Life, Travel

A Week in Norfolk

Sea Palling, a small village on the north Norfolk coast, used to just be called Palling. But a little re-branding took place in the Victorian era, to entice the growing number of tourists looking for coastal escapes from the big industrial smoggy cities. Like Staithes, on the Yorkshire coast, where we visited last weekend, this place also has a history of being a smuggler’s cove, with tea and other, more intoxicating, beverages being particularly popular.

We took a dip in its waters on Monday, this week, during our own little sojourn by the sea. When I say ‘we’, it was mainly me, although my brother’s wife, did venture quite close to the breaking foam. And when I say ‘dip’, I meant only my feet as it was the North Sea after all. I did manage to submerge my ankles for a few seconds, but had to channel my inner Wim Hof, to breathe through the freeze. What Sea Palling also had was a clean sandy beach where I could build sandcastles with my two year old niece. We never quite got to fortress level as, after each castle was built, it was summarily demolished so that she could enjoy the squish of the sand in her hands. And who could blame her, as this was her first ever experience of a warm sunny seaside.

We’re back home now and our garden has grown wild in the week we’ve been away, so Anne’s been pulling up some of the weeds while I’ve done a little mowing. We’ve left some of the grass long, but just cut paths through it, to encourage a few more insects and things. Actually, that was one thing we noticed when driving around Norfolk. There were definitely more splats on our windscreen than we’ve seen in a while. I rarely have to fill up the squirty water thing in the car any more, as the rate of windscreen kill has gone down, even in the last ten years.

However, I digress. I should not be writing this blog at all really, as my final assignment of the year is due this Thursday and I’ve still got tons to do on it.  But we had such a lovely time in Norfolk that I need to get it down somehow, in order to retain the memories.

We were there in a cottage with my brother and his family. It was more of a town house than a cottage but really well furnished, and sat with a small group of similar houses on a farm near Great Yarmouth. On-site facilities include an indoor pool, a huge play and games room, two BBQ areas, swings and slides and a generally massive field. So with a two-year-old and a nearly five-month-old there was little need or desire to go out and about too often.

So we didn’t. We only ventured out twice. To Sea Palling and later, to Cromer.

Cromer is a much larger seaside resort and, evidently, has a history of Victorian gentility, given the architecture. It has been going as a small town since at least the mediaeval times but really came into its own in the nineteenth century, even getting a mention in Jane Austen’s Emma, as desirable for ‘sea-bathing’. I do like a nice pier to watch the deeper waves crashing around from a safe closeness, and it has one of those. Not as long as Brighton’s but much calmer, as it has no crazy fairground rides.

Norfolk has many coastal resorts, and, of course, the Broads, for landlubbers like me to get excited about. I think we found two, contrasting but excellent examples, that certainly worked for us. The rest of the time, we relaxed at the cottage, had some friends come round who were local, played with the kids, and ate and drank very well. Anne got her pencils and paints out to do a little more sketching and I had brought my coursework. But most of all we were just enjoying spending time and getting to know our little niece and nephew, and their parents were just enjoying having a bit of a rest. The pool was a regular activity as it was warm, so we could even take the little one in.

On the way back, the two of us popped into Norwich, to have a little stroll around the Cathedral. There was an interesting art installation based on the life of Edith Cavell, a local woman and a hero of World War I. I had not really known her story before, but it is definitely worth looking up. Although I found the cartoonesque art work a little strange, her life sounded inspiring. She was executed by a German firing squad, and the night before her death she was quoted as saying,

Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.

The last four paintings in the series about Edith Cavell’s life

Those words just seem to cut through all the propaganda and jingoism that whip up countries into war time and time again. A fascinating woman.

Life, Travel, Walking

What I’ve Done (Lately)

As I lift my legs higher on a cushion after today’s long run, I realise that it has been two weeks since my last blog. Well that sounds like the beginning of a confession, so I had better get it all off my chest (fully recovered since the chaffing incident, in case you’re wondering).

