100 Imperfect Things to Celebrate

This was a Thing I was asked to complete as part of the harp mentorship project I’m currently working on.

The aim was to do it quickly and not worry about it too much.

  1. I paid all my bills on time
  2. I ended a relationship when it wasn’t working for me (took three goes but still did it)
  3. I played at 13 weddings and a funeral
  4. All my clients were happy
  5. I had at least 5 thank you emails from these clients
  6. I refused at least 3 terribly paid orchestral gigs
  7. I ran the Great Glen Way!! (72 miles in 20.5 hours!)
  8. I survived Day 1 of the Great Lakeland 3 Day event in full on winter conditions in MAY
  9. I bailed out of Day 2 because the conditions were just crazy and I wasn’t enjoying myself any more
  10. My elderly pets are still going strong
  11. My elderly granny is still going strong
  12. I broke the budget a bit and bought a beautiful new computer that I’m typing this on
  13. I did a solo open mic gig
  14. I sang in public at the above open mic gig
  15. I played my lever harp at the above open mic gig
  16. People applauded and enjoyed the above open mic gig
  17. I decided I really needed to get to grips with the harp thing and signed up for HYMM (Harness Your Muse Mastermind working with Deborah Henson-Conan)
  18. I enjoyed writing my non-harp related blog
  19. Someone I really admire wrote something nice about me on instagram the other night
  20. My aunty and uncle are still here despite the cancer situation
  21. My mum and dad have bought a beautiful new house that feels like it could be my forever home one day
  22. In just a few more days, both my parents will be retired
  23. Someone very dear to me called me when they were feeling sad and as a result they didn’t commit suicide
  24. Someone called me when they thought they might have cancer and they couldn’t tell anyone else
  25. One of my friends asked me to help organise her 40th birthday party
  26. I am still here, healthy and mostly happy
  27. I am in a better place with all things harp and I feel like I am finding the answers I needed to find
  28. I got to listen to someone else playing my big harp last Sunday and it sounded amazing
  29. I tried out a looper pedal and effects box for the first time
  30. I shouted back at someone who had shouted at someone else in the middle of rush hour traffic for no reason
  31. When I didn’t want to do something i said I’d do/pay for, I cancelled where previously I would have just sucked it up and been miserable about it
  32. I played a harp gig in my house in my pyjamas
  33. Someone I really respect but am a bit scared of said REALLY nice things about something i played at the above gig
  34. Someone else I really respect asked me what I had played and said it was really beautiful and could I please tell them what it was
  35. I had afternoon tea at a beautiful posh house in Edinburgh with a guy I REALLY liked and it was wonderful despite nothing ever happening with the guy
  36. I unfollowed/blocked said guy on social media when I realised he was seeing someone else so I cannot contact him/feel sad/wonder what if
  37. I was a good friend when people needed me
  38. I have been a good daughter and sister and niece and aunty and granddaughter
  39. I managed to get out on my motorbike just once for the first time in ages and I survived!
  40. Someone whose writing I really admire commented on my blog
  41. I skipped through bits of a book I had to read and that I wasn’t enjoying, rather than trying to read the whole lot
  42. I managed some really big/long runs
  43. I cleared a lot of debt
  44. I still managed to do fun stuff despite clearing a lot of debt
  45. I camped on my own for the first time
  46. I put a tent up on my own for the first time
  47. I lit a camping stove on my own for the first time
  48. I went to Barra (Scottish island) in a really small plane
  49. I landed on a beach – the only scheduled flight IN THE WORLD to do so
  50. I nearly missed my flight home because I was playing on the other beach
  51. The airport cafe had the most amazing cake ever
  52. I realised I could afford to buy coffee each morning if I wanted it
  53. I really enjoy having coffee in the mornings
  54. I’m back in touch with some old school friends who I really liked
  55. I finally climbed Ben A’an and had a great day with friends while doing so
  56. I climbed a hill with my dad – our first ever that didn’t involve cycling. he had a really good day which made me really happy
  57. I rang a couple of friends at times I needed them and they were there
  58. The Fringe debacle really hurt but I made the best of it and moved on
  59. While playing the harp one day, I wondered what would happen if I just didn’t worry about it so much any more, and at that point my left shoulder literally dropped about 6 inches
  60. I spoke to my mum about some stuff that came out from The Big Leap book and she gave me some answers about why they (my parents) would talk down my achievements when I was a kid
  61. I found a way to test drive this beautiful car I’ve been thinking of buying
  62. I met a really lovely chap out in the hills who helped me talk about what was going on with my pets and how worried I was about them at that moment
  63. I got a place for the BIG race in Switzerland next year
  64. I read some amazing books
  65. I met a guy I’ve had a bit of a crush on for AGES while I was out running and while I know nothing will happen it was still really nice
  66. I started to make some plans for my long term future
  67. I realised I am happy doing my day job at the moment and that the trade off of time is worth it for me for where I am right now
  68.  I was offered another 12 month contract at my day job working for someone who is notoriously choosy about who she has in her team
  69. My employer has been really supportive while I’ve been ill
  70. My blisters have healed from the Great Glen Way although it has taken months
  71. My toenails have mostly grown back
  72. An old friend asked me for advice when she had a big scary decision to make
  73. Another friend asked me for help when she was struggling in her relationship and she is in a much better place now
  74. I put on a bit of weight which made me feel sad but I think it’s coming off again now and I feel better
  75. My October gauntlet really shook everything up in some really good ways
  76. I learned to be comfortable on video and had some great feedback on my project as a result of what i have been sharing
  77. I am excited about the next stages of my project including building my show and starting to write down some of what has gone on in my harp career
  78. I lost a friend but didn’t feel bad as I realised it was about her not me
  79. I played at a repeat gig for some old people and got some unexpected relationship advice
  80. At the above gig I got to stand back and watch as the sun shone and the old people enjoyed feeding the horses in the sun on the shore of the loch. There was all the time in the world despite all their mobility issues and they could just be.
  81. I have been asked back to the above gig again next year
  82. I played at a wedding just around the shore of the above loch and if ever I got married again I’d love it to be there
  83. The resident harpist sent me a REALLY nice compliment from my covering his shift and playing background music at the smart Edinburgh hotel – someone had noticed my playing. Really noticed it. As in, had been listening to harpists for 25 years in that hotel and noticed my playing.
  84. I got my Christmas tree up really early this year
  85. I bought myself a stupidly expensive advent calendar and I am LOVING getting the treats each day. I feel (to quote that advert….) …. worth it.
  86. I finally got another tattoo done on my back. It looks amazing and I’m delighted with it.
  87. I admitted to myself that I was probably done with the harp again, at least for a while
  88. I decided I might like to explore working in another country doing my day job but not until my pets/granny are gone
  89. I stayed mostly in control of my money
  90. I got my hair cut at last, but then realised I loved having it really long and am now growing it out again
  91. I played for a funeral for a wonderful man, his family appreciated my efforts and someone asked what one of the pieces I’d played was – the one I had literally poured my heart and soul into playing
  92. I shuffled some things around in my spare room and I now have a beautiful hideaway where I think I might be able to set my electric harp up permanently so its always out and ready for me to play
  93. I have given this hideaway space a posh and pretentious French name but I have not told anyone what that is
  94. I realised that I have a growing social life. 5 years ago, I didn’t have this and I am really grateful for what I have now, and mostly I am grateful for being brave enough to make the move to make this all happen
  95. I watched a really inspiring film about running recently and it helped me to realise where the harp fits in (or does not fit in) to my life
  96. I realised if I could only ever run 20 mile mountain routes in Scotland I’d be more than happy, although i enjoy challenging myself over longer bigger events
  97. I confirmed to myself that I love performing for my own reasons
  98. I realised that people respond really well to deep/meaningful/emotionally significant things I share whether at a gig/online etc
  99. I realised that as I am getting older I am becoming more confident, less afraid and less tolerant of injustices to other people
  100. Mostly I am just glad I’ve survived the year so far!
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It is well within my soul

