The streets are empty with only a few scurrying individuals collecting their groceries, faces all but hidden behind masks. Except the eyes. Darting, accusatory and nervous.
There are no tourists wearing their backpacks, looking lost and filling the horse drawn carriages for an expensive saunter around Central Park. The enterprising men and occasionally women who dance, juggle, sing and leap over each other to make a few bucks from anyone who’ll watch are all gone. … Except one solitary man, who sits just a few yards from Times Square. He has no shoes but wears long, dark shorts and a faded cap, and in his hands he holds an old battered pair of drumsticks. In front of him are a variety of pots, tins and the occasional glass jar. Every single day he is there. He sits and beats out some sounds with a strangely beautiful rhythm. But today he lacks his energy; he is wilting. He has no audience and the street is empty.
In Central Park, parents sharply order their children to walk in single file behind them and curtly step off the path to let others pass. Scarves are quickly lifted to cover strained-looking faces.
There is a solitary helicopter hovering above the edge of the park. There are very few police on the streets, but there is order. Silent queues stretch around the block from the grocery store.
With empty avenues and streets, the true numbers of the homeless are glaringly apparent. Lying on the subway gratings where the warm air blows, in filthy doorways and on the sun-warmed benches around Columbus Circle … anywhere offering some shelter. But without a tourist in sight and few people passing, their opportunities for donations of money, food or cigarettes are limited.
For a few hours each morning in Central Park, dogs are allowed off their leads. They bounce and bound, oblivious to the troubles of the world, simply enjoying their daily freedom, chasing the pigeons and squirrels. It is their same routine every single day without a single care or worry to curtail their fun. Bliss.
Ps What’s it like with you? Is it the same or different?Where are you?
Back in the 1970’s and 80’s, ‘Avocado and Prawns with a Rose Marie Sauce’ was considered the height of sophistication. Sadly this delicious trend went into hibernation for a couple of decades but I confess to utter delight when it made something of a comeback.
It seems that now Avocado Toast (sadly without a prawn in sight) is the alternative trend, particularly if eaten at a trendy table on the sidewalk at an expensive Manhattan brasserie whilst wearing Lululemon yoga pants.
Wearing yoga pants (or yoga bottoms to my Brit friends) is also quite the ’thing’ at the moment. Another trend. These are not however to be confused with cotton leggings often seen with a v.p.l., saggy, baggy knees, and tucked into ten year old UGG boots – this is a very different look.
Wearing these tightly fitting pieces of Lycra understandably gives the impression that one is either on the way to, or has just left a class; thus meaning that they’re a busy person with a busy schedule, who takes exercise seriously. They’re worn by the sort of woman with good legs and a pert bottom who has a weekly mani/pedi and blowout. They are not the sort who would ever be late to collect their children from school and only ever shaves their legs in the summer. ie Normal human beings. No, these yoga pants people are in control of their lives.
I now aspire to be a Yoga Pant Person.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this current trend has not gone unnoticed by the Colonel, indeed most men, and, in what I can only consider to be a moment of madness or unrealistic optimism, he recently bought me a pair.
Whether he was suggesting I needed more activity in my life to tone my derrière I don’t know, but the effort of squeezing myself into something more akin to a wetsuit was enough aerobic activity to bring me out in a sweat. I am now the proud, if faintly hesitant owner of a pair of dark green yoga pants.
I can only assume that this is what a pair of Bridget Jones’s big knickers or Spanx do. In short, they suck in and elevate.
My bottom has been lifted and is now self-isolating away from the backs of my upper thighs which is quite a novelty … they’ve been too close for a number of years. The seams and stitching seem to take the focus away from lumps and bumps and yet, despite being tightly squeezed in (to the extent that I may require additional help to extricate myself), I can move and bend very easily. These pants have in the space of 3 minutes, taken five years off my legs and bottom. No wonder people are wearing them.
I am now trying to remember those old yoga moves whilst the Colonel looks on in amusement. I can’t say I’d ever go outside in public in them, when life returns to normal, but then again, my mind has been broadened with these new trends and if there was a prawn cocktail involved who knows?
Some would say categorically not. They have a disease, it’s a part of their makeup (genetic or otherwise) and they have no control over it.
Others might argue that yes, how we feel is our choice. We have a mind of our own and we can control it (using various methods).
It is also often debated whether depressive thoughts are addictive, in the same way that substances like alcohol, or behaviours like gambling are addictive. And when we are not using these substances or behaviours we feel out of control largely because in a (self-destructive) way the familiarity gives us an element of comfort. In a similar vein, it is often noted that women (and men for that matter) in unhealthy relationships are mimicking those they had with their parents in childhood. It might not be healthy, but it is familiar.
So, if using by these theories, we fight the urge to believe that we have no control over our minds and we fight the urge to fall back into the dark, warm but comfortable well of depression, ( Read my post on Depression – A Multi-Pronged Attack ) can we overcome it?
My view, for what it’s worth, is yes. But it’s no walk in the park.
It’s curious how whilst I was cycling through France last summer, I had never been so happy or so at peace. Perhaps it was something to do with … the daily exercise (ok it was a brutal 60 – 90 kms a day); being in the sunshine (yup, it hit 41 degrees); a challenge each and every moment (wait til the book comes out, then you’ll understand); social interaction (albeit mostly in a different language apart from on meeting one couple who when I exclaimed how delighted I was that they were English, they replied, “Nah! We’re from Birmingham.” Right; No alcohol, but gallons of water and my weight in croissants; No toxic people to be around and no social media …. And so on and so forth.
Yes, all those things that we’re supposed to do daily to help ourselves (granted, perhaps not in quite such an extreme form), nevertheless, whilst I’m not suggesting that anyone heads off for a 1200 km cycle ride, it’s funny how happy one can be with just a bicycle a tent and the winding road ahead.
So what do you think? Depending of course on the severity of the anxiety or depression, do you believe we actually have a choice to be happy?
Now I fear I must discuss, or at least give my view on the slightly taboo and decidedly undignified subject of knickers.
Of all the advice that I was given prior to my cycling trip, and there was a lot, the common denominator from everyone was to invest in a good sturdy pair of cycling shorts. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if mine were shorts or knickers. Whichever they were, they did the job well. But Mon Dieu, what an unsightly piece of clothing.
Lycra’d within an inch of their life so that they tightly suck in the wobbly bits like a vacuum packed chicken, and let other parts spill out over the top and underneath; the end result is one ends up looking like a rather badly stuffed Christmas stocking; all lumps and bumps but the only surprise with this stocking is whether one is able to take them off without the huge effort making one either puce in the face, or accidentally breaking wind.
As for the padding within, it is simply a large piece of foam which sits like a small yoga roll-mat between ones legs. However, the result? unattractive, however not a bruised botty in sight.
But, there is one piece of advice that I was NOT given, and that was to wear them from day one of said cycling adventure. If it is left until day three, you will discover that you can’t sit down without wincing, howling and yelping. Sadly this is really rather a case of locking the stable door once the horse has well and truly bolted and frankly is in another county. This was sadly what I did.
And, whilst trying to be delicate here, it’s not just ones ‘back bottom’ that becomes bruised, it’s the ‘front bottom’ area and for want of a better word, ones ‘fou fou’. This entire region becomes so delicate, that should you be travelling on a romantic holiday with your darling loved one, you can wave goodbye to any woo hoo for your fou fou for at least a week. Or if you do, he’ll find that he got more than he bargained for, with more wincing, howling, yelping and yowling than a night in a brothel with Madame Whiplash and her whippy-stick.
I think that just about covers it.
Any experience of cycling knickers? No? Lucky you … 😳
You are in a well. A deep, dark well with murky, warm water up to your thighs. If you look up, you can see a tiny chink of light, but it’s a long, long way away.
You are not alone down there in the well. There are many others. It is not frightening because it’s familiar. You’ve been here before. It almost feels quite comfortable, perhaps even safe.
Around the inner sides of the well are ladders, ropes and the occasional handle of all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some long, some a little broken and some sturdy. But not one of them reaches the whole way up to the light at the very top.
And on every ladder and rope, there are people trying to climb up. There are young people, old people, black, white, rich and poor, all heaving themselves up, slipping down, knocking others off as they fall. It’s utter carnage. So it’s easier here at the bottom in the warm water, because anyway who really knows what dangers lurk up at the top? Life at the top can be a perilous place.
Each ladder, rope and handle represents a lifeline.
First you have to haul your heavy wet body out of the soft, warm water. It is now cold and uncomfortable and your body is heavy with all the water, but you try. You reach for the first lifeline.
The first ladder is marked ‘doctor‘. It is a solid, strong and quite easy to climb up but as you progress, the rungs become narrower. So you need to move one of your feet onto another ladder.
This one is labelled ‘exercise‘ and is a little creaky, but seems to be helping you up a little further. As someone falls beside you, you reach out to the rope with the name ‘social interaction‘ on it. You start to feel enthused and energised and begin to look for other ladders.
There are some little handles on the wall with the name ‘meditation’ on them. You grab them. And all the while you can hear a wonderful voice giving ‘group counselling‘ to encourage and teach you how to reach higher for the ladders.
Yoga, Pilates, medication, therapy, exercise, medication, reading, writing, fresh air, light, gardening, baking, cleaning, cycling, good food … There are dozens of them …
Yes, there are ladders all around, and they are there to be used. All of them. Because one alone will rarely work. Each of us is different and some ladders work better for some whilst different ropes work better for others.
But despite our individual differences and needs, there are two factors that unite us. And they are:
It’s up to us to WANT to climb out of the hole, and it’s up to us to DO the climbing.
Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety and was there a trigger?
I am not in the same league as some of the gardeners here on WordPress. Frankly, I am in awe of their horticultural prowess.
I do however have a few meagre RHS qualifications and occasionally some Latin names find their way from the dusty crevices of the grey matter. Alas, give me houseplants and I’ll kill them. I will kill them by either forgetting about them or over–loving them.
