New trainers; muddy trainers; hello Hadrian’s Wall

It’s ages (a few years) since I ran from Walltown Crags back to Brampton – the last time was when I was training for Kielder Marathon, the incredibly wet summer of (I think) 2012.  A lot has happened since then both to me and to my friend Penny, with whom I was running today – but as she said, “you can’t be depressed when it’s like this”.

It was slightly chilly as we set out from Walltown Crags, and within the first few metres we were saddened when we came across a recently dead sheep – and saw that she had died giving birth to her lamb, whose legs were sticking out at the rear.  Later we saw another sheep giving birth – we didn’t stop to see if that one was going to live and the farmer was nearby anyway, but it was sad that in the midst of the glorious spring weather with everything bursting into bud and new life, that here were two lives which had ended: and probably in pain and distress.

But here it is, a photographic presentation of our 20km very muddy springtime run from Walltown Crags along the Hadrian’s Wall path to Lanercost, where we then turned south through Quarry Beck and then Ridge Woods to head into Brampton.

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (1)
Brand new trail running shoes
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (3)
Between Thirlmere Castle and Gilsland

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (5)

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (6)
The milecastle at Potross Burn, Gilsland
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (7)
Running down past Willowford Farm and the ruins of the Roman bridge
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (8)
Over the bridge and up the other side (steep!) to Birdoswald.

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (11)

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (12)
Blencathra from Banks Turret
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (13)
Looking towards the Solway Plain and Scotland from near Banks
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (15)
The Irthing near Lanercost
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (16)
Delicate wood sorrel
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (17)
Very early bluebells!
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (18)
I love running through Quarry Beck Woods

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (19)

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (22)
My damson tree!
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (20)
New trainers… baptism of mud

Almost a Final Farewell

“take the road less travelled and simply open your eyes” – Laurence Shelley

icarus

The end of a year makes most of us consider all sorts of things: what we have achieved in the past year; what we have learnt; how next year will be different; how this year compares with those that have gone before.  As we approach 2017 I am looking in to setting up my own business, continue to try to promote my singing and writing, and am also trying to get extra work.  More importantly I am in a different place emotionally (calmer, happier and more accepting) to where I was this time last year or even a few months ago.  I have become aware that I just can’t do everything: and blogging is one thing which may need to take a back seat.  I don’t feel at the moment as if I can add anything useful or enlightening and I am conscious that I have started repeating myself.  It feels as if this blog has now come to a natural end (unlike in Febuary, when I thought of finishing but actually was only at the beginning of an emotional journey).

I started blogging in April 2010 with UnemployedinCumbria on Blogspot.  It was intended to be a blog about getting a new job in a rural county which has a small, low-density, population and not much of a commercial property market (I’m a Chartered Surveyor by profession) – though I also wanted to change career.  I had more of a career change than I expected as I found to my surprise that I was pregnant with a third child – at age 48.  The blog ended up being about being pregnant in my late 40s, having a baby at age 49, and having no job and therefore a much-reduced household income.  We had also moved into a house which needed a bit of TLC so there are bits about my coming to terms with sorting out the garden as well – the children still remember my poisoning the fish in an attempt to rid the pond of algae…!

Once child no. 3 was lustily here I began to think about doing triathlon again, and started a blog which was meant to be more or less a training diary – Supervet-Sarah.  As this second blog developed I stopped the other, but the aim of once again competing regularly in triathlon and at ‘supervet’ (50+) age still hasn’t been achieved.  However it did track my training for Kielder Marathon at age 51 including various micro-adventurous training runs I did with Kerry, who also did Kielder, and during that time I did Kendal sprint triathlon – though very badly (I was slow on the swim and fell off my bike: First Triathlon in How Long? ). That blog ends rather abruptly in August 2014, shortly before David left.  The final words of the final post are “I’m very proud of my little girl” – something I need reminding of from time to time as she’s also very feisty and wilful so I frequently get cross with her, sometimes quite unfairly.

In early 2015 I started this blog.  There’s a hiatus between David leaving at the end of August 2014 and the start – a time when I adjusted to being ‘young (at heart) free and single’ again and to being without the children every other weekend.  By the end of the year I had come to the conclusion that 2014 was the year of broken things – my marriage, my washing machine and my dishwasher but on a less frivolous note sad ‘broken’ things happened to a lot of people.  They always do but I guess it’s how the year has been for you overall that remains in your memory.

By contrast 2015 was then a year of freedom, joy and passion.  I relished my new-found freedom and realised who I truly was.  By the middle of the year I was on a high – I got a new job; fell deeply and whole-heartedly in love with a man who had fallen passionately in love with me; and my singing seemed to be flying too: I had more confidence and performed solo more than I had previously, including arranging concerts for my group Eight + 1.  I flew high – but like Icarus I perhaps flew too high – too close to the sun – and like Icarus I crashed.