Lately, I’ve started to feel … I don’t know… really at peace with myself. Those who know me best know that peaceful is rarely a word anyone would use to describe any aspect of me unless I’m asleep. There’s always a long list of things to be done, places to be, things left unfinished.

 
But just recently, these have dropped right back, died right down.
A few things have led to this new state of being – the winding down of harp craziness for the year, the satisfaction of a job well done at the open mic session I performed at recently, progress made on slaying the debt monster, the cold (and often soaking wet) evenings spent building up my training again just for starters.

 
The state of my house is gradually coming back under control and is moving from ‘Armageddon’ into ‘a bit messy round the edges but lived in’ which is how I like it best.

I’m looking forward to the start of December so I can put all my Christmas lights up.

 
The cold dark evenings are proving to be the perfect excuse to curl up with my now very elderly pets and watch things of questionable quality on telly.

I’m working on a harp project that will finish next summer, and that is coming into balance too, moving from a very busy and intensely focused October into a more restorative November and hopefully a glitzy sparkly polished December.

I’ve been out in the hills a bit, both with friends and on my own.

 
There are exciting running things in the diary for what’s left of this year and next year.

My contract at work has been extended another few months so there is no rush to look for something else just yet.

The social life that I once craved so deeply is starting to build. At the start of October I thought my winter was going to be quiet and a bit lonely, but actually things are appearing at a really nice pace and I…

Well, I feel happy.