I suspect historically that happened to a few relationships as well. (Obviously I didn’t actually kill the boyfriends, although I’d have liked to have thrown a few plates, vases and saucepans at some; but that might have made me seem a little unhinged, and I’m obviously not that.)
Yesterday however, and back to the gardening, I took the train from London and came (sans mon husband) to visit my parents-in-law. The reason: Obviously to enjoy some time with them, but also to help with their garden.
And garden I did!
Yes, it was chilly. Yes, my nose was a little sniffy and my ears turned attractively scarlet in the freezing cold, but it was glorious! And I thought I was a fair-weather gardener…
Fresh air and exercise has culminated in a tidy garden which has cleared out the cerebral cobwebs and frankly I crave for more. The sense of achievement has left me feeling unattractively smug and faintly pleased with myself. So if anyone wants to put me in my place or their garden needs sorting, you know where I am … well, sort of. Although, there’s limited internet here so if you’re horribly rude I won’t be able to retort quickly back or indeed give you my address. Bother! 😉
Sitting yesterday outside my coffee shop, I heard a man coming towards me. In actual fact until he came into sight, his gender was questionable due to the extremely high notes that he was singing. Indeed, the word ‘singing’ should be used rather loosely as well …
He was tall, wearing dark sports clothes and carrying a backpack with a couple of racquet handles poking out of the top. Finally, atop his head and covering his ears he wore an oversized pair of headphones. Headphones that clearly were muffling the sounds of the outside world whilst immersing him into his own wonderful bubble of music. And how he sang!
Great, sudden high-pitched screeches with wild arm movements sent fellow pedestrians ducking and fleeing in fright. Long and musically debatable notes were (loosely) held until he began to run out of breath; whereupon he appeared to grapple with deciding whether to continue on the warbling note, or to allow some much required air into his oxygen-depleted body.
His walking pace slowed, his arms raised high as he momentarily paused creating a brief silence as his audience of coffee drinkers and pedestrians alike also held their breaths in anticipation … He then took a deep and long inward gasping of breath and then burst forth with renewed vigour, passion and more animalistic wailing noises and his walking pace quickened once again. His head moved vigorously from side to side and a wide, broad smile beamed across his face.
As he passed us and went on his merry way, we all smiled at each other, brought together for a moment in time, enjoying the happiness of one individual, so deep in his own happy world and so oblivious to ours, that we almost felt a little envious. How carefree! How wonderful!
And it made me wonder, when was the last time that I felt that free and uninhibited? Indeed, when did you last feel and breezy? For me, it was cycling in France. Perhaps time has made me nostalgic, but of late I find myself pondering wistfully of my month away with only myself and Claude my bicycle to consider. The freedom was so utterly welcome, it was bewitching. I had indeed liberated, and seeing the man yesterday, made me yearn for it once again.
Perhaps the man had returned from a tennis or squash session and was high on endorphins; in which case I think I should dig out my own racquet and balls. Or perhaps, just perhaps, he was simply high on life. In which case I shall consider another trip, another adventure to bring back that glorious, glorious feeling of total and blissful freedom.
Do you feel free?
Do you yearn to be liberated from your anxieties, marriage, commitments or depression?
Anxiety … It starts with butterflies, then the clammy hands, tingling feet, dizziness and nausea, until finally in order to prevent passing out I have to either lie down or somehow get my head lower than my heart. Usually this involves bending over so far that it looks as though I am interested in looking at my knickers.
These deeply unpleasant sensations also occur if I am too hot, dehydrated and/or haven’t eaten enough.
Embarrassingly this happened on my second date with The Colonel. I had been a teensy bit overexcited, had forgotten to eat all day and was wearing a rather natty little dress of the faintly Grecian variety with lots of lengths of fabric wrapped round me. Alas, I think I had bound myself up slightly too tightly, and promptly had a little fainting episode. Not awfully sexy having your not-quite-boyfriend shove your head between your thighs, but I suppose I should be grateful that he didn’t give me a fireman’s lift and douse me in cold water.
I digress … my point here is this. Apart from the dehydration and lack of food causes for these symptoms, I have found that more often than not, my brain is confusing anxiety, with excitement.
Now this anxiety is really just a way of my body and brain recognising that there is a potential danger. It is simply preparing for fight or flight. As we know, in times gone by, the Sabre-toothed tiger approaching the entrance to the cave required some serious action. A delicate fainting, reaching for the smelling salts or practicing my breathing techniques would probably have resulted in ‘Kitty’s lunchtime’.
However, it’s perhaps a little unnecessary to have these rather extreme reactions when I am standing on a chair to change a lightbulb, or kneeling on the kitchen unit trying to reach the top cupboard. It can be a fairly long winded task to change a lightbulb if every few minutes as the adrenaline starts racing through my body, I have to be upended and forced to look at my knickers again.
So I have taken to changing my thought process.
Each time I feel those dizzying, clammy, nauseous feelings of anxiety I say (out loud) …
“Oooh! I am so excited! What fun I am having!” several times and then repeat, and again …
Now slightly simple, unhinged and odd I may well be, but slap me down with a feather, it jolly well does the trick. And dare I say it, on a par with, if not better than, my previous deep breathing exercises.
It appears that by forcibly telling myself that I am excited rather than fearful repeatedly whilst doing the stressful and loathsome task, I can overcome the need for a little lie down or reach for the sick bucket.
So I shall persevere with this and fingers crossed it could be the way forward … I suppose the only worry is if I try to incorporate both past and previous remedies. I suspect that by saying, “Oooh! I am so excited! What fun I am having!” whilst my head is up my skirt and I am heavy breathing, I may well be sectioned or frankly, arrested.
How does your anxiety manifest itself? And what do you do?
Snuggling contentedly amongst my other issues, I have two rather deep seated and firmly ingrained problems that I have recently discovered are linked. This actually is rather good, because that means that I now have one rather than two. Please note the positive spin – I am if nothing else, eternally optimistic.
I am a people pleaser and find it incredibly hard to say no.
I am unfamiliar with the notion of ‘moderation’.
And the link is this: I can’t say no to others, or myself. I simply cannot say “No! Stop! That’s enough”.
I suspect I am a people pleaser because of a need to be loved. The problem with this, is that being a fairly needy individual but loathe to be a burden, where one feeling should in theory neutralise the other, it doesn’t; it simply makes me complicated.
So I do things for people that I don’t want to do, consequently get grumpy and do whatever it is with extremely bad grace.
And then my neediness kicks in. Imagine husband dearest trying desperately to leave for work in the morning, briefcase and coat in hand, with me attached to his ankles being dragged across the kitchen floor wailing, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” Not that he’s quite beating me with his umbrella to detach me but …. Admittedly I am exaggerating somewhat, but you get the gist.
As for moderation, this tends to happen when doing something that I enjoy, for example:
Certain types of exercise (ie cycling until my body starts shutting down)
Nibbling delicately on a biscuit (read: devouring a twin packet whilst locking myself in the larder),
Getting excited about an event (hyperventilating, shaking and nausea)
Again, I hope you get the gist.
There is simply no “Off” button. No bright little button with “Time to stop now Katie!” flashing on it. No sodding great beacon with a man holding a megaphone shouting “No, you stupid woman, just Nooooo!”
I can’t say No!
So the question is twofold:
1). How do I stop this impetuous, people pleasing doormattish behaviour, and
2). How do I dig deep enough in order to find my inner self control? (As in, where do you keep yours? Clearly close to hand, perhaps in a little pocket somewhere …. whereas I think I left mine at a childhood birthday party many decades ago.
I’ve had to have a wee chat with myself of late. In truth it was more of a stern waggling of the finger involving some rude words and the occasional metaphorical kick in the shins.
And why? Because I was sensing a slight return of the lethargy, the tiredness and the excuses. The desire to light a fire, put on a pair of unattractive fluffy socks, matching pyjamas and woolly hat and vegetate makeup free was fast becoming just a little too appealing. Now fear not, I have come to recognise this. It is my very own slippery slope; my uncontrollable freewheeling downhill on Claude the bicycle when the brakes have failed and the only option, unless I am prepared to hit rock bottom, is to take an almighty leap to get off in the full knowledge that it’s going to hurt.
The problem with my ‘slippery slope’ is that the end point is even more unattractive than me in a pair of fluffy pyjamas. You see, I’m just not that kind of gal. I’m a “where’s my nothingness of a silk nightie … can’t find it … never mind, better do a Marilyn Monroe and wear nothing but Chanel No 5.” You get the gist … I fear that if I didn’t jump off said slippery slope, within a fortnight I’d have eaten my body weight in ginger nut biscuits, would be drinking like a fish and be found, the size of a small whale reading Barbara Cartland, wedged under the bed. As it happens I have always had great admiration for Barbara; frankly anyone who managed to write that many books is a hero in my mind – I can’t even do one (yet).
Now don’t get me wrong, I can give you a thousand reasons why I should be kind to myself and give in to the lethargy. Well, one or two …. my folate levels are apparently low, and ummm, well it’s winter isn’t it?
So in truth, without a plethora of excuses, I’ve had a ‘wee chat’ with myself, have bounced out of bed, slapped on some face (makeup, to the men out there), have embraced the cold air with gusto and have come to my coffee shop. Much too long a sentence once again and for that I’m sorry, but you see I’m just a bit excited. I took that metaphoric almighty leap off the freewheeling bicycle and not only was it easier this time, but the landing didn’t hurt. Yes, it’s only a meagre trip out of the house, but what I’ve found is that if I start the day with the right attitude, everything follows suit with my jobs done and the house and husband sorted. I then go to bed that night happy, fulfilled and tired enough that whether I’m in my birthday suit, a beautiful little nothingness of a silk number (marriage number two therefore efforts and standards must prevail you understand) or wearing a flannel onesie with a picture of Bart Simpson on it, I’ll sleep like a baby and the slippery slope will be a thing of the past. Or at least until the next day …
Of COURSE I’m not going to ask what you wear in bed … as if … but instead, what do you do to combat lethargy?
