Last week, I had coffee with a friend. She reminded me that we all need to make time to look after our mental wellbeing, every bit as much as our physical. It’s not always easy to maintain good habits.
She’s a carer for a relative; she’s been unable to return to employment after an accident at work. She’s on universal credit. Last week’s headlines told of cuts in benefits and escalating fuel prices.
She struggles, but she doesn’t complain. She’s grateful for the support of her local foodbank. When she couldn’t leave her home, they delivered.
I asked how she was managing now. She told me that the first steps out of the door after lockdown were still hard for her. Her turn of phrase resonated with me.
‘When I run, it’s the first steps that are hardest.’ I agreed.
‘Do you still run?’ she asked.
She noticed that, and persuaded me to commit to putting on my running shoes before I see her again. I thanked her for the motivation. She was pleased to be the one giving out support.
For her, I ran a slow three miles this week. It felt good.
I wonder now, how many times will I need to push myself out of the door before it once more becomes a healthy habit?
Home from a long distance walk, I’m aware that the equinox has passed; autumn can be seen in conkers on the ground. It’s a time of rest, of rotting leaves, and new beginnings. The golden colours of this fruitful season glow. This is my season, my time of year.
I’ve been out walking, alone, today. There’s a joy in solitary walking that’s quite different from walking with others, even when they are good friends. Walking in a group brings companionship and common purpose. Walking alone brings solitude, and rhythmic thinking space.
This month, along with Mr A and friends, this granny walked the West Highland Way. Conditions were good: the weather, mostly dry; the few midges remaining at this time of year were kept at bay by a generous supply of Avon ‘Skin so soft’, a thoughtful gift from my neighbour.
We walked the route backwards: North to South. Sometimes it seemed to me that we were rushing, ticking off each of the 96 miles as we made our journey homewards, minds focussed on the end. Were we just trying to get this job done, out of the way, ready to move on to our next task?
Existential moments of simply being in the landscape, of walking at a steady thinking pace were too few for me. Time to enjoy the journey, to breathe along the way, felt in scarce supply. It’s left me wanting to return, to walk the other way, unwind the path and straighten out my mind.
‘What are you reading at the moment?’ asked Jackie.
It was a simple enough question. The answer was more complicated. I’ve got several on the go. The one for the bookshop book club, the one for the road readers’ group, and a history of Scotland that I thought I’d read in anticipation of our holiday next month. Not to mention any number of half read books scattered around the house to dip into when the mood strikes.
It triggered a moment of panic as I tried to give an appropriate and not too rambling response regarding my erratic, and possibly attention deficient, reading habits.
Other, seemingly trivial, questions can provoke a similar reaction in me. The classic two, so beloved by Cilla on Blind Date: What’s your name and where do you come from?
Easy, if you are well rooted in a childhood town, with a clearly defined place of origin. More complicated for those uprooted at an early age leaving their heart on the far side of the Pennines. And then, in adulthood, finding that there is no family settlement to which to return.
As to my name, my label, my designation. I can tell you the name to which I answer on a daily basis – but you won’t find it on my birth certificate or passport. If you want to write me a cheque or buy me an airline ticket, you’ll need to use my proper name. It came as something of a surprise to me too. The day I started school.
The girl who didn’t answer to her name is still looking for easy answers to the simple questions.
We had family celebrations at the weekend. There were birthdays and anniversaries to catch up on. Not least, we celebrated Gigi’s first social outing since Christmas 2019. GG is great gran, last year she astounded us as a Covid survivor. She’s had window visits from her great grandchildren; this weekend she was finally able to see them without a glass screen.
Four generations gathered in the garden, the weather was kind. There was cake and more to eat. Football, belated Euro 2020, for the sons in law.
It was a little chaotic as we remembered how to socialise. Granddaughter#1 took herself away with a book for a while. With hindsight I am reminded of the childhood me, escaping from noisy adult chatter with an Enid Blyton.
Yesterday, it was my turn to be alone. I dusted down my bike and cycled along the disused railway, over the Nidd gorge and into Ripley. I stopped on the viaduct and leaned against the parapet. I listened to the sound of living water flowing some hundred feet below my feet. Away from the noise of the town, just running water and birdsong. In the green spaces of the town’s edge lands that had sustained me throughout lockdown, I felt restored.
I’d read last week that, some miles upstream, the river had been polluted by silt. Thankfully, I saw no sign of it here. I stayed awhile enjoying the solitude. Alone,with memories of a happy, busy weekend; and wondering when we might all be together again.
Running uphill, battling against the wind, I am always grateful for the chance to pause and rest as I wait for the traffic lights to change in my favour.
The motivation to run is slow to return. My target is not ambitious: a reasonably paced parkrun when it returns next month. Just 5k, run without a break. I have a regular 5k route. It’s punctuated by opportunities to rest as I wait to cross the road.
Semi-colon moments; a time to pause and breathe. I love the beauty of a semi-colon. I know that not everyone shares my view; we talked about them at our writers’ group.
‘You punctuate like an accountant,’ said J, a beautifully poetic writer.
‘Do you mean my writing is as exciting as a financial risk report?’ I asked. ‘Or, as dull as a debtors listing?’
‘No, I mean you’re very precise.’ She laughed; I took it as a compliment.
And now, today, I discover another benefit of semi-coloning. It really is a chance to pause, to take a deep breath. Less final than a full stop, stronger and longer than a comma; it’s used when a sentence could have ended, but didn’t. It’s been adopted as a symbol for mental wellbeing; it’s an antidote to the full stops of anxiety, panic and even suicidal thought.
I’m proud to celebrate the semi-colon; pause, breath deep and carry on.
Post lockdown haircut day: my hair is tidied up. Embracing its four months growth, I kept a softer look; I celebrate my grey.
