Life, Running

A Rush of Blood

It’s been a bit of a week.

Anne has banned me from running until Monday. It would have been a lot longer but I start the first session of a Runners Movement Workshop then and I can’t miss that.

A bit harsh you might say but probably necessary given that I managed to faint (for the first time ever) after giving blood on Tuesday.

So here’s the thing. I’m not squeamish at all, I don’t mind needles, and I find the way the clear tubes running from my arm suddenly turning a ruby red absolutely fascinating. So this wasn’t one of those kinds of faints. I’m actually still pondering as to why it happened at all as I’ve given blood in the past, perfectly successfully, when my iron levels haven’t been too low.

An NHS screen in the main hall of Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight
Getting ready for the prick test

I’ve had a knock back on that score a few times. That swift and surprisingly painful prick test that they do to see if your globule of blood sinks in the liquid or not, has been a barrier that I’ve sometimes not been able to surmount. I’ve seen my little drop, lie atop the liquid happily treading water, showing zero signs of containing any heavy elements.

This time, I watched it drop in, think about swimming for a second or two, before deciding to descend gracefully to the depths. The iron tablets that I take sporadically were obviously working.

The actual giving blood bit, which takes around ten/fifteen minutes, was also successfully administered. It was only after, when I sat in a chair to quaff the squash and munch on the orange Club that I began to feel a little strange. Having never fainted before, I didn’t realise that this strangeness (a light dizziness that grew in intensity) was the precursor to finding myself on the floor, on my back with my legs elevated on a stool.

The nurse had helpfully pulled a screen around me to shield my position from inquisitive onlookers, and, probably, to not put off potential blood donors. And actually, the two nurses were amazing.

It was about half an hour or so before I felt well enough to sit up without getting seriously woozy. Anne had come to pick me up in the car, as I’d walked over to Hulme Hall, where the donations were happening that day.

There were a few reasons which, all put together, could have made me keel over then, but as the nurse had told me that I was being banned from giving blood in the future, or words to that effect, I now wish I’d considered them before.

Firstly, there were a lot of family events that weekend, which had involved a bit of alcohol being consumed. The last of which was on Monday. Now, I’d drunk a lot of water to compensate throughout the weekend but some of it must still have been sloshing in my system. Secondly, I’d eaten quite a big lunch, not long before going to give blood, and I’m wondering if it had been a bit of a shock to the digestive system while it was still going about its work. Third and fourthly, I’d been a small, very gentle 2.5 mile run in the morning, and the hall was a tad warm, as the weather was a little more than clement that day.

My favoured position, for the rest of Tuesday, was definitely horizontal, but the next day, I felt completely fine, apart from the tiredness. I figured that I’d be well enough to get to the track session that’s held at the club every month, on Thursday night.

I’ve only ever done one of these before so I desperately wanted to go. As it was at the Oval, I jogged over very slowly. I promised Anne that I’d stop as soon as I felt at all odd. It was a mix of fast and slow runners from our club, but I’m glad the slower runners had come to give it a go. It can feel pretty intimidating, especially as young kids whizz past you on their own training sessions. But doing a regular speed session, whatever your ability, is a crucial way to help develop you as a runner.

Part of a running track in the the evening.
A glorious evening at the Oval (where they filmed Chariots of Fire)

I was somewhere in the middle of the group with my running ability and the kids were still sailing past me, but I’ve got to the point where I’m comfortable with other people doing their stuff. As one of the women there said, when she’d come last in a 20 mile race in preparation for a marathon. How many people can say they ran 20 miles?

The longest distance Mark got us to run this evening was 1 mile. I managed it in nine minutes, which I was pleased with. The shorter, faster runs after this were what started to undo me, and I decided to call it quits a little before the end. I was fine but I got Anne to pick me up again, just to be on the safe side, which was when she banned me for the rest of the week. Obviously, in her case it was two strikes before you’re out.

So, there is no moral to this story, other than to appreciate that your body does amazing things and we should treat it with enormous respect, and perhaps to time blood donations a little more sensibly.

Life, Travel

Cycling to Malpas – and Back

Note to self: do more pelvic floor exercises, or ‘kegels’ as the Americans call it. That final section, back on the tow path to The Cheshire Cat, was bumpier than it had felt on the way out. But it was also nearly the end, and that was something I was ready for.

I didn’t have enough charge in my phone to take stats properly, but this is a close gestimate of the route.