The past few days have seen a slowdown in the writing of my book. A tiredness and lethargy combined with family commitments are poor excuses; and yet when one’s brain is foggy and the body is longing for a sleep that never seems to remedy the situation, it is hard to see the wood for the trees and make progress.
As it turns out, my folate levels are at rock bottom but in many respects, I’m rather glad that it’s not simply my own laziness that has been the culprit relating to this fatigue. So it is with almost a sense of relief that I have been told to be kind to myself, something that I have never in truth been an advocate of. But needs must, and when the wise doctor speaks, I must take heed of his advice.
So strangely, I feel reassured and as a consequence am further determined to write, albeit in bed! I’m not entirely sure that this recumbent form of filling the day is what my medical guru was intending, but as I sit surrounded by soft pillows, light-as-a-thousand-feathers duck-down duvet and the soft light glowing from the bedside lamp, I must confess to feeling rather marvellous, if incredibly guilty. I am if nothing, one to take advice to the extremes.
Sadly however, this being London, there is a car intermittently blasting it’s alarm, a thud, thud base of music resounding through the walls from the traffic jam outside the house, and God forbid, the thought that my wonderful mother-in-law will be making her daily FaceTime call shortly is more than enough to end this sedentary self-care. Life quite frankly just go on, and the shame of being in bed at half past nine in the morning is shocking even to my befuddled, exhausted little mind.
So up I shall get and face the day whilst munching on some dark, leafy vegetables, and find my folate supplements. I shall seek peace and solace in my writing and make progress once again. As for the car alarm, I shall continue to huff, puff and mutter about moving to Outer Mongolia for a bit of peace and quiet. Alternatively, I could just hide for a little longer deep under the duvet, so that the sounds of life in a city are softened and a little muffled. But by God, it’s hot under there and as I emerge red faced and sweaty, I can hear my mother-in-law trying to FaceTime me …. Yes, enough self care, it’s time to crack on.
How do you combat tiredness? Is your bedroom noisy or are you in Outer Mongolia?
The other day I thought I was a bit down … a bit depressed. A few things have been going on lately that I thought had triggered Betty the depressive demon out of the garage to pay me a visit.
I was so filled with self pity that I had a little wallow in the gloopy soup of misery. What however I failed to recognise, is that it’s ok to sometimes just be a bit blue. That’s life. That’s normal. What however is not normal is how I dealt with it. I wasn’t quite hiding in the understairs cupboard with a vat of wine and a twin packet of ginger nuts, but it was looking rather appealing.
So, with a gentle nudge from the Colonel, my long suffering husband, I took to cleaning his pride and joy, the car. It was due to be sold so this was the moment.
Now, to explain, this is a car that should I leave hair bands, hand creams, spare water, emergency biscuits in, they are removed by my husband with a grimace whilst holding his breath. This is the car that should I accidentally put a grubby finger on the windscreen, causes a reaction in said husband that is somewhat akin to what I assume would be being tasered. It renders him speechless and incapacitated for a few moments, and finally as the shock wears off he disappears with considerable haste into the boot to find cloths and cleaning products. Strangely he doesn’t find my stifled guffaws of laughter and snorting giggles of apology help the situation.
So a few days ago, I took my blue mood out to the car and cleaned.
I spent seven hours cleaning that car. Yes.
I washed, polished, waxed, buffed and buffed again. I cleaned under the bonnet, inside the door frames, inside the petrol cap. I hoovered and sucked and sprayed. I used every single bottle from the vast array in his car cleaning box and then went and bought more. I replaced dust caps that I had lost when puffing up the tyres, I tried (and failed) to clean up the teensy scrapes along the alloys (ok, darn big chunks were missing). All in all, that car hadn’t looked that good since we bought it (bar the alloys).
A day in the autumn sun being busy, active, chatting to random strangers who passed by the house, and not only was a left with a sparkling car, but my mood was completely and utterly rectified. I felt marvellous.
The Colonel returned from a hard day of doing whatever it is that he actually does, and it was a ‘taser moment’ all over again. He was speechless and just stood staring. I grinned and squealed rather a lot, hopping up and down with crossed legs in excitement at his wonderful reaction.
After showing him every inch of the car, he emptied the garage and insisted that it stay inside protected until any potential buyers came to view it. Suffice to say, we have sold it to the first person at asking price but sadly my dear husband has now delegated any car cleaning duties in the future to yours truly. Not every cloud has a silver lining.
Do you have a car and who cleans it?? Do you love or loathe the job? Or is it some kind of therapy?
I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.
I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.
Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.
I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass …
But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.
As I embark on week two of my adventures travelling through France on a (now rather squeaky) bicycle called Claude, I have come to realise that everything here changes within moments.
The weather, the terrain, the incline of a track and energy levels and of course this all impacts upon ones mood.
One minute all is well and the weather is good, the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze. This can change before I have time to say, “Which pannier is my darn fleece in?” and before I know it, it’s not a fleece that’s needed, it’s an umbrella, Wellington boots and an oilskin waterproof all-in-one, complete with hat. Although I do sometimes smile to myself as I remember the Colonel telling me how many moons ago in training, they were all barked at with a, “Skin’s waterproof Sir!” Very true and sometimes quite a useful reminder.
The track is peaceful, cycling through the pine forests but lose focus and you lose your way. Within moments the track turns to a road with cars racing past and lorries roaring within a couple of feet and the confidence can be knocked within seconds.
As for getting injured, I’ve got more bruises and scrapes on my legs than when I used to muck about with horses!
And yet, it passes, and it passes quickly. Yes I know I harp on rather irritatingly about the old Persian saying This Too Shall Pass but it’s very true. It does pass, one solves the problem and moves on. No harm done and a little more wisdom gained. Character building one could say.
And as for the good times, the happy moments? Well they are held onto, treasured and clutched close to the heart. Nothing can take them away. Anything from a peach being given as un cadeau from a small French boy to three men saying, “Madame, we commend you” and solemnly and sincerely giving me a round of applause. Frankly I found myself ridiculously moved by both of these moments, and there have been many many more. It’s not really a big deal this cycling trip, (I’m no explorer or great adventurer!) unless perhaps you’re like me, slightly unhinged with a point to prove to nobody else but yourself and a desire to dig deep and find that wonderful quality that for me, was lost for a long time, courage.
Have you ever lost your courage, and did you find it again? How?
I think one of the most enlightening findings to date is that the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome are often those found to be festering in my mind.
Yesterday I deviated from my route of cycling alongside the Nantes – Brest Canal and took to the roads. The advantage being that it was more direct and I had a bit of catching up to do from a rather slack day two. The disadvantage (of course there’s always one) is that I therefore encountered hills. Not just a little ouch on the legs for ten seconds and it’s over, but serious back, leg and bottom breaking stuff that makes muscles holler in pain and the lungs scream. But where there’s an up there’s always a down and the freewheeling to follow is a respite – until the next one.
And then of course there’s always the danger of counting ones chickens before they’ve hatched… As I pushed Claude (my bicycle for new readers) up yet another ‘colline’ and looked around me I thought that frankly I couldn’t get any higher, and relief did rather start to wash over me. It was also the tail end of the day and nobody could surely be that cruel to put yet another challenge in my way.
Err … Mistake. As I rounded the bend, yes, a long freewheel down but then a monster, a beast of a long, not to be messed with, avoided or run away from, MOUNTAIN! (Fair enough, very, very large hill) …
Dear God even if I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, put my fingers in my ears and shouted, “La! La! La!” it would still be there to face me.
Remember the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? Well, I had no option but to go over this bugger even if I walked the entire way. And neither tears nor a tantrum would make it magically disappear.
And then I remembered the phrase, baby steps.
You can’t eat an elephant burger in one go, so you break it up into bite-sized pieces.
Bearing in mind that my options at this point were fairly limited, I sensed this approach was worth giving a go. Firstly of course there had to be acceptance that there was going to be pain and secondly that it was going to be a lengthy form of pain.
But, little section by little section I tackled my mountain, puffing, heaving, fighting the bastard thing, sweating, panting, howling at times in sheer frustration …
Sometimes however from afar a hill can be perceived as a mountain as are many challenges in life and the prospect of undertaking such a task can be frightening in itself. But as with so many things, if it’s broken down it’s in actual fact not quite so terrifying.
Slowly, slowly, bit by bit I cycled, pushed and heaved my way up. When I had enough breath, I sang songs that I could only remember the first two lines of, so starting making up the rest … Gave up on that and sang happy birthday to me even though it wasn’t, but at least I knew the words. I pretended I was an incredible author and was a guest on a talk show (Graham Norton’s as it happens – yup, a repetitive fantasy) and all the wonderfully witty stories I would tell (hadn’t of course worked out what they were exactly), oh and the best one was doing a book signing at Waterstones in Picadilly – apparently the biggest one in Europe! And the queues were out of the door! “Oh I’m so sorry you’ve been waiting!” I’d smile coyly.
Oh what marvellous daydreams I have!
But on I battled. Keeping my mind preoccupied with thoughts of nonsense simply to keep away the constant reminder of the physical agony. There were no tears, just pain aching long and hard. Baby steps … baby steps …
But wait just a heart-in-your-mouth minute … can this really be so? Is that really, truly, dare I say it, the top? Have I climbed my very own Mount Everest?
Well blow me down with a bicycle pump! Indeed I have! And I grin, widely and congratulate myself with another two mouthfuls of crunchy baguette, and a glug of water and stand and look around me.
Distance is a remarkable thing … the colours of the land stretch out and become softly muted. Figures and any features or forms of human activity are now invisible to the eye and the complete silence gives way to solitude. A feeling of total peace from being utterly alone, drifts and washes softly over me. Perhaps I truly am in heaven.