Unlike Icarus I had plenty of people to catch me before I hit the ground, and to support me, but it led to a challenging time and made 2016 a challenging year.  It has also been a year of farewells – obviously the usual round of celebrities have died, including David Bowie and Alan Rickman – but also people who were briefly part of my everyday life have moved – Chris who worked at Capernaum and left to join the navy; my lovely neighbours Margaret & David, who moved to Cornwall; and – sadly – Capernaum restaurant itself, which was one of my favourite restaurants ever – the children still judge food by ‘the Capernaum scale’ with few restaurants beating it.  It was also farewell to my friend Clare’s husband, Bob.  He had suffered from severe COPD for several years but hung on strongly for so long.  I am incredibly glad that Deborah and I went to sing Songs for Bob at their house in April, accompanied by Martin Johnson; I am sad that I missed the funeral; and I shall always appreciate the fact that he called me ‘Pocket Venus’.  Clare and her family at times have had more faith in me than I have had in myself.

At the same time however there were plenty of hellos and I got to do some travelling in a minor way, which is something I love and hadn’t done for ages.  I was pretty reclusive for the first part of the year, barely even going into the town centre where I live in case I bumped into anyone I knew and most of the time feeling desperate to run away abroad and ‘hide’.  Six months ago (June), just as I was finally coming out of my depression, I wrote “I want to learn Italian; do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write… and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills.  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.”  I have in fact managed, to a greater or lesser extent, to do all those things.

As I look forward to 2017 I hope to travel more (I still have a yen to go abroad to do some voluntary work, but it’s difficult with children and needing to earn money to pay for things for them); to write (I need to finish my long bike ride and write it up); to sing (there are four gigs coming up for Bellissima and we now have our own Facebook page as well); to run and cycle; and to earn enough money, ideally doing things I love (fingers crossed for the job I have applied for, but for keeping doing surveying as well, as I have a great boss and I don’t want to let him down) and to perhaps start my own business.  And, of course, to spend time with my kids – if I can earn enough then I want to be able to take the whole of August off to spend it with them – my dream is to tour Northumbria in a camper van.  But who knows what the new year will hold – I learnt long ago that you can’t plan your life.  Things you want do happen, but rarely in the way you expect.

I learnt a lot of lessons in 2016.  One was about being true to myself, which I already knew I should do but which, I learnt, means that sometimes I need to swim against the pack and follow my instincts and my heart despite what anybody else says (I’ve done so in the past and proved people wrong… and if you don’t try then you never know, do you?).  Another lesson, again which I already knew but which was reiterated, was that there are different outlooks on life and none is right or wrong.  David and I separated; we are happier separated but we still get on.  For us – and for our children – that works, but it’s not the solution for everybody and not everybody can manage to be as amicable as we (mostly) are (we had an argument today – he came round to make peace, we had a chat and he gave me a brief hug.  We no longer love each other but we can at least get on and not use the children as emotional blackmail against each other – which I  hope is best for the children too.  I guess he’s sort of a friend – which is what he was before we got together so there’s a sense of resolution in still being at least on friendly terms).

Finally, I learnt that I can’t do everything.  Emotionally, physically, mentally or even in terms of time.  I have had to accept that Child Tax Credits may need to bolster my income if I want to spend enough time with my children as well as, importantly, allowing the creative side of me some outlet; I also have to accept that there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.  I tried to do it all: to be a mother (teacher, taxi service, cook, housekeeper, gardener…), a writer, a singer, a lover, to keep fit, to work full-time and to commute, and it didn’t work.  2016 as much as anything has been about getting some balance back.  I’ve even said ‘no’ to some things – I didn’t sing with choir this term and I’m not going to be touring with them in May (I can’t afford to but more importantly I don’t want to go abroad without the children).  I have learnt over the past few years though that allowing the creative side of me some outlet is hugely important: it’s a fundamental part of who I am.  It’s not about being self-gratifying however but about how you can make it fit into a life where you have to provide for your children and do the washing up as well.

This blog has been great for getting my head straight and I hope I will look back at my posts and still enjoy reading them.  People have criticised me, mostly when they have felt criticised by me, but writing has always been a type of therapy for me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be so public (though the maximum number of readers I have had for any post has been 210, which really isn’t that many) but if just one person has felt better because of a post I have written – if just one person has thought ‘yes, that’s how I feel too’ – then this blog has not been in vain.

From time to time there may perhaps be another, but for now this, my 99th post in this blog, is a farewell – with best wishes for the New Year to you all.

butterfly-in-hand

Club la Santa, Lanzarote

This is just a brief post with plenty of pictures as a short memento of a fantastic holiday.  ‘Thank you’ to my friend Penny, who was an easy travelling companion, and to my Mum who gave me a generous enough cheque for my birthday that I could afford to go back to Club la Santa for the FOURTH time (I hardly ever go back to exactly the same place twice – there are too many other interesting places to explore, but I always have a fab. time at Club la Santa).  It had been refurbished and extended since I last went and is now really nice and modern – and the showers are fantastic!

We flew out of the UK on a day when there was snow on the ground.  The weather on Lanzarote was not perfect all week – it was very windy for cycling – and we even wore jeans (rather than dresses/skirts) some evenings, and fleeces – but it was as good as many a British summer and great to be outdoors exercising almost all day every day.  We agreed we should try something new every day so in addition to running, swimming and cycling we did:

paddle boarding; a fitness class on paddle boards; deep water aqua; Zumba; aerial relaxation; aerial pilates (and, in my case, aerial yoga as well); TRX; body balance; body attack; body combat, Taiji Qigong… etc.

