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?