Four miles

I had some really good news last week. 

Finally there is an end in sight to the ridiculous work situation that has been going on for the last few months. 

I was away in Liverpool for a gig over the weekend and as I looked in the mirror while I was getting ready, I actually didn’t recognise myself. 

I’ve not been able to run due to long hours at work and some really bad asthma days. My skin looks dreadful and I’ve got the spots and redness that I always get when I’m worrying too much. I’ve put on a little bit more weight than I’m comfortable with and my food habits have slid towards the junky end of the spectrum. 

This is everything I’d worked so hard to leave behind when I moved to Scotland, and so it has been incredibly upsetting to find myself back in this awful environment of fear and pressure.

Knowing the end is in sight helps enormously. Last weekend’s gig was a cracker. It came at the perfect time and it reminded me that there are many other ways to live your life. 

Staying with a friend from a few years ago kind of put me back in touch with myself – the self that stays hidden most of the time these days (and is the Flourish referred to in my blog title) but comes out when there’s some performing to be done on my terms. 

Liverpool is a really special city for me, it holds very strong and very happy childhood memories of a couple of day trips with an aunt who isn’t with us any more. More recently, it took care of my uncle during his chemotherapy. He described seeing the Isle of Man ferry being loaded up with bikes for the TT and wishing he was sailing away, and now I can’t look at pictures of the Liverpool waterfront without thinking of him and how relieved I am that he survived.

We drove around the city afterwards, through the docks, past all my friends favourite haunts and our next gig space. I love driving round cities at night, there’s an energy around the empty streets and motorways that really excites me. It’s much more fun on a motorbike than in my old Audi estate, but sharing it with F made it all the more special. 

I drove home on Sunday feeling revitalised and ready to get through the last few weeks of work.

Wednesday night brought me a little further back to myself. It was freezing cold, well below zero, icy underfoot. I ran four miles along a route I do regularly, a flat unspectacular trot along an old railway path. My headtorch batteries were badly needing a charge, so given the slippy conditions that I couldn’t quite see, I decided to come back along the main road instead. 

I noticed the patterns on the pavements as I reached the centre of the village. 

It’s a very small but subtle difference between living where I live now and where I lived before, and it seems a little strange but it’s one of my favourite things about living here. 

The pavements get gritted in the winter.

Sometimes I’m woken by a faint whirring sound outside accompanied by flashing yellow lights through my window. The first time I heard it I got out of bed to look, and there was a little white vehicle crawling along the pavements. 

I find pavemeng gritters strangely comforting, and when I see them they remind me of all the little things I love about being here, and all the things that are so minor on the face of it and yet mean so very much. 
I should be clocking 30-40 mile training weeks by now, but I know these will come when life is on a more even keel. The extra weight (that really isn’t much but is noticeable to me, and affects my asthma) will soon come off and I really don’t need to worry. 

It’s amazing what a little chilly slow run can do. 

 

pale blinds drawn all day

It felt like ages since I’d seen the sun.

It was hammering with rain on this morning’s dog walk, and again when I walked from the bus station into work.

I had a couple of bits I needed to do over lunch, but the weather wasn’t looking particularly accommodating for a wander round the city centre.

And then at some point, the clouds cleared.

I headed out to get some fresh air.

I carved my way through the office workers on lunch breaks, past all the concrete and glass . The height of the buildings around me made things rather gloomy, although the sky was clear and the sun was shining somewhere.

As I turned onto Buchanan Street and headed down towards Frasers, I was blinded by the full on low winter sun emerging through the buildings down by the river. I struggled to walk in a straight line down the street, dodging people glued to phones coming in the opposite direction, my eyes screwed up and feeling as though I was just emerging from a long sleep. The street was crowded, there were buskers, everywhere noise and crush and busyness.

The light was stunning against the damp pavements, and I wanted to grab a picture. But I couldn’t see at all.

I took my phone out of my bag, picked a spot in the middle of the street, stood for the briefest moment and pressed the button. I hoped for the best and loved the results.

The disc shaped sun in my picture reminded me very slightly of The Weather Project at the Tate Modern, which I was lucky enough to see. I can’t quite believe it was so long ago. I’ll never forget that first glimpse of the Turbine Hall, and the enormous sun beating down silently on the people so far beneath it.

Tonight when I left work, it was still light. Just a little, but it was a real turning point.

It’s coming.

I heard the news today, oh boy

Somehow it’s the middle of January already.

I’m sat on the sofa, disentangling one greyhound from a phone charging cable while maintaining a respectful distance from the other, who will startle and bolt for her bed if I move too quickly.

