Somerset

The school summer holidays haven’t really seemed to exist this year – whilst home-schooling stopped, not much really changed between one day and the next other than not having to battle to get at least a few pieces of work done each day.

However the relaxation of lockdown restrictions did mean that at least we (the children and I) could travel down to Somerset to see my parents, who, we realised, hadn’t seen their grandchildren for a year: for various reasons we hadn’t met at Christmas and my parents were going to come up to Cumbria ‘when the weather gets better’. Then, of course, as they were beginning to think about it, coronavirus hit.

We stopped off near Stafford en route south, to see a friend of mine. The kids were, of course, complaining bitterly about doing something that was not orientated around them: in the end Bella was keen to stop off on the way back as well as she had an enjoyable time playing piano duets!

We stayed in a hotel, which made life easier all round, and whilst we saw my parents at breakfast and dinner times, we didn’t spend all day, every day, with them. They’ve been shielding and hardly been out of their house and garden until the last few weeks – even now they are understandably hesitant. I’ve seen it with younger people as well: we all became used to keeping our distance and to not going out, to a greater or lesser extent, and starting to get back to a type of normality can feel strange at the least and scary at best. I’ve now been to shops a few times but I always feel more relaxed when the shops aren’t busy: I was relieved when we didn’t have to queue for school shoes for Edward the other day.

Somerset was, of course, busy: it’s a popular tourist area and along with the rest of the country seems to be getting increased numbers of visitors this year. Brexit started it with the poor exchange rate; coronavirus has now had an effect, and I think climate change/global warming has also made this country more attractive (the weather we had during lockdown in the spring was absolutely glorious, and I’m sure not a one-off).

The boys and I went – and took my Dad – to the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, which was not massively busy: they have the largest collection of helicopters in the world and for someone who knows little about helicopters it was quite an eye-opener. Some of them are so huge: and some of them terrifying, the way they bristle with guns and cannons and rockets (one Russian one in particular). It saddened me in a way as it was a reminder of a world at war: being keen on history though I’m too conscious that war and the movement of peoples is something which has always happened, and doubtless always will.

We also went to Wookey Hole caves: highly commercialised and probably the most intimidating place I’ve been recently in terms of having to queue and having people around you all the time, but some stunning rock formations inside, all atmospherically lit. Bella was keen to do a cave adventure walk type thing, which I wouldn’t mind doing sometime: but at £50 per head and with Edward not being able to do it, that will have to wait for another day (it includes abseiling, ladders over deep water, and via ferrata, and you get to see bits of the caves that the normal visitors don’t). Of course there was the usual shop on the way out, where I bought some cave-aged Cheddar cheese and some cherry mead.

Finally we met up with my sister and her partner, Ross, at Cleeve Abbey – somewhere I hadn’t been since going there with my grandmother when I was a teenager. It was such a contrast to many monastic ruins, which don’t really give you any idea of how the monks lived: often the church remains and possibly part of the cloisters, but nothing else. Here the dormitory area is still in existence but nothing other than a few stones remain of the church. There is also a stunning example of a coloured tiled pavement – the photo below doesn’t do it justice. It’s somewhere I’d highly recommend if you like that sort of history.

We had a lovely, relaxing few days and I was impressed by how considerate and helpful my older two in particular were towards my Mum and Dad. As for so many parents, it’s a delight to see your children developing into decent adults; into people of whom you are genuinely proud.

August goals

My runs have been mostly on my normal routes recently; I haven’t had time to run anywhere further afield, other than one warm sunny evening when I persuaded Penny to make the most of the good weather and swim in Ullswater rather than running. We were both dressed for running but had taken our wetsuits down to Pooley Bridge, and were glad we opted for swimming: although it was fairly busy (and the lake is not beautifully clear and stony but a bit weedy) it was nice to swim, and the weather forecast proved to be wet with rain the following few days. I also bought some very nice gin and tonics in the shop at Pooley Bridge!

With the rain my roof started leaking again, but neighbour-Mark knew a man who might be able to fix it. Mick Nolan turned up when he said he would and got it sorted; it turned out to be a lovely hot dry day when he mended it, and it looks as if it’s held against today’s downpour. Hooray!

There was a bit of a misadventure running in Gelt Woods one day last weekend, when I was extremely glad not to have been on my own: trying for a 15km run (which we succeeded in doing), I tripped over a stone and fell flat, face down in to the mud. It actually looked worse than it was (blood and mud on my face; mud all over my clothes) and now, about a week later, the grazes on my face have almost disappeared. Penny very kindly purchased me one of those arm-band things for carrying my phone in, as it was probably trying not to land on my phone which made me do the face-plant.

I then gave blood on Wednesday evening and have been surprised how long it’s taken me to feel as if I’m back to anything like running normality – today, Sunday, I ran just under 10km at about my normal speed. Every-so-often over the past few days I’ve felt a bit light-headed/wobbly and tired; I guess if you have less blood then you have less iron too. I had steak pie for dinner last night, which perhaps helped!

As I ran today I thought about my goals for this month (and going forward). I really want to start doing triathlon again. Head Torches has reached its goal of 2020km already, so we’re now aiming for 2020 miles by mid-October. I decided that in August I’m going to try to concentrate on distance rather than speed and aim to do 4 runs, each of between 5 and 10 miles, each week with a goal of doing 150km in the month (in July I managed 130km but in June I did 140km). Then I’m also going to try to do one ‘brick’ session each week, of an hour’s bike ride followed by 30 minutes’ running.

And of course there will still be wild swimming to do: after the trip to Ullswater, Anne and I took Bella and Edward to Rydal Water on Friday afternoon, which was great. I was really proud of them both as Bella swam a long way with Anne, and Edward loved being in the water (and would have swum with them if I’d let him – but I’m not quite confident enough about his swimming yet) – we will be going again! However I now need to buy myself a new swimming wetsuit as Bella seems to have appropriated mine…

Lockdown 11; final furballed week

All of a sudden the house is empty and quiet; I’m conscious of the spaces. One moment the boys were here, playing on the xbox and chatting; Bella arrived, bounding in to grab some of her things and a hug with cat; then all three piled into David’s car and were off, gone, it felt, with no transition. It’s often the way: more so since lockdown. My schizophrenic life feels more obviously schizophrenic when they’re here one minute and gone the next and I’m here every day.