Given that I had done around 38 miles on the bike and that I managed to keep up with the main group, after a year of no cycling, was a pretty good feeling. It was around this time last year, that I did the four day trip from Lincoln to Liverpool, and since then I had big intentions to keep the cycling going but ended up doing a whole sweet nothing.

Thinking back, I’m not sure how I managed to get in the saddle at all on day two of that trip. This time around, knowing that I had finally committed to a ride with PROBs, I pumped up the tyres the day before and cycled to the River Park where I volunteer. That was only two miles each way, but it was enough to give me some bruises in the undercarriage.

I didn’t realise until the following day when I clambered on my metal steed, to do the short mile to Port Sunlight station, that I was sore. I nearly gave up then, especially as it had started to rain, but I womaned up, and set off.

A few days prior, I’d put a post on the Facebook page for the group, that I was catching the 09:31 to Chester, mainly to let them know I was going, and also to see if anybody would be on the train too, but no-one had replied to the affirmative. Then, as I got into Chester station, the one person I’d spotted in a carriage further down, had nimbly lifted his bike up and down the steps of the footbridge and pedalled off ahead. I decided to still cycle to The Cheshire Cat, the official starting point, and figured I could at least have a cup of tea if no-one was there.

The towpath is really close to Chester Station but I managed to overshoot the entry and had to double back to find it. This section of the Shropshire Union Canal was built in the 1770s, joining the Dee estuary to Nantwich. Back in the day it must have been a busy thoroughfare carrying various goods from the port, inland on the barges, but today it’s a sleepy backdrop. There were a few, moored boats, and one or two put-putting along lazily, but there was more action on the towpath, as I weaved past dog walkers and a couple of buggies, and skilfully managed not to fall into the canal.

Rolling into the grounds of the pub, I needn’t have worried about being billy-no-mates, as there were about twenty bikes leaning on the garden furniture. A few guys were milling outside but the rest of the crew were inside having teas and coffees. I even spotted the guy on the train. He hadn’t seen my post and didn’t realise I was part of the group.

Lots of cyclists outside the back of The Cheshire Cat
The women aren’t visible here as they’re inside drinking coffees (or being late – Sue)

I think I’ve mentioned this in another blog but PROBs stands for Pensby Runners On Bikes. This offshoot group has been going quite a while and a few of them don’t run at all now but they meet most Thursdays for a day’s cycle ride, and for occasional longer excursions. They’re a varied bunch, made up of retirees or people who can work flexibly. And their cycling abilities range from very good to amazing.

From the pub, the official route was a circular 35 miles to Malpas and back, but some of the group had cycled from home. The ride leader, Mark, a retired Paediatrician, had cycled all the way from Wallasey (I think?) which would have added another 20+ miles on each way! And another guy who introduced himself, Ali, did a whopping 94 in total. That would have been seriously intimidating but luckily a lot of the group had put their bikes in the car and driven over. My route along the tow path added another 3 to the base total, so that was a little extra.

There is something wonderful about cycling in a group when you’re not a confident road cyclist. It feels so much safer, given how impatient English drivers tend to be, and I knew that if I had a puncture or anything, I wouldn’t be alone to fix it. It was all the more lovely yesterday, as the rain, after that first fall, held off, and the roads we went along were nearly empty. I was at the rear at the beginning where Janine gave me company, but as I warmed up, I was pleased that I wasn’t holding the rest back, and I was getting up some of those hills a lot better than I would have done a year or two ago.

Beeston Castle entrance. Two round towers connected by a walkway and a door beneath.
Entrance to Beeston Castle

Not long after passing Beeston Castle, we stopped for lunch at The Bickerton Poacher. I was peckish so only ordered a starter of garlic mushrooms and a chunk of posh bread and was heading to sit outside with Janine and Sue, when we saw Seta sitting on the floor being given some Coke to drink. Apparently she had fainted some moments before which was worrying. But within our party we had a retired doctor and a nurse, and by the end of the hour she was feeling well enough to carry on.

I was hoping that we had passed halfway by lunch time but as you can see from the map it wasn’t quite. It had been an hour and a half’s good riding to that point and I was feeling bushed already. But after lunch we had another two hours to get back, and our highest hilly bits as we headed into Malpas.

Malpas is a small and very pretty market village, existing before the Domesday book records of 1086. It has some lovely buildings and a mediaeval church, and once upon a time contained a castle to ward off those marauding Welsh. The first castles along the border were constructed quickly by the Norman conquerors of England, out of wood, and only some were converted to stone later. Malpas was not one of them.