What challenges have you got in your life at the moment that you’re afraid of? And how do you manage your fears? (Not by singing happy birthday I’m sure!)
I am finally ready. Tomorrow I leave for the beginning of The Journey.
For those of you who (thankfully for you and your sanity) haven’t endured my endless witterings, I must clarify that this is not an antarctic exploration, nor am I walking unaided through the Gobi Desert, climbing K2 or sailing solo around the world. No. I am, with the aid of maps and hopefully rather a lot of signposts, bicycling my way along the Atlantic Cycle Route from the port of Roscoff to a campsite known as Moliets-et-Maa which is roughly between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.
I suppose the only difference is that I am doing this trip with my old friend Betty. Betty is my little demon, my demon of anxiety and depression who hasn’t been around for a while, but I sense she’s waiting for me, smirking slightly and lying in wait, ready to pounce at any slight moments of stress.
But, in essence I have the real company of Claude (my bicycle), a rather natty little tent which Claude is not invited into, and my husband’s army sleeping bag. I’ve also managed to squeeze in most of the Clinique sun protection range just to ensure that I don’t arrive at my destination looking like a small shrivelled walnut. Claude has his own repair and maintenance kit but the packaging on mine is prettier. I have a tiny cooker thing that looks a bit like a Bunsen Burner and singes the hair on my arms every time I light it, a few other cooking and eating implements, and a stack of maps. First aid kits etc of course and … well, it’s all packed now and I simply can’t remember but am hoping to goodness that I’ve got my passport in there somewhere.
The anxiety levels are pretty much through the roof this morning. The usual symptoms which I’m sure some of you can resonate with … stomach doing a gymnastics performance, palms disgustingly damp, shaking hands and mind and thoughts darting from one corner of my brain, ricocheting off it’s boundary and firing off into another direction. You can understand therefore why I’m rather looking forward to just going in order to end this purgatory. Perhaps purgatory is too strong a word, but it’s been a while since I’ve had it, and had forgotten how awful it is.
But, let’s be very clear here as I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy, I am the one who decided to do this and it certainly hasn’t been forced upon me! In fact most people are appalled. I think they worry about my safety being a woman on her own and all that. But frankly, if it’s as regards the likelihood of being hit by a truck, well, frankly that could happen to a man too, and if it’s about some dodgy bloke trying it on … well woe betide him! They clearly don’t know the volatility and sheer force of a middle-aged, highly strung, hormonal woman when she feels threatened. (See my post Road Rage for further clarification on how I sense I am marginally unhinged).
So no, whilst I am anxiously waiting for the hours to pass, and feeling excited but terrified in roughly equal measures, I’ll say au revoir for now and will post again when I’m on the other side of The Channel. Hopefully, by then I shall have half a dozen croissants in my basket, a large grin on my face and my sense of direction intact (surely, as long as I cycle on the right and keep the sea on my right then I’m doing it right and going roughly south …). As for roundabouts, I haven’t yet mastered them in England, so ….. I guess I’ll just have to keep you posted. Adieu.
It’s all well and good patting myself on the back and encouraging myself to step out of the old comfort zone, but understandably, others might not have the same urge to do so.
Going to the bicycle shop to give Claude (my bike) a general overhaul prior to ‘The Big Trip’, I realise that I am not alone in travelling around on two wheels and enjoying this lovely weather as half the world and it’s cousin are at the little local bicycle shop too.
The red haired, multi-pierced friend, cycling fanatic and in fact shop keeper from my previous visit unfortunately had his attention firmly up somebody else’s inner tube so taking my place in the queue, I was finally attended to by ‘Gustapho’, a rather splendid Brazilian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ‘la bicyclette’. I certainly felt as though Claude and I were in safe hands.
Sometimes however I do wish for a little privacy and surrounded by the truly serious cyclists, a ridiculous amount of Lycra and some fairly solid thigh muscles all waiting in the queue for their turn, I found myself whispering to Gustapho about Claude’s newly acquired clicking noises, the dodgy gear and the brake that the other day failed to actually work at all and resulted in a slightly closer inspection of a Privet hedge than I had previously anticipated.
“Aha! You have need of me. You need Gustapho. You madam, may call me Gus!” he pronounced proudly with a strong accent in a rather lovely theatrical way. I feel as though I’ve just stepped onto a film set and any moment ‘Gus’ is going to give a deep bow with much waving of his arm.
“However,” he pauses (I actually think for nothing more than effect), “For a full service Madam, we have a waiting time of one month.” One solitary finger is raised with force at me to make the point.
A lot of red-faced gulping, apologising and whispered grovelling with hand wringing ensued with yours truly explaining that I had thought that I was so organised and prepared but clearly proper cyclists, such as those I was surrounded by in this tiny shop, have every detail planned out not just weeks, but months in advance. Schoolboy error Katie. You truly are a novice.
I could hear tutting and sighing from other customers and so began asking about other shops in the area who might be able to help. But apparently every shop within a 50 mile radius worth their salt would give me the same answer, so humbled, humiliated and rather red, I started backing out of the shop. Quite hard when seven other people all with bikes have wedged you in and you’re desperate to leave.
All of a sudden however my red-haired, tattoo-clad friend then popped his head up from his inner tubes, gave a huge grin, came over and shook my hand like a long lost friend. Oh the relief at the sight of a friendly, familiar face.
Whereupon he explained loudly to not only ‘Gus’ but embarrassingly to everyone within hearing distance of the details of my trip. Now I’m not so bigheaded as to imagine that a middle-aged old bird such as myself could possibly make an impression, but bless his little cotton socks, he had remembered every detail of our last encounter when I admitted that I, said old bird, was undertaking a 1200 km bicycle ride through France on my own, camping each night whilst donning a rather unattractive pair of padded cycling knickers which in fact may well be shorts. Having divulged all of this, and left me feeling slightly less of a lower class bicycling citizen, and almost a slight sense of pride, he then happily disappeared into the bowels of the shop for presumably more playing with his inner tubes.
However, for my moment of happiness, I discovered that everything comes at a price. For the lady (and I use the term loosely) beside me with fearsome helmet, dark wraparound glasses and an enormous mountain bike, suddenly involves herself. A splutter of laughter from her as she raises her glasses to her forehead and peers down at my tatty bicycle, Claude, with his pale blue slightly distressed paintwork and wire basket on the front with a rather natty pink handbag (if I say so myself) inside it.
“Good God!” she sniggers, pointing at Claude, “On that?”
It’s an odd thing to feel protective over a pile of metal and rubber, but Claude and I have bonded well over the past couple of months and I felt that implied insults were most certainly uncalled for. Pah! She had a good fifteen years on me and I felt my hackles rising well above her varicose veined legs. But of course, manners maketh man and all that, so I smiled as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth.
Whereupon she launches, along with Gus about the merits of having a proper bicycle, in fact as she so smugly told me, it’s imperative to have two! Her road bike (she pointed down the stairs to the maintenance section where a skinny whippet-like equivalent to a bike) was being finely tuned for apparently the third time this year.
“My dear!” she tinkles with laughter, “Yours is far to heavy and cumbersome! Haven’t you thought about the hills?” She, Gus and now a couple of other Lycra’s roar with laughter together with Claude and I wanting the earth to swallow us up.
“And who will be taking your gear?” she carries on. I thought gear was a way of talking about drugs, but clearly she’s talking about my spare clothes and tent.
“Well, um I’m putting everything into the panniers and the tent, sleeping bag and roll mat sort of fit across the top of them,” I finish rather feebly as their mouths start to hang open and whilst the woman’s eyes narrow at me and her head tilts questioning in disbelief, Gus’s eyes are widening and becoming faintly bulbous. He’s reminding me of a large fish on a plate with the head still on and you want to take that silly little sliver of lemon and put it over the eye so that it stops staring at you. Actually I’d rather slap them both with said fish.
More laughter, clearly this is hilarious. I feel as though I’m back at school. Frankly I could bludgeon one of them very happily. Gus starts fiddling with my gears rather roughly and talking detrimentally about my bottom bracket, crank arms and dropouts. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about but more of the Lycra-clad brigade (aka customers) are joining in, sucking through their teeth, shaking their heads and offering words of unintelligible technological advice to this pathetic creature (me) with her flippy floppy skirt, pink handbag a rather dejected looking bicycle. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps this is truly just madness. I can feel that pricking of tears. Talk about pissing on my fire. Any flame is well and truly extinguished … in fact I’m now just a little puddle on the floor.
But with a jangle of his multiple earrings and silver crosses around his neck, my flame haired friend bounds up the stairs with a beaming grin like a long lost friend.
“Gotcha booked in for the morning!” he shouts. “I’ve shifted a couple of things around. We’ll work it out for you.” And with that, he gives me a wink, pats Claude on the saddle and moving his head closer to it, gives a wonderful stage whisper to Claude, “Don’t worry mate, I’ll have you fit for the fucking Tour de France in 48 hours!”
If I wasn’t concerned about getting my now frazzled hair caught in his nose, lip or eyebrow piercings, I’d have snogged him.
Gus looked rather surprised, the lady with the varicose veins and the two bikes looked thoroughly miffed and from behind me I heard some tutting. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
After much thanking, and believe you me, you couldn’t have had a more grateful recipient, Claude and I left swiftly and apart from becoming slightly stuck getting out of the door and leaving humiliated and with our confidence in tatters, we know that we will be fine, we will work out the problems which undoubtedly shall arise and even if we end up going, with my map reading skills, via Timbuktu, Claude and I shall write to our lovely WordPress friends and tell you all about it, the good, the bad and the ugly bits too … You’re all brill. You don’t laugh at me too often, you accept me for who I am, metaphorical warts and all. And for that my friends, I thank you.
How do you react if you’re ever laughed at or humiliated?
PROPER PLANNING AND PREPARATION PREVENTS PISS POOR PERFORMANCE!