Being furloughed made me more aware of the differences: potentially there was the noisy chaos and hugs & battles of children in the house, followed by silence and calm: sometimes a desirable thing which I welcomed with a sigh of relief, sometimes less welcome and it took an hour or so to get used to being on my own again, and the quietness. I think what lockdown and furlough has taught me is that I do have inner resources and I’m not lonely nor as mentally unstable as I feared, whether or not the children are here and however much they create upheaval (or not – I have some lovely moments with them as well, and I perhaps need to concentrate on those more).

Right at the beginning of lockdown – pre-lockdown, even – my biggest fear was that being on my own I would crumble and drop into an abyss of loneliness and despair. It has been a relief that that hasn’t happened.

It’s made me think that one of our biggest emotional problems as human beings is not the actual problems but the fear of them. Fear can be paralysing, resulting in inaction; it can result in anger and aggression (we are, after all, animals); it can result in defensiveness and self-protection. For me the fear – which made me emotional and angry and then made me ‘close up’ and cut myself off from people for a brief while – was not of the virus itself but of the effect it was going to have on my life. Thank goodness for our amazing modern technology, which has been truly put to the test and, I think, come up trumps; and thank goodness that I was still allowed out running and cycling, and that I have lovely places around here to practice them both.

The exercise in itself has not only been an emotional support but also has proved to me that despite my age I can still improve my fitness and stamina and feel faster and more competitive: what’s interesting is that I also enjoy the non-competitive ‘pootling’ type of runs and bike rides (when I was younger I was always trying to beat my best time, always pushing myself). I’ve never been in any doubt about the benefits of exercise generally, being fit and getting outside – not since I first decided to get fitter at the age of about 30, when as I got fitter my insecurities about all sorts of things including my body image reduced enormously – but it’s always nice to have one’s views confirmed.

Moving to Cumbria, to somewhere rural, opened and continues to open my eyes wide to the amazing fulfilment that comes from living somewhere where you can get close to nature. I grew up in Somerset, in a village about the same size as the town I now live in: and loathed it. I couldn’t wait to escape to the city: ideally as far away from family and what I saw, at that point, as restrictions, as possible (Nottingham was the University the furthest south that I applied to). I still don’t think of Somerset as ‘really rural’ or ‘the real countryside’, though it does have much beauty (and much traffic), but I can now understand the appeal of not living in a big city, and it struck me early in lockdown how glad – and lucky – I am to live where I do.

I have also learnt to be a bit calmer and slower: to allow myself to say ‘well, there’s no rush to do that’ or to allow myself to read a book for hours. I noticed this particularly at the beginning of furlough: I’m so used to (often self-imposed) deadlines and to Doing Things that sometimes it’s difficult to stop. On the other hand I always have a lot of things I want to do! But I think I appreciate more than ever that a day when I don’t do any singing practice, or don’t run, doesn’t actually make me worse at those things. In fact I think if anything being calmer about life overall makes me better at them.

So, work on Monday (8th June). I will continue with my daily yoga and almost daily running or cycling; I will try to get out open water swimming when it is safe and warm enough to do so. I will be baking fewer cakes (though a couple of friends have birthdays coming up…) and will not have time for Friday morning Italian conversation: but I think on the whole to be back at work and feel that I’m actually earning my living, and using my brain, will be a good thing. I feel quite spoilt to have had this time.

I don’t know when I’ll write again: I spoke of possibly winding up this blog. However there are lots of new routes to discover still and tarns and lakes to swim in, so you may be regaled with stories of the mini-adventures of my friends and I in this gorgeous corner of the world. Scattered through this post, just to demonstrate it, are some photos as despite rain – and hail – I have had some lovely outings in this, my final week of furlough.

Footnote

I’ve mentioned anger a couple of times. It seems that at the moment the United States is a sad and angry place; that anger has spilled over into public demonstrations here. I do not condone any cruelty to one’s fellow man, but unfortunately it seems to me that there are some people who will use any excuse to destroy rather than to build bridges, and there are always people at extremes. Will humankind ever learn to live in peace; will men ever learn to tolerate and accept? There are those who lead a glowing way, such as Jacinta Aherne, the Prime Minister of New Zealand; but sadly somehow I think people like her are in a minority (and also managing a less densely located and smaller population). I said the other day to a friend that I hoped I’d got more tolerant as I’d got older: but even so there are things which I get angry about (litter in beautiful countryside; people not being environmentally aware; hypocrisy). And yes, I’m sure I’m a hypocrite. I think we all are.

Lockdown 6/Furlough 3

Homeschooling

With a huge range of lessons, ideas, activities and support online you’d think it would be easy to home-school: but as almost every parent is finding, it’s not actually as easy as all that.

For a start, when has a child ever taken any notice of his or her parent as a teacher? Years ago there was no way my parents were going to teach me to drive; I attempted to teach Isabella piano at one point and we stopped after one lesson. My first day of homeschooling with Edward and Bella I had thought had gone quite well; however since then trying to get them to do anything has been an uphill battle (though once Edward has buckled down to something he normally gets on with it without demurring too much).

Bella is, fortunately, very self-motivated: she may not always study at a steady pace but when she puts her mind to it she throws herself into it. However having offered to teach her some French in order to help with the GCSE course (which she is doing outside school as school can’t timetable French for her), she told me she’d do it herself. The clear indication was that I was not good enough.