Life, despite my best intentions, has been a little hectic of late, and I’ve barely had time to think, let alone sit and think about blogging. I have had the laptop open, but only to hammer out a few more words for the final essay on my OU course. It’s due in a couple of weeks and then I am done and dusted. Until next academic year that is, because I’ve decided to definitely do the second year and turn my Post Graduate Certificate into a Masters. I’m not sure whether it will translate to any writing jobs in the big wide world, but I’m enjoying the learning process, so I will carry on for a bit longer.

Also the WIFI went down for several days last week, which is, in this day and age, a bit of a catastrophe, and wasted half a day for Anne when she was passed from pillar to post on the phone, as they took an age to agree that it wasn’t just a case of switching it off and on again. We actually had to watch real time TV occasionally, which consisted of a random episode of NCIS and The One Show. The only good thing about this infringement of our human rights, was that I was able to work on my essay without getting distracted, but finally, the day came when a tall young man from Openreach with the most amazing long blond ringlets, sorted it out for us, by correctly reconnecting a cable on the outside of the house, that had been badly set up in the first place, only three weeks earlier. But at least we’re now back in the land of the living.

We also celebrated our grandson’s 3rd birthday last week. Anne made him a dinosaur and volcano cake as the boy is a walking dinosaur encyclopaedia. And earlier in the week, we took him to his happy place at Chester Zoo, where, in between watching the animals, he ran the legs off himself, and me. He had his first experience of the Bat house, and was not freaked out by the darkness at all, but was gutted that he couldn’t see the bats faces as they were too far away!

We had a glorious time away, this weekend just gone, with old work colleagues and most of the folk who walked the Coast to Coast with me back in 2015. Only John was missing from the original Six Pack. The weather, near the village of Appleton-le-Moors where we stayed, had promised to be dry but overcast. In the end, the sun came out in such a way that we could enjoy a very pleasant eight+ mile walk on Saturday including two pit stops at the beer gardens of some very fine public houses. On Sunday, Anne, Helen and I left the others doing another walk, and we ventured into the tiny but picturesque town of Staithes, on the east coast above Whitby. The previous day Helen had given Anne her first art lesson, and as we sat on a bench with our teas and coffees, there was another impromptu lesson. Watching the two of them, I got inspired and attempted to draw what I saw in words. It was just a basic description but it was nice to record the families on the sand, the two dogs gleefully gambolling in the waves as their humans threw them a ball, and the boats bobbing lazily up and down. I feel I need to do this kind of thing now more often, whereas before I would have enjoyed the day and then promptly forgotten about it.

That same Sunday morning, which also happened to be Mother’s Day for most of the rest of the world, my grandma, who last year had celebrated getting a telegram from the Queen, peacefully died, just two weeks short of her 101st birthday. I wrote a small piece about her last year, and, of course we’ll miss her, but she has led such a long and remarkable life that we won’t feel sad for her, just for ourselves. That evening though, we raised a glass to her.

So in amongst that whirlwind, I’ll bet you’re wondering how my running is going? Even if you’re not I’m going to tell you anyway. Not all that brilliantly, unsurprisingly. I’m still trying to get one long run each week, and then I’ve managed about two more quickies in the week. The length of the long run is getting harder, and I think it will take a few weeks to stop my legs getting bushed. I can’t even say it’s going to pick up again next week, as we’re currently in the middle of packing to go on holiday. Again. This time with my brother and his family, for a week on the Norfolk coast. That was the reason I got this week’s big one completed today: a slog of a twelve miler. Tough but it’s in the bank.

Life is hard, but although I’m not getting out and about in my trainers all that much, my final piece of course work is actually about my marathon running experience, so I will get my fix one way or another.

Life

Henry, Henry and Henry

I’m sitting on the sofa, with my legs raised up higher than my bum, and making a mental note not to use a crop top as a sports bra for a long run again.