By bike we cycled:

to the Fire Mountains (the visitor centre en route is great – and free – and I love the way it’s still so hot underfoot in the mountains themselves that dry brushwood will catch fire);

past Playa de Fumara, up to the Monumento al Campesino and then along a very bumpy road through La Geria to then head back down from Tinajo to Club la Santa;

and up through Soo, Munique and Tiagua to Nazaret and a house that once belonged to Omar Shariff – Lag-Omar – but which is now a fascinating ‘museum’ come party venue (I think the guy trying to sell me some Aloe Vera products was also trying to chat me up… telling me that Aloe Vera would make me sexy and that I’d come back in two weeks and want to kiss him… hmm…).

I especially liked the way that many of the roads had ‘watch out for cyclists’ signs – I think it was only on the route of the Lanzarote Ironman, but shows how popular the island is for cyclists.  At 856 sq km there’s only really one ironman route available – as a comparison, Cumbria covers 6,768 sq km: but has a total of c.400,000 people to Lanzarote’s 139,000. Both of course have their populations boosted significantly by tourists – something which the Lanzarotians seem to welcome: they were all incredibly friendly and seemed delighted if you even spoke a couple of words in hesitating Spanish.

I’ve mentioned restaurants in a separate post. We were a bit disappointed by the ones at Club la Santa, other than La Plaza in the square (where we were served by a cute English waiter who was a bit of an Orlando Bloom look alike).  Restaurant Atlantico is great for enormous quantities of food; El Lago was disappointing for what it seemed to be trying to achieve, although they make a lovely gin and tonic.  Talking of gins and tonics, the Welsh barman in the Sports Bar was a bit of a gin expert and took ages creating two masterly gin and tonics – he likes Martin Miller, which is one I had come across, bought and particularly liked when I had a dinner party recently.

So it was a week of lovely weather and fresh air, exercise as well as relaxation, food and drink.  It was good for the mind and soul as well as the body, and I was a little sad to come home.  One day I would love to take the kids there, as I’m sure they’d enjoy it too.

Meditation and mindfulness: running, singing and writing

My memory of last October is of a dark, turbulent time, my emotions in turmoil.  The nights and mornings always seemed to be dark, the weather rainy.

This year is completely different.  The weather recently has been glorious and even if it’s a bit misty and the car has a slight layer of frost in the morning, by mid-morning the mist has usually burnt off and the sun is warming everything.  If I put a running jacket as well as a long-sleeved top to go out running, invariably I end up too warm.

So whilst I stood shivering at the start line of Kielder 10k on October 1st, I was glad that Kerry had advised me to leave my jacket behind and I found I was just the right temperature while running – although the photos taken before show me looking a bit chilly (plus wild hair – I can’t wait for the top to grow a bit as it looks so weird).  It’s such a beautiful run and every time I’ve run up there (the marathon 4 years ago; the 10k this year and last) the weather has been glorious.  We also knocked 5 mins off our time this year, which was pleasing – and in fact I felt as if I could perhaps have gone a little bit faster.  I’m now keen to do the duathlon and/or the half marathon.  I should also mention the fantastic picnic Kerry and Kevin brought for after the race, which was really welcome and absolutely perfect.  It was a great day.

Mid-week I fancied running through Gelt Woods, which I haven’t done for ages.  I didn’t do the entire loop all the way down to the viaduct, but instead ran up the Black Path (a former Reiver droving route), down through the woods along by the river and then back past the former Roman quarry.  I then turned to go past the farms and up towards Aaron’s Town, now out in rolling open fields where sheep were grazing under cotton-wool clouds in an azure sky.

This weekend just gone I was singing in Catterline, just south of Stonehaven (Aberdeen).  The boys chose to come with me – Edward was keen to see his newest cousin, Baby Mia – I love the photo of ‘Jedi Younglings’ which her Mum, Gulmira, posted on Facebook.  While I rehearsed and later performed Alex and Edward spent the day with their grandparents, cousin and uncle and aunt.  As I drove down the A90 I wanted to stop to take photos of the North Sea from the hill just north of Stonehaven, it looked so lovely – not the slightest bit inviting as it will be icy cold already I have no doubt – but the waves breaking in the harbour and the blue of the sea under the sunshine-filled sky looking lovely.  Sea therapy!

Stonehaven has some great shops and restaurants and I hope I get a chance to explore it a bit more sometime, but Saturday was busy with practicing.  I hope Nigel, who organised the charity-fund-raising soiree, won’t mind my quoting what he said about my singing, as it was a lovely comment: “people don’t know how lucky they are to hear your voice”.  I look forward to seeing some photos, and I met some great people – Morag, who stepped in to accompany; Orit, who wasn’t well but whom I immediately liked and who I hope to sing with sometime; Sheila, who sang fantastically and who I enjoyed chatting to – as well as seeing people I had met before.