Edward then informed me that I was a ‘crap teacher’. This is because I taught him how to calculate areas and perimeters of triangles, squares and rectangles using some basic GCSE questions. Apparently I shouldn’t have done that… meanwhile Alex is teaching Edward history. Or at least, I thought he was teaching him about the First and possibly Second World War. In fact it is far, far more specific than that: Alex is teaching Edward about the development of weapons during that period. I think Edward’s historical perspective is going to be somewhat skewed…

Alex meanwhile insists he has nothing on and nothing to do, whilst admitting that he hadn’t looked at school emails for at least a week. He has at least signed up to a ‘MOOC’ (Massive Online Course or something) and it’s a topic he’s keen to study – the development of the British Army from 1815 onwards (notice a theme here?). However it’s already started so he’s going to wait for the next start date…

I hope he remembers to check when that might be…

Living alone – or not

Having had the boys for 3 or 4 days, Isabella came here when they went back to the house in Penrith. It meant that unusually, I haven’t actually been alone for about a week. It’s been nice having the kids separately and because Bella is old enough to leave on her own I’ve got out for a couple of runs: she’s also made me do more yoga as she has started doing yoga herself.

Meanwhile having finished Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English (which was absolutely brilliant, and enthralling from start to finish – and made me so grateful that I was born in a country where English is my native tongue, and I haven’t had to learn it!), I then read Alexander McCall Smith’s The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. I’d picked this up as a bit of ‘light’ reading but then found passages with some insightful and relevant comments on the human condition.

The first was this, which was applied primarily in the book to someone who lives alone:

“…there are many of us, surely, in that category; we may feel that we have numerous friends, but how many can we telephone with no purpose other than to chat?”

It made me think about the current ‘lockdown’ situation; about being alone myself at times; who I have been in touch with and who not. Over time it’s changed: there was a slightly frantic flurry of activity in the early weeks as we adjusted to this slower, quieter pace of life and in a slightly panic-stricken way did our utmost to stay in touch with people. I’ve found – and I don’t know whether this is true of most people or not – that whilst I’m still chatting to people, I’ve become a bit pickier about it, and that some of the people I’m in contact with the most are not necessarily the ones who I thought I might have been. It’s been brilliant to have zoom ‘drinks’ with Caroline and Jo, who otherwise I wouldn’t speak to for months: we’re currently talking to each other more or less once a fortnight. I’ve caught up with friends I haven’t spoken to for ages, such as Kath – and then I’ve had phone calls to friends who I might otherwise see for a run or at choir but who I wouldn’t normally ‘need’ to phone. Workwise I actually feel closer to the nationwide team of which I am part than I had before this all started; and my sister and I have been conversing far more than we would normally do (which is nice – we hated each other as kids but we’ve grown fonder of each other over the years).

Then nearly every time I’ve been out I’ve ‘bumped’ into someone I know, which has meant having the chance for a nice chat, or at least waving and saying ‘hi’ as I run past. And everybody but everybody has been generally friendlier – it was always the custom to say ‘hello’ as you walked or ran past people at the Tarn, but now everybody seems to be doing it all the time. I feel even more part of the community than I did before, despite being in my house a lot and at times alone for days at a time. Saturday was especially good as I spoke to a couple of friends in my garden. It’s sad not to be able to hug people, but great that we can still chat.

Boredom? The meaning of Life?

One of the characters in the Alexander McCall Smith book suddenly realises one afternoon that she has nothing to do, and she finds this unsettling and immediately starts to look around for another project: ideally one she can do from home.

It’s been crossing my mind the past few days that life has become like a constant weekend: no need to do anything at any particular time, or at all if you don’t want to. Is this what retirement is like? Are we given some sort of purpose in life by our jobs? It’s made me wonder what it must have been like in pre-industrial days, when ‘work’ would have meant, for some, surviving – finding enough food; ensuring warmth and shelter. We seem to have progressed to a stage where it is necessary to be using our brains and to be Doing Things in order to feel useful or important. Or is it partly so that we don’t have to face up to the reality that we are, in fact, no more than rather sophisticated (which in middle English meant adulterated/corrupted) animals ?

Bluebells

The bluebells are out in all their glory this week, and in fact I think look better than I’ve ever seen them. I had a lovely run through the woods down to Lanercost Bridge (there’s a plain modern bridge and then a rather lovely old packhorse bridge alongside it) with a haze of bluebells on the way back; then on Sunday I went for a walk round the Tarn with Edward and he did tree-climbing. Every time I go out I am conscious of the abundance of spring flowers, which never fail to lift my heart.

It’s always so good to get out and I am incredibly grateful – and relieved – that I can. I spent a day indoors last week, only going out to put something in the bin. Whilst I did extra yoga, it just wasn’t the same as being out in the spring sunshine and the countryside, and the day felt a bit weird – a bit incomplete. I’m resolved to continue to go out daily even if it starts raining soon!

Lockdown 5/Furlough 2

I forgot that my ‘major’ problem last week was cat fleas. At least, I think that’s what it was: it might have been something I picked up out running. Every-so-often I seem to get this problem where my ankles get bitten (whatever it is seems to get just inside the top of my socks, where I get the impression that it goes mad because it can’t get out and bites me in frustration).

Last week it seemed to be worse overnight and I got to the stage where I was wondering about not sleeping in my own bed, but in the spare bed. However having sprayed various rooms in the house, washed tons and tons of bed linen (and my younger son’s duvet – just in case), vacuumed like a loony, stuck extra flea-stuff on the cat and slept with a bowl of washing up liquid under my bed, the problem doesn’t seem quite so bad. Fingers crossed.

I’m really enjoying my daily Yoga with Adriene. Having started on her 2015 30 days of yoga but added in a couple of other classes, I’ve just now done day 23 on 22nd April. Next I’m going to do some yoga for the lower back as I have a feeling that might also help my shoulder – I’ve had some sort of shoulder problem (stiffness/pain) which seems to have been exacerbated by doing Duolingo on my phone on the train on the way to work: definitely doing less of that plus some shoulder mobility and stretching exercises helped (and I should probably do more), but yoga and not travelling so much definitely seems to be the real key.

