Fab. times with Friends

Whether it’s the pandemic or turning 60, I’ve been thinking about what I want from life quite a bit recently. Obviously there are lots of things I want to do: but with two of the children likely to be at the grammar school in Penrith as of next year, and one at University, I’m wondering if it’s time to move to Penrith or near there. I’ve been considering why I like living where I do and came to the decision that it’s the open space and being near the hills and trees.

The worst thing about the pandemic at its worst was the lockdowns, and not being able to see friends. I can cope with not going abroad, but not to be able to go into the Lake District to run or cycle or swim with friends was hard. Fortunately I’ve actually managed to do a lot of that and restrictions on seeing friends were short-lived. But, like when I was expecting Edward and he was a baby and toddler, it also made me appreciate living here: living in the countryside where you don’t have to go shopping and spend money and go into crowded spaces to find fulfilment.

But having all these thoughts is not really any good unless you share them with other people; and I’m lucky enough to have brilliant friends who listen and share their own thoughts in return.

The past two weekends have been particularly fantastic for spending time with friends. Firstly I managed to get Claire out on a bike ride. We stopped for coffee at the Rickerby Retreat – it was the first time I’d ever been in there and we had a lovely cappuccino and scones and decided we’d organise a group of us to go there one evening. I’d also just got a new cycling top from Le Col which I wanted to try out: it’s great and does everything it said it would (shower resistant; breathable; warm).

That evening Penny came round for dinner and stayed over so we could go for a run the next day: we did the lengthened Gelt Woods run, which is about 17km and takes in the ‘Railway Children’ loop. It was a bit wet, but still enjoyable, and good to get in several km ready for Hevellyn on 6th November. I wore my new cycling top, but it wasn’t as good for running – the length at the back rides up and is a bit irritating. But then it wasn’t designed for running, although the fabric would be good for a winter running top.

It was Book Group that afternoon and we were discussing The Overstory (reviewed here by GoodReads) by Richard Powers. Anne had written some brilliant notes which sparked off a lively discussion: some of us had found it quite hard to get into, but most had started loving it as they got into it. The conversation went off at (related) tangents and then came back again and two hours had passed before we stopped chatting away.

On Friday I’d taken a day off work as Hannah had said she’d take me out for lunch as a birthday present. She arrived about 11 and we chatted a bit before heading down towards the Lake District. En route we started talking about meditation and yoga retreats, and instead of going directly to Elterwater – the original plan – I said I’d show her the Buddhist temple near Ulverston. The majority of it was closed to the public but we were able to sneak a quick look at the temple from a distance, and soak up some of the atmosphere.

We then drove up towards Coniston (having stopped at Booths to pick up their Christmas book). The lake looked beautiful, and we stopped to take photos. In one of those moments when you’re thinking the same thing as a friend, we both suggested we swim here rather than at Elterwater. It was sunny, the lake shore was fairly stony, and the lake itself quite shallow along this shoreline so the water was surprisingly warm: warmer than I’d expected. Even so when I put my face in to do front crawl I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so for very long.

As we got out it started trying to rain, but after moments had stopped again. A glorious rainbow came out on the other side of the lake; as we drove away a double rainbow appeared ahead of us, and a well-placed layby meant we were able to stop for more photos (lower 3 photos courtesy of Hannah).

We arrived at Chesters at Skelwith Bridge – one of my favourite cafes and shops of all time – just in time to have a delicious lunch of Colcannon Mac and Cheese, Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, and a drink. It was a fantastic day, with lots of discussion about all sorts of things ranging from work to moving to children to relationships.

On Saturday I had arranged to meet Penny for a swim and a run: having carefully packed all the kit I’d need for swimming, I got to her house and knocked on the door. She opened it – there were her running shoes on the doormat, ready for action. I was wearing my boots and suddenly realised I had completely forgotten to bring either of my pairs of running shoes. Penny’s feet are longer than mine so borrowing a pair of hers wasn’t an option.

We decided to go swimming anyway and rather than going to Moss Eccles Tarn, which had been the original plan (we had been thinking of doing the Hawkshead trail race route), we went to Grasmere. It was a bit rainy and we ended up walking back to the car in our wetsuits, thinking we could change under the semi-protection of the car boot (as it turned out the rain stopped by the time we got back). Grasmere itself was rather on the chilly side – Penny was far braver about doing front crawl than I was – and I think that was probably my last open water swim of the year.