I’d always like more of course – some bright colours in my hair, smaller skinny jeans, time to put a bit of makeup on in the morning if I fancy, a minute a mile off my running pace, that car, two weeks in the Caribbean, someone to spontaneously make me a mug of tea and/or give me a cuddle at home.

But, in fact I feel more than happy, I feel contended, at ease.

Normally, there’d be an expectation to feel a sense of impending dread, that something is going to come along and ruin all this that I’ve worked so hard for. And, it may well do so. But I know I have the strength to deal with whatever comes my way, and I won’t let the fear of this spoil everything that is good.

I’d never say I’ve got it all figured out, but just recently, and at the grand old age of 38, I’m learning to stop worrying that I haven’t.

 
**It is well within my soul comes from this beautiful blog post about rejoicing when things are good around you, even when there is still sadness or loss to be dealt with.

Interval Alley **

Rep 1 I set off at a pace I know I cannot sustain over 8 reps. Am I going hard enough? I am pumping my arms, lengthening my stride, breathing hard. So hard. How do I know if I can do more?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Is that a beep? Oh, yes it is, wait, there’s another one. Thank fuck.

Recovery 1 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard.

 

Rep 2 Can I do this? For 7 more reps?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Trust that they will come.

Count to 20 over and over. Am I going hard enough?

And there it is. My lungs feel like they are going to burst out of my chest through the back of my throat. It’s going to be horrible.

Yes, you are going hard enough.

Recovery 2 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard. Look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 3 I think I’m going to be sick. I actually might be sick right here. There’s someone coming. Oh arse. I’m going to be sick everywhere and someone’s going to see and ask if I’m alright and what I’m doing and why.
Trying to get faster.

Just to see what it’s like and if I can do it and for how long.

Back off a little, keep going, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Recovery 3 Walk a little, look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 4,5,6,7
Don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Lungs need to slow down, fine but keep going, just keep trying to lift your legs a bit and keep using your arms.

Shoulders back and down. Where are your elbows, your neck, your arms, your fingers, your head, your pelvis. God this is like harp practice.

But instead of thinking about the position of every single bit of your body to avoid injury and make a great sound, this is about something different.

This is about learning to go faster. PRACTISING going faster (thank you awesome coach last year who put it into musical terms and helped me get it)

This is about learning to explore, and learning to trust that your body can do it if you let your mind just try.

Rep 8 is barely faster than my normal slow run.

Finally, there are the last beeps.

I’m back in proper training and it feels good.

 
My legs are wrecked. They’ve never felt like this before, I’ve never tried quite so hard before. The slow plod back to the house feels weird, my legs feel like jelly and lead all at the same time. The short slope back to the main road that I always run up even at the end of the longest run feels like a mountain.

It’s over.

Until next week.

It is next week now.

Tonight, interval alley awaits. It will probably be raining or snowing. But I quite like it like that.

** Interval Alley isn’t really an alley. It’s a section of path near my house, but it’s quite enclosed by trees and hedges and is often dark when I tend to go, so feels a bit like an alleyway. There are rarely any people on that stretch at the time I go so I don’t feel too silly.
It goes through a farm, and usually there are only sheep for company, occasionally a couple of horses or cows or even deer, and every now and then I’m joined by an owl or a bat. I can’t even remember why I picked it now but having a silly name for it now makes it feel a little bit gladiatorial. I quite like that.
I never thought I could do intervals but I worked with an amazing coach for a little while at the start of last year and he made me make myself do them. I was stunned by how much I enjoyed them (afterwards) and how they made me feel so strong after, literally like I could do anything I set my mind to, maybe even take on the world.

Afternoon Off

Last Friday I played for my last wedding of 2016. It was just 2 minutes’ drive from my house, at the hotel that I walk past every morning with my dogs. The staff are great, the food is great, it hands down beats many more exclusive venues I’ve played at for friendliness and attention to detail, and the ceremony was wonderful.

The bride and groom’s little boy stood still as a statue throughout the ceremony clinging onto his granddad, and looked at his mum and dad with a beautiful expression of sheer wonder.

I was home and had the harp unloaded by 2.30, and was heading up into the hills behind my house just after 3pm. It was the most glamorous I’d ever looked on a run as I realised I still had all my makeup on! (rosy cheeks down to the biting wind, no cosmetic enhancement on these)

 

I’ve been up a fair few hills this year, particularly while I was training for the Great Lakeland 3 Day event back in April, but I was a bit shocked to realise that this was my first time up here since last year. These hills are so nearby, almost in my back garden, and it’s not a long run from the car park to get to the trig point at Cort ma Law, one of the higher peaks in the Campsie Fells. But this is proper tough hill/fell running territory, and there is a high chance of getting lost or getting stuck in a bog. For whatever reason, I’d chosen other places to train this year.

