Shades of grey

Six years ago, in April 2014, I had my hair cut and coloured ahead of a wedding. A rich deep red, I thought; bordering on purple, my daughters said. I’d been getting redder for around twenty years. ‘What colour is your hair?’ my youngest daughter asked, frequently.

That summer I decided, I would go cold turkey on the hair colour. I let it grow out just enough to show the roots of grey, then I went short. Very short, and to be honest not quite as grey as I had anticipated at that stage.

These days my hair is decidedly grey at the front, getting slightly darker to the back. ‘That’s always the way’, my hairdresser says. ‘If hair was darker at the front and greyer at the back, no one would ever feel the need to get it coloured.’

Friends who have not yet taken that plunge are now posting pictures of their greying roots, wondering how to camouflage the stripe along their parting. This wise old granny is feeling quite happy to have embraced the grey before it was forced upon me. However, nearly two months on from its last cut, I’m maybe not quite so content that the tightly shaven shape of my hair is growing out quite fast. I’ll resist the scissors and the self-styled hair and go for a softer look for now.

Three ply

Two years ago, I ceased to be an employee. At first, I wouldn’t use the ‘R’ word. Retired, it just wasn’t me. I was going to get out there, do something new, do many new things. Be something new. First thing on the list, a long solitary walk. Walking beside the sea; crossing the pilgrim’s way to Lindisfarne, barefoot on the muddy sand.

On my travels, I received a gift of three ply wool, homespun by the giver. ‘Perfect for a pair of socks’, he said. The three ply wool neatly twisted to remind me that I am mind, body and spirit. All three to be kept healthy and in balance.

I bought some less special wool with which to practice. I would learn to knit a pair of socks. A friend gave me lessons and lent me the necessary four needles. I managed one and a half socks before I was distracted by a different project. Pauline, from my writing group, has retrieved a half knitted Arran jumper this week and is, she says, cursing her way to the end of a task started many years ago. Maybe she’ll inspire me to pick up where I left off.

Today my mind’s been twisted, tied in knots, struggling to reconcile conflicting views thrust upon it from all sides. The demands of others pulling me in all directions. I couldn’t straighten things out. I certainly wasn’t ready to do battle with my knitting.

I did what I do when I’m struggling, I went out for a run, enjoyed the clean fresh air and let the knots unravel.

Pauline’s knitting via Zoom
Homespun three ply
Work in progress

Making use of what we have

It had been a long wait, a long queue. Five hours, well managed, with regular updates. I walked away, did some jobs, returned to the screen. There were brief moments of celebration as I passed the markers: fewer than 100,000 people in front of me; 10,000; 1,000…

In the time that I waited, I watched not one, but two delivery vans pull up outside an isolating neighbour’s house. The Sainsbury’s driver had to wait, whilst the Ocado delivery was made. No judgment: I don’t have young children’s needs and wants to satisfy these days.

My turn next, I thought. I reached the front of the queue. They let me in. Into the online store. No delivery slots available for my address. Quick thinking, I added the address of one of my daughters. Having waited so long, maybe I could surprise her with a food order. No delivery slots there either. I cried, not so much for the lack of shopping as for the time that had passed that I would never regain.

I looked at my list. I looked in the cupboard. I found more, much more, than my daily bread.

And then, just when it was needed, the postman delivered a homemade card and letter. I didn’t know the story of Itzak Perlman; it was worth reading. We will make many dinners with what we have.

Strange times

Strange times have arrived. My diary has gone from full to empty.

We had our family weekend at home; some of us did the park run. It turned out to be the last park run before the shutdown. My daughter and I ran at chatting pace. It was very sociable. Suddenly, there are no activities, just life; to live with no plan, no structure, stretching before us. ‘Us.’ Not just me in the house. All of Mr A’s commitments are cancelled too.

I don’t want to get to the end of this and wish that I’d used the time more productively. So I’ve started a list, two lists in fact.

List 1: the time that I’ve gained because events have been cancelled or activities forbidden. No trips to visit Mum in the care home, no travelling to writing or theology classes, no volunteer stewarding. No church. No rambling club, but we can still get out and walk or run in the fresh air. Probably no looking after our granddaughters.