I then went for a run with my ex-brother-in-law yesterday and managed 5 miles with two hills and didn’t walk at all.  I was dead chuffed – and again the weather was fantastic.  I’m clearly fitter than I thought I was…

As I ran through Gelt Woods the title of this blog came to mind.  Funnily enough RunABC North this edition had an article about running being meditative, and Sheila and I were talking about mindfulness on Saturday.  I said that running and singing are my mindfulness.  With both if you’re not ‘in the moment’ then you’re not doing either to your best – both require full concentration or involvement, but it’s also possible to almost get to ‘another place’ while doing either.  With both I feel my feet on the ground and my heart in the air.

And now, with a new head torch sitting waiting for use in the utility room, I’m excited about getting some night runs in; and looking forward to my next singing performance which is in Carlisle in a few weeks’ time.

Micro- and macro-adventures

It was a weekend of memories.

I had volunteered to drive a friend from choir (Elaine) to her school reunion at St. Asaph in North Wales.  I hadn’t really looked at the map properly to check precisely where I was going, but I knew it was near enough Snowdon to walk up Britain’s third mountain, and when I asked my friend Penny if she’d like to come too she had said yes.

While Elaine and her school friends were busy walking down memory lane and visiting their former school, Penny and I headed towards Llanberis.  Last time I was there was not long after David and I had first started going out, when he had my car and, while I was in Switzerland, drove his brother to Llanberis to compete in a half-Ironman triathlon.  He had then driven to Heathrow to pick me up when I flew back in, and we had driven back to North Wales.  It was the first time I met his brother and I remember his (Jonathan’s) comment that the (half-marathon/thirteen mile) run at the end of the race was hard because it was so hilly: this was after swimming in the lake and a hilly bike ride.  We had driven back to Watford through the stunning scenery of the National Park, even though the A55/M56/M6 might have been quicker.

Penny and I decided to drive to Llanberis and walk up Snowdon from there, although she had previously done the Three Peaks challenge which starts at the Llanberis Pass and goes up the Pyg Trail (so called possibly because it was used to carry tar/pitch; or because of pigs; or because of the hotel whose initials are PYG).  The walk from Llanberis is the most gradual of the ascents of Snowdon and for a large part follows the line of the mountain railway ( which the mountain railway in the original Thomas the Tank Engine books is based on).  It’s about 9 miles there and back and estimated to take 3 hours up and 3 hours back, though we thought we ought to be able to do it more quickly.  After all we are both trail runners, even if I’m not a very fit one at the moment.

A coincidence was that as we drove into Llanberis we saw signs saying ’24 hour triathlon’; passed cyclists who were clearly competing in some event; and then saw people swimming in the lake: and I realised that it must have been almost exactly this weekend but all those years ago (14) that I was there with David.  On questioning some of the race officials however it was clear that this was no ‘ordinary’ half Ironman but a Brutal Event.  About 200 entrants were doing either a half-Ironman, a full Ironman or – heavens above – a DOUBLE IRONMAN!!!  (i.e. nearly 5 miles swimming, 220 miles on the bike and then 52 miles or so running): and whatever the distance the run involved going up from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon and back again, as well as laps of the lake.  The race had started at 8 a.m. – when we arrived around 11 a.m. there were still swimmers in the lake, and the double entrants are still probably running as I write this on Sunday evening.

It whetted my appetite to do triathlon again, but not that sort of distance.  I would however like to try some of the Lakeland triathlons: partly as the scenery is so stunning and also because the run routes are normally off-road.

Walking up and down Snowdon was humbling in many ways.  It was incredibly busy (far busier than any Lake District fell I’ve ever been up) and many people were achieving something.  Obviously the triathletes were achieving something incredible, and I particularly respect those who were looking pretty worn out but who were still pushing themselves up the mountain, doubtless determined to get to the finish line.  But then there were also the heavier, less fit, people who were walking up because they wanted to, or because they wanted to raise some money for a charity they cared about.  There were teams of people urging each other on, delighted when they got to the summit, with matching charity t-shirts; there were individuals with labels on their bags because they were raising money for a heart-felt cause; there were fathers carrying small children in carriers on their backs; there were young children walking, holding a parent’s hand.  It was like Piccadilly Circus at the summit but everybody up there had achieved something, big or small (and the cafe sells the most enormous pasties I have ever seen – eating one of them was an achievement which neither of us even attempted).

We drove back through the National Park and Betws-y-Coed, a village which I remembered going to with David, Alex and Bella almost ten years ago, when Bella was just 3 months old and Alex was nearly 2, when we had been on holiday in North Wales.

It would have been lovely,  on getting back to our hotel, to have had a swim, but sadly the pool was closed for repairs.  So after showers and cups of tea Penny and I headed out into St Asaph city centre to The Bridge restaurant.  It is one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.  The service was friendly and efficient (the barman remembered us from the day before) and the food was superb.  I had a Salmon and Crab roulade and Penny had a Seafood Fricassee.  It made me sad all over again that Capernaum bistro has closed at home, as finding a restaurant with a decent fish menu isn’t always easy (and I definitely can’t go to North Wales every time I want to go out for a meal).

Having walked up and down Snowdon (it took us 2 hours up and 2 hours back – I would really have liked my trail shoes on for the descent so that I could have run some of it, and next time I do a mountain with a reasonable path to the top I might take my trail shoes in a back pack and change at the top) on Saturday, Sunday involved rather less ascent but we did go up and down the various towers of Conwy Castle and admired its fantastic location and views to surrounding countryside and down the estuary.  According to Penny’s FitBit we had done 27 floors, though obviously it depends how you define a floor.