I’m desperately unfit at the moment and I knew a good stomp would get my training kickstarted again. It was a beautiful day, clear but very cold, and truly a grand day to be out in the hills.

Once I’d staggered up the initial climb, I could soon see Ben Lomond, Tinto Hill, the Pentlands and even the new Queensferry Crossing over the Forth.

As is the custom, I started off avoiding all the bogs as much as I could. It was really hard going – although the hills look like a plateau with just an initial steep climb, it is anything but flat on the top. There wasn’t much running done really, partly due to the terrain and my lack of fitness but also because I kept stopping to take photos.

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the first cairn

I am really bad at judging falling light in relation to the distance I can cover, and while I had an idea of the sunset time, I also knew from prior experience that if you are in one of the dips up there, it can become very dark very quickly. I had my headtorch with me and plenty of spare kit, so there was no need to worry whatsoever, but I guess the uneasiness I felt was just down to lack of familiarity and losing my confidence a little bit over the summer. I knew deep down I’d be fine, and I could manage whatever happened.

It’s strange feeling like this when you are so close to home that you can almost see your house, you’re just a few miles outside one of the biggest cities in the UK and yet here you are in remote wild hill country with just a couple of sheep for company.

I’ve headed off course up here even on a warm light summer evening, just losing concentration and thinking of other things. I was surprised that night just how disorientated I felt and how quickly. It should be easy – follow the cairns, keep Glasgow on your right on the way up and on the left on the way down. But this assumes you’re not in one of those dips and you can still see Glasgow. A compass helps of course, and I think on that occasion I used the one on my phone just to point me back in the right direction again.

One of my usual tracks to Cort ma Law was really really wet – it was incredibly slow and tough going and I doubted whether I would get to the trig point in time to get back down in the daylight. I cut across to the slightly more well-used track instead, and tripped over a couple of times along the way over the long clumpy grass. I was up here on my own, it was getting dark, it could go wrong at any time and no one would know. I made it down fine as I always do, but it did surprise me a bit that while this had all felt so normal just a few months back, now it felt alien, disconcerting and a little scary.

It’s good to be scared though – partly because it’s exciting to be scared by just the right amount when you know you can handle whatever comes, and also because it reminds you to stay focused and switched on and to understand the risks of what you’re doing in the name of Fun.

The sunset was breathtaking, and I was reminded of just how beautiful the colours can be in the low winter light. From green to gold to red and other colours besides, I felt very lucky and very special getting to enjoy this on my own.

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lights on at the Celtic FC training ground in Lennox Forest

On the last bit up to Cort ma Law there are a few bigger bogs and little streams to jump across. These are quite a stretch for little legs like mine, but they are also one of the things I enjoy most about running up here. I loved the hurdles when I was at school, and there’s something about judging the distance, the impact of landing and the heart-quickening moment just after you’ve jumped when you wonder if you will actually make the other side.

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looking east from Cort ma Law towards the Forth bridges

On the way back, it didn’t matter about the bogs any more. My feet were soaking wet and a few more bogs wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference. I was really quite cold by now, and very aware that I was running in just a couple of thin layers. Nothing different to what I would normally wear at this time of year, but I really noticed the feeling on the first truly bitterly cold day in a while. I was glad of my gloves and buff that day and I rarely wear those unless it is seriously cold. I could taste snow in the air – not necessarily imminent although I’m sure I felt a few raindrops that could just as easily have been snowflakes, but it was definitely on its way.

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At the last cairn on the way back, I noticed a black dog ahead of me. He was making his way towards me and just for a moment I hesitated. I was attacked by a dog earlier this year and it has made me much more wary of dogs off the lead than I used to be. I needn’t have worried, this one was an absolutely gorgeous creature and he was very happy to be fussed. He was lovely and warm and very affectionate with a very thick fluffy coat, and I needed some of that heat so was in no rush to head off.

Soon his owner appeared. Here was one of those guys you see out in the hills, thin as a whippet and twice as fit with a superbly healthy glow, sparkling eyes and a big smile, impossible to age but very possibly at least 20-30 years older than they first appear.

He asked where I had been and who I ran for, suggesting one of the very serious local hill running clubs. I chuckled a little bit and said I was far too slow for them, but he was rightly having none of it – everyone is welcome there as we both knew. I mentioned I ran mostly on my own as it just seemed to work out that way, he understood and we swapped a couple of local routes we knew and had enjoyed. He also suggested a route between Cort ma Law and Meikle Bin, which I had spotted but never done. Definitely time to be ticking that off the list.

He asked if I had enjoyed my day, and I confided I was a little worried about taking my elderly greyhound to the vet later that afternoon so I had been up here clearing my head.