So, the maps are prepared, the route is not quite set in stone but a phrase book and an O level in French will hopefully be enough to get me from Roscoff in the north of France to Moliets et Maa in the south. If I end up in the Alps, you’ll know that I’ve got my droit and gauche mixed up somewhere along the line. Easy mistake I’m sure.
My camping gear is ready and I practised again today putting up my tiny one-man tent. All fairly straightforward except that now that the ground is as dry and hard as concrete, so a small mallet will be added to my panniers.
I have a few clothes ready, including some extraordinarily unattractive padded cycling knickers. I was told very clearly that purchasing these would be a life-saver for me, or certainly for my bottom. Although frankly they’re so big you could potentially use them as a buoyancy aid. It was clearly not a woman who designed them. I have never seen such an ugly foam-lined piece of Lycra in my life. However, if they prevent a sore bottom, then my vanity will have to be pushed aside for a while. I remember at prep school we had to wear two pairs of revolting grey enormous knickers. Underpants and over-pants. Even in summer – grim. Now there’s a yeast infection waiting to happen. These are not dissimilar except rather stretchy and the padding makes me walk as though I have a rather bad case of haemorrhoids. Enough said.
Claude (the bicycle) is going in for a bit of a service next week, to my lovely new chum with the red hair at the bicycle shop to make sure that he’s all tickedy boo, fit, healthy and raring to go (Claude, not the red-haired bicycle doctor). The left brake needs a bit of tlc I discovered last week … ok, it chose to fail at a rather crucial moment. Don’t worry, the lady and the dogs were perfectly fine afterwards.
And as for me, well, I have three weeks and five days to go, so of course am planning the important things like working out how I’m going to fit the entire bathroom cabinet into my panniers when they’re already filled with dull things like bicycle oil and spare inner tubes … The Colonel and I clearly have different priorities.
The ferry is booked, the cooking kit and first aid packed up (although I am a complete girl’s blouse and frankly if I’m needing first aid, I shall be found in the nearest hospital with Claude and my French phrase book trying to get sympathy … I wonder if the French are as tough as the Scots? In which case I’m doomed. They only hand out drugs if you use a combination of tears and begging in roughly equal quantities.) I think I’ll keep the first aid kit in just in case, we’ve got some Thomas the Tank Engine plasters and some Dettol, plus various different gauze’s etc etc. Perfect.
I think I’m relatively fit, so I just need to keep up with the exercise and then …. boom! I shall be off. Setting off on my way to Clapham Junction railway station, packed up, raring to get onto the train to begin my adventure. But the funny thing is, that I’m also enjoying the preparation of it too. It’s not just about arriving at Moliets et Maa, it’s about the entire journey, both physical and of course, mental. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. This extraordinary feeling, not of anxiety, but of excitement, pure unadulterated excitement.
To be continued ….
Ps What makes you excited? Nothing smutty allowed … Ok, so when was the last time you were really excited? Nothing smutty here either …
When I was young, I used to think gardening was for old people. I also used to think that cricket was dull (No I daren’t mention football). Well, cricket for me is still quite dull, but being undoubtedly in the minority I concede that I just might be wrong. And as for gardening being for old people, well I’m so far off course with that opinion that I’m heading to the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen again. So please don’t shoot me down just yet. The ignorance of my youth was pretty blissful, but as you know, I am now a new woman and learning every day.
I used to watch my mother pottering around her gardens dead-heading here, staking there, looking as pretty as a picture and so very, very content. At peace with the world. I try to emulate her, starting off with Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, a large floppy hat, flippy floppy skirt and a rather twee trug, until I’ve done my usual and got a little overexcited and started tree pruning or digging in manure with over enthusiastic gusto and before too long the skirt is hitched up into my knickers, I’m pink in the face and all sense of glamour and grace have disappeared into the compost heap most probably along with the hat. Quite how my mother managed it I shall never know.
But a couple of things I do know are this …
Studying for those RHS (Royal Horticultural Society for non-gardeners) exams was the probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Perhaps because it was something that I was actually interested in, rather than studying algebra, trigonometry and …. binary (what exactly is the purpose of binary?) at school. Maths and I never got along and indeed still have a fairly tenuous relationship. Learning about something however that lives all around us and keeps us alive is so relevant, so important that even the narcissist in the old me cannot help but be in awe of mother nature.
And finally, gardening is the best cure for anxiety and depression todate that I have come across. It would be inconceivable to find me upended in a herbaceous border crying into the perennial geraniums, I’d be too busy gazing into their cheery little faces of pinks and purples. And how can I possibly be anxious when my entire focus is to pull out weeds and deadhead the roses … it takes complete concentration and as we all now know, I simply cannot multitask.
Also, and as an aside, being in the sunlight … did you know that normal sitting room lighting gives you 100 lux, whereas being outside on a sunny day gives you between 20,000 and 200,000 lux! And we wonder why we feel better after a day outside. Plus there’s the exercise … think endorphins and dopamine, and finally that wonderful feeling of satisfaction. Of a job well done.
So even though we have a postage stamp of a garden in our military quarter, there’s still room for some flowers and pots and whilst I don’t think that Wandsworth Borough Council would appreciate my attempts at tree pruning, I see no reason to do a bit of digging, planting and pruning, if not to look glamorous with our Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, but at least to perhaps find a little peace within the world and most importantly, within ourselves.
Do you have a garden, balcony or a windowsill with pots? What do you grow?
My brain is a simple thing. Like my computer, when there are too many tabs open at one time, it starts having a crisis, slows down and invariably simply stops working at all. Now, in the knowledge that I should probably take it to a computer hospital, I wonder if perhaps my brain needs a bit of a looking at too.
The reason I say this is because I cannot multi-task. Too many things going on up there in that fluffy cotton wool between my ears and it all starts unravelling. Badly. Like a dozen balls of multi-coloured wires being tangled up together, if things start getting too complicated, there is a sudden fizzing, a loud explosion and boom! It’s all over … A crisis is here. It happens very easily, relatively often, but is a bit of a bugger to sort out.
The Colonel however works best when doing a minimum of three things at once, and frankly the more the merrier. Concurrent activity he calls it. I have been known to just stare at him, baffled and bewildered as to how he does it. Perhaps that’s why he is good at his job and I don’t appear to even have a job. Must resolve that too …
However, I am now addressing this, ‘issue’. (Not the staring one, or the jobless one, the inability to multi-task one). So far, without much success.
I’m embarrassed to admit how very simply I tested myself yesterday morning and the outcome, but here goes …
Filling up the watering can in the kitchen sink whilst emptying the dishwasher.
You see, I read somewhere the other day that to help deter that awful habit, ‘procrastination’, the answer is, that if you see a job that will take less than one minute to do, then you must start it within a minute. Well I think that’s what it said. Brilliant! But perhaps only one task at a time. This is fine for most people, but not for the non-multi-taskers. The single-taskers like myself may find it problematic.
So, back to the watering can …. I’m putting things away, the water is filling the can, the cupboard doors are all open, I can feel the stress (yes really) starting to filter into my brain and the balls of wire up there amongst the cotton wool starting to fizzle, but to put away the frying pan means taking out several other pans so that it will not just fit in, but also the door will close. Fizzle, fizzle goes my brain …. The sound of water is suddenly louder and looking over my shoulder with a wok in one hand, the colander in another and the frying pan under my arm I see a steady, heavy fountain of water pouring out of the watering can’s spout, over the edge of the sink and into the open cupboard below, and yup, into the tub where the three-in-one multicoloured clothes washing pods live.
Brain has exploded …. much yelping, dropping of woks and pans and strangely my immediate reaction was not to turn off the tap, but to put the colander under the steady stream of water … we now have a version of the Water Fountains at Versailles.
Presumably I don’t need to describe the bubbly mess that I single-handedly created. Suffice to say however that those cute little squidgy little pods of blue and green designed to keep your clothes super clean, dissolve in cold water very quickly. Nine ruptured immediately, five stuck together and the remaining three are currently still drying on kitchen roll (stuck of course to the paper).
The laundry basket is however empty and all the sheets and towels have been washed too, completely unnecessarily of course, but just so as to use up the washing liquid on the floor, the sink, the side, and my shoes … Yes, everything is sparkly clean.
However, do not fear fellow single-taskers, for I have found there is an upside to all of this … if I am completely focused on just one task, not only do I tend to do it well, although I can become quite obsessed (tennis, now cycling) and take it to the extreme, it does mean that I simply cannot think about anything else whilst I am doing it. As in, I cannot think about anything else negative or otherwise whilst doing this activity. So Betty (the demon depressive) is firmly locked in the shed and shackled to the garden roller with duck-tape on her mouth so to speak.
So for all my single-taskers out there, if indeed I am not alone, there is hope for us all. Whilst we may not be able to fill a watering can and empty the dishwasher, we can do one better … We can get all the washing done and clean the kitchen floor too. Have hope!
Some of you might know that I’m doing a wee bicycling trip through France next month. 1150km of pottering along cycle paths and tracks, through villages, past (and into) boulangeries, and following the coast south all the way to where my husband’s family will, fingers crossed, be waiting for me with aftersun, paracetamol and a vat of ibuprofen gel.
I’ve chosen the scenic route which with any luck will mean avoiding the lorries and buses, but may of course mean that I have to endure the sound of my own voice and thoughts for many, many hours a day at a time. Thankfully I’m no singer so there won’t be any renditions of The Sound of Music, but I do ponder on whether I’ll be ok with just … me. It’s not a safety thing, God forbid should some poor fellow think it’s wise to take on this feisty old bird! No, it’s more about being bored of my own thoughts and if things get bad, will I be able to stop the downward spiral of negativity without my usual routines and a practical and heavenly husband just a few miles away.
Well, time will tell and any suggestions are genuinely welcome.