I keep wondering what the world is going to look like; what things we’ll go back to and what we won’t go back to after this virus is ‘over’: if it ever really is. I was doing a CPD webinar yesterday about Permitted Development rights – I don’t know about the planning system in other countries, but over here there are certain changes you can make without planning permission. One of them is changing offices to residential, which has apparently been somewhat contentious as it’s resulted in some very poor quality (and small) residential units. I asked the question at the end of the webinar about why we didn’t, and whether we should, have similar legislation helping the change from retail to residential: our town and city centres years ago suffered from office uses moving out to cheaper and more car-friendly locations on outskirts (a mistake, to my mind, for all sorts of reasons, though you can see why economically it suited people). But nowadays retail is also under pressure and I really think the answer is to bring more residential uses into town and city centres (parking will need some creative thinking, including some way of trying to get us all out of our cars, especially in towns and cities which don’t have good public transport. My aunt, in London (zone 2, so fairly central but not right in the middle), has a car but rarely uses it – but then she also has a bus pass and there is great public transport in London (and a congestion charge)). I’m attending a webinar on the future of the High Street this evening, and am also contributing some questions and thoughts on the subject: I’ll get back to you on this later. Meanwhile I’m off out for a bike ride in the sun (I’m not feeling very motivated to run at the moment).

Later

It was quite breezy out on the bike but yet another glorious sunny day (in fact I think we probably could really do with some rain, or at least the gardeners and farmers could). I was on my triathlon bike, which I haven’t cycled for ages. I’d been wondering how different it would feel from my other road bike – the answer was, surprisingly so! The gearing means it’s faster on the flat, but harder work uphill – but on the other hand the wheels/tyres are also narrower, which helps. What surprised me – as I’m not terribly technical about bikes – was how different it felt size/shape wise – the frame geometry is more different than I’d expected. And also the saddle is a lot more comfortable – mental note to self to get a different saddle for my other bike, which is overall a more comfortable ride for longer distances (you don’t feel the bumps quite so much).

I loved being out on my bike and decided that I’d cycle this week rather than running – although not tomorrow as I’m ‘at’ an all day online conference and then it’s theatre night, so I shall just go for a quick run at some point. It’s a real luxury having the time to be able to cycle at the moment, so I may as well make the most of it.

When I got home I then finished moving the paving slabs in the garden and planted some pea seeds. I also noticed that loads of lovely tulips are coming into flower: and the african violets are spreading well around the garden!

English

I definitely have more time for one of my favourite pastimes, reading, at the moment: I ‘treat’ myself each morning to some time reading while I drink that so-important first coffee of the day. Fortunately I had a pile of books by my bed and a friend has now also dropped a boxful of books off, so I’ve had plenty of reading material.

A book which was recommended to me was The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, and I’ve just started it. I’ve always been fascinated by language but also by history – I loved the period of history, the so-called dark ages and early medieval, that I did at school. I’d always felt that we (the English) fought so much with the French because we were closely related to them – like brother and sister. In fact we’re probably more closely related to them by going back to Celtic times than through the Normans – but what Melvyn Bragg’s book points out is how closely related the two languages are, and how English very nearly ‘lost’ out to French. I knew that French had carried on being the language of the aristocracy for hundreds of years (rather, I would assume, as it was in Russia?), and I’d always thought that despite being a so-called Germanic language, English actually has a lot in common with Romance languages. I hadn’t fully appreciated or considered just how much of the vocabulary of current day English comes from French, nor that French was, in medieval times, the language of trade (which is how words from Arabic have also come into our language). It’s amazing really when you think that English is now the language of commerce for the entire world.

The other thing, harking back to when I read The Origins of the British, is that English was actually brought into the country by a minority elite, and a minority who only initially ruled the south of the country – who almost lost out to the Vikings. That this language was then nearly overcome by another ruling minority – the Normans – and that they then became almost more English than the English, makes for a fascinating read.

Perhaps rather appropriate that I’m writing this on St. George’s Day – though in fact he was born in Turkey and became a soldier in the Roman army. Perhaps his heritage in some way reflects the rich mongrel mix that is English.

Running vs. cycling

I mentioned that I’d be going for a short run today as there wasn’t time to cycle. In fact my short run turned into a nature walk as after a couple of km I started feeling weird – I get this low blood sugar thing where I start to feel light headed/dizzy, a bit sweaty and a bit shaky – at its worst I get so dizzy that everything goes black; if the kids are around I can also get quite short-tempered and snarly (“stop winding me up and get me food NOW!”).

As I ran/walked I was thinking about the different aspects of running and cycling. What I really love are my long runs with my friend Penny – they’re not in order to get fit, although we do challenge ourselves, but are as much about getting out and exploring places. Having run the 16 biggest lakes of the Lake District for her 50th, I’ve suggested we run 60 of Cumbria’s tarns and small waters for my 60th: we could do some lovely long exploratory runs which would take in 3 or 4 tarns at a time.

Unless you’re a completely dedicated ultra-marathoner, you can’t run really long distances without the odd break for photos, flapjack, etc.: and that’s part of the pleasure of these runs. Cycling, on the other hand, is more relentless somehow: it’s not quite as easy to stop to take photos, and I’m often tempted to stop but instead just keep bowling along – especially if I’ve got up a good pace.

They’re both great in their own way: if I want to start doing triathlon again I’m going to have to get quicker and more consistent with my running; but for now just getting out and about every day is far, far more than I’ve been doing for years! Meanwhile I notice that the wild garlic is beginning to come out: this year I really must collect a load and make soup!

