I’m much better at real life. This section of my course is fiction writing, and I have had a go at three first drafts just in this month alone. So I know it’s possible, if I give myself brain-ache.

Growing Vegetables
I grew nothing but Anne managed a pretty good crop in her first year. The Good Life beckons!

Learning Italian
I kept this up for three months. Which was quite good for me. Forgotten it all now.

Finally, as the small tips of muscles, I’d started to excavate, slide back into the folds of my skin while I demolish the chocolate, I won’t set up another list for next year as it feels like I’ve got a lot on my plate as it is. I’m pleased to have kept up the blogging though, as a mini record of this year, and that will definitely continue.

Fingers crossed it’s a calmer and more joyful year!



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Life

‘Tis the Season

So after my last post, all the way back at the beginning of December when I was feeling focused and energised and full of the joys of the festive season, I can report that I have since done almost diddly squat in the way of running. And the ‘almost’ is only in that sentence because of one piddly 3 miler that I did on Wednesday.

I managed, during that first week of December, a mighty fine 22 miles. Then Storm Barra brought more rain and winds and I’m only ever going to be a fair weather runner. So I battened down the proverbial hatches, laid the fire, and supped generously on the Baileys.

It wasn’t just the weather. I think that this is a thing that I do. Once I roll off the wagon at this time of year, regardless of how well it’s been going already, I subconsciously decide that I’m not getting back on again, until the beginning of January. I know it’s all psychological nonsense, but now that I have come to this decision, and because it’s only fifteen days until the New Year, I’m not going to beat myself up about it too much.

And yes, I know, it’s all about ‘little and often’ and ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ but, for now, while I’m drinking the Christmas fizz and exploring my Hotel Chocolat advent calendar (thank you so much Karen!), I’ve thrown the schedule out of the window and having a bit of a break.

Middle section of a chocolate roulade with cream and jam.
Mary Berry’s recipe – a Christmas winner every time!

And frankly, with all these storms recently hitting our shores, both literally and virally, now seems a good time to keep the chocolate cake coming and stay in a semi-permanent state of inebriation. We may as well drink it all at home as the number of party invites is dwindling, unless you’re a Tory cabinet minister.

Oh who am I kidding? I’m just not wired that way, thankfully. I can lard it with the best of them for a couple of days and then I start feeling antsy. And to be honest, my tolerance for alcohol is pants. Anything more than a few glasses and I’m rolling around in pain the next day feeling utterly sorry for myself.

So instead of running, I did manage one little cycle ride with some of the Pensby Runners cycling off shoot (PROBs) last week. And this week I have rediscovered the gym.

As Wirral Council are now taking the subs from my account for my gym membership after nearly two years of closure, I need to get my money’s worth. I did visit a couple of times this week and used some of their weight machines but I think I need to gen up again on what to do, to make this strength training useful to me.

I do occasionally harp on about strength training for women, especially older women, to ward off the likelihood of osteoporosis after menopause. But I am a bit rubbish at walking the walk, myself, on a regular basis. So while there are limits on the number of people allowed into the gym and I’m not up close and personal to too many oversized sweaty grunts, I shall look at several YouTube videos on how to do deadlifts without putting your back out, and the like, and start pumping some small bits of iron. In between eating my orange matchmakers.

Life, Running

Deck the Halls

Candle table dressing with holly, pine cones surrounding the candle.
Anne’s table dressing

Today is the first Saturday of December and every year that means only one thing. Wine in the fridge, fire laid for the evening, free Spotify playing random Christmas tunes in between the adverts, and finally, the boxes of assorted, accumulated decorations down from the attic.

This year, in a rare departure from tradition, we are not having a tree! I know, shocking, right? Normally, the two of us can be seen half carrying, half dragging a suitable specimen from the grocers at the top of the road. Then we have a cup of tea and a little lie down before dressing it with a cornucopia of baubles, bells and fairies. But this year, because we are spending Christmas down in London with Anne’s eldest, we thought we’d just decorate the house and splash some lights around the window and job’s a goodun.