I’ve been going out most days and gradually getting stronger, fitter and more confident. People on the road never fail to astound me however, cyclists and drivers alike. Yesterday I had only three shrieking moments, once with a lorry cutting me up, once with a woman suddenly deciding to cross the road and the last one, much the worst, with a fellow cyclist in front of me deciding to ‘gob’, yes ‘spit’ his phlegm out which promptly landed on my leg. Arghhhhh! Yes, I damn well did give him hell. To be fair, he didn’t know that I was right behind him, but did his mother teach him nothing?!
I got a little lost as per usual, but found Fleet Street, The Strand, Covent Garden and little secret squares tucked away with the occasional terribly smart restaurant hiding within. Beautiful. I was looking to bicycle along Southside which I’d heard was rather fun, but having been stampeded by a school trip of children simultaneously with a group of Japanese tourists I made a bit of a diversion, not even sure if that was Southside.
I ended up in the borough of Lambeth which is dodgy old place, well the part I was in certainly had little to recommend it. Huge tower blocks, screaming children, an ominous feel about it and a few too many ‘young’ loitering (with or without intent I know not). Certainly the blood was pumping as I passed a small group of lads who thought it amusing to try to intimidate me. Standing up on the pedals and pushing on hard, I got past in one piece despite one of them thinking he might outrun me on his skateboard … pfff … as bloody if.
At the far end of this particularly dubious area however I found myself at The Vauxhall City Farm. Quite extraordinary to find Alpacas and chickens in the middle of London. I stopped and watched and listened as two girls had rather an amusing discussion as to whether or not donkeys were carnivores and their safety was in question.
Having a little bell on a bike is now fairly pointless, as people 80% of the time who are walking, have headphones on so can’t hear you, dogs are unpredictable (nearly took out a Dachshund last week) and other cyclists … well I’ve only overtaken three so far and one of them was stationary. I think perhaps I need a socking great foghorn instead, but being slightly highly strung myself, I may well find it’s not awfully good for the blood pressure. I give myself enough frights … the other day in the bedroom I was opening the sliding door of my husband’s cupboard and screamed blue murder as I discovered someone standing in front of me in the cupboard. Dear God! Thankfully it was in actual fact just my own reflection in the mirrored cupboard door, but I needed a bit of a lie down after that. You get my drift … perhaps a foghorn is not the answer.
I’m getting fitter of that there is no doubt and my stamina is improving (particularly with the incentive of a bloke on a skateboard shouting obscenities and chasing me). And the other day I managed to overtake a girl going up a particularly long hill towards Wandsworth as her boyfriend waited patiently at the top for her. It felt good.
I still have a long way to go and watching a YouTube video in the front garden on how to change a bicycle tyre last Friday certainly was a little too public as I ended up having various very kind and well meaning people offering to help, but that wasn’t really the point! How sweet they were, but as I explained, I do need to work out how to do this for myself! People are kind really, they’re not all axe-murdering psychopaths.
So onwards and upwards. Have a lovely day my friends and remember, if you’re in London, avoid the dodgy end of Lambeth past the farm, and for certain, avoid a blonde bicyclist wobbling her way through town with an array of expletives on the tip of her tongue and a rather pathetic tinkly little bell on a bicycle called Claude.
Yesterday’s little jaunt of 18.3km and not a centimetre less my thighs are telling me this morning, was an interesting learning curve on the etiquette of cyclists.
It turns out that my peddling companions are, once squeezed into their Lycra, helmet on and fearsome black glasses stretched across their faces are the two-wheeled equivalent to the white van driver, or for those who have not encountered our congested British roads and it’s drivers, that person who sits incognito behind a computer screen making foul remarks on social media knowing that they will never have to reveal their true identity.
You may call me harsh, but an hour or two daily around the streets of London and through the parks for the past three weeks has taught me that they’re a competitive bunch, who have no idea of personal space, cycling side-by-side, ignoring the designated cycle lanes, chattering obliviously with their fellow cyclists, upsetting even the most docile natured drivers and never saying thank you by means of a teensy little hand wiggle or nod when someone actually gives them a wide berth. Pah! Such rudeness!
However, I will admit, that whilst writing in fury, I’m generalising somewhat … but I write what I see, every single day.
There was however a very nice chap at the lights whom I asked advice from about where I should be positioned in the road at a particularly tricky junction … he replied, “No clue, just cycle fast and straight and everyone will get out of your way, mostly.” It was the “mostly” that concerned me, so I wobbled to the pavement, pretended to look at my map, and when the road was completely empty continued on my merry way.
Through Richmond Park I pedalled like fury, sadly overtaken by every other cyclist, most irritatingly by a young lad and his companion, an elderly man who I can only presume was his his great, great grandfather … it’s just like skiing, having the little blighters shoot past you with a whoosh of snow as I bellow at them to give me some fucking space. (Sorry about that, just thinking about it gets me reaching for my happy pills and a glug of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.)
I did at one particularly low point see a most capable (and enormous) man dressed in rather fetching red and white Lycra with a large cross on his back, and feeling safer being close to a Red Cross worker (or in my mind, a paramedic), tried even harder to keep up with him. No joy I’m afraid, and as I realised whilst watching his rather muscular bottom disappearing up the hill in front of me, he was in fact a professional Swiss team competitor … in training. I really must work on my flag recognition.
So I arrived back at home yesterday feeling slightly despondent to see the Colonel had been organising and tidying the garage again. If he found evidence of my recent shopping expedition by way of a few rather nice shoe boxes, he didn’t pass comment. He did however give me a rather lecherous look and despite my being disgustingly hot, sweaty and a tad grumpy went in for a kiss … my response, “Quite frankly, on yer bloody bike mate.” I thought that was quite witty, his forlorn face said otherwise.
Today will be a better day ….
How do you rate drivers and cyclists in your neck of the woods?
I know you want to hit me with a shovel, but ummm ….. exercise DOES work. Yup, sorry about that, but unfortunately, it does.
I remember going to the doctor’s surgery many moons ago (Do read The Doctor if you want evidence of my previous mental state) and being apoplectic with rage at his suggestions and yet, months later when the medication had eventually taken the edge off the depression and anxiety and I was able to think just a little clearer, I started the only form of exercise I knew, tennis.
Odd isn’t it how the doctors, therapists, magazines and papers are all telling us to use exercise to beat depression and anxiety and yet still, we are enraged and hate them all for their irritating and pathetic suggestions. “I have a disease, going for a swim won’t change that!” and “How can I go for a run when I can’t even get out of bed?” we shrill. “Don’t you understand how I feel, how can I possibly go for a cycle ride when I feel like this?” we shout.
And yet, and yet, they do keep banging on about the wretched benefits of it, even the celebrities we idolise seem to be talking about it. Bastards the lot of them. They just don’t understand. Don’t they know how darn exhausted we are?
However, when you have those endorphins and dopamine coursing through the body (don’t even question trying to fight those chemicals), the brain is occupied (no possibility of thinking about death, dying and misery, whilst focusing on a small yellow ball flying at eighty miles an hour towards you), the laughter, chatter and screams of hilarity filling the court (and often neighbouring courts) make any downward spirals of negativity stop firmly in their tracks with an almighty screech of rubber on tarmac and a handbrake U-turn. And as for the light, sun and fresh air … well I personally couldn’t find any of those whilst hiding under my bed with only the drooling dog and a family pack of multi-flavoured crisps for company.
The hardest part is the putting on of those trainers. (Read this post next … Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain) After that, it’s a breeze …. one becomes swept up with that extraordinary and distant friend, happiness, and before you can say “Goddamn gym bunnies” your cheeks are rosy, you’re laughing, chatting and organising the next session with newly found friends. If this all sounds a bit too cheesy, the only words of wisdom this old bird can hand out are from that age-old adage, “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it”. Because, annoyingly, using exercise to combat depression and anxiety and the lethargy that comes as part and parcel of those evil twin sisters, actually does work. It beats it. Game, set and Goddamn match.
WHAT EXERCISE ARE YOU DOING FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH TODAY? WELL??
The strange thing about cycling is that it’s impossible to feel any form of depression whilst your thighs are burning, your lungs are screaming, cars and of course other proper cyclists are zipping past, as you force 20lbs of metal and rubber up a hill. Your mind is rather, occupied, shall we say.
Equally, tootling gently around the sunny London somewhat quieter streets and the pretty parks with the breeze in your face and the warmth on your back, seeing the world close up, a feeling of complete unadulterated happiness, of living in the moment totally encapsulates you.
My first trip out was to the sorting office to pick up a couple of parcels. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. According to google maps, a mere 6 minute cycle ride.
I returned home 38 minutes later, and no, there had not been a queue at the sorting office.
I saw two gorgeous old Renault 4’s (along with the Citroen 2CV my favourite ‘pottering along a French country lane’ cars) a beautiful steel grey and white whippet which I knew would have delighted the Colonel, I met a very grumpy old woman whom I had thought I was helping across the road (clearly not) and I discovered that it’s quite hilly in southwest London. I found that I’m good at indicating left, but not right (a rather wobbly affair ensued) and the problem with having a bicycle is that there are no hazard lights, so when all else fails or you’re going to do something highly illegal, you can’t just push the button and everyone knows to avoid you. Simply stopping in the middle of the road on a bike could have serious consequences for the shiny new bike and the considerably older and not so shiny me. I did it once on a mini roundabout (it was going awfully well, but then I had to do the indicating right thing, wobbled rather a lot, so stopped in the centre of the mound of the roundabout). Probably best not to repeat that one. Of course the one advantage that I have, is that when I go on my big adventure in France in August, the mini roundabouts there you go anti-clockwise so I’ll be indicating left, so no wobbling! Hurray … a doddle! (It is anti-clockwise in France isn’t it? Hang on, which way will I be indicating? …. ) And frankly, drive too close to this cyclist at your peril … and possibly mine.
I love looking at the houses, the gardens, the people, the dogs, seeing, really seeing everything. Noticing the detail. The glorious feeling of freedom.