Monday 27th April

So that’s the end of another slightly strange week. Compared with the end of last week (or slightly before), my mood is far better: and from talking to other people I think a lot of people have had a bit of a low this past 10 days or so. It’s maybe just getting used to this different pace of life. I went out for another, longer bike ride – up to Bewcastle. It’s incredibly isolated up there and as I cycled back an amazing panoramic view opened up into the far distance – across to Northumberland, the northern Pennines, the Lake District. I wish my words could describe it better and that a camera could portray it better. You’re not particularly high up at Bewcastle, but you feel far away both in space and time, and as if you’re at the edge of something. The sky is gigantically huge, the sheep spill out on to the road as if cars didn’t exist and it feels as if it wouldn’t be surprising if Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons or Vikings suddenly appeared: or a bunch of marauding Border Reivers (English or Scottish) driving cattle.

At the end of this week I am close to having finished my 30 days of yoga; I have had some video singing lessons; I have spoken to friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to for ages; I’ve done a bit of Italian though not as much as I intended; and I have tried to do home-schooling (surprisingly hard when you’re also trying to be a mother and when the children are actually far more interested in the xbox). I’ve also mused over many things, and whilst I’ve tried to get some of those thoughts down here, as with so many thoughts which are emotional in basis, some of them are less relevant today than they were on the day I had them, and it’s probably as well that transient grumpiness or paranoia doesn’t get written down in a blog.

What am I aiming to achieve in this coming week? Do I really ‘need’ to achieve anything, or is life currently about enjoying what I can, and doing so contentedly, rather than pushing to achieve all the time?

Lockdown 4/Furlough 1

Snippets – and photos from daily exercise

  1. People are saying don’t do things… BUT this is an opportunity to do all those things I want to do and can’t normally do – and not to feel that they have to be crammed into a tight space each day, if they’re done at all. I’ve already said how I’m enjoying having the time and space to do things which I want to do: I feel lucky to have this time. This is a breathing space not only for the world but for us petty humans who feel a need to rush around and to fill our hours with work to make us feel important and useful. At the end of the day none of us is either important or useful – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t endeavour to try to make the most of life and to enjoy it. For some people that just means doing nothing, or sitting in the garden and drinking wine: and that’s fine too. The vast majority of us can just take our time at the moment.

2. Why, just because there are fewer cars on the roads, are people driving like complete loonies? If they crash it’s just going to waste NHS time; and why not just enjoy the fact that for once there is no need for anyone to rush anywhere (apart of course for ambulances). Likewise who are all these extra people who now think it’s OK to leave dog poo lying around wherever they feel like it?

Not quite sure what’s going on with the formatting…

3. The rhythm of my life has changed this week. I’m not getting up as early as I was; I’m doing yoga nearer to 10 a.m. than 8 a.m. Having the kids here has meant I haven’t exercised as much as I do when they’re not here, and I haven’t done any singing practice: but it was nice to have them here and things felt calmer than they do sometimes (less churned up). They’re all now back with their Dad so I’m trying today to start getting on with improving my italian – starting by revising some verb endings.

4. A friend’s brother died last night; other people I know have lost family members or friends, or have had the illness themselves. Yet – and I feel guilty saying this – I don’t understand why people say they are ‘scared’. Obviously I hope I don’t get the virus; if I do get it I hope I don’t die; my biggest fear is one of my children getting it and dying, and I think for the vast majority of the people I know it would be the same. So we’re following guidelines: there is nothing else we can do. I think our fear is primarily for ourselves: that it will hurt to lose someone we love; that it would be utterly devastating to think of them suffering without us being able to see them.

Another comment was ‘what a waste of life’. Is it though? Is any life, however short, wasted? It’s desperately sad when someone dies before their ‘alloted’ time and when he or she might have been able to do yet more for other people, but if they’ve led a productive life and have been of help/use to others, how is that life wasted? No life is wasted, surely – the child who has died young has at least brought some years of happiness to his or her parents and others, even though it is utterly unbearably sad that he or she has died. Perhaps it’s more the wording than the intent of the comment which doesn’t ring quite right.

I guess particularly since turning 50 I’ve been aware that I’m at least, or more than, halfway through my life – and that I therefore should make the most of what’s left. That, and the fact that this is such an amazing world and that there are so many incredible people out there, is what drives me to do all the things I do. I don’t want to die saying ‘I wish I’d done such-and-such’. There will always be languages I didn’t learn, places I didn’t visit, books I didn’t read: but at least I will have visited a lot of places, read a lot of books, learnt languages, appreciated the fantastic countryside we have in Cumbria and nearby, and enjoyed my life: I hope not at a cost to others.

A bit morbid, my ‘snippet’ today: but I think the saying about “living each day as if it were your last” is so wise – so long as it doesn’t lead you to go mad spending tons of money you don’t have, or doing something you really shouldn’t!

Meanwhile this afternoon I had a lovely and life-affirming run, so I’ll post some photos here. I am very much looking forward to being able once more – after lockdown – get to the top of that hill in the centre photo.

5. I’ve found I need to keep a diary! This seems bizarre when I’m not actually going anywhere, but I did in fact miss a CPD (continuing professional development) webinar the other week as I’d forgotten about it. An example of Friday was: 10 a.m. – Italian conversation group on Zoom; 12 noon – singing lesson via Messenger video; 5 p.m. yoga via YouTube; 6 p.m. speak to a friend via WhatsApp video. In between times I spoke to another friend, went out to the hardware store to find stuff to get rid of cat fleas (sigh – my ankles have been bitten to shreds) and to post some parcels, and went for a bike ride. Oh, and also did tons of washing and hoovering to try to get rid of said cat fleas.

6. I woke up feeling low and demotivated on Saturday morning: I’m not sure why as I have absolutely nothing to be unhappy about. I’d arranged to do a very long run ‘with’ some friends, but I just didn’t have the motivation to do it. I fell back into cutting-myself-off-from-everyone mode and, having read that Police advice is now that it was probably OK to drive just a short way for a long walk/run etc., I decided that I would drive the ten minutes or so to walk up the hill in the photo. It’s one of my favourite places ever and has been described in this blog many times. You stand at the top with the wind in your hair and gaze over to the Lake District, Scotland and Northumbria. Fantastic.

