Courage Mon Brave!

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Once upon a time I was a secretary. I could sit politely with my legs crossed prettily at the ankle and take the minutes of a meeting in shorthand. Sometimes I would even be able to read it back and type it up, mostly however, I’d wail pitifully as I struggled to make out even the names of the people who had attended the meeting. I tried once just making it up, but when the minutes were distributed later to the apparent attendees, it caused much confusion for everyone, especially those who weren’t there.

Oh I tried. I tried to be organised, but my filing systems were less of a system and more of a random putting things, frankly, anywhere. My desk was an extension of my in-tray, papers spilling over until the floor also was used as a workable space. Making mistakes whilst booking hotels and hire cars for my various bosses over the years resulted in many an irate repercussion. Apparently CEOs don’t appreciate sharing twin rooms even if there is a saving in cost, and admittedly I hadn’t thought through how five directors and their luggage could fit into something the size of a Smart car.

Oh the anguish! And I had more jobs than most people have changed their socks, trying desperately to find something, somewhere that I was even marginally good at, least of all enjoyed. How I tried … and yet, that funny little phrase about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole springs to mind.

And now, now I loathe paperwork probably even more than ever before but thankfully I manage to bribe The Colonel to do some of the more arduous tasks on my behalf … well, ok, for me.

My point in all of this, is that I’ve noticed of late that several of my friends here are having a change of direction in their careers and jobs, or at least pondering hard over it. And for that I heartily commend you! Don’t make my mistake, doing a job because it’s what you think you should be doing, because it’s what is expected. I can’t bear little whipper-snappers with no life experience telling me how to have a goal, make a plan, commit and do it, but this old bird has got more experience under her belt in this area, than there are bedbugs in a dodgy hotel room.

Do what makes you happy … and then tell us all about it!

Katie xx

What is your job? Do you love it or like it? Does it just pay the bills or do you bounce out of bed in the morning to get to it?

I’m Trying To Be A Better Person

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Sometimes I encounter and consequently ‘suffer’ from first world problems. These can be anything from a late train, an unexplained rattling in the car when it reaches 80 miles an hour, or running out of truffle oil; (no of course I don’t really keep truffle oil, I’m just exaggerating to make a point), and then yes, I have a little whinge.

My husband, known as The Colonel, simply looks at me over his glasses and raises an eyebrow. This usually renders me suitably chastised and I usually give a snort, tell him to ‘sod off’ in my typically eloquent manner and reduce my whinge to a “mutter-with-attitude”.

A fellow blogger (A Fractured Faith) wrote recently about the homeless and it rather spurred me on to do something useful and to press the pause button on this shoddy behaviour. So I hunted around the cupboard upstairs and emerged with:

. An old sleeping bag

. A military windproof, waterproof, everything-proof coat

. The softest, warmest blanket that I gave to my late mother and have been struggling to throw out

. Some toiletries in rather natty little airline bags (apologies for the revolting word …. Toiletries, Soiled, Moist and Toilet make me squirm. It’s the ‘oi’ thing. However, also Gusset and Lubrication. Enough said.)

Having lugged these items down to both the train station and High Street twice in the search for someone ‘in need’, and returning on my bicycle still fully laden, I was in danger of losing my inner Samaritan. But, third time lucky and I found a lovely chap with a dog who despite having everything that he needed, directed me to a gentleman who apparently did.

By now it was late afternoon, the sun had dipped beneath the trees and it was cold. Terribly cold. It was just starting to drizzle and the wind was picking up when I saw him. A narrow, hunched dark shape with the sleeves of his thin jacket pulled over his hands. He was shaking; not just his arms, but his entire body. He looked up at me and I smiled. Slowly and gently we began to chat. A thin, cold scrawny man with nothing to his name. No address, money, belongings or education.

His past was something of a horror story and the fact that he was still alive was either a miracle or testament to his courage.

I came away feeling humbled, ashamed and also angry at ‘the system’. He was so grateful for the pathetic bits and bobs that I gave him and so willing to talk to me, a silly middle aged, middle class woman with an expensive haircut and a propensity to buy expensive Christmas baubles. In the end, I felt grateful to this gentleman.

I am trying to help him further but suffice to say, it’s a minefield out there with a system with no money and too many people needing help. I shall continue but the longer I take, the colder the weather is getting.

I came home feeling not sanctimonious, pious or as though I had morphed into Mother Theresa, but just plain humbled.

Since then I have been making a conscious effort to (attempt to) restrain my irritations at unimportant first world issues and be grateful for what I have. Although having just re-read that I realise that I now sound like a prize knob so I’ll perhaps retract it, but it does make one think…

And finally, when I told my son about this and the horrors of being homeless (trying to educate my 20 year old son is I realise locking the stable door well and truly after the horse has bolted) he calmly informed me that the sleeping bag I had just given away was not my old one, but in fact belonged to him. Bugger. Thankfully he has a far nicer nature than me and just patted my shoulder. I think he muttered something about the onset of dementia but by then I was back in the cupboard again trying to work out if the military jacket I’d just handed out was not my other sons old CCF one, but in fact belonged to the Colonel … God I’m an arse.

Katie xx

Are there many homeless people in your neighbourhood?

How does your council/state/ country help them?

My Happy Place

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I have finally found my home away from home. It is simply a little coffee shop between the river and the park. It has wooden floorboards, huge windows and soft armchairs filled with cushions. There are beautiful pastries and fresh fruits in wicker baskets, smells of roasting coffee beans and hot chocolate and has now most firmly become a part of my daily routine.

I sit, drink copious amounts of coffee and write.