The new year has brought good things, bad things and sad things already. A poorly friend, hard going at the day job, and then of course the news of David Bowie’s passing came through yesterday morning.

I finished Marcothon on Hogmanay. It was my biggest ever mileage in a calendar month. Then I took a couple of days off running. I should have run the Hardmoors 30 on New Year’s Day, but I decided against it in the end. I felt a little sad about it, but I missed it for the right reasons and it will be there another year.

There are new things in the calendar this year. 3 days in the Lake District at the end of April. 70-odd miles inside 24 hours along the Great Glen Way between Fort William and Inverness in July. Hopefully third time lucky at the 75 miles between South Woodham Ferrers and Salcott cum Virley (with an overnight stop).

I’m so excited about everything that’s coming my way. A little extra food consumed over New Year wasn’t quite run off thanks to those few days off, but I know the extra warmth around the middle will soon disappear once the miles climb up again. I love the security of building my training up – the feeling that progress is being gradually made, and that the preparation I put in now will be felt in every mile I run later this year.

There is a mountain on the German/Austrian border with my name on, and I hope to climb it this year. There’s talk of a trip back to Mont Ventoux, a big (motor)bike ride around the north coast of Scotland, and of hills and mountains to be walked up, run up, cycled up. A couple of long distance trails to be explored. There’s a tent and assorted camping kit to be researched and chosen, and navigation to be practised in whatever weather Scotland cares to throw at me.

Right now, most of all, I can’t wait for the days to draw out a bit so I can get up in the hills behind my house after work.

And for now, I’ll be listening to a lot of music. David Bowie was a huge part of my teenage years after I borrowed the Singles Collection on tape from Stratford-upon-Avon library when I was about 14. It was a great introduction to his music over the years. My dad was a big fan too, and listening to the music that he loved helped me learn a bit more and gave us something else to share.

Dad’s favourite song is Let’s Dance. I have two, and I couldn’t choose between them. I adore Sound and Vision, and I also love Everyone Says Hi from the Heathen album.

I’d had the album for a good few years, but for some reason, I had it in the car the weekend I made the final trip north from Essex to start my new life up in Glasgow. I listened to that song on repeat for much of the journey.

It includes the wonderful lyrics, which are among some of my favourites ever:

Don’t stay in a bad place,

where they don’t care how you are

That’s not to say no one cared because that’s just not true, but I needed to move and start again, and the song felt like a letter from the past wishing me well in the future and reminding me I could come back if it didn’t work out.

Mr Bowie, thank you for everything you did and everything you left behind. I was angry enough about cancer, now even more so.

Someone posted something somewhere yesterday, I can’t remember it exactly, but they were saying how the earth was however many billion years old, and how lucky we’d been to be on the same planet at the same time as David Bowie.

I agree.

Grey, green, orange

Autumn is out in all its glorious colour in Scotland. We’ve had a beautiful few weeks with only a couple of really soggy days. The combination of shorter days, turning leaves, migrating geese and lower sun in the sky mean that winter is firmly on its way. But the landscape is absolutely stunning.

I’m going into my fourth winter up here. Bad things still happen in the ‘new’ life, but I am much more resilient and able to cope with the knocks when they come. A tough hill race nearly finished me off emotionally for a few days, but I got through it and will live to fight another day. Difficult days at work are shrugged off relatively easily, and there is a freedom and a lightness that I didn’t have where I lived before.

I’ve had my head down for a few weeks but I emerged a few days ago, having had a pretty much perfect week and a visit from my parents. I’m back running again, and while Saturday’s run was grey, damp, hard and badly disrupted by my asthma, the miles out on the Antonine Wall yesterday morning with friends were the exact opposite. 

My entries are in for my races next year. This gives me some of the focus I need to keep going through the winter. There are three new ones, and an old one I didn’t complete the first time around. 

Three of them are south of the border, two are totally different to anything I’ve done before, and one of these will yet again be the biggest scariest thing I’ve ever contemplated doing. 

As a result, I’m tremendously excited while being ever so slightly terrified at the same time. But this is what I love doing, and I do it for the moments where everything stops around me and all I am aware of is my lungs working and the scenery around me.

I’ve had to rope my parents in to help with the big one, which will be a new experience for all of us. Dad is a long distance cyclist with a love of 24 hour time trials in bad weather, and Mum is really good at tough love and not giving in when you’re scared. 

I’m learning a new piece on the harp at the moment and it has become a bit of a mantra. 