Chafing is not pleasant, and I would always recommend getting good kit for anything longer than an hour, but I was too lazy to dig my normal long-run sports bra out of the unsorted, clean washing pile. I was actually not going to talk about running at all today but I needed to get that off my chest. Literally.

We just got back, yesterday evening, from three days in Stratford, enjoying back-to-back Shakespeare evenings. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) were putting on a slightly squashed down version of Henry VI. There are three parts to this play normally, but they’ve squeezed it into two three-hour episodes called Rebellion and War of the Roses.

My knowledge of this section of English history is really hazy. I get the gist of how Henry V wins most of France after his odds-defying victory at Agincourt, and my history A-level comes back to me after Henry VII battles his way to the throne, but the stuff in between is all a bit complicated. Which kind of explains why Shakespeare needed to write three full plays just to explain one king’s reign.

What I should have done was try and dig out the Spark notes and figure out who all these dukes of Somerset and Warwick and Gloucester, etc. were and what their beefs were with each other. What I actually did was get out and about the lovely town with Anne to enjoy the multitude of swans a-swimming down the river Avon, and the fine food and wine that could be savoured.

The days were chilly but dry, and because we were there mid-week and out of season, the place wasn’t crawling with other tourists. We had a nose around what was left of the house that Shakespeare had built after he made it. There was nothing left of ‘New Place’ as he called it, rather uninventively, apart from the footprint and the gardens, but they were nice gardens and there were an interesting set of sculptures displayed about the place.

The small town of Stratford-upon-Avon is brimming with all things Shakespeare, as you might expect, but it is very pretty as well, and worth a trip if you’re kicking about the Cotswolds or the Midlands area.

There are lots of places to eat and drink, including a wonderful, not-for-profit Portuguese cafe, that we visited twice, and a Michelin-starred restaurant, Salt. We were lucky to get a lunch at Salt on our final day as they’d just reopened after a refurbishment. I recommend the 4-course tasting menu because, not only are there some really beautifully arranged and sumptuous plates, they also generously add some divine amuse-bouche and an extra sweet if you finish off with teas and coffees.

So, as you see, revising Henry VI was not up there on my to-do list, and although I did ask Anne, every now and then, as to which lord was which, I managed to follow the proceedings pretty well. We made it a bit difficult for ourselves by watching the two plays back to front, but still, I got the story. The acting was terrific, particularly the guy playing Richard, who will later become Richard III. He’s the bloke that is shockingly denigrated by Shakespeare, because his patrons needed to justify their positions on the throne. So Elizabeth I’s grandad, Henry VII, needed to look like a hero to Richard’s demon. We are coming back in July to watch Richard III and the same man is playing him, so I’m really looking forward to it.

As to these plays, the basic plot is this:

Henry 6 was a baby when his dad, Henry 5 died, so the country’s been ruled by some dukes until he came of age. However, because Henry’s grandad, Henry 4, came to the throne a bit dubiously, and because Henry 6 isn’t all that capable of being King even though he’s now old enough, and because his arranged marriage to Margaret of Anjou has lost a big chunk of France, there is some jockeying for power amongst all these dukes, several of whom have pretty decent claims to the thrones themselves, owing to being part of large families and a bit of in-breeding.

The strongest of these claims is with the Duke of York, Richard (Richard III’s dad), and many of the nobles want him to be Regent and then King in his own right when Henry 6 pops it. However, Henry’s got a son, Edward, and Margaret is rather unhappy that Edward’s been kicked off the podium. So she raises an army to reinstate him. There are a whole bunch of battles, one of which kills off Richard, but his sons then get stuck in, eventually win the day, and another Edward (Richard III’s elder brother), is crowned King. Easy really!

These are not plays that you can easily fall asleep in with the amount of warring going on. But besides the action, there is an interesting exploration of power and kingship, and what it means to be a good ruler. We thoroughly enjoyed it all, and it’s made me want to go and read up on this section of history a little more.