It’s a walk/run where I always notice the sounds around me – it’s amazingly noisy. Firstly there’s the river (the Gelt, which flows later through Gelt Woods nearer to my town, and then into the River Eden, which flows into and through – and sometimes floods – Carlisle); the birds are always singing loudly; sometimes there is a dog or two barking; and once upon a time at least one or two planes would go over head; then there’s the noise the wind makes in the grass at the top. I took the kids up there a couple of days later: it’s far easier to do social distancing up there than on the paths around the town.

And so I finish this blogpost with some hilltop photos – sadly not with the video of the river as apparently I have to be on the premium plan to be able to upload that!

And that’s a 4th week of lockdown over.

My Lockdown Diary – week 2

The working week

Week 2 didn’t start well. I went to do my washing up and found the sink was full of dirty water which hadn’t drained from the night before. Even prodding around with a brush and a knife didn’t help… I undid some of the pipes, dirty water splashing into and around the bowl I put under the connections, and trying to work out where the blockage was. I went down to the hardware store (still open) and got some nasty chemicals – a big bottle of Mr Muscle – and stuck half down the plughole and half down the plughole in the shower upstairs, which had also been running slow.

That didn’t work in the kitchen sink and despite the fact that I was also trying to work, I spent my lunch hour sending desperate messages and receiving helpful hints via various whatsapp groups about what I could do. In the end I gave up, leaving a pool of disgusting water in the sink, and decided I’d go away and leave it until the end of the working day. I guess it’s a bit like turning the computer off and walking away from it, when that’s not behaving.

Sure enough when I went back after work the sink had, miraculously, cleared. I was a bit doubtful about whether this was a lasting ‘fix’ but I’m pleased to say that two days later it’s still running free. I should also add that I am EXTREMELY careful not to put loads of nasty stuff down the sink nor into the dishwasher – years ago when I worked at Railtrack we had a catering business tenant who didn’t have grease traps in his drains. He almost undermined a whole railway embankment at Finchley Road, and next door’s toilet was backing up due to his blocked drains. Yuck. That was the first time I served a s.146 notice on a tenant.

I’ve been doing my morning yoga regularly and really enjoying it. About 20 minutes is the perfect amount for me, and it sets me up ready to work. On Tuesday I missed going for a run as I didn’t have time – although my singing lesson also got cancelled as my teacher’s boiler had split (it was obviously one of Those Days). And the CPD webinar I joined was booooorrrringggg…

That’s the great thing at the moment though – there is loads of free stuff online, far more than usual. On Wednesday I joined a webinar about co-working. Nothing terribly mind-blowing but a good webinar (and an hour’s CPD), and it made me wonder again what will happen when this is all over. I actually think this is the final death-knell to our high streets as people will have got used to shopping online and to home deliveries: unless everybody goes mad when we’re finally released and hits the high street with all the cash they’ve saved from not going out (?). Have you? Are you saving much money being at home? I am, but the temptation is to go mad online.

The frenzy of whatsapp seems to have died down – I wonder if, one week in, people are becoming a little more relaxed about keeping in touch with people. I’m trying to phone them rather than just whatsapp or email, but I have to admit that so far I’m quite relishing not having the commute to work (I maybe said that last week as well). Today, for example, I did yoga before work, started about 8.30a.m., went for a run at lunchtime, and then worked until about 7p.m. when the National Theatre’s free streaming began.

I think this is such a great idea, and they showed a slightly slapstick comedy which in some ways was a little trite, but I think was exactly what was needed at the moment. I really enjoyed it and am going to try to ‘go to the theatre’ every week. A lot of it would be stuff I wouldn’t dream of buying a ticket for, and other than being tempted to go out into the kitchen to cook dinner in the middle, it’s very pleasant being able to sit in your own home and watch top class theatre. It’s not quite the same as live streaming of opera, plays or ballet in the cinema – it doesn’t have the same sense of occasion – but even so I made sure that I’d put my laptop away and my phone to one side.

Tomorrow the kids will be here – or some of them should be (if I’m going all the way down to Penrith I very much hope they WILL be here) and Bella and I could watch ballet from the Royal Opera House. But until then, I’ve opened and drank far too much of my ‘interval bottle’ of prosecco, and feel ready to fall into bed and slumber.

Sunday 5th April

On Friday morning after yoga and a short run I headed down to Penrith to fetch the children, stopping at Cranstons Penrith food hall en route (which was incredibly quiet – certainly the desperation for food and other necessities seems to have calmed). The kids seemed content to be heading back with me and Bella and Edward in particular were talking about how excited they were to see our cat, Artemis.

Once the kids were here I realised that the ‘loneliness’ I sometimes feel, and which can make me feel really low, isn’t so much from being alone as from feeling unloved – something which I think most parents feel to a greater or lesser extent. Almost as soon as they came in the house, and after they’d made a fuss of the cat, one of the children started demanding to be bought things. My arguments that I don’t know whether I may be furloughed on 80% pay, can’t keep going out to the shops (and don’t want to) and don’t want to run out of this month’s salary too soon, fell on deaf (teenage) ears. True I’m not paying for train fares and various lessons, but I don’t feel I can just go out and spend willy-nilly.

So having wondered why on earth I bothered to fetch them, there was then the pleasure of going for a walk with my two boys – even if the younger was being painfully slow and making a meal of it – and of doing sewing and then watching TV with my daughter. I guess the other thing is that they all want to do, and are capable of doing, such different things. And, whilst I don’t want to do the whole ‘it’s hard being a single parent’ thing, it is definitely far more difficult trying to deal with three kids on your own than when there are two (or even more) adults around: I’m definitely ‘Outnumbered‘.