Do you remember the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film and the beautifully shot, idyllic scene on the bicycle with Paul Newman as Butch, and Katharine Ross as Etta, with the music of Raindrops are Falling on my Head? Well, when I’m cycling that’s how I feel. I am Etta! (Albeit not there in the looks department and I don’t have Paul Newman sitting behind me but you get idea). It’s a time of complete happiness and of being at peace with the world.
So I shall venture out again today and find my inner Etta, that simple purity of enjoying a moment in time, for loving something for what it is, happiness and peace …. unless of course there’s a roundabout to navigate.
What gives you that feeling? Anything else worth trying? All suggestions very welcome (apart from anything smutty or involving a vat of chocolate, or a combination of the two). X
Make a commitment to yourself, your mind and body. Make a promise to put on those rose-tinted glasses that you once, where the world was a wonderful and happy place.
What have YOU done for your mental health today? Can you make this promise to yourself?
If you need them, take them. If they’re not working, change them. Your doctor is your friend – your job is together to find what works for you. And if the doctor doesn’t work, change them.
R. Re-setting The Thought Patterns
Go to therapy, talk to a psychiatrist, talk to a psychologist, learn about CBT and practise, practise, practise every day until your brain starts to ‘unlearn’ the bad habits and learn the good. It works.
Get outside, get some fresh air in your lungs and find the light. Just to let you know, bright moonlight gives you 1 lux, normal living room lighting gives you 100 lux, but being outside on a sunny day gives you 20,000 to 100,000 lux … monumental difference and we need it more than most.
Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, whatever you need to practise daily to start to control the anxiety .. Nb Don’t do the audio cds in the car. I nearly crashed I was so relaxed, and they keep telling you to close your eyes … enough said.
I. Instil proper eating habits
Invest in your body. Think you can live on processed food and feel good? Cooking is for everyone, for you and your family. If your own parents have brought you up on Macdonalds, crisps and ice cream, shoot them (Nb Yes that is a joke) or better still, educate them. If your mind and your body is out of sorts, it’s going to be even harder to get back on an even keel. (Ginger nuts don’t count as long as the whole packet isn’t eaten in one sitting.)
S. Social Interaction
Have a proper chatter and a natter with at least one other human being every single day. The dog does not count, neither does talking to yourself.
Whatever floats your boat as long as it raises your heart rate and gets the endorphins and dopamine kicking in. Find something, anything that you’re going to stick at.
Make the promise that you’re going to do this every single day and see through those rose-tinted glasses …
What they never told me, is that medications and therapy can be provided, but the rest of it was up to me. A leaflet telling me to eat healthily and get exercise is never going to get me reaching for the kale smoothies and an exercise bike. I need someone to verbally spell it out whilst holding my shoulders and shaking me, and then repeat it.
We need regular exercise … that means more days doing it than not
We need regular fresh air and light
We need to eat the good stuff and drink water like it’s going out of fashion
We need to ditch the alcohol
Meditation and/or yoga are a must to calm the anxiety
And finally, work, work, work on getting up and doing … don’t let the lethargy lothario seduce us into doing nothing and lying on the sofa for hours surfing the net for the latest Graham Norton YouTube videos (although I have to admit that I will resort to this when Betty the Demon has me in a headlock and I start googling pain-free ways to die).
So, back to the point in question,
What exercise are you doing for your mental health today?
I’m going to play tennis … inside of course, this is Scotland after all. And whilst I type, I’m still in bed and not exactly bouncing around at the prospect of it, however – I know I will love it when I’m there. The dopamine, serotonin and endorphins will give me a major boost. The social interaction will help me out of my hermit state and finally the sense of achievement and accomplishment will spur me on to reinforce that a little pain for a massive gain is absolutely and undoubtedly worth the effort.
I once had a garden in Oxfordshire, England. Sincere apologies if I’m sounding like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa … ‘I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills’. Somehow it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and I certainly don’t see Robert Redford kicking around here ….
However, in my garden, I discovered that digging up potatoes is like finding buried treasure, rather exciting. Picking beans (before the dog has sniffed them out) is total satisfaction, and the monotony of shelling peas is absolute therapy (mindfulness I think it’s now called).
Now, it strikes me that these are some of the normal everyday tasks that our grandparents used to do … did they suffer from anxiety and depression? Did they have the same levels of diabetes and obesity that our generation suffers? Did they hand their child in the supermarket a packet of crisps and their phone to play on, in order to stop the tantrum? I don’t think so somehow …
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they had it easy in any way, shape or form particularly with the advances in medicine as an example, but surely there’s some form of halfway house to be had?
They did the washing without the help of a washing machine, they cooked without blenders and microwaves, they cleaned without hoovers and spray polish, they wrote, read and enjoyed handwritten letters. Everything took time, and effort and patience was the norm and absolutely necessary.
No online food deliveries or factory-made meals with ingredients defined by letters and numbers and more often than not, ending in ‘phosphate’. What exactly is disodium diphosphate anyway? Some sort of raising agent … what’s wrong with an egg from a happy chicken. I’m on a roll now, warming to my theme .. does anyone actually know what partially inverted refiners syrup is? Apparently it’s in my ginger nuts. And no, I don’t really want to know, I’m just having a rant on my soapbox.
Perhaps I’m simply feeling a little nostalgic for an era of which I only know snippets of, from what has been passed down through the generations. Perhaps I crave some simplicity in my life to help me. Perhaps I crave some digging up of potatoes, weeding the beds, working up a sweat and doing these things that we now call mindfulness, but in those days was just called life. Perhaps I simply crave my garden … not at the foot of the Ngong Hills, just my little simple garden in England.
Yesterday something completely new, novel and rather bizarre happened. I certainly don’t want to jump the gun, count my chickens before they’ve hatched or continue spurting any other idioms for that matter, but I’m nervously excited. Little butterflies of trepidation fluttering inside me ….
Please forgive the very basic simplicity of this, but this is the level that I’m at right now! But I am wondering if anyone out there (she ask hopefully) has similar thought processes …
The Situation aka The Fact
No clean socks in the drawer for sport.
Previous/Usual Thought Processes and Actions
Panic and stress, leading to upending all the other drawers in case sports socks have walked by themselves into t-shirt or knicker drawer. Heart racing. Mental beating with large pointy stick whilst berating myself for being so disorganised, utterly unprepared and useless once again. I wonder how The Colonel can possibly want to be married to such a pathetic creature. I have reinforced that no, I am not a domestic goddess however much I’d like to be. Anger followed by despondency kicks in.
Wear previous days sports socks? Noooooo, that’s grim. Can’t stoop that low.
Wear non-sport socks? No, they slip inside my trainers and besides then everyone will know that I’ve not got clean socks to wear and have had to resort to this…. oh the shame (despite the knowledge that others have been seen playing in jeans and espadrilles because they forgot their kit.
I won’t go and play tennis today. I’m in such a bad mood anyway that I’ll play badly and this mood is infectious and nobody wants to catch that. Cup of tea and turn on iPad.
All negative! What a surprise … not.
The Situation aka The Fact
No clean socks in the drawer for sport.
Brand Spanking New/Most Unusual Thought Processes
Ahhh, it’s because I’ve done two lots more tennis this week. Crikey that’s great. Well done me! Metaphorical patting and slapping on the back. Big smiles. Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling a bit chirpy this week? No shit Sherlock …
See if I have any drying on any radiators around the house, or borrow a pair from The Colonel or wear a pair or two of normal socks and if they’re a bit slidey, well heck, it’s not like I’m playing at Wimbledon! (Snorts of laughter ensue, followed by some serious day dreaming of me on Centre Court looking fabulous in a tanned and blonde sort of way playing the most unbelievable shots leaving Serena Williams looking baffled …) Back to earth …
Put on two pairs of non-sports socks, patted myself on the back, again, and as I’m leaving the house, find a pair drying on the kitchen radiator. I am a domestic goddess! Think if I’m going to continue playing so much tennis, I might go and buy some more socks … oooh I see a shopping outing in the offing! Yay! Double yay!
I sit quietly in the car. I have never felt this before. This momentary feeling of having no anxiety. The light and relaxed feeling of thinking ‘What does it really matter? It’s just a pair of socks’. Is this the endless CBT that I was so convinced was nonsense and couldn’t possibly work for me, actually beginning to infuse into my brain … Is there some sort of osmosis going on?
This is a new sensation and it’s glorious and I want to hold onto it. I want to hold on to this wonderful, lightness in my mind for longer. Is this how other people think? How utterly, utterly liberating. I don’t want this feeling to leave me. But surely, if it’s happened once, then it can happen again? Can’t it?
One small but impossibly heavy link on the chains that holds me down in my murky sea has just crumbled beneath me and I’m gently moving upwards towards the light. I can see it, I can almost touch it. Please, please don’t let this feeling go.
I’ve never much liked the word hobby. It’s always tended to conjure up images of groups of 80 year olds sitting in a draughty church hall doing crochet, undoubtedly wearing large polyester floral skirts with elasticated waists and discussing the merits of their husbands vegetable patch ……
I’ve had single girlfriends who have secretly joined Salsa evening classes, until a few weeks later they can’t talk about it enough. Worse still, they have tried to coerce me into joining them. Err, no thanks! Raving about the liberating joys of learning something new and meeting different people. Why on earth would I want to do that?
Why would I want to risk making a complete fool of myself, standing on the edge of a roomful of Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers, whilst nobody picked me to have as their partner. Oh nooo! Besides, I had friends. Why would I need any more? My own little random group of friends, strangely however from the same middle class background with the same dress sense, likes, dislikes and thoughts as me. Was this a coincidence or had I subconsciously chosen friends because as they were like me, therefore they were deemed safe and I could therefore trust them?