It’s a brilliant castle and was another blast from the past as David and I had visited it with the children while on our North Wales holiday.  I couldn’t remember much about it, and I wondered whether I had been on the ground floor with a sleeping Bella in a buggy while David and Alex went around the walls: later on David confirmed that it had been so.  Much as I love my children and they enjoy looking round castles, it was good to have time to look around Conwy properly (and have time to read the signs without chasing after some child who is about to brain its sibling or fall over the edge of a wall).

Elaine and her friends had had a really enjoyable weekend and a bittersweet trip down memory lane, and I had loved being away.  Despite some gloriously sunny weather I was a little sad as I returned home.  I popped into David’s to see the children and give them the presents I had bought in Wales and have some hugs; the older two both then came round to my house for various things they need for the coming week; and I sorted everything out for my next travels.  My itchy-footedness only seems to have been stimulated by a weekend away, and I no longer feel as settled in Brampton as I used to: perhaps because there are things about it which make me sad now.  However… I am off to Italy tomorrow!

 

Talkin Tarn

When we first moved to Cumbria a trip to Talkin Tarn each weekend was almost obligatory.  My running route of preference was the 10km from my house, along the Dandy Line and through Rowbank Woods, round the Tarn and back along the road.  The year that we had a month of snow the children were pulled around the Tarn on sledges on Christmas Day; the day I discovered I was pregnant with Edward was when I had been for a run of a couple of laps around the Tarn, told the friend I was running with I couldn’t possibly be pregnant, and got home to do a (positive) pregnancy test.  I have run around the Tarn on a dark winter’s night with a headtorch on, loving the beauty of its stillness under a black sky reflecting stars; as a family we were photographed up there for Woman & Home, David and I looking as if we loved each other although the two of us knew already that the cracks were beginning to show; and Alex learnt to cycle up there.  And the most recent triathlon I did, even though that was a few years ago now, was Talkin Tarn triathlon-became-a-duathlon (the water was freezing).

For some reason it’s not a route I have taken much over the past year or longer.  Perhaps it’s that with training for Kielder marathon I got a bit more adventurous, trying out routes along Hadrian’s Wall and even the northern Pennine Way; perhaps it’s that having discovered Talkin Fell, the hills now always seem to beckon me: the places I can run to, stand on top, and look far into the distance, to the sea and to the sky.  Or perhaps it’s just that the ‘normal’ route up to and back from the Tarn involves a mile or more on road, and I just don’t like running on roads any longer.

Perhaps it’s also that I no longer go out with David and the children to run: he can run while they cycle, or used to run with two of them cycling and one in the running buggy: I never could, getting frustrated by having to push cyclists and finding the running buggy really uncomfortable.  Now that I run on my own more often, the woods and the hills beckon.

But today for some reason the Tarn called to me.  Too tired and lazy to run all the way up there, I ‘cheated’ and drove up there and parked in the car park (free after 6pm).  I had worked at Taste of Tynedale all weekend and whilst I enjoy catering enormously (both the prep., the cooking and the customer service), it’s tiring and I had been on my feet all day both days (and chopped a copious amount of onions).  Last night when I got home I needed to go for a walk up a hill and today I wanted to get out for a short and gentle run.  The more-or-less level Tarn was the perfect option.

As I ran I thought about my weekend.  I happened to be in Hexham on Friday as well, and so I have been to Hexham for each of the past three days.  It’s a lovely town which I’ve now got to know a little better, and which I think I may visit more often.  I was working mostly with a group of 17-22 year olds, and really enjoyed it: they are so enthusiastic about life, and at 50+ and as a mother, I didn’t need to impress them nor try to be ‘cool’ as I took it for granted that I wouldn’t be.  Not being quite so bothered about what people think about me is something which has probably only really been the case for the the past few months (yes, I said months: it’s sad, but better to have got to this stage now than never).  I really admire the apparent confidence of the lovely people I was working with, and hope that they all retain it and their joie de vivre as they go through life.  They’re so refreshing: as of course are most positive, energetic, enthusiastic people.

As I ran around the Tarn I considered my surroundings too.  There have been a few changes recently, such as a family of wooden hedgehogs having replaced the old wooden dog.  Today the impressive sky contained the most amazing variety of clouds, the dark grey of the impending rain contrasting with the brightness of the sunlight which was vanishing.  As I came out from the new wooded area (which surely must add a little extra distance to a lap), the whiteness of the swans glowed against the darkening sky reflected in the lake.  And then, running through the last bit of wood, I found raspberries growing wild – not quite ripe yet but a few days and they will be (please don’t all go up there and steal them – I’d like some!).