I dropped Penny back to her house and went home, sorted a few things out, and then Penny came up (her husband was away so she had to feed their cat). We drove up to Kershope, which I ran at back in the summer with Anne – and went the wrong way – and had previously run at with Penny back in January, in ice. This time we ran the correct route, which turned out to be about 11km.

On Sunday Anne was coming over for a run so Penny stayed over again and the three of us went out hill training on the Ridge, doing about 7 ascents. Penny then left as she’d had a message from Tim that he was on his way home, and Anne and I chatted for a bit about choir and potentially moving. She said she felt that change was in the air for a lot of people, and I think she’s probably right – I think the pandemic has made a lot of people re-assess their lives and consider where they actually want to live and what they want their lives to look like.

I know that one of the most important things for me is to be able to get out into lovely countryside to cycle, swim and run: but also that these things are definitely more fun when done with friends.

Anne by Penny – 24th October 2021.

Movement Meditation (thank you Hannah)

Since my head cold and the 18km trail race, I must admit to having been feeling a bit sluggish. Somehow I just didn’t have my usual energy levels. I wasn’t sure whether it was the aftermath of the cold and the race combined or just a phase in the ups and downs of life. As the next race is at the beginning of June, however, and is a half marathon, I was conscious of not having much time to increase the distance I was running, and the couple of short runs I got in during the working week felt hard.

On Friday 14th May, Hannah – whom I know from work – and I had arranged to meet up, and possibly go for a swim in Broomlee Lough. We were both excited – she’s been more or less shielding for most of the pandemic, but had also joined the Ladies of the Lakes Whatsapp group and bought herself a wetsuit – and I was just looking forward to meeting up with a friend and also potentially swimming in Broomlee Lough again.

With the weather we’d had I wasn’t sure how warm it would be, but thought that perhaps as it’s relatively shallow it wouldn’t have got too much colder since the group of us had last swum there. The weather that morning was a little dull and we were messaging each other about whether to take wetsuits or not – I decided I would take mine in the car, and the nearer I got to Housesteads the more I felt that it would be worth going swimming anyway, even if it wasn’t for long.

When we arrived we found out from the member of National Trust staff at the gate that in fact we need not have booked tickets. A public footpath leads straight across the site, so as long as you don’t want to visit the ruins of the fort then you’re allowed to cross the larger site. It makes for a shorter walk than from the layby on the road, although you do then have to cross the boggiest part of the field. I had wellies on but Hannah hadn’t managed to find hers, nor her walking boots – her (fortunately old) trainers were excessively muddy by the time we’d walked up and back.

There’s something very special about swimming in lakes and tarns anyway, and I feel it even more so up at Broomlee Lough, where the Romans swam. We discussed how they’d have felt swimming north of the wall ‘outside the Empire’ and decided that perhaps it was confirmation that it was more of a boundary marker and trading post than a constantly-fought-over frontier. And in fact, thinking that it stood for about 300 years or more, there must surely have been times when the frontier was quite stable and peaceful?

Hannah absolutely loved swimming in the lough, comparing it favourably even to Lake Garda: partly as it’s so much quieter and more remote. I got a few photos and a video of her but I’m not going to post them here as they’re not the most flattering of her. But the big joyful smile on her face was like the sun, and a photo can’t in any case accurately show how someone feels on top of the world and pleased with her achievement: it was as if she had won the Olympics. We spoke about ‘movement meditation’, or mindfulness, and how the physical, emotional and mental sides of us are interconnected.

The National Trust has changed the shop and ticket office at the entrance to the larger site into a cafe and we stopped there for ice cream on the way out, and to admire how tame the birds were. A chaffinch was hopping about, and then a bright yellow bird which looked almost tropical. Penny knew what it was when I showed her the photo – a siskin. Now I know why the cafe at Whinlatter is called Siskins.