I used to find that writing on the underground worked a treat until I realised that going round and round on the Circle Line in order to type up the next chapter was probably a little odd to say the least; and somehow writing at home just seemed to be difficult. It was too quiet and the overspilling ironing basket would give me the evil eye, and the cupboard with the ginger nut biscuits would call to me a little too often to guarantee a lifetime free of the dreaded cellulite. So the coffee shop it is. They do have a rather delicious chocolate brownie which just happens to come with ice cream but I digress.

Like so many of us, it took a little while before being able to feel entirely comfortable and entitled to while away the hours in someone else’s space; but within a week I found myself feeling as though I was simply ‘a home away from home’. The staff became chattier to me by the day and even better, knew how I liked my coffee. And now? I feel like one of those people (usually men dare I say it) who go into their local pub and are asked, “A pint of your usual sir?” Oh yes, I feel as though they have accepted me into their fold and I’m loving it.

So, as I tap, tappety, tap away with the world moving around me and gentle music playing in the background, I have now reached the momentous point of being one third of the way through the book. There is still a long way to go, particularly in light of the fact that I have a notebook completely full of barely legible notes to make something of, but it’s a good start. I’m out of the starting gates, have done a few furlongs and am galloping midfield with a mass of others.

There are many on the same course, and whilst some are ahead, some behind and some have fallen at the first hurdle, I am doing my very best to keep on the straight and narrow. I’m only a little way through with the inevitable Becher’s Brook or another huge challenge or six to contend with, but with a good wind behind me and my bank account allowing for the continuation of daily coffee and chocolate brownies with ice cream, with a little luck I shall finish before the clocks go forward in the spring. I may of course be something the size of a whale with a coffee addiction by that point, but I will, with a little luck have a book. Battle on McDuff to myself and all of us!

Katie xx

Where is your most favourite place in the world? Do you have somewhere away from home that you love to visit?

Attacking Life, or Running Away

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Tell me … you have the answers … how do we get past a negative event or series of events?

Do we rely on time to be the healer? Isn’t that what our elders taught us? Or do we need to be thoroughly modern and undertake endless therapy? Or perhaps, is it just a combination of the two?

Either way, we still fail to quieten our over-zealous minds which are ravaged by the repetitive fear that history will repeat itself; and to add insult to injury, we see, hear or smell something daily that re-awakens the memories yet again.

So do we rise to meet the challenge of winning against our own mindset of negativity and fear and take a calculated risk that yes, we may be hurt again, or do we simply run away to protect ourselves?

Do we make ourselves strong again and further develop our life skills in order that should anything happen again we are better able to cope? Or do we hide in fear, creating our own little frightened coping mechanisms; after all, if we don’t take on life and attack it with fiery gusto, then surely it can’t bite back at us and hurt us?

Sometimes I think I have the answers and I am full of strength, optimism and a zest for life, and yet sometimes, just sometimes I want to be rid of the memories, the pain and the fear that my heart and soul will be broken again.

Katie xx

Well? Truthfully, what do you do, and does it change every day depending upon your frame of mind?

Mirror Mirror On The Wall …

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When I look into a mirror, it is usually with trepidation. I never quite know what I shall see. The majority of the time I can see only the flaws, and yet just occasionally when the light is low and soft and I am at peace with the world, then what I see makes me content.

Beauty is a funny old business. What one person finds attractive, another finds repellent. But what do I see in the mirror?

I see a vibrant woman full of life with hopes and dreams. I see gentle creases from a life lived with laughter and joy. I see a strong, proud body that has carried children and hands, arms and legs that have worked tirelessly and with vigour throughout.

And yet sometimes I still see the little girl crying, needing, wanting her mother. I see the lost look in her pale eyes as she craves the security of love. I see a tired face lined from the incessant ravages of life and the vacant stare at the fear of facing the future.

With minimal effort we can show the world one face, and yet hiding behind the shield may be something remarkably different. Or perhaps we simply change like the tides, depending on what life or perhaps God throws at us.

Yes, beauty is a funny old business.

Katie xx

How do you see yourself? What do you see in the mirror?

Not Far Now …

Well, I’m nearing the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary 26 days.

I have 7 left and short of Claude (my bicycle) and I completely running out of steam or getting squashed by a truck, we’re almost there. Being the eternal pessimist however, yet always full of hope (and no I don’t know how that works), I’m never one to count my chickens and it certainly ain’t over till the fat lady sings as they say.

Most of what has happened will be in ‘the book’, but suffice to say I have enough material to write a trilogy.

I have laughed until I tears have streamed from my eyes, I have cried, wailed, howled in pain and in fear, and screamed at myself to dig deep, not just once, but almost daily.

And the outcome? I have found a strength not just physically but mentally that I never knew existed. I have been alone and sometimes desperately lonely … and sometimes just simply desperate. I have lain in a tiny tent being battered by storms for 48 hours, convinced that at any moment in the darkest of nights it was all over.

And yet, I have found kindness and generosity, laughter and warmth. I have been propositioned by men both younger and about forty years older than me and have also discovered that camping au naturiste doesn’t mean a beautifully natural site in the pine forests, at all … I have been given a standing ovation, snarled at, snapped at and had to deal with handfuls of drunkards. And that’s only scratching the surface.

And for what you might well ask? Why would any sane person put them self through this? A personal challenge? A midlife crisis? Or perhaps simply a woman looking to find where the girl in her had gone. The girl who was once fearless and strong but somewhere through that inevitable process called life, became lost, became frightened of everything but most of all, became frightened of the negative voices in her head, the unutterably foul, burdensome and oppressive voice of a demon called Betty.

Katie xx

Has your past restricted your future? And how do you intend to remedy this?

Ps. If any of you have got this far with my drivel, you mightn’t believe me if I told you that I’m in a bar and La Vie en Rose is playing … I’m in heaven.

The Last Post …

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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.

Katie xx