When I got home I finally remembered to text my friend Kerry (with whom I trained for Kielder marathon) to arrange a run.  She, her husband Kevin and I are all running Kielder 10km in October and struggling to get fit enough for it, but now is a good time to start.  I’m running in aid of Medecins sans Frontieres, for the amazing work they do around the globe, often in places where they are not only saving lives but their own lives are at risk.  If you’d like to sponsor me then please follow this link to my JustGiving page…

Many thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singing and (not) running

Coniston water early on 5th June

Just past 7 a.m. and I’m walking alongside Coniston Water, heading into the village centre in search of a cash point.  It’s already warm and heralds another day of holiday-feeling weather (this half term has been fantastic here in Cumbria: ironically, considering the flooding currently elsewhere and the floods over much of this part of the world only 6 months ago, some of the reservoirs are now at low levels, and running routes which are often boggy even throughout the summer are now hard, dry, crumbly mud instead of boggy, wet, squelchy mud).  My friend Penny has just started off on the Lakeland Trails marathon – her husband is down in the New Forest so I volunteered to drive her home, as I’m sure her legs won’t feel like driving, and also she has supported me in events often enough.

In fact it’s rather strange not running with her, as since moving to Cumbria she has been one of my main running partners, and at times we have done triathlon training together.  This includes one time when we paid for an annual pass each to swim in Talkin Tarn, in order to train for Talkin Tarn triathlon.  The weather was cold that year and remained cold right through April and May – the one time we went in the Tarn I put my feet in and quickly retreated, while Penny was actually brave enough to get in and swim a few metres.  As it turned out the triathlon became a duathlon that year as the water temperature was so cold (and – bragging rights here – we were both second in our respective age groups).

So today as the runners head off I feel rather strange – normally I’m one of the performers on the running stage, with however many miles of stunning scenery and adventure ahead of me, but today as the runners quickly disappear into the distance the lakeside field where the race starts seems rather quiet.  As I walk into Coniston past John Ruskin school I feel a slight tinge of sadness as well: this is the ‘HQ’ for the Lakeland 50/100 ultra trail races, which David has done so often.  Never again will I be involved in that event, and take my children to watch him start the L50 at Dalemain.  I’m not sad that my marriage is over so much as sad that once we loved each other and now we don’t, and that an entire part of my life has well and truly stepped back into memory.  In addition it was staying in the Lake District straight after the last time he did the L50, and picking him and a friend up from somewhere not far outside Kendal, which really marked the very last week of our marriage.  It was a strange week, that final family holiday.

I find a cash point and walk back through a field brightly green and sprinkled generously with glowing yellow buttercups.  A couple of hours later, with races starting every hour, the start/finish area has a completely different atmosphere.  Family members waiting for their own personal runner to return paddle, swim and throw sticks for dogs in the lake; children with fishing nets forage in the lake or use them for fencing practice; babies wriggle their toes in pleasure at the freedom of not having too many clothes on and watch all this activity fascinated (so many new experiences to take in!).  There is an almost-party atmosphere: at least a holiday atmosphere – everyone relaxed, the smell of Hog Roast and coffee; music playing; the splashing of dogs and people in the lake.  I sit, watch, contemplate and feel content.  The four, five or six hours it will take runners to return will pass quickly.

I haven’t been running for a couple of weeks and I’ve missed the outdoors, which I seem to yearn for more than ever at the moment.  In compensation I’ve had plenty of work to do (filthy lucre), including travelling around the north-west, and have been making sure that I get my time with the children (David has had them more than me over the past months, and I have missed them – the house has felt too big and too empty).  Then last night Two Red Heads and… had our debut performance at Wigton’s John Peel theatre.  It was great to sing on a real stage again, with a sound system (not that we used the mics) and spotlights, and one of my dreams of singing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in semi-darkness was finally realised.  Our 5-item slot seemed to go down really well and we’re looking forward to the next one: having initially said she couldn’t make next month’s Open Mic night, Deborah is now considering coming away early from the other engagement she has on so she can come to sing!  We may be expanding to become a trio as well – Catherynn Dunstan, who organises the evenings along with husband Hayden and their two sons, has a lovely voice and was enthusiastic when I suggested she could sing as a trio with us sometime.

I know I still have some potentially difficult times ahead before I reach calmer seas but I also feel that I’m truly on my ‘right path’.  I have to hold on to my singing and writing – to follow my dreams – neither of which requires a tight grasp, as they keep coming back to me anyway (in the sense that opportunities to do both keep presenting themselves) – as well as ensuring I have enough income coming in and that I see enough of my children.  I need to balance my dreams with the practical.

But meanwhile I’m going to take the laptop back to the car, fetch my camera, sit in the sun with a book… and perhaps paddle in the lake too…

Ever onwards; always developing

Someone once described me as being like a butterfly – and later had a dream of me as the Ice Queen, fighting off his enemies.  Both beautiful images which I take as compliments, holding them dear and treasuring them in my heart (“Thank You” to the man who said them to me).  But they also made – and make – me consider myself: what do they say about me?  Obviously any interpretation is subjective – what they conjure up to me may be completely different for someone else.  The main thing that struck me was a sense of strength and elegance; of flying free; and yet of delicate beauty – of fragility.  A butterfly can so easily be crushed, and ice can shatter into seemingly glass-like shards, which melt away to water (another substance however which can seem so fragile and yet have such enormous strength).  But that is not to deny that there is an appropriate strength there.

