Archive for the ‘ Walking ’ Category

Black and white and red all over




Tree shadow, white wall and scooter boy

Well, what a week or so that was. It started with a job interview and ended with a canalside walk in the sunshine.

Before I get started, I warn you that I fear this is going to be one of those revelatory blogs. I’ve been drinking coffee with the odd drambuie liqueur, don’t feel like bed, do feel like chatting. Everyone else in my family is asleep. The laptop and this blog will have to suffice.

So, I’ll roll back 10 days to a job interview – my first proper one for a decade or so. I worried about what to wear, what to say, what to do with my hands.

The interview was held in the building where, as a young wannabe reporter 20 years or more earlier, I had turned up to try to land a place on one of the country’s best training courses. The sliding doors were still in place. Behind the desk was the same receptionist. And greeting me at the interview was someone who had worked alongside me all those years ago. He was the boss now. I couldn’t help joking about something that had happened two decades earlier. He didn’t laugh.

Anyway, the interview resulted in a job offer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but over the course of the next few days I got to really like the idea. In fact, I decided it was not just a job I wanted; it was the only thing I needed to make my life complete.

In fact, I decided the only thing stopping me accepting the job was my family circumstances. Curse them. For a few days I felt resentful and bitter. My ambition was being thwarted by my kids, without them even knowing about it. I’m ashamed to say I think I was even a bit mean to them as a result – older son would certainly argue I was a bit strict when on Thursday I banned him from riding his bike for a week for “being sullen”.

It took a while to work this out of my system. Even on Friday I was still in two minds about what to do. I knew there were genuine practical difficulties that would be extremely tough to overcome. The job would involve a two hour round trip every day. My hubby works over an hour away, and we have no family living nearby.

In fact there were more good reasons for turning it down than accepting it. Top of the list was the fact that I’d only wanted a part time position, which was not on the table.

Then I learned some terrible news and some worse news.

Someone I know and like (I’m reluctant to call her a friend only because we know each other purely in a professional capacity, but I know she is someone I’d like to have as a friend) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and fit and gorgeous. It is a cruel and horrid disease.

The news has made me more determined than ever to do my little tiny bit to help find a cure or prevent more women (and men) suffering. I’m proud to be “walking the walk” by taking part in the London Moonwalk in May, with all money raised supporting breast cancer charities and hospitals. It’s a 26 mile night walk. I am halfway through my training regime and woefully under prepared but this recent news has made me more determined than ever to knuckle down. After all, a few blisters and aching bones are nothing compared to what cancer sufferers have to put up with. Feel free to support my efforts if you can…

Then on Friday night I had a really vivid, bad dream. I woke up feeling really sad; at some point in my dream someone close to me died. I didn’t know who or how but it was a thought which stayed with me when I woke. I remember I posted a status update to this effect on my Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Two hours later my mum called to tell me my dad’s lovely cousin, Rachel (known as Ray), had died that morning. Ray had been hospitalised with a serious bout of pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas. We exchanged emails and commented to each other on Facebook, keeping up a regular dialogue. She had suffered a lot in recent years with illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but remained positive, upbeat and smiling throughout. She was the chronicler of my dad’s family history, the keeper of the flame…and suddenly, that morning, she was gone.

It is a terribly selfish thing to say, but her death helped me to see sense; to see the future I really wanted for myself and my family. This is nothing to do with sacrificing my own ambitions for my kids – I am horribly ambitious in some ways and determined to achieve success in my own right. But not at the expense of all the things that already make sense in my life; of all the things that already work well; and most of all of the precious time I get to spend with people who really matter.

So, I’ve turned the job down. It was never going to work; and the moment I pressed the send button on the email about my decision I felt relieved, rather than regretful.

Along the way between interview and today the muddy waters that have been swirling around me for months have suddenly cleared. For the first time in ages I realise what I want and how I’m going to try to achieve it. So thanks to everyone whose comments of support helped me along the way…you did help, enormously.

And so to that canalside walk earlier today. It was a simple stroll in the winter sunshine. The sky was a beautiful clear blue, like a Mediterranean sea. Trees were reflected in the still canal. I walked hand in hand with my lovely family, feeling the rays on my face. My heart was smiling. A corner had been turned.

White Blue


Blue sky thinking

Blue sky thinking, originally uploaded by Jane2020.