The faded bench in the garden; mature silvered teak, bought at an offer price we could barely afford over 30 years ago, has also had a face lift. There was an advert in the Sunday paper, declaring it to be a bargain. I sent off the coupon, with a cheque, posted in a small brown envelope. That was how we bought things in the eighties.
It’s lasted well, done good service. But it was beginning to look in need of a little care. ‘Maybe it needs some oil’, I said, ‘to keep it moisturised’. No sooner said than done, Mr A is nothing if not thorough. He likes things kept in shape.
I came home to find him hard at work. ‘That oil looks dark’, I said. ‘I hope that it will fade.’ ‘It’s wood stain’, he replied. ‘Teak. I couldn’t find the oil.’ He stood back, agreed it didn’t look so happy with its fake tan look. He power washed it, but the stain has sunk in deep. Perhaps it will fade back over time, we agreed.
He’s repentant and forgiven. And we’re both a little sad. It’s only a bench, past its prime, but still much loved. It’s screaming at us rather loudly, rather than blending in right now.
It was Pauline’s birthday last week. Some of us from the Friday writers’ group planned to meet together, under the rule of six, to celebrate. We booked tickets to visit RHS Harlow Carr Garden. The sun shone down on us, blessing the day, lighting Pauline’s bright red hair to perfection.
This group has supported one another through the toughest of years. A year of change and isolation that none of us had anticipated. A year of plans ditched, dreams shattered, a year of bereavement.
It’s been a year of opportunity too. In the internet age we came together via Zoom and WhatsApp. Friendships deepened, new friends arrived. Some arrived in the flesh, in 3D for the first time for the birthday celebration.
We gather together, online for now, each Friday, dare to call ourselves writers, give each other the courage to do it. We have written poems, memoirs, stories, even a radio play. We laugh and cry together.
We’d gone to the gardens to read the poetry tweets scattered around like seeds. They went largely unnoticed in the chatter and celebration of being together. Until that is, Pauline announced: ‘I am 70. I am going to sit down for a while.’ She sat, just by a poem that we had previously debated over WhatsApp.
We had already agreed that this piece was not our favourite. But we also agreed that we will be adventurers in our writings.
Now that we are on summertime, the clock in my car is showing the right time again. I get used to making a mental adjustment over the winter months. Mr A gets confused by this and has, in the past, ‘put it right for me’. He was surprised by my lack of gratitude.
My own time management was bad last week. Monday, thinking that I had double booked myself, I left a zoom call early to meet a neighbour for a walk. She wasn’t ready. ‘I may be a little early’ I said.
‘Yes’, she said. ‘A week early. You said you were busy today.’ She was right. It was there, in the text I had sent.
Tuesday and Wednesday went to plan. I even managed to meet the previously 2D Liz, from the zoom writers group. We both turned up, in 3D, at the right time and place.
Thursday, I was getting ready to go out for a run when the doorbell rang. Hazel was there, looking confused. ‘Hadn’t we planned to meet for a walk today?’
Whoops, yes we had. She’s a fast walker, so it made some sense to join her in my running kit. I’ve written our next walk in the diary and on the calendar. And she will text me a reminder.
Now that we are permitted to do a little more, I need to make a summertime resolution to get myself organised again. And maybe, make more use of the calendar in my phone.
This anniversary week has felt tough. It’s been a year of Zoom and local walking; a year of tiers and tears. We’ve struggled through landmark dates without a proper celebration.
In the first few weeks of sunny weather, and lighter evenings, we became accustomed to finding new ways to fill our days. Fortunate and blessed, our income was unaffected. Many were saved by furlough. Others weren’t, for them it was much harder.
There have been days of joy when we’ve had re-unions. A special service in late summer saw two granddaughters baptised in their village church; both wearing pink tutus, selected by the elder sister. Tutus that have come in useful. Worn with wellies, they are perfect for twirling in the garden.
A scaled down Christmas; no new year’s parties. We lived through some dark days with sad news. Then, the joy of a first grandson, arriving in the midst of winter.
I dusted down my running shoes in this anniversary week. Ran a slow 5k.
Passing a milestone early last year, I joked that it would only require one annual parkrun to stay ahead of my age. Not a funny joke, less so now that it’s over a year since the last parkrun (my 63rd). I ran, at ‘chatting pace’, with my daughter in the shadow of Fountains Abbey. Foolishly, we crowded into the café for a post run coffee. Now, there’s news that parkrun will soon return; I’m not sure I’ll be up to speed but I’ll maybe plod round at the back. Someone’s got to be last.
I’ve made lots of mistakes over the years. I have a bad habit of storing even the smallest of them in my head and punishing myself.
For too long, I was haunted by the harsh voice of an audit manager who, back in the days of handwritten ledgers, ridiculed my misspelling of ‘stationery’. I learned from that mistake, I don’t think that I have misspelled the word since that day: if you buy it from a stationers, it’s stationery. It’s only stationary, if it isn’t going anywhere.
I would much rather be known as a voice of encouragement than of correction. If I am a voice of cruel correction in anyone else’s head, I am very sorry. I will apologise, unreservedly.
Carrying critical voices in my head, confusing simple mistakes and failed efforts for my own complete incompetence feeds the imposter monster. I’m learning to fight it. I’m battling my fear of failure. I don’t always win, but I will keep fighting the monster.
My prayerful hope is that, one day, I might become a wise old woman. Wise enough to admit my own mistakes and lack of knowledge; wise enough to keep on learning. I’m working on it. I’m a work in progress.
PS Today, I also learned about ‘fronted adverbials’. They have strangely been in the news a lot this week. I curiously asked a teacher about this. She wisely gave me an answer. I happily learned from her and excessively used them here.