That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling recently.  I know I am strong; I know I can get through the bad things which have happened and which continue to happen to me; but I am also conscious of how I flew too high and crashed so, so far, and I feel broken; splintered.  Is that possible?  Is there anything wrong with flying too high?  Do we sometimes have to do that in order to learn the very lessons that we need?  Do we need to fly that high in order truly to become freer – to fly off the path we were on and perhaps crash land onto the one we were meant to be on?

Hence the previous post: I am trying to face up to my pain and to learn from it: and there are all sorts of lessons I am learning.  Lessons about myself (as a mother; as a friend; as a singer and creative person; as a lover); lessons about human nature.  By stepping back and examining myself I am also learning better how to look out at the world and see myself in perspective.  Although I could be accused of being introspective, that is helping me at the same time to be more sensitive to the world around me, and to look at the bigger picture, and I’m reading all sorts of writing by all sorts of people from a worldwide spread of religious and non-religious viewpoints.  Some themes keep repeating themselves: for example that we are individuals but we are all made of the same matter, and interconnected.  Whilst we are tiny specks compared to the stars, I love thinking of us all as star dust.  I also want to help others – not in a social worker sort of way as that’s not me, but somehow through using my skills as a writer, performer and communicator.  I want to help change the world: and it’s interesting that my daughter seems to have the same ambition, which she has acquired completely on her own, not from anything I have said to her.  Perhaps she, at 10, has a better sense of her ‘life path’ than I did.

I went for a walk up Talkin Fell again yesterday.  As I walked up through the woods the bluebells waved under the trees, a blue haze splattered with sunshine and shadows (the photos at the top show the bluebells in Ridge Woods as well), birds singing as a backdrop.  Up on the solitary top the wind was strong and in the distance I could see it was raining over Scotland and the Lakeland Fells: but above me there was a bright blue sky with just floaty wisps of cirrus.  The tiny exquisitely graceful white wild flowers were brushed by the wind; a lapwing and its mate called anxiously to each other and then flew up together to check that no predators (me) were approaching their nest.  For a time I sat, leaning against stone, and just soaked it all in.

Later my friends Jo and Mike arrived, on their way home from Orkney.  They took me out to dinner at the Golden Fleece at Ruleholme – we had booked a table as it’s practically impossible to get in otherwise, it’s so popular.  Deservedly so – the décor is lovely (I particularly like the maps on the tables, and we all liked the way there are different dining areas); the ambiance is comfortable and busy without being too noisy; they had about 5 or 6 different gins to choose from; the service is professional but friendly; and the food was lovely and cooked exactly how we requested.  However it is probably one of the most expensive restaurants locally, though it’s good value for money as the food is good and the helpings are generous.  The only disappointment was that there was not more choice of vegetarian and fish options (and in fact that is where Capernaum bistro in Brampton has a real selling point – but perhaps people around here are predominantly carnivores!).  A 16 oz Chateaubriand was 57 GBP (sorry – the pound sign has disappeared from my computer)… none of us had that…

Today was Sunday, the day of the week which I have always found the lowest point if I’m feeling low already.  I refined a promotional leaflet for Two Red Heads and… for Care Homes, and delivered a few by foot; a big pile of ironing is waiting (perhaps to be done in front of a film) and a pile of washing is waiting to be hung up.  My children used to come back on a Sunday: I won’t see them until tomorrow after school.  Something has to change.

 

From Darkness into Light

Easter 2016 (5)
Down in the valley bottom

Down in the valley bottom

The cows ambled in an orderly line returning from milking,

Hugging the field edge.

Evening spring sunshine burst goldenly –

Suddenly – (then faded)

Against the grey distant rainclouds feathering the further hills.

 

Twin souls shone in the summer, and

All basked in their glimmering goldness.

Did it rain that year?  Nobody could say for sure:

Their adoration glowed so brightly

Happiness poured forth, a warm bright sun

Covering everything in the miracle of new love.

It was a marvellous, wondrous, majestic time.

 

Then early one morning on the cusp of winter

He left.

The door banged shut and the house echoed emptily.

She tumbled blindly, cascading, spiralling

Down

Down

Down

Into the deep dark pit

Stripped of appetite, of flesh, of energy.

Desolation and despair engulfing, smothering her,

Their thick heaviness stifling all feelings.

Null and void

She gave up the struggle of grappling with her inner fears

And closed her heart to pain; to love;

Felt nothing.

 

And yet too much.

The torture of a broken heart;

Too great a pain, this time, to cover it and walk away;

Too deep a love, too profound the lessons to learn

To ignore it.

 

Yet not forgotten, not alone:

The miraculous hands of friendship reached out;

Pierced the walls with kindness.

Brick by slow brick they pulled her, lifted her;

Stone by hurtful stone she clambered,

Climbed, scrambled, hands bleeding,

Heart bursting –

Eventually raised her arms, spread her wings

And flew

Free

Up and out of the blackness.

 

It was dazzling out there in the world, in the light,

In the unaccustomed brightness.

But the strength of emotions

Was life coursing richly through her veins:

An awakening; an opening; a rebirth.

 

Up in the woods on the hills the trees stood black and stark.

An exhilarating icy wild wind

Blew away the remnants of winter.