Everything will be all right. 

taken from Croy Hill early yesterday morning
  
lookimg towards home from Croy Hill
 

Drama

I’d arranged to go for a short and gentle run with a friend and her dog after work. The stitches had just been taken out of my leg the night before, and I was cleared to run if I wasn’t too sore.

It was meant to be a trot down the old railway path near my house, but it was a really beautiful evening, and as the nights were starting to draw in, I wanted to make the most of the remaining light up in the hills behind my house.

We ran, walked, skipped, jumped, waded and staggered 5 1/2 miles over tussocky moorland grass (chest height in places for us wee folk), mud and impressive bogs between the Crow Road car park and the top of Cort ma Law.

We were treated to a spectacular sunset on a clear evening, and we could see the peaks of nearby Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps. Further south, we could see the peaks of the island of Arran.

The setting sun caught the windows of the houses across Glasgow, and we saw the planes coming in at the airport.

It was tough going underfoot and we walked to start with up the initial steep climb. But after a while, I couldn’t resist and just wanted to run.

Despite the fall a few weeks ago, my feet felt secure underneath me and I bounced happily over the lumps and bumps that make up the Campsie Fells. There are no flat bits.

I jumped over the worst of the bogs as much as I could and even when things got steeper I just wanted to keep going. My legs felt strong, and my asthmatic lungs worked hard but somehow felt even stronger.

It won’t be long now before it will be dark when I get home. But there are big challenges ahead next year, including running in wild places and dramatic scenery in dark and potentially wilder even more dramatic conditions.

I have the perfect training ground on my doorstep and I can’t wait to make the most of it.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on!)

 

On Learning

September 1st, back to school, another new start. Or so it seems, certainly if you are south of the border. Scotland has been back for a couple of weeks already.

Despite my protestations that it had to still be summer because it’s not my birthday yet, the Scottish weather outdid even my determination and threw some really heavy rain at me on my run this evening. There are fallen leaves under the tree in my front garden and there was a real nip to the air this morning when I took my dogs out for their morning walk.

I met a friend for lunch today, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years but who had been a huge part of my life for a couple of months back in 2013 when we were working on Carousel at the RCS.

We talked about all things musical, and part of the conversation involved some reflection on what I’d learned while I was at music college. I had to leave before the end of my course sadly, but I had made my peace a while before and am now happy I made the right decision, and even better, I felt I had taken away everything I needed from my time studying.

I desperately miss the freedom to structure my day to suit my own productive times, and to enjoy the best of the weather when it comes, and the creative inspiration that comes from being surrounded by other musicians and artists, but I am finding ways to make the best of things all the time.

Another thing I’ve taken is an understanding of what I need to look after myself and keep myself happy. It boils down to just a handful of things (and surprise surprise, they’re not actual material Things!).

Over the last few weeks, there was a time of enforced rest and healing, as I was physically prevented from dashing about by the stitches in my leg and the pain from the initial injury. This gave me a bit of time to slow right down and get myself back on an even keel. It helped that I was in the beautiful surroundings (and equally beautiful weather!) of the Austrian/German Alps and being looked after by a good friend.

I’ve learned that it is time to get on and enjoy having some really big dreams about the future.

This was partly inspired by seeing a car I’ve wanted for years while I was away in Austria, and partly because my finances are slowly improving meaning I can start to tentatively make a few bigger plans.

The latter means that perhaps indulging in the former might, just might, be a possibility in a few years.

Starting again, again

My handbag is full of German train tickets, an Austrian bus ticket and my wallet contains a mix of euros and pounds.

I have three horsefly bites to go with my six stitches and my leg is throbbing a bit. The dressing shows through my black tights and the packed train involved a bit of negotiating to ensure I didn’t get bumped accidentally.

I’ve arrived early in the city and I love walking around as the day starts. It’s beautifully sunny and Glasgow really does look gorgeous as the sun and blue skies reflect off all the windows.

I have a later start this morning as its my first day at yet another new job. I’ll be in this one for a while, which has involved reconciling some difficult emotions, but at the moment I’m really appreciating the stability it will bring.

I’m not in my favourite cafe, but the one I’m in is part of one of my favourite buildings in the city centre (on the left in the picture below).

 
The Alps are a way away again, but I know I will return before too long with a big list of mountains to explore. 

I’ve never seen such jagged rocky peaks so close up, and my time away has reignited my desire to climb again. Not quite in the same way, but it’s a much stronger urge than it ever was before.

 

 

My friend looked after me brilliantly, including getting me to hospital when I needed to go, and dabbing a few tears that might have sneaked out a couple of days later. When my return journey proved a little more eventful than expected, she was quick to ring me and check I was ok. I can’t thank her enough. 