We were travelling in one largish group of about ten and a couple of smaller, speedier groups. Run leader Mark was doing a brilliant job of whizzing off ahead to wait at the next junction so we didn’t get lost. Occasionally he would pootle along with some of us at the back. He seems a serious fellow, not one for idle nattering, but kind and attentive. I was explaining about my Creative Writing course to him and foolishly offered to send him my first chapter of a piece I’ll be developing in my second year. I’m not sure he’d like it, as it isn’t written in a serious vein, but I’ll give it to him anyway.

I had felt really sluggish when I had got on my bike after lunch but had gained a second wind for most of the journey back. However, by the time we passed through the village of Saighton (how is this pronounced?) I was seriously flagging. When I recognised the final section, and knew we were close to The Cheshire Cat I was relieved although I was in desperate need for another wee.

Sue, en route, had very kindly offered to give me a lift back home, and although I could have carried on the extra three miles to the station, once she’d asked I was psychologically done for the day. As the last few of us finished the occasion off with another round of teas and coffees, Seta looked very well I’m pleased to say, and everyone around the table had that nice post-exertion glow.

I really hope I get my act together to jump on to more of these Thursday rides as it was a terrific day. I was exhausted, but in a nice way, and although my buttocks are still very bruised, I just need to remember how quickly you forget the pain once you get going.

Life, Running

Party Time

You know you’ve had a successful party when, despite two good downpours and the need to hold down the collapsible (and occasionally collapsing) gazebo when the gusts whipped up for a short time, everyone remains in good humour, and eats and drinks well. Such was the case yesterday, when some of Anne’s siblings and mine, as well as an assortment of nieces, nephews, children and a mother, over thirty people in total, came to ours for a family shindig.

We don’t have the biggest of houses, but we do have a nice long garden, so we were hoping for a continuation of the glorious week day weather for Saturday. The forecast, however, wasn’t looking all that happy. Sometimes it was rain all afternoon, with 30 mph wind gusts, sometimes the winds calmed down to 25. Either way, I was being a negative pain in the backside all week to Anne, who firmly believed another forecasting website, which painted a rosier future.

A toddler with a chocolate ice cream face and a chocolatey top
Alf, enjoying his nanny’s home made chocolate ice cream. He binned the empty cone

As it turned out we were both right, in parts. For the vast majority of the day, the rain held off, and a blue sky and jovial sun were frequently spotted. Our two families mingled, children ran amok, and our week long efforts to give the house and garden a really good spring clean were worth it. We’d borrowed some extra garden furniture from the neighbours, and brought down some of Alf’s toys that were waterproof and everyone went home happy.

Ironically, even though we were well stocked up on the booze, I only ended up having the odd glass of fizz or Pimms, because when you’re hosting, it’s no good getting too soporific until the puddings have been dished out. And surprisingly, despite my glum feelings for last week’s half, I felt like I still wanted to be clear headed enough to get a long run in today.

Is this a sign of maturity?

Probably not, but there has been a shift in my perspective. Possibly since I’ve had this bee in my bonnet about attempting another marathon next year. And as I’ve got another half at the beginning of September, I’ve not got much time to sit around.

Although I have zero wish to give up alcohol, I have noticed, in the last year or two, that it goes to my head much quicker, and makes my body, as well as my head, ache the following day if I have a few too many. It could all be part of the pre-menopause stage. Having three older sisters all currently going through ‘the change’, I’m being uber-vigilant for the signs in myself. However, as I’ve always had a memory like a sieve, and as my body lately seems set on dumping out my eggs more quickly than normal, I can’t work out if anything’s imminent.

At the rate the ‘free’ world is going, by the time I am in need of it, HRT will probably be a banned substance, and drug companies will probably be switching their product lines to Viagra.

But! Have a deep breath, and think back to the party.

What with one thing and another, it has been rather wonderful for the immediate clan to catch up on a purely social occasion. Anne’s mum, who is the final parent standing for the two of us, held court beneath the more sturdy, wooden gazebo, and it was so nice for our two families to sit and relax and get to know one another, while some smooth jazz playlist emanated from my little speaker. The last time we attempted it was four years ago, in March, when Anne turned sixty and our event was attacked by the ‘Beast from the East’, as that particular meteorological phenomenon was dubbed. At least we didn’t need any ice for the drinks back then.

Hopefully, it won’t be another four years ‘til the next party, but in the meantime, there are a few pieces of pudding to finish off.

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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