Through the devastated woods – nature’s clutter

More beautiful than mankind’s –

Yellow bursts of jubilant daffodils shone,

Shouted joyfully against the brown of the earth,

The grey of the sky;

Nodded their heads, “yes, look closely!”

Buds on trees;

The glorious green shoots of spring underfoot;

The colour of the heart opening: a widening door.

 

Everything in its season.  Live life.  Fly free. Shine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings

or… Lessons learnt…

or… Better to have loved and lost…

For blog 23rd Feb (3)
Ridge Woods – my place for contemplation

OK, I lied.  I thought that the previous post was my last but in fact I’ve changed my mind.  I would, if it was easy, change the name of my blog to reflect the fact that this is a new beginning – perhaps it should be looked on as a new chapter.

Why the change of heart?  Well, for a start, writing is therapeutic.  Secondly, as a performer I do, I admit, seek some validation from ‘putting myself out there’.  It’s not so much wanting everything I write to be confirmed as right or true, but more that the process of thinking about what I’m writing and the feedback (challenging and critical or supportive) I get from it once it’s been read, helps get my thoughts straight.  I am not afraid of people questioning what I write – as a manager I have always appreciated staff who disagreed with me and were prepared to argue a point with me (one of the best things about working at British Waterways was that it encouraged an atmosphere of debate: ‘conflict breeds creativity’).

I do however have a genuine hope that my writing openly about what I feel about, and how I handle the ups and downs of life as I go through it, might help other people.  It’s the same for me – if I am puzzled or confused by something I will talk about it or read about it. We’ve all had that ‘lightbulb moment’ when a book we are reading expresses something which touches us with its accuracy; which seems to light upon something in our very deepest being.  Likewise there are passages we read which we disagree with, and which make us consider things anew: we either conclude that we were right all along and the writer is wrong, or we change our outlook.

And finally, I have had comments that it would be a pity if I ended my blog: that I write well and am astute.  One particular comment I liked: “Latterly it was as much about navigating around, through and with other people a route for yourself, but being mindful of other people’s feelings on the way”.

And so… today’s blogpost, formulated in my mind as I ran through Ridge Woods (again), is not only about why I am going to continue blogging (and, at root, I enjoy it) but also about lessons learnt.

Just over a year ago I was getting over my marriage break-up.  I had a good sense of self-worth and a great feeling of freedom: there are frequent references in my blog posts to how great it was to be single.  However what I hadn’t mentioned was that there was a man showing interest in me who I was also interested in.  A year on and I am now getting over another relationship: a passionate, intense, romantic love affair unlike any I had had previously. I think some people go through life without ever experiencing that, so whilst its ending has been acutely painful, I am glad to have experienced it.  It was the stuff of stories: which is perhaps one reason it couldn’t last.  In stories there is generally a tragic or at the very least melodramatic end – usually at least one of the lovers dies, either of consumption or by taking their own life.  What the stories don’t tell you is how the survivor carries on or what happens if the relationship does just end.

You never step away from a relationship with nothing, however much it might feel like that initially.  As I ran through the woods I thought about the lessons I’ve learnt, and what I’ve gained from both recently-ended relationships:

  • I learnt to love: genuinely and openly, and feeling the vulnerability of such intense feelings
  • I learnt that my ‘baggage’ has not been dealt with.  All I had done was bury it, for many years.  It resurfaced, painfully – but I am learning to leave it behind and to move on
  • if you are adored and worshipped, make the most of it – enjoy it, revel in it, appreciate it, trust it – it’s lovely and to be cherished.  And you are worth it and do deserve it!
  • love someone mind, body and soul – but remember to retain something for yourself too.  Be open and giving but love yourself.  Not in a selfish way but because you can’t really be true to yourself if you supress yourself.  If your head occasionally says ‘what about me?’, it’s for a reason – you’re letting yourself drown in the other person.  And, whilst true love is about being altruistic and putting someone else first, it shouldn’t be at a cost to yourself
  • I had a reminder of the saying that we criticise most what we dislike in ourselves.  When someone criticises you in a derogatory, even aggressive, way it’s usually because they are feeling bad about themselves or are fearful themselves – particularly if they are criticising you for things they have complimented you on in the past.  Whilst it’s healthy to ask whether they have a point, don’t dwell on the negatives – retain your sense of self and know that you’re doing your best (‘I am a good enough mother’).  However also ask yourself what you have been criticising about them, and why
  • be brave and face up to reality.  Follow your heart and trust your gut instincts, and if you’re unsure about something then ask for clarification.  This can be incredibly hard but the pain of uncertainty is far worse than the pain of a broken heart (and your heart gets broken into far more niggly, splintery pieces by not having clarity than by straightforward openness)
  • if you need help, ask for it – it will be there.  Self-esteem is something we have to develop inside ourselves and does come from overcoming challenges, but there’s nothing to say you can’t ask for help in overcoming those challenges
  • you’re allowed to feel upset and hurt when a relationship ends.  You followed your heart; your heart aches; you’re human
  • open your heart.

To quote others again: “hold your head up and know that you are loved”; “let yourself shine”, and don’t beat yourself up (or anybody else).

Nothing lasts for ever – but it all, good and bad, painful and joyful, comes around again one way or another.