It’s been rainy – and sunny – then raining again today. A typical English winter’s day. It was therefore a promising day for catching up on The Killing (I’m three episodes behind), sorting out the office, playing games with the kids, and booking our annual Easter hols to our regular haunt; Woolacombe in north Devon.
Maybe when you were a child you and your family regularly visited the same seaside location, possibly in north Wales – Barmouth, anyone?
Well, this will be the place that my kids think of when asked about their own family holiday memories.
This year we nearly decided to give it a miss. We are trying to keep our finances in check, in readiness for my other half’s likely redundancy sometime in the next 12 months, and seem to have had a flurry of outgoings that were not predicted or planned, mostly house and motor related.
But as usual our hearts have ruled our heads, so we’ve gone ahead and booked the same little beachside apartment that we’ve visited for the last three years.
This level of routine and repetition is not like us at all. We make a point of never returning to the same holiday location when we go abroad, on the basis that there is so much of the world to explore, so why go back? But somehow Woolacombe has acquired a special place in our hearts.
We have never had a bad holiday experience here; the kids love it; the weather is invariably kind; it’s only 3 hours away; the pubs and cafes are ace; and most of all the beach is stunning, sandy and very long. The surrounding areas are equally beautiful.
We’ve also celebrated some landmark events here, including birthdays and my hen weekend, and know every street and nook and cranny (we think).
This photo was taken from the top of Potter’s Hill, which overlooks the town and beach. When I visit in April I will be just a few weeks away from taking part in The Moonwalk, a night walk marathon in London in aid of breast cancer, so I’ll undoubtedly be marching up and down here frequently in the final throes of training.
I will keep my fingers crossed for weather as glorious as it was on this day a year ago.

Spring is sprung – and I’ve won the lottery!

“Season creep” is the term describing the gradual process by which one season slowly but noticeably slides earlier and earlier into the next. (It’s not to be confused with the term “slimy creep”, which is when a dodgy bloke slowly but noticeably tries to slide his hand up your leg.)

Spring is the season we in England most often think of as “creeping”. Apparently the rate of “creep” has now reached a couple of days each decade.

This is good, yes? Soon the first day of Spring could well coincide with Christmas Day. January will truly be a month of new beginnings and renewal, instead of the dull, overcast, flu-filled drudge it is now.

Today was, I am convinced, the first day of Spring 2011.

I was fortunate enough to have a day completely devoid of commitments (at least, nothing I couldn’t put off.) So when I walked/dragged the kids to school this morning, blue sky overhead, fluffy clouds a-skittering, I knew it was going to be impossible to resist the lure of the outdoors.

Appropriately suited and booted, I set off from home at about 11am, the Fleet Foxes singing me a lullaby or two through my earphones.

Within minutes I was off-road, heading over the marshland skirting the edge of Kidderminster town centre, pictured above, towards the Staffs & Worcs Canal, which I followed to Wolverley village, about two miles away.

Halfway along, when I stopped to take a few photos, I spotted two discarded lottery tickets on the towpath. Out of curiosity I stooped to pick them up. They are in my pocket now. I assume one of them will prove to be the winning ticket. It will make a great story. (Should you care my “winning” numbers are 11, 26, 31, 42, 43 and 47 or 04, 25, 40, 42, 45 and 47.)

No, Mr Lotto, I don’t want publicity if I win. Oh. Oops.

Anyway, distracted though I was by thinking of where I’d travel to first with my lottery winnings, I carried on walking, reaching Wolverley Court bridge and lock a few minutes later. This is the approach towards the bridge.

It was a glorious day. I was lucky to be able to enjoy it, rather than be stuck in a centrally heated office.

I do count my blessings, I promise; I know I’m lucky to be able to enjoy days like this when it suits me. It also means me and mine will never be rich, not financially anyway. (Oh, except for the lottery millions heading my way.) But there is more to life…

Anyway, back to my theme – which is, or was, Spring. The realisation that Spring might, just, have sprung already, came quite a long way further on.

After passing the Lock pub (and resisting the urge to go in and order champagne all round in lieu of my upcoming lottery win) I headed across a field, bathed in sunshine.

Whatever seed had been sown there was beginning to come to life. Green shoots, standing in stiff rows, swayed gently, like overheated guards at the Changing of the Guard.