Oh, if only life were so simple. How can a set of lights that we only bought last year, just stop working? And then, where are the ribbons that tied the long faux evergreen branch to the banisters? Plus, how on earth can Baby Jesus just disappear from the Nativity set when it’s all been wrapped carefully and put away so well?? Hmmm, not the kind of miracle I was hoping for.

The day has turned cold, rainy and really rather windy. Perfect for justifying an indoor fire, and a little glass of Christmas Baileys maybe sooner rather than later at this rate. At least I can feel smug about getting my run done this morning.

In between the rain showers, I got out for a rather nice 10K, but I ran it a good two minutes slower than my previous run, a couple of days ago. I spotted quite a few arboreal casualties of last weekend’s Storm Arwen on my canter out. As we were in London, we didn’t realise how strong it was here. My last run felt tough and I was exhausted all day after. This time my legs felt very comfortable and I didn’t feel tired at all by the end, a brilliant feeling and a good reminder to me that going slow and building up the mileage is the key. If I do just a little one tomorrow, I’ll get easily over twenty miles this week which will be a mental boost.

But back to the decorations. Neither of us is now going to venture out on this squally afternoon just to buy lights, so that will have to wait a while. In the meantime maybe we’ll put up some good old fashioned candles. We’ve found all the other bits and Anne has done a fine job of tastefully bedecking our downstairs.

I don’t know how much of it will remain so tasteful, given that we have the grandson on Monday and Tuesday but for now it’s all looking lovely and festive. The wind can holler outside as much as Maria Carey is hollering inside, but it really is starting to feel a lot like Christmas now.

Life, Travel

A Night on the Town

In Downton Abbey, they always used to talk about going ‘up’ to London, even when they lived in Yorkshire. I have read somewhere, and it may even have been true, that this was to do with the start of the railway lines. Even though the first trainline built in the UK was between Liverpool and Manchester, the original ‘main’ lines emanated from London. The ‘up’ trains travelled to London, while the ‘down’ trains travelled away.

I pondered all this while we sat stock still on the M6, last Friday, waiting for an accident, a few miles down the road, to be cleared out of the way, thinking, a train ride would have been a better idea. I was also wondering if I was going to miss my birthday present.

Anne had given me just a card on my actual birthday, but written inside, in her loopy letters, was a description of what I’d be getting. A night in the West End, with tickets to see a play and hotel nearby so we didn’t have to navigate the tubes or buses back to her son’s in Mill Hill. Excited much? I’ll say.

As we watched the cars on the other side of the barrier flow freely by, I attempted to reconcile myself to the possibility of missing the play: we would still have the hotel; we could still go out for a meal; I can’t really miss what I haven’t seen. I had almost got to a point of zen when the traffic finally started shifting and we did, just, get to town in time.

The Gielgud Theatre is a beautiful baroque style building, on Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End, and just a walk away from our hotel in Holburn. As we don’t get out much, the crowds on the street were a little overwhelming. But many of the Christmas lights were on, or maybe it’s this sparkly all year round, so we started to feel the spirit of a Friday night in London.

Christmas is coming

The play we came to see was The Mirror And The Light, adapted from the Hilary Mantel book, the last part of the Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. We had seats in the stalls with excellent views of an excellent cast, including Ben Miles as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII.

I haven’t watched many adapted books on the stage and I find it intriguing to see how it’s done. Obviously, great swathes of the book, which is the longest of the three, were removed completely. Many of the characters were also dispensed with, or given a token appearance, to move the plot, or highlight the underlying politics. They gave more prominence to Cromwell’s ghosts and making his father the axe man in order to allow him to say the star line was clever. Plus they began the play near the end of the book which worked very well, starting in medias res (in the midst of things), a term I’ve just learnt on my course so I can bandy it about proficiently.

Walking back, after 11pm, the multitudes were still milling. But, whether it was the interval wine, or the absorption in the play, we felt ourselves in concert with them, rippling out into the convivial night.

A side street, showing lots of people and red lanterns hung all the way down.
Party in the streets

It was a really wonderful evening, and definitely made me want to venture into the heart of the Big Smoke a little more than I have done. But maybe next time, we will take the train.