However, that was in the old days, the bad days. Those were in the negative days. To be honest I was not only just a teensy bit narrow-minded but also somewhat uneducated. I knew nothing! Not that I know an awful lot now, but perhaps I am slightly more open to ideas. And of course, this was before I discovered my ‘thing’ (autocorrect just put in ‘thong’ rather than ‘thing’ which has made me smile, childish I know … I’m sure I discovered thongs a long time ago!). I don’t have a hobby, I have a ‘thing’.
And tennis is my thing.
It’s my focus … for several hours a week, I think completely and utterly on one thing. I do something completely alien to me which is to concentrate! I’m pretty sure Roger Federer isn’t serving for the match whilst stressing over what to buy his wife for her birthday or whether Trevor the plumber is going to turn up that day. During those hours I have no negative or anxious thoughts, and that is becoming so regular that it’s becoming a habit. A good habit. Betty the Demon Depressive doesn’t get a word in. She is silent. I am not feeding the beast, so she is wilting. Simples.
It’s my sport …. it’s exercise which means endorphins, dopamine, serotonin start leaping into action, boosting my mood. They are real and they work. The exercise has helped my skin; it makes me drink more water which helps every organ in my body. I can wallop a ball with such force that all my frustrations fragment and disappear. Despite being a skinny bird, age is cruel thing and where bingo wings, muffin tops and love handles once were, muscles are appearing. This makes me more confident and the Colonel’s glasses steam up more … both of which are positives in my book. (The latter perhaps needing to be kept under control from time to time).
And finally, it’s a part of my routine and structure …. It’s one of my daily tasks. It gives me a sense of purpose and control with my life, mind and body. I need routine and structure more than most people. Without it, there’s always the fear that I really might end up doing nothing all day and hiding away in my little home, wrapping my bingo wings around me with nothing to talk about.
And finally, it’s my social interaction with the world. I have new friends. Friends who are different from me. Friends of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. I have no one to hide behind, no children, husband or alcohol. I have learned from them that being yourself is good. We talk nonsense mostly, laughing about nothingness. We laugh, we tease, we tell each other our woes and our joys. We put the world to rights. They don’t judge me and I don’t judge them. They are quite simply, fabulous.
So, if anyone out there is even just starting to think about having a new ‘thing’, then my advice (without being preachy … what right have I?) then don’t overthink it, just do it!
Don your very best floral, elasticated skirt, head down to the church hall and start doing it …. Crochet, tennis, salsa, Ethiopian basket weaving – whatever floats your boat. But you’ll end up with considerably more than just a new hobby. You’ll have a whole new part to your life. A very, very good part.
In exactly three weeks time, the Colonel, my two boys and I are taking a holiday. Whoop! Whoop!
We are going to a small village in the Alps which is predominantly full of Italians who make skiing look as effortlessly natural as if they had been born in a pair of skis. They have a tanned, healthy glow about them which makes their smiles look even brighter and whiter. Their tiny children race past me on the slopes with the confidence of youth and the knowledge that if they take a tumble, they will simply bounce. Besides, they’re so small, they haven’t got far to fall and anyway papa will appear within moments with an elegant swish of snow, to scoop them up, utter some words of encouragement and send them on their way again …. to rejoin his bronzed wife in her enormous sunglasses, sipping coffee, behind a light cloud of smoke with a cigarette held between two long tapered fingers. I feel as though I am in a film with Sophia Loren … except there’s a bit of twist as Bridget Jones (aka me) has just been added to the cast list.
How do they even make smoking look good? Not quite the same here seeing the masses huddled together outside Tesco’s in the pouring rain whilst you’re trying to get your jammed trolley out of the row. “Kevin!! Go and help that lady with the trolley! No, don’t kick it you pillock!” No, not quite the same at all.
I am a cautious skier who started much too late in life. I do not share the Italians’ attributes. I have less of the tanned healthy look about me and am blessed with more of a pale, insipid look, something akin to skinny-legged hermit crab who has been hibernating for a year or two.
I scuttle from one side of the piste to the other, stop, look nervously around and scuttle back the other side. When things get tricky, I do what I do when driving, I stop. But there are no hazard lights on this vehicle, so this particular habit has been known to cause a pile-up. I am fairly prickly with anyone under the age of six who skis past me and doesn’t give me at least ten metres of wide berth, and when things get very tricky, I sit down. I have been known to cry on occasion, also whilst sitting down.
However, to say I am excited about our upcoming holiday is an understatement.
I am bouncing around, laying clothes out on the bed, counting out pairs of socks …. adding a few for good measure, and what should I wear to go to breakfast? Certainly not my skiing gear – that might look a bit keen, besides I wouldn’t be able to move, would over-heat and can guarantee to spill something on my lovely pink ski trousers … oh the decisions! But such lovely ones.
The Colonel gathers his kit and essentials in roughly five minutes, in part because they were pre-packed in advance, and secondly because he takes the exact numbers of changes of clothes, whereas I can’t decide, so end up taking everything, and a spare just in case. … I see him give a slight shudder when he sees how my side of the bed is getting piled up high … certainly more than a 23kg baggage allowance high, so I remind him haughtily that I am ‘planning for every eventuality’. I also wonder just how high a man’s eyebrows can go up? But sensibly he keeps his thoughts to himself.
So why with my obvious limitations on the piste and otherwise am I so excited?
Why when this is more expensive than three of our camping holidays put together, am I feeling so happy?
Why, when there are times that it can be scary and at other times nothing less than terrifying, do I feel so alive?
Because, I can feel it now. I can see it now. The air is crisp, cold and clear; you breathe in to the very bottom of your lungs and it feels so very, very pure. The beauty of the mountains is nature at its very pinnacle, in all its glory, standing proudly. The sounds of laughter, the crunching of snow underfoot…. the swishing of skis …. After the dirt, grime and sludgy colours, to the purity, the whiteness …. how clean, fresh and sharp the colours are. I’m in my own piece of heaven.
It simply makes me happy. Each year I work on improving and each year I remain the same … but it doesn’t matter. It’s family time in a healthy, stunning environment with masses of exercise, food and drink. I couldn’t ask for more.
I love the feeling of happy exhaustion after a long day of exercise, the looks on the boys’ faces, rosy and laughing. Joking about who is the fastest, more laughter as we all know the truth that the Colonel is far and beyond the best in every respect. He has been known to ski past me, on one ski and no poles whilst bellowing, “A little more angulation my darling!” If I wasn’t panting so much from the exertion I’d tell him exactly where to put his angulation.
So you see, that is why I am excited. Because despite everything, I know that I will be happy there.
Better still, we will all be happy there.
I’ll never look like Sophia Loren, but maybe, just maybe I can work on my skinny-legged hermit crab to look a just a teensy more elegant (or even have a spray tan? Just a thought …).
Lordy-be! I’ve joined a gym …. more specifically, a tennis club with a gym attached.
Having played a bit of tennis at school (only the B team I hasten to add), I figured that this was one sport that I would
a) enjoy and therefore be more likely to stick at – good idea,
b) be a bit social and introduce me to some new people – very good idea,
c) might get me a teensy bit fit in time for the summer bikini season – excellent idea, and finally
d) I might, with time, practice and a huge amount of effort, be able to take just one game off The Colonel (aka my husband). Flippin’ brilliant idea – pass me the forms, where do I sign?
I’ve known for ages that exercise is the absolute key to recovery. I’ve read enough blurb on the subject of anxiety and depression to know that this is the way forward. So, with great excitement I told The Colonel of my plan. He looked at me from over his glasses and raised an eyebrow. I swear I saw his mouth twitch. I think I know that look …. I bet he thinks I won’t do it, or stick to it for longer than, ooooh let’s say a week.
“Pah!” says I, “Just you wait til the summer when I’m as fit as a flea, looking like a very young and very beautiful Claudia Schiffer and am running you round the court with my newly-found tennis skills!”
“Excellent.” He says. “I look forward to it.” Another twitch of the lips and he returned to his breakfast. Fine!
So with this sense of a challenge in mind, I took a deep breath, parted with huge sums of money, was given a locker key in exchange (how generous) and jumped headfirst into the world of gym bunnies.
After a physical assessment with the Scottish version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I have to admit I couldn’t understand a word of what he said (very strong on the Scottish accent front … and how many times does one say “What?” before they have you down as either completely brain-dead or worse still, taking the piss), anyway, I digress, I was then set free to join in the tennis club session.
This involved three indoor courts of mixed doubles which after one set everyone would switch around so as to change partners. Oh help me God!
I felt like the new girl at school. Hideous … anxiety hitting me like a ton of bricks. Want to run …. want to escape. Starting to sweat. Panic attack on its way ….
A smiling face bounds over, welcomes me and introduces himself as The Coach. “Thank God, you’re here!” He whispers, “It means I don’t have to play …. I slightly overdid it last night!” He roars with laughter. At least I think that’s what he said …. Another strong accent. Panic is subsiding – and before I know quite what has happened, he has sent me off to join three others.
And so I played.
My hands shook, my legs shook. I missed most balls and the rest seemed to end up either in the net, or in the net of the neighbouring court. I apologised profusely each and every time. And the reaction from the players ….. Laughter, hilarity and huge congratulations when I did something good. Quite extraordinary! What a completely unexpected delight.
Afterwards it was coffee all round. No getting out of that one and slinking away …. yet more laughter and chatter. A few questions, but nothing too taxing. It appeared that they didn’t want anything from me, they were just welcoming and happy to have another player.
I left on a high …. a complete high. I didn’t care what hormones or chemicals were flying around my body. Endorphins, dopamine – don’t care. I wasn’t trying to analyse anything at all – all I knew is that this was flippin’ marvellous and I felt fan-bloody-tastic!
I bounced around the house for the rest of the day, booking myself into every tennis session available and reported back to The Colonel.
“I played!” I grinned. “Very, very badly, but I played …. and they were lovely. Everyone was lovely to me!”
“Of course they were.” He said. “They were always going to be lovely to you, because you are lovely.” A gentle smile from The Colonel and I throw my arms around him with a teensy tear threatening to roll down my cheek. He understands. He understands everything.