Now, I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to nature’s cycles, but I thought this was significant. I’m certain one of you can tell me what this crop is, if not bog-standard grass…and will also be able to tell me if it would be expected to come up yet? I am interested. Really. (No Latin names though…)

Here’s a picture of it, with sun streaming in to help it keep growing.

Anyway, an hour later I was back home, feeling like shite. Two hours after that I was taking my first antibiotic for a chest infection and dose of flu.

No wonder this walking malarkey was leaving me a bit breathless and knackered. Don’t worry though; now Spring is here I’ll be just fine.

I often get a bit of a cold or somesuch in January – I think it’s the payoff for being fit and healthy for the Christmas/New Year frenzy. Let me know if Spring has sprung in your neck of the woods. I’m expecting daffs by next week. Not that I’ll care – I’ll be in Australia, enjoying my winnings.

Climbing Clee: “If you don’t go, you won’t know” and other tall tales

“If you don’t go, you won’t know.” It’s an oft repeated mantra among mountaineers and explorers – and has long been a favourite saying of the Man in our house.

It’s what tumbles out of his lips, unbidden, every time he sees me casting a wary eye over the weather forecast on the eve of a proposed outdoor adventure. “They’re wrong 50% of the time,” he says. “I prefer to just do what they did in the olden days – stick your head out of the door and see for yourself. And then go anyway.”

So I did. This morning. And, like my ancestors before me no doubt, I decreed that as my head was getting wet it was, in fact, raining. Thus, a walk up the Titterstone Clee (renowned locally for being bleak, windy, remote and completely lacking in shelter), with two kids in tow, was probably not such a good idea.

I trotted off back to my still-warm bed and plotted a grand day in – listening to the radio, catching up on some reading, playing a family boardgame, building the Taj Mahal out of lego, maybe even doing a bit of work…bliss.

Two hours later, I had lost all feeling down the left side of my face. Not a stroke – that might have come as a blessed relief – but the result of being lashed in the cheek by galeforce, icy winds. My hood kept getting blown back, my wet hair was whipping into my eyes and my jeans were soaked through.

Littlest boy was just behind me, plaintively crying out: “I just want to go home,” while his stoic elder brother was yomping on ahead, leading us through the storm towards the summit.

Titterstone Clee, for those of you from further afield, is a famed landmark in my part of the world. It’s the third highest hill in Shropshire, standing a paltry 533m high, but is also perhaps its most unattractive. It is scarred by old mining works and is also home to a radar station, including the uber spaceage “golf ball” satellite, which helps control air traffic. Some 2,000 people used to work in the mines hereabouts – now its home to a handful of radar station staff and thousands of sheep.

It’s a peculiar place to be in a rainstorm. It is close to civilisation – a road runs to the radar station on the summit – yet it seems particularly desolate and bleak. Today it was foggy, dark and downright spooky.

On a clear day it provides fantastic views across England and Wales. From the top it is possible to see all the way to the mountains of Snowdonia, the Peak District, Cotswolds, Malvern Hills, Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. Today we could not even make out the road, mere feet away.

We’d brought a beautiful new kite with us, hoping to take advantage of the wind to send it soaring into the sky. It was too windy to even take it out of the bag.

We’d also brought a flask of hot chocolate and a picnic, in the vain hope the rain would miraculously clear and we could breathe in the refreshing air while feasting on Philadelphia sandwiches and bananas. It was too cold to stop, even to catch our breath.

I’d brought my camera with me, with grand plans to take some multiple exposures of the radar installations while also photographing the kite flying antics. These quick snaps were the best I could do without drowning all the equipment.

We didn’t even make it to the true summit. This picture of the radar installations, just metres below the summit post, shows how close we got.

All in all we were out of the car for a paltry 45 minutes. It felt like hours. The littlest was crying, the eldest was soggy, my mission to capture our day on camera was thwarted.

But hubby – he was pleased. Apparently, we could now be delighted because we had “put a deposit in the bank of weather” and so were now “in credit”. (I’m not making this up. This is what my husband told me, seemingly forgetting I am 42, not four…)

On the bright side, once we got back to the car and turned the heating on full, we had a lovely half hour watching the rain continue to lash down and gazing as an impenetrable fog cast a ghostly pall over the entire hill.