Later that day Penny and I went for a cycle ride from Walton, round in a 25 mile loop. The sun by now had come out and whilst we’d hoped to be able to do the Border Reivers 40 mile route, Penny’s husband had said he’d be coming past to fetch her at about 5.30pm, so we had to do a shorter version. As it turned out we got back to my house about 5 or 10 minutes before Tim turned up, in time to have a quick cup of tea.

It had been a brilliant day: I’d been outside almost all day, met up with two fab. friends, and done two of my favourite things, swimming and cycling. That evening as I did my singing practice I contemplated that I was feeling more energetic than I had for a couple of weeks. As I ran on Sunday, although it was a fairly long run (17km), I felt ‘normal’ again: and my cold seemed to have gone. I’d got my Mojo back.

Thank you my friends.

Friendships

Some people are naturally hermit-like, but that’s fairly unusual and most of us rely on our relationships with our fellow humans. Since the time of the industrial revolution, if not before, people have been attracted to towns and cities, to live with other people: even before the industrial revolution meeting up with others, for example for markets or festivals, was part of the fabric of human interaction.

Lockdown enforced a solitariness, to a greater or lesser extent, on all of us: we have all been restricted in some way. For some people it has been far worse than for others, but it’s made most of us think about our relationships. It’s made us value the good ones and perhaps, if possible, cast off the bad ones. One thing which is certain is that the emotional and mental health consequences are not yet clear.

I thought I had coped fairly well with lockdown, although I was delighted to be able to meet up with friends again and for the number of people I saw gently to grow as restrictions grew lighter. However, spending a lot of time on my own – even with others at the end of the phone or a zoom call or in a what’sapp group – has inevitably made me more thoughtful and introspective than I would have been if I was still rushing around trying to make sure I caught the train to work, or got to meetings on time (although the not rushing has also made me more relaxed, and my work-life balance has improved considerably). The times I have been with a group of like-minded people has been few and far between. To start with that didn’t matter but I found by the end of August/beginning of September that I was becoming convinced that some people didn’t like me any longer; that they weren’t that bothered about my friendship, or that I had annoyed them in some way. It seemed that people didn’t really want to meet up.

My birthday weekend in particular demonstrated to me that it wasn’t the case. Friends do still want to get together in (small) groups, to see each other and including me. I guess as an ‘extroverted’ personality (I’m not a wild extrovert or exhibitionist, but I definitely relish the feedback of group situations) I am happiest when able to meet up with groups on a fairly regular basis, and that then sustains me and helps me appreciate the times on my own. Since finally having the occasional group situation again – WastFest in particular – life has felt more sociable, in a similar way to pre-lockdown but with face masks and social distancing as accessories. And yes, it’s a bit peculiar and still feels a bit odd, but at the same time it’s also becoming normal.

On Friday I finished work and went for a run with two friends before fetching Edward from school. When I got back home one friend was still at my house (in my garden), talking to Bella and to a neighbour – who is a friend as well – who then stayed for a cup of tea. Later I met a friend at the station who came to stay for the weekend: we talked a lot, did yoga, ran, and she played the piano while I sang. We went into Carlisle for dinner: I felt fine at Pizza Express (who had emailed me with the offer of a bottle of prosecco for my birthday if I bought two main courses), which I hadn’t particularly the first time when I’d taken Bella to their branch at Gretna. However I have to admit sitting outside a bar for a pre-dinner drink with a lot of people milling around in their Saturday night ‘finery’ and being seemingly completely oblivious to any sort of social distancing, did not feel so great (at least we were outside though).

On Sunday afternoon I then met another friend for tea and cake at Cakes and Ale, the cafe adjoining Bookends/Bookcase book shop in Carlisle. Again, we sat outside and it was great to catch up in the afternoon sun – and then have a wander round the fantastic Aladdin’s Cave of a bookshop (it’s in a beautiful building, and is literally floor to ceiling books: from cellar to attic).

There was nothing overly expensive or even wildly exciting about anything I did: but everything was done with friends, and I felt grateful and happy.

And it struck me that perhaps none of us ever gets the perfect balance between time alone; time with a partner (or partner and children); and time with friends. People who constantly have other people around feel they don’t have enough time to themselves; people who live alone sometimes feel the lack of other people. But so long as we have friends, and people in our life who care about us, we’ll be OK.