He put his hand gently on my arm and rubbed it a bit. I dipped my head and swallowed a few tears, grateful for Mac the dog’s comforting presence – he was now stood between my feet keeping my calves warm. We shared a few words about the worries of having older pets, and then went separately on our way, hoping we would maybe meet again up here one day. It was good to share just a little part of my run with such warm, friendly company both canine and human.

Last night the snow arrived.

 

Samhainn

The Celtic festival of Samhainn brings the end of the harvest season and the start of the winter.

Beltane – the end of winter – feels a long way away at the moment but the start of winter is important too, and this morning I thought to myself, there’s always an opportunity for a fresh start.

This winter, more than ever, needs to be a time of restoring, resting, reviving, recovering and preparing for new growth in the spring.

Beltane has a new significance for me since I heard the gorgeous Beltane Dance by Monika Stadler and it’s now a favourite piece in my harp repertoire. I adore the harmonies, the light joyful slightly hypnotic feeling and a few times when I’ve played it, the sun has actually come out. Truly.

Be it a new academic year, a new calendar year, a solstice, a season or even just the declaration that the old is no more and the new is here, I guess I’m saying you can turn the page whenever you please.

I had a musical meltdown last Sunday night, the cumulative effect of an intensive but transformative month working on a new harp project combined with the first painful encounter with my ex-boyfriend at Saturday’s race. Nothing was said, I’m not sure he even saw me as we didn’t even look at each other but it was the first time I’d seen him in well over a year as I had done a pretty good job of avoiding any events where he might be. I hadn’t expected him to be there and it really shook me up.

Thanks to a really helpful productive supportive chat with my mentor on the harp programme I’m working on, everything that was going on was aired and explored. In the time since, some of it has been resolved. The cleansing this has brought about has been quite profound. The idea of backing yourself, supporting yourself and trusting yourself was the main thing I have taken away from Sunday’s session and my spirit really does feel like a load has been lifted.

The last few weeks have seen me getting more comfortable with being on video, but along the way I have been faced with my own physical appearance in a much more intensive way than usual. I’ve always struggled with my weight, and most days when I look in the mirror I still see the small chunky 7 year old girl with bottle thick glasses, built for comfort not for speed as my Dad has always said, and who got dumped in primary school for the prettier girl who she sat next to.

The video project brought about the harsh realisation that I don’t look or even feel like myself at the moment, and actually I haven’t for a long while. A race photo yesterday proved the final straw, and the contrast between this picture and one of my favourites from two years ago was really painful.

Lifting the load has exposed some other things that needed to be very sadly left in the past, and so this Samhainn I am moving onward into the next phase of my adventures.

The Lion of No tattoo (a daft play on words on LionO from Thundercats) that now takes up the whole of my back is already earning its keep and has gently reminded me to say No when I need to.

All the big race entries are now in for next year, they are gloriously terrifying and will give me a great incentive to look after myself as the training volumes increase once again, and also to get out there in the hills over the winter and the coming spring and make the most of all the incredible scenery I have on my doorstep.

 
 
I’ll never be a glossy honey coloured sleek and slender whippet of a runner, I’m definitely more of a snowy white happy wee Staffy chugging along at the back admiring the scenery. 

 

I’ll leave tall, dark and skinny to my own pets. Right now all I want is to feel strong and fit again, and I know that once I do, I will feel better on the inside as well. And I am really looking forward to buying some new jeans with my Christmas money.

Wtf?

It has been a weird few weeks, months even since I ran the Great Glen. My body let me know in no uncertain terms that it didn’t want to run very far, and I listened.

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I also put on weight and felt sad because there was nothing much to work towards, and no long runs in the hills to empty out my stressy working-two-jobs-to-clear-a ton-of-debt brain. 

Just recently I also read a couple of  brilliant blogs by other runners who I really respect and admire, and they were saying pretty much the same thing. 

After the Fling last year, I had a lot of questions for myself about why I ran and why I did big silly distances slowly rather than shorter distances fast, and I wondered if I’d ever feel good enough about it all. 

And then I had a break (and a break-up), and found my physical and emotional running limits on the side of a mountain in the Trossachs during a hill race in October last year. I prayed to whatever was out there to get me down that hill safely and then got poked in the eye by a load of Christmas trees and tried not to cry in front of the tourists.

 
Then I entered some totally different stuff where it wasn’t just about elapsed time but about navigating and survival and picking the right kit for the job, and I had a whale of a time despite the apocalyptic weather conditions (these happened the day after the picture below, which was taken on the first May bank holiday weekend!!)

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I entered another bigger race, had a really tough time of it down to something entirely avoidable but still had a blast overall and came away wanting to do more, regardless of what people think about really slow runners or anything at all really. 
And then even running 10k felt awful. Hard, unpleasant, damaging, unhealthy. I pulled out of a race at the start of October as I wasn’t ready. I took some iron tablets, went to the doctors for some bloods as I still felt rotten, and was given the all clear as long as I kept up with the iron and factored known crappy iron levels into any future big training plans.