My week of camper vans, mountains, parrots, brass bands, beer, lederhosen and sunshine is over. 

We can start all over again whenever we feel like it, but a new job after a holiday on a bright sunny day feels like an especially new start.

Quick Release

Last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a very long time. All thoughts of trying to stay calm went out of the window, and it ended up being a race to get to the end of the week in one piece. Nothing Really Bad happened, just what felt like a battering of events, deadlines and a couple of really late nights which when combined with the early mornings really knocked the stuffing out of me.

My week finished at about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon. The wedding I’d played for had gone really well, and a ruined kirk on the north east coast of Scotland was filled with love and happiness as two people got married surrounded by their friends and family.

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My harp and all the associated clutter was all safely loaded into the car, I said my goodbyes and got back on the road for the long journey back south.

Shortly after I pulled out of the village, I saw a sign.

Scotstown beach, ½ mile.

Time was tight if I was to be home for greyhound tea time, but I figured they would forgive me for being a few minutes late.

I turned off the main road, tried not to bounce too hard around (and sometimes inevitably through) the numerous pot holes and parked up at the bottom of the dunes. I had no idea what the beach would be like, but I couldn’t resist exploring just a little.

I got out of the car, rolled my jeans up and took my shoes off. The sand was wonderfully warm beneath my feet.

I ran up the dune, through the gap between the grass and down onto a gorgeous golden sandy beach. It was completely empty.

The sun shone, and the only sound was the waves breaking gently. I skipped along the sand, and then wandered into the sea. It was cold, but it takes rather more than that to stop me getting my feet wet.

I think I was there for about ten minutes. It wasn’t long enough, and yet it was.

Everything lifted in those few minutes, and I didn’t have to try very hard to put on a big smile.

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I realised how much I relax when I am by the sea, and promised myself I would find a way to come more often. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I might like to live on a longer term basis, and as I stood with the waves tickling my toes, I wondered if perhaps I could, or even should, factor in a nearby beach somehow.

The previous Saturday I had my feet in the waves at Brodick Bay on the island of Arran off the south west coast of Scotland. This week it was the north east coast.

Next Saturday, I’ll be in the mountains in Austria. No beaches there, but maybe I can find somewhere quiet in the hills to have a bit of a paddle, perhaps even a swim.

In a month’s time I’ll be on the island of Tiree celebrating my birthday by running round the island one day then hitting the waves the next.

It’s no coincidence that all the travelling is related to a break-up. Rather than waiting on someone else’s plans, I’ve jumped straight in and made my own and I feel all the better for it.

This is more travelling than I’ve done for a long while, and I’d forgotten how much I love getting away seeing new places. The best thing about living where I do is that I don’t always have to go very far from home to find an adventure to have.



 

Running in the rain

The rain is back. After a brief heatwave, Glasgow feels a bit more normal.

At last this week has felt like a good time to start running again properly. I’ve been out and about a little over the last few weeks, gradually building my fitness up again but not really doing anything regular or structured.

I’ve found some new road shoes that I really love, after struggling for a while to find something suitable. These feel like magic shoes – I am gradually managing to get more weight through my right leg to the extent that my right calf feels like it has done some work after a run, and when I am walking I’m aware that both feet are starting to work equally. They’re not the most attractive of shoes, but at the moment a less than ideal colour is a trade-off where price is concerned and so I’m … erm … running with it.

When things get really stressful, eating and sleeping tend to go awry. It has to get pretty bad before this happens, and I’m better at knowing the signs now.

Running makes me hungry and therefore makes me eat. Running makes me tired and therefore helps me sleep. Running gives my brain a rest from thinking too hard, and my lungs take over instead. And yet, I do most of my best thinking when I’m out there.

I had only been running a few months before I moved to Scotland, and I arrived here in the autumn. Running soon became a way to explore my new home, and despite the change in the weather as the winter drew in, I absolutely loved it. Because my early running experience was in consistently wet conditions, I’m not put off when it’s tipping it down. I find it immensely satisfying and utterly invigorating.

And the thing about getting a lot of rain is that you get a LOT of rainbows.

Breakfast

Friday morning. Not much sleep last night.

Coffee is required.

The sun is shining brightly, the city looks beautiful. Colours are brighter, people look more relaxed.

I’m wearing my favourite colours, new jeans that fit and have had the required inches lopped off the bottom, and I have decided to try somewhere new for breakfast.

Good morning, what can I get for you today?

I’d like a large latte and something sweet for my breakfast please, what do you have?

(Blah…blah…blah…)…

or you could just have a big piece of cake.

That sounds perfect, thanks, I’ll have that.