Having taken this coming week as annual leave, to have the kids over the Easter holidays, it now looks as if none of them will be here. Bella complains bitterly if I ever go abroad without her (I can’t afford to take all the children – even my own holiday to Finland earlier this year was all paid for by credit card and is still being just slowly paid off (something I was hoping to pay off a bit more of if I was able to spend a bit less this month and next)), but I now feel that I may as well use my annual leave for myself if all they’re going to do is be at David’s when I’m in my house on my own while I’m on leave. The last 10 days or so have shown me that I can cope quite happily on my own – in fact the sad thing is that it’s a lot more tranquil when I’m on my own. I love my kids to bits and even though they drive me bonkers I still think they’re amazing in their own, very individual and completely different ways, and it makes me sad that they churn me up so much.

Speaking of being churned up, there’s now the fear of a more strict lockdown being enforced, as crowds of stupid people have been out in parks sunbathing. I’m somewhat less worked up about this than I was about the initial lockdown, but – what idiots! I can completely and utterly sympathise with people in city flats wanting to get out, but as someone said, why not just go for a walk and avoid other people, rather than sitting in a park making it obvious that you’re ignoring social distancing rules. I have been really enjoying my daily yoga and daily bike ride or run and feeling fitter and healthier than I have for ages; I shall be gutted if those of us who want to keep fit and healthy have to stop because of some selfish minority who think they’re not affected by the rules the rest of us are living by (and what about the Scottish Health Minister – what a twit, and what arrogance! She should be sacked. She doesn’t even deserve two houses at a time when some people are facing all sorts of financial problems).

I wonder how many circuits of my house would make up 5km? Would Strava even be able to measure such a short lap?

Monday 6th April – day 14

Well, that’s a fortnight gone, and no rumours on today’s News of lockdown getting more restrictive (I wonder how a sunny Easter weekend will affect people and lockdown, though). My children have gone back to their Dad’s. I did at least manage to get the boys out for a walk again today, and Edward helped a bit in the garden earlier. It’s been such a gorgeous day I’m amazed they weren’t champing at the bit to be outside all day. Edward’s hair is getting curly at the back as it’s getting longer; Alex is developing a floppy fringe in contrast to his normally acutely short ‘army cadet’ cut. I like them both with slightly longer hair!

Having dropped them off I decided I’d drive back on the country roads – along the lower slopes of the north Pennines, up through Lazonby, Kirkoswald, Croglin, Newbiggin and Castle Carrock. For a start it stopped me being tempted to nip into the Co-op for wine and chocolate; and also it’s a beautiful drive. I had ClassicFM on the radio, and passed plenty of people out for their evening exercise: we are so lucky living up here, surrounded by hills and greenery and gorgeous views.

I haven’t done much exercise myself the past few days as it doesn’t fit in with having the kids, and I’m getting itchy feet to be out on my bike. I need to fetch some toilet rolls at some point so if the weather continues like this I will fetch them by bike rather than in the car!

As I drove back I heard the news for the first time in ages. There were fewer deaths from Covid-19 today than yesterday but the Health Minister or someone said it’s too soon to speak of relaxing lockdown (clearly). It brought me up with a start: having been so worried about the restrictions of lockdown, I suddenly realised that I’m not ready for it to finish yet! The status of our lockdown at the moment – where you can still go to the supermarkets etc. for necessities, and when you can go out exercising once a day – has been suiting me fine. I’ve altered my pace of life, and want to be able to continue to do yoga every morning before work and to go for a run at lunchtime or in the evening, and a bike ride on the days when the kids aren’t with me!

People I’ve chatted to are already saying possibly this will change the way we live. I hope so; I really hope so. I’m somewhat sceptical about human greed though.

Meanwhile I’ve started a Garden Project so next week’s Lockdown Diary is going to be less about the logistics of lockdown and more about my garden. I should add that I’m not normally terribly keen on gardening, but this is an opportunity to do some major digging and redesigning (rather than just weeding): a bit like altering rooms inside the house. I’m thinking about a pond, although I know nothing about establishing one and last time I had a pond I killed off all the fish as I treated the water for algae bloom a little too vigorously. What I’d really love is some sort of cascading water feature, but I think that would be far to expensive and time-consuming to install and maintain.

Anyone got a spare bath?

Christmas and New Year

Christmas should be a time for rejoicing and sharing. For some people it’s not – it’s a lonely, sad time. However looking back over 2019 I was conscious that most of the highlights of my year have been moments with friends, old and new, and family. In particular some of the best times have been outdoors.

I thought therefore that I’d like to post some of my favourite memories and I hope my friends won’t object if they’re in any of the photos.

Talkin Fell on a beautiful New Year’s Day with Mark, Joshua and Laura
January – Kielder Dark Skies 10km with Mark, Laura and Tricia – and we all ran well!
February – Penny and I continue the running challenge. This was about 14 miles around Coniston
In March it was 19 miles around Ullswater in mixed weather. What a sense of achievement at the end!
It was Windermere in April, which meant visiting (for the first time ever) High Dam, Claife Viewing station and Wray Castle. 19 miles on day one and 12 miles on day two. Also Pooley Bridge at Easter with Bella and Edward, followed by a solo run around Brotherswater; archery at Kielder with Alex and Edward; Castlerigg Stone Circle and Cat Bells with Cynthia, Edward and Bella; and a fab. weekend in York with Jo and Caroline.
June involved a fantastic run up to Hayeswater and then along to Angle Tarn – both are gorgeous and I’m looking forward to swimming in them!
The Tarn looked gorgeous when I went up there the October half term with Edward; this is the Tarn that Head Torches run around. Another great group of great people, with a few new members this autumn/winter.

And finally we arrive at December. We had the Head Torches run, cake and certificates evening. One of the best things I ever did was start that running group – partly from selfish reasons as I wanted people to run with when it was dark and cold in the winter. We will soon have our own logo and t-shirts and I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody achieves in 2020. Who knows what else the new year will hold – but if it has as many good times with good friends and with my family as this year, I shall be happy.

Merry Christmas everyone, and best wishes for a very happy New Year.