And then I got a cold, a stinker which saw me in bed for the best part of 4 days. My first cold in almost two years. 

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I had my first run in over a  week last night, and it was slow and hard but …. I felt ready for more again. 
I’m unfit and weak and overweight but I think it will be OK, because I think these are whats holding me back now rather than because my body is too worn out.

And this is all kind of handy, because I entered a really daft race last week which I now have 8 weeks to get ready for. And I’ve just entered a really, really big one in July next year.

October

Somehow it’s the middle of October, and going by how quickly the year has flown by so far, it’ll be Hogmanay before I know it.

This has been one of the most hectic years I’ve ever had, on all fronts. Now that harp-related work is winding down for the year, my existence will become slightly more normal and less time-pressured.

Has it been worth it?

Sitting here right now, in this moment, desperately trying to fend off my first proper cold in 18 months, I am exhausted, spent, and rather withdrawn from my normal all-guns-blazing say-yes-to-everything, what’s-the-worst-that-can-happen self, and so no I’m not sure whether it was worth all the effort.

All the time given up, all the money spent, all the things missed out on.

But, looking back, it really has been worth absolutely everything I’ve put in.

I’ve worked really hard for everything that has come my way, and now I’m hoping to be able to relax a bit, to breathe and stretch myself out and shake myself down ready for the next stage.

The debt battle is just a few months away from being won, for good this time.

I can’t quite believe it’ll all finally be gone and I’ll be free of all the things I’ve been carrying around along with those massively depressing numbers.

As a result of that, I’m thinking hard about long term things – about where I want to live and the sort of work I really want to be doing.

Applecross
the shit had hit the fan big time the night before. but I learnt so much about myself that weekend in Applecross. huge thanks to G for the awesome photo.
Entries for next year’s chosen big running event open very soon, and assuming I get in, my winter will largely be built around training for that. It will involve some very big hills, getting to grips with walking poles and a trip to Switzerland (not to France though, it’s not that one!).

There are big harping plans too, and at last I can say I have a much better relationship with music and my harp than I did at the start of the year. I’d even go as far as saying I think I am figuring it all out. Well, harp-wise anyway.

It will be quite a challenge to keep both harp and running things going together, but I’m gradually learning more and more about what is really, truly important to me, and I’m gaining the confidence to sidestep all the other things that suck my time and my energy. I’m grateful to Helen Mirren on that one – a marvellous quote that is never far from my mind and one I could really do with putting into action a whole lot more.

 
I have a weekend off, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

I finally hit the buffers last night. Something quite silly set it all off but of course, a good night’s sleep fixes most things and so I felt much better this morning.

I was planning a long run in the hills tomorrow but there is a lurgy lurking, a sofa calling, with two big black furry pals to snuggle into. There’s loads of (motor)bike racing on the telly, my Kitchenaid will be called into action to make some pizza dough and I might even paint my nails – my ultimate sign of spare time.

And, assuming this cold makes a swift exit, I hope to blast away the last of the lurgy with a trip out on my motorbike.

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September

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago when September had just arrived.

It’s one of my favourite months of the year. Not just because my birthday is in September and I normally get good weather for it, but also because it remains a month of fresh starts. It’s a while since I was at school or college, but I still get that feeling of progress, of movement and of new things to come.

The school year actually starts in early August here in Scotland but it always catches me out, it still feels too early.

Since I moved up here, it’s also a time to start looking ahead to the winter and the changes this brings. It gets darker much earlier, and the nights draw in much sooner. A couple of weeks ago, it was dark at 9pm, now it’s almost dark at 8pm.

The first year I was here, I hated it the endless grey and gloom but gradually I’ve got used to it. I am now totally in love with how the seasons affect me. There are inevitable changes in feeling, weather, light and surroundings. I could happily do without the soaking wet 6am dog walks, but that’s a small price to pay.

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I get to see how the light moves across the hills behind my house and how the low sun catches the trees. I’ve lived here for four years now, and as a result I’ve come to feel a wonderful sense of recognising the patterns of the changes in light, and this brings a sense of moving through the months.

Last year I read a gorgeous book on living through Scandinavian winters which also helped me change my approach. I also had some great advice from a yoga teacher a few years back – she said that winter is a time for hibernation, for rest and renewal ready to re-emerge totally refreshed in the spring time. I now look forward to curling up with my dogs on the sofa, to the satisfaction of a hot shower after a freezing cold wet run in the hills, and I know to make the most of the sun and the dry weather on the days where there’s a break in the long Scottish winter.

It has been a particularly tough year for many reasons, but it has also been another year of growth and learning and of realising what is important to carry forward with me on the next phase.