While tucking into the picnic and slurping down the hot choc, we all sang along with the only CD in the car, a home-made reggae Christmas album (sample lyric: “On the first day of Christmas JahJah gave to me, a garden full of sensei”). The kids know it off by heart. I live in dread of the day the Reception class teacher quizzes me about my littlest boy’s knowledge of ganja and weed.

This hiatus also gave me a chance to share memories of my first boyfriend, Morris, who had the middle name Clee as he was conceived in Clee Hill village. This was long before the Beckhams made this slightly queasy concept fashionable.

My three month relationship with Morris, aged 11, consisted of him walking me to my bus after school every day and giving me a peck on the cheek in the same alleyway en route. That was it. We didn’t speak the rest of the time. I dumped him very publicly in front of his friends, telling him: “I think we are getting too serious. I just want to be friends. Do you still want to walk me to my bus?”

Once the reminiscing had finished, accompanied by “yuk” and gagging sounds from the boys, we then decided we would make it to the summit after all by driving up to it. To do so involved passing through a gate marked “no public access beyond this point”.

Now, our eldest is a stickler for rules. Breaking them, no matter how trivial, brings him out in hives, and we hadn’t gone 20 ft through the gate before he began to beg us to turn back. I trundled on regardless, but I too chickened out when we reached a second sign warning we were now entering a restricted area patrolled by security guards. So we didn’t even make it to the summit by cheating.

But it wasn’t a wasted morning. If we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have known, would we?

One Step At A Time

Quick fix – is there any such thing? I’m not the first – and definitely won’t be the last – 40-something woman to find herself in an on-going battle with a spreading girth.
I know full well that a healthy weight is simply about eating less crap and exercising more.

It should be easy. Only somehow, for many of us, it just isn’t.
Despite knowing that all we have to really do is knuckle down and get on with it, we all go out looking for quick fixes and magic formulas.
This is the time of year when diet groups, fitness clubs and exercise classes see a dramatic rise in numbers, as we all pledge that this year will be DIFFERENT, and go searching for the ideal solution to our weighty woes.
I could definitely do with dropping a couple of dress sizes (at least) after letting my weight balloon recently, but I’m intending to follow advice about making changes one small step at a time – quite literally.
On May 14th I will be joining my friends The Blister Sisters on the 26 mile Moon Walk, in aid of breast cancer research. Setting off from Hyde Park in London at 11pm, we will walk through the night, dressed in specially decorated bras, to cover the marathon distance, hopefully finishing in 6-7 hours.
I must confess, when I first thought about it, I stupidly thought this would be a fun challenge. After all, I can walk, can’t I? And it’s not like running – it can’t possibly be as tiring can it?
Then I started training. Just 45 minute walks at first, then an hour, then longer. This is not just ambling along; I’m covering about 6km an hour. I am pretty puffed at the end of a long walk. And my legs – I’ve not known aches and pains like it for some time.
Then there’s myBORING dodgy big toe. I have a fused big toe joint, which means I have very little movement in my big toe and it swells up in protest when I walk. This has a profound effect on how I walk and run and puts pressure on my foot, ankle, knee, hips and lower back. It’s all very frustrating and, despite various podiatry visits and special insoles, is not getting any better.
Anyway, walking for hours on end is not what my doctor would call “a good idea”. But what the hell, I’m committed to it now – and having discovered that one of my fellow walkers might be doing it while suffering from torn anterior cruciate ligaments in her knee, it seems churlish to complain.
Most of all, what’s driving me on is the thought of all those brilliant people I know who are currently battling with cancer or other serious illnesses. I know full well that they would all happily swap places with me – after all, what’s one night of pain against months of debilitating treatment?
I’ve done walks and runs for charity before, but I honestly think this is the first time I will have really tested myself. As a result I am currently wracked with self doubt – I feel I’ve become someone who likes to start things but isn’t so good at finishing them, so this will be a genuine trial.
Now, I’m not one to beg for cash, particularly as I know how tough things are or are getting for many of us. But I really want to help this magnificent cause as much as possible, which means getting in as much sponsorship as possible.
I won’t be asking for money for nothing. I’m currently cooking up a couple of fund-raising schemes that will, I hope, be fun as well as in a good cause. Kids’ sports day in the park, anyone? A coffee morning marathon? Maybe even a big night out, bras compulsory?

Watch this space – and please support my efforts!
See this link for more information. Unfortunately it’s too late for you to enter (you know you want to!) – but maybe next year?