Obscure jewels

The great thing about Cumbria is that you can find almost unknown treasures just off the
beaten track.  Sometimes you wonder how they survive; others seem to be thriving
despite not being anywhere obvious, nor well-signposted.

1. Brampton to Longtown (7)An example is the delightful little museum at Bewcastle – out in the middle of wild, almost-unvisited, haunted Reiver country.  It doesn’t take long to look around, but it tells the story of Bewcastle for those lone visitors who trek up to this remote part of north Cumbria.

 

Today we went to Threlkeld Mining Museum, which sits within the Lake District National Park just outside sometimes-crowded (relatively speaking) Keswick.  It represents one of the contradictions of the Lake District, even of Cumbria itself: this now idyllically rural county once made its wealth from industry, the landscape being gouged to free various valuable minerals.  Copper, lead, slate, graphite and even coal have been taken from the fells, valleys and coast that sheep now roam over and walkers ramble across.

Threlkeld Mining Museum appears not much more than a collection of rusty excavators in a quarry at first glance, but spending some time there is rewarding.  There’s a short ride on a narrow gauge steam train which takes you up to a quarry which is still worked – perhaps recently most significantly to help repair the road past Thirlmere (Keswick to Ambleside) which collapsed when the side of Hevellyn suffered a major landslip in the floods of December 2015 – and a tour of the old mine workings.  The guides are informative and enthusiastic and you come away with an enhanced understanding of how unsafe and unhealthy conditions were working underground – children carrying large tubs of excretia away at the ends of shifts; pit ponies and men falling down shafts, to be left at the bottom to rot; poisonous lead; children laying explosives, made from goose quills filled with powder, at close range because they were more expendable than adults… the social history is fascinating and humbling.

The Museum has no flash modern cafe facilities but during the gap between our train ride and our underground tour, one of the Museum staff pointed us in the direction of the cafe in Threlkeld village (the excellent Village Coffee Shop).  This was another ‘find’.  The village is bypassed by the A66 but if you bother to turn off the main road and head into the village there is a sign for a cafe.   This is situated in a beautifully refurbished village hall with superb views across to the quarry and the fells beyond.  It’s a community enterprise project (I can’t remember the exact name) so the cafe is run by paid members of staff but any profit it makes is ploughed back into the community.  It’s no amateur tea-room either: the coffee was lovely, the cakes looked superb, and the toilets were clean and nicely decorated with fresh flowers.

And friends I Threlkeld Mining Museum April 2017 (1)worked with at British Waterways may be amused to see that one of BW’s rusty excavators now lives at the Mining Museum!

 

Half term with the kids

Half term has been and gone in a flash.  Last weekend was David’s turn to have the children, although I had them on Friday night and Saturday night, which meant that I had time for a run on Askham Fell with Penny on Sunday.  Both of us had work to do so after a late lunch at the cafe at Askham Hall, it was time to head home.  I drove back over the hills rather than up the motorway, and came to the conclusion that one day I shall live in Penrith or Kirkoswald, high up a hill and with a view.

On Monday Edward and Bella were keen to go to Energi, the new(ish) trampolining place in Carlisle.  I jumped too… I’m not very good as whilst I don’t mind jumping high, I’m not very brave at jumping over on to the next trampoline – though I did manage it a few times.  I also landed on the hard bit in between a couple of times, which is rather jarring on the ankles.  I wonder if I was the oldest jumper in the place?  I’m now thinking it would be good to go to one of the ‘Energi Fit’ classes.

Tuesday I had a conference and choir, so the children were with David Monday night and Tuesday night and back to me on Wednesday morning.  We had various dentists and opticians appointments all week, Edward had a swimming lesson every afternoon, and Bella was booked on to a Robotics course on Wednesday.  She found it boring as all they did was make robots out of cardboard, but at least she didn’t learn how to hack the school computer and write rude things on it, which was what happened after the Coding course… we also did some cooking that afternoon – she made a flourless chocolate cake and I made banana cake.  As nobody wanted to eat the banana cake (none of us is a fan of bananas, it seems) we gave it away, and I understand it was enjoyed by the recipients.

On Thursday the ‘treat’ was the Lego Batman movie, along with popcorn and hotdogs.  It hasn’t been a particularly healthy week food-wise, the more so as the kids seem to be rebelling against my tendency to want to eat fish as my main protein rather than red meat.  So this week we have had spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, and chilli with tacos – I’ve also made lamb tagine which I’m going to add butternut squash to before serving it with couscous, but I’m not sure what the trio’s reaction will be to that.

I had arranged to meet a friend at Whinlatter on Friday and as we drove down there the weather was colourful.  The sky was bright azure blue, the main central lakeland fells were covered in snow, and the plantlife was a mix of golden russet brown and vibrant-about-to-be-spring green.  The kids had a good time running around in the playground, although Alex tried to be too old and too cool for it.  Judging by my garden, spring is definitely on its way, and despite Storm Doris (a bit of a non-event up here in Cumbria), the weather hasn’t even been particularly cold.

Not until today, that is – and even then it was only cold on Talkin Fell.  Alex had a friend, Luke, to stay for the weekend.  We had a militaristic day yesterday with a visit to Carlisle Castle and the Regimental Museum followed by the Roman Gallery at Tullie House and then today decided we’d walk up Talkin Fell.

It all started well enough but became windier, wetter and wilder the higher we got.  Bella then fell over in some mud (as happened last time we went up there as well – spot the brown-ness of her black jeans), and the happy mood of the day changed to grumpiness.  As by then we were all getting colder and wetter we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go all the way to the top and eat our picnic up by the cairns: and the two older boys suggested sensibly that we should walk back to the car and eat the picnic in the car.

Edward has got happily filthy every day this holiday week; they have all eaten a lot of rubbish food (as well as plenty of good food as well) – and despite the inevitable arguments, anger and tellings off – it’s been a fab. week.