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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Long weekend

At last. Thanks to a dog with a poorly eye, I have a long weekend. 3 days to catch up with myself.

Things have been a little bleak the last few weeks. A little while ago I needed to take a day job. The ins and outs aren’t for sharing here, but for now, needs must, and there are plenty of positives.

This job was chosen for various reasons, but the main one was that it allowed me to save my energy for other more creative uses of my time. And then a few things changed.

I have a few days off to use up, and I’d hoped to get away north for a few days. Said dog with poorly eye plus a rapidly approaching harp insurance bill mean that this isn’t an option now, but to be honest I am really looking forward to having some time at home. That, and the luxury of not having to be anywhere at any particular time, and not having anyone waiting on me for something I haven’t been able to do yet.

And so. I get to breathe a little.

Tiree (the image at the top, taken while running the ultra marathon the day before my birthday in September) feels like a long time ago, but unbelievably it has only been ten weeks. Three months ago I was in A&E in Austria getting my leg sewn up. This year, the time has truly flown by.

Sometimes the pace of life feels overwhelming. Sometimes there is nothing to do but to run with it and try your best to keep up. But this isn’t sustainable in the long term, and it’s important to know how to take even the smallest break in the midst of all the craziness. This becomes more crucial when you find yourself brushing your teeth and realising you can’t remember what day it is.

Thankfully things are calming down. All the little things that help me take a step back – animals, running, reading, a bath, a mug of my favourite tea – have been deployed to the maximum and have done their job. Apart from being incredibly tired, drained even, and some lingering pain in my forearms (long story), I think I have survived.

A longish run tomorrow, a concert, a film with a friend and a whole lot of practice will take me through the weekend, and then Monday will be about nothing beyond taking care of my poor wee dog once she has come round from her minor procedure at the vets. I fully intend to make like a greyhound and laze/snooze on the sofa until the phone call comes to go and collect her.

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.