I’m going to start by reading ‘Cecily’, a novel by Annie Garthwaite. It looks at all the events above, from the perspective of the wife of the Duke of York. Anne’s read it and loved it, so I’ll crack on with that, perhaps while I’m waiting for these sore bits to calm down.

Life

A Room of One’s Own

I have always had a strange fantasy of being holed up in a nondescript motel room, with only basic amenities. And this was well before Schitt’s Creek made motel living chic. And it has finally came true.

Westbound M4 Heston Service Station – Our home from home
(https://motorwayservices.uk/Heston)

I know, as fantasies go, it is a bit of a weird one. It ties in with another idea of living in a nun-like cell with just a bed, and few possessions. 

What does that say about me?

I have a happy, unhurried life, and to be fair these dream scenarios haven’t been longed for in a few years. But I think it stems from the many, and mostly wonderful, but sometimes overwhelming, diversions and distractions we have around us.

I know I’m exceedingly lucky to have so much on offer in front of me (or should I say, had so much, now that I’ve seen the new energy bills!). I also know that I have the propensity to fritter away time and be distracted by nonsense that is forgotten moments after it has been consumed.

Virginia Woolf writes, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. I think of that and feel guilty about having such freedoms and not making good use of them.

This afternoon, thanks to Storm Eunice, we have just come back from spending a full day and an extra night at a Travelodge on the M4 by London, and it was wonderful. There was zilch in the way of anything to do, other than read and write. Luckily Anne is also very self-contained if she has a good book on the go and I was able to spend the day cracking on with course work.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, I’ve embarked on a post-graduate certificate with the Open University, doing Creative Writing, and the past few months have been a revelation.

When I did my first degree, all those years ago, I was rubbish at doing the work required, and I scraped a 2:2 for my non-efforts. Since October this time, I’ve been determined to create a different narrative for myself. I have always used the line ‘I don’t have the self-discipline’ whenever I’ve come across things that need a bit of hard work and effort.

I’ve picked up writing in the past, and put it down again because to sustain it and develop my skills needed practice and perseverance. I have tried fitness regimes, joined gyms, and wasted good money on not keeping it up.

So why is this course different?

I have learnt, at a fundamental level, that writing requires a huge amount of practice and perseverance. There is a modicum of aptitude to begin with, but not many people would have chosen this course if they didn’t have a toe in the water. It makes sense. You can’t be a painter, without learning all the techniques that have come on before.

So this is the thing. Why haven’t I given up yet? I think, partly because I’ve handed in two pieces of work and got good marks. A pat on the back when you’re working on something always helps, even when you’re an adult. I’ve also got into the habit of writing a blog every few days for a year, so that has helped my flit-about mind settle sometimes. And thirdly, the biggest revelation, is that I’m enjoying it. Now that is the most shocking thing!

Because I find (and this lesson has been learnt very late by me) that the more I do, the more I do! There are still plenty of times when I’m chewing the proverbial pen tip ( as  mostly I type). But it quickly passes as I just change how I think about it, if I don’t know how the beginning will be, I’ll write a paragraph on a bit that will be in the middle. Of course I’ll still make another cup of tea, do round of sudoku or three every now and then, but less so.

When Storm Eunice reached her full strength, our brief overnighter in the service station Travelodge turned into that slightly longer stint. And it may have appalled most people to find themselves stranded with just a few food shops, but our room had unlimited teas and coffee sachets, and a bath. I had my notebook and Anne had her kindle. Bliss.

Life, Running, Walking

Marathons – never say never again…

During the walk on Sunday, I managed to first convince myself to run another marathon, and then convince myself not to.

The walk took just over 3 hours and gave me ample time for vacillating. Just over 7.5 miles (12.25 km), so it was leisurely, with a couple of stops for using the facilities, or opening a coffee flask. Our group gets together periodically, and there is often a little venture out sometime around the New Year.