I went for a long run in the hills on Sunday, the first in a very long time.

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Ben Ledi in the distance – a wonderful sight as it has always been shrouded in mist whenever I’ve come past it before
It was the furthest I’ve run since I did the Great Glen Ultra in back July.The recovery period from that race has been harder than expected, both physically and emotionally, and as a result I decided not to do a race in October that I’d been preparing for. I’m just not ready, I really wanted to give it my all and at the moment I would just be plodding round and not enjoying myself. My time is so precious that I’d rather use it for something else, and I can go and do the route any time really.

But however tough it was on Sunday (and 16 miles round the Glen Finglass/Mell loop is never easy!), it was a great reminder of how much I love being out in the fresh air, miles and miles from anything and anyone, and how much I appreciate what my body is capable of now.

One of the reasons that I love running so much is that I’m really not very good at it and it JUST DOESN’T MATTER.

(OK occasionally it does matter, but only if there are other people around)

I get so much from it that I don’t get from anything else, even from riding a motorbike or having animals or playing the harp or eating peperoni pizza, which are my other great loves.

I honestly never thought I could love something that I wasn’t any good at.

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Looking towards Glen Finglas from halfway round the Mell circuit in the Trossachs National Park. This is one of my favourite long runs – it is a tough route and is wild, exposed, isolated. I only saw a couple of people in 4 hours which is a big part of why I love it so much.
There are lots of 15-20 mile trail/hill/mountain routes I want to do up here, and if I never enter another race or run any further than that, I know that this will always be Enough. That’s not to say I don’t want to do more, but rather that my reasons for wanting to do so have changed.

Enough has become a big, important word lately.

Not in as in I’ve Had Enough (although that has certainly come to mind a few times!).

But as in Being Enough, and Having Enough.

My upbringing was heavily focused on striving for academic brilliance, for musical genius, always working to be something better than I was, or to have something better than what I had at any given time. I literally don’t know any other way, and while this has brought me some fantastic opportunities and experiences, finally this year I’ve had to face the more negative aspects of this mentality.

I saw a great billboard on the train home a few weeks ago, and it seemed to say everything that I had not been able to. In fact, it made me laugh out loud and think very hard indeed, all at the same time.

It was in turn utterly ridiculous and yet totally correct, and as a result it has become a bit of a mantra lately.

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Tuesday afternoon tea

The feeling of being in control that I wrote about recently has long gone, as I suspected it would. Recovering from the Great Glen has hit me in a few unexpected ways and I’ve had to really watch out for myself. 

After an awful week at the day job, I had a really hectic few days of harping interspersed with a visit from my parents – cue frantic cleaning and digging my way through the spare room to find the bed so they had somewhere to sleep. 

On my way back from Tuesday’s wedding, I dropped in on a running buddy who was house sitting for some friends in an extremely smart bit of Edinburgh. There were loose plans to go to the cinema but these were abandoned in favour of playing with the dog, drinking tea and watching the Olympics. 

For three hours I switched off from the world (well, apart from the Olympics bit). I left my phone in the car. The house was incredible and as I sat in the sort of kitchen that would make Grand Designs look a bit shabby, I watched the weather change from heavy rain to bright sunshine back to rain in a matter of minutes, as only a Scottish summer can. 

Through the huge floor to ceiling windows, I could see an enormous owl statue in the garden. I couldn’t work out if it was moving as it seemed to have a different expression on its face every time it caught my eye. I watched M and the dog on the trampoline and now I really wish I’d had a go too.

I padded round and round in a corner of one of the rooms as the carpet was so deep and soft (which sounds a bit strange I know). 

I contemplated running from one side of the house to the other – and it was big enough to get a proper sprint on. I pondered the prospect of doing cartwheels across the kitchen.

The box room was bigger than my harp room. 

And yet it was a house that was lived in, and full of love.

A trip to the loo was approached with great care – I chose the one I knew I could find my way back from without disappearing into Narnia. 

It was the closest thing I’ve felt to being in fairy land in ages, a brief escape from everything else that was going on. 

We talked about running, climbing, motorbikes, dogs, house hunting, break ups. M is one of the few English voices I’ve heard up here lately, and is from a very familiar part of London. It was comforting and warm and many stories were swapped. We laughed as the dog tried to join in with the beach volleyball, truly an impressive sight. 

After the rowdiness of the wedding (a combination of a very large excited family and a very late bride), the peace and the space was very welcome. 

M asked me what I was doing for my birthday in a few weeks’ time. I’d been avoiding thinking about it for a while as last year’s had been so tricky. But a few things came to mind and I realised I felt ready to make some decisions.

I got back in the car to come home. I suddenly realised how hungry I was, and the Edinburgh traffic brought me back to the real world very quickly. But I’ll remember that afternoon for a while. 

And I’ve hatched a plan for my birthday. 