I actually got into this walking for pleasure lark with these very people, or some of them, when they decided to embark upon the challenge of doing the Coast to Coast walk in 2015. We did about 200 miles (as we got lost a couple of times) over two weeks, from St Bees in the North West to Robin Hood’s Bay in the North East. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, when I wasn’t knackered, but it’s still something that I don’t do much of, except when someone asks ‘shall we do a walk?’. More often than not, it’s these guys.

This Sunday, we took in a chunk of West Wirral, starting at Thurstaston, along the beach towards West Kirby, and then back along the Wirral Way taking in the Dungeon (not actually a prison cell). The weather was cool but brilliantly sunny and dry; a perfect walking day.

Some of the group are runners, so I wasn’t fully boring them with my contemplations. I think Brian was the main recipient. He has done a number of marathons in the past, and, having required the assistance of a medical tent at the end of his last two, he has knocked it on the head, at least for a while. I have no idea why I suddenly felt like I wanted to try one again, given that my only previous two attempts were back in 2015 (they sandwiched the walk – it was a busy year).

Reflecting on the good second experience in Athens (November), as opposed to the bad first one in London (April), I know that I enjoyed it because I was, for me, extremely fit. I had bagged a Half Marathon that September in just under 2 hours. So with all my London training, and with all that walking under my belt, Athens felt like fun. I ended up doing them both in about five and a half hours, but I was running with a friend for the second one, and we ran at her pace.

Perhaps there is a part of me that wants to get under five hours, because I know I could have done in Athens. Perhaps the pain of training is so far away that I’ve forgotten that I hated it (not at all like childbirth – but you get my drift). At a couple points, during our perambulations, I was seriously close to going home and signing up for something this September.

But, as the walk progressed, and we climbed up a hill, and my right hip started to twinge a bit, I realised that, before I even start contemplating crazy things like that, I need to get myself to a level of fitness that hasn’t been in my body in over six years. It’s not unachievable, but I’m going to give it more than a few months.

Still, September 2023 in Berlin, around my 50th birthday, may be calling to me?

Life

Week 1

And whoosh! A whole week of the year has gone in the blink of an eye!

Not quite; I did have my eyes open but, after all the festivities and anticipations of the new year, it does seem to have come to this point very fast.

I think it has something to do with the previous 10 day isolation. That long ago time of glorious relaxation. Nobody to see, nowhere to go, and, luckily, no real symptoms to manage. Plenty of nice food and wine. For an anti-social sod like me it was heaven!

Although, to be fair, we were completely and totally ready to leave the house on New Year’s Eve  to spend a delayed Christmas/New Year with Anne’s eldest in London. But, after a couple of days there, a night in Leicester at my big sister’s, two days babysitting of our grandson, who, despite my fitness, can run the legs off me, and a trek into the wilds of Sheffield today, to see our new nephew, I’m ready for a warm flannel and a lie down again.

There was one day at home in that list above, but it was spent getting a bit of running done and batch cooking a chili for my brother’s freezer, as they will be busy enough over the next few weeks without having to cook.

It was so lovely to see them all, but getting there was a tad hair-raising, given the snowfall en route in the Peak District. Anne tells me it was quite breath taking. I had no idea as I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road ahead!

Snowy hills on the way to Sheffield.
Travelling to Sheffield, or is it the Alps?!

I know that I hadn’t set any official resolutions this year, but I need to pull myself out of the December lard, so I thought the two challenges I completed in January last year feel like good place to start. Adriene, my personal YouTube yoga teacher, does a new 30 day challenge each year and very kindly she begins it on the 2nd of the month for those who may have imbibed too much. I’ve managed to get on the mat every day so far, and already my lower back twinges less and my calves feel less tight. The other challenge is running 100 miles. Currently, I’m quite behind where I’d like to be, but hopefully, I can build it up as the month continues. And what better motivation to get out early doors when I can see skies like this as dawn comes in.

Blue and purple skies in the morning during my run
Morning Glory

Happy New Year!

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.