Last year’s was spent on an empty beach on Tiree.  

 

This year’s will involve similar (subject to weather of course). 

Even better, it will also involve a ride on a tiny plane. 

 

And even better than that, and best of all, I’ll be landing on a beach. 

little things

A few people close to me are having a really, really tough time at the moment.

When life is throwing what feels like the worst of everything at you, I think it’s really important to have little things you can do to make yourself feel better quickly and/or cheaply.

Much as my reserved British nature gets a little twitchy around the popular concept of loving yourself, I do recognise the importance of self-respect and looking after yourself. I think they’re basically forms of the same thing, and while you’ll never find me telling myself I love me in the mirror, for me self-respect and looking after yourself include standing up for yourself, not getting pushed around, not over-committing to things you have little interest in or will bring little reward for a punishing outlay, and recognising that it’s OK to put yourself first at times, especially in a relationship.

I’m really bad at all those.

But over the years and through the bad times, I’ve assembled a pretty foolproof list of things that help me feel better instantly when I’m feeling low or exhausted:

SMALL THINGS

A mug of tea

I like Lady Grey or Tetley. Milk and one sugar, in a nice big cheerful mug.

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A shopping trip to buy something small and brightly coloured

Paperchase serves well here. I’ve been known to give myself the grown up equivalent of a 10p mix at the sweety counter – even £5 will buy a couple of cute colourful (or polka dotted) bits in here, and it’s one of my favourite shops.

I used to love buying a new bottle of nail varnish as a cheap cheerful pick me up, but in truth I hardly ever wear it so I try not to buy it now.

Something small and sweet to eat

French Fancies or Swizzels sweets will do at a push. A warm cinnamon bun if I’m somewhere with a few more options.

Writing a long list

It’s one of the few Virgo traits I actually possess. Doesn’t matter if the likelihood of ticking everything off the list is minimal to zero, the act of writing the list is enjoyment enough.

Baking something using my Kitchenaid

Pizza dough or lemon drizzle cake would be top of the list,  or mince pies at the appropriate time of year.

A new gin I’ve not tried before

With proper tonic.

Peperoni pizza

Ideally home made, with posh salt and vinegar crisps while it’s in the oven, and plenty of juicy red wine to wash it down with.

Nigella’s kedgeree risotto

Without the eggs. Smoked fish is the main reason I could never go vegan. This is my most favourite comfort food and I love cooking it as well as eating it. I also love eating it cold.

A funny film and/or a trip to the GFT

Preferably with a glass of wine or coffee and a piece of their lovely cake before the film in the bar upstairs.

A quick fix of Grand Designs

Ideally the one with the disused power station near Chesterfield or the chalet in France.

A run/stagger up Cort ma Law or Meikle Bin

These are two of the biggest hills in the Campsie Fells and happen to be just behind my house. I can be at the top of either within an hour of leaving my doorstep, and despite being so close to the city, I’m often the only one up there.

A cycle up the Crow Road or the Cuilt Brae/Stockiemuir Road

Only when I’m bike fit (which I am most definitely not at the moment). I love the effort of a good climb on my bike and the instant reward of the downhill afterwards.

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The Coronation Street omnibus on a weekend morning

Preferably curled up with a pair of greyhounds and a few mugs of tea

Sitting down at my beautiful harp 

and working in a very small way on my very long list of very big pieces

Doing a small easy DIY job in the garage or garden

Hanging pictures, painting, trimming hedges, putting shelves up, tinkering with my motorbike. I’m quite handy really and I am very proud of this. I love the satisfaction of a job well done afterwards.

A board meeting/drinks in the city centre

with one of my most loved, most respected, most insightful and most straight-talking friends.

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A blowout at my favourite Italian deli/restaurant or cafe

Eusebi’s or Once Upon A Tart, that’ll be you then.

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A loud blast of one of my favourite songs in the car driving round the city at night

Ageispolis by Aphex Twin takes me a million miles from this planet.

It has to be loud enough to make the car shake.

If there’s an epic sunset, even better.

 

BIGGER THINGS

A long run in a beautiful place

Provided my energy levels are good and it’s not too hot, in which case this is less enjoyable. But if I’m feeling good in myself but in need of a clear out in the brain department, this is one of the best things I can do for myself. Ideally to be shared with a similarly paced and/or sympathetic supportive friend.

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A trip to a quiet beach on the west coast of Scotland

Preferably involving getting my toes in the water and a pint afterwards.

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A fast motorbike ride

On quiet, well surfaced roads

A trip to my gran’s 

And a good catchup over a dog walk with my uncle

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A trip to a certain German lake

On a very sunny day, smoked fish and beer for lunch, involving getting my toes in the water, and next time I visit, the rest of me too. Maybe I’ll even find a gold bar.

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