List 2: the things we can achieve with this time. Create a rhythm for each day. Make a plan, take a bit of control over some old to do lists. Spend time prioritising some important tasks, take the time to do a good job without rushing. Maintain a balance in daily life: nurture physical, mental and spiritual health. Don’t forget it’s Lent, a good time to think about this.

In the monastic tradition there’s time in community and time alone. Morning, noon and evening offices. Labour in the morning, creativity and leisure in the afternoon. A pattern. A rhythm that, together with the good fortune of a well stocked store cupboard, will carry us through.

I know that I am fortunate; others may not be starting from such a strong position. This is a time to help and support family, friends and neighbours. We can only get through this together.


This granny doesn’t run…

Hands are washed raw, nails flaking away under the hot water tap, hoping that it’s not our turn next to catch the virus. Granddaughters had a different sort of bug last week, keeping their sociable mum indoors. Solitary confinement is one thing, housebound with two small children quite another.

A big question mark hung over whether our family would make it to the lakes for the first of our 2020 just10k runs. It was a big decision, silly to take the little girls away from home unnecessarily but we did want to run… we pontificated for a while, would some of us go and some of us stay?  We decided, we would all stay and have a family weekend at home. We could maybe do a double lap at the parkrun to make up the distance; or we could opt instead for a Saturday morning lie-in.

In the way of these things, as soon as our choice was made the email came through. The organisers had decided to cancel the event, or at least to postpone it. A wise move, since it necessitated 250 sweaty runners gathering within the confines of a small school.

The care home where my mum lives has locked its doors to visitors. She will, no doubt, be feeling quite trapped and lonely without her regular succession of visitors. Another tough decision, but again necessary, and quite likely reminiscent of her earlier life as an evacuee separated from her family.

Meantime, having not been out running this week, this granny does need to be reminded to get back out there and keep up the distance for the second just10k next month.

Hide and seek

Amongst all the news coverage of Coronavirus, I do confess that the introvert side of me has been quite tempted to self isolate for a day or two this week.

This granny is a true ambivert; I love the company of others, but need time alone to recharge my energy supplies. I’ve enjoyed a week of wonderful company and the weekend ahead will bring more. The truth is that I have had many treats all crashing into one another, and for that I can only be grateful.

The time that I have been alone this week has included my running time. So much for keeping up the training for the just10k runs this spring. It’s less than two weeks until the first one and I spent almost as much time on Monday looking for my running shoes as I did out on my run. They were hiding in the rucksack which I had taken to the gym a week ago.

Wind, snow and indolence kept me indoors last week. This week, I have managed to run twice, covering a total of 16k, both with a good hill climb in the middle. Neither run was the full 10k but I’m not too anxious about my ability to complete the distance.

I just hope that the finishing line marshals don’t mind too much hanging around waiting for the slow finishers. I’ve not been last yet, but there’s a first time for everything.

No one happy to chat today?


Pancake Day is big business. Pancakes for brunch, lunch, dinner or tea. Sweet or savoury, both in abundance. I’ve never quite come to terms with a dinner of savoury pancakes. Lemon and sugar; or syrup and banana are more to my taste. Maple syrup and bacon for brunch is as close to savoury as I will venture by choice. And then there’s the texture: delicate and crepe-like or a chunky American fork full?

What’s it all about? Shrove Tuesday is the eve of Lent. The dictionary tells me that ‘shrove’ is derived from the archaic verb ‘to shrive’; to present oneself for confession. The idea of eating pancakes relates to the custom of eating up the fatty stores of eggs, butter and milk before the fasting of Lent. Ironic then that the supermarkets urge us to stock up on more eggs, flour, syrup and sugar to celebrate the feast.  In other cultures it’s also a party day: the celebration of Mardi Gras, literally fat Tuesday.

‘Lent’ also takes its name from an old English word, Lencten: springtime, a time of lengthening days, growth, flowering and hope. The forty days of Lent are often known as a time of self sacrifice, giving up chocolate and alcohol always seem to feature. This granny has often been asked what I will be giving up for Lent. My usual answer is nothing. I prefer to spend time reading a Lent book, this year’s choice is ‘Saying yes to Life’, by Ruth Valerio.

This year I have also chosen to sign up to (try) to buy nothing new in Lent: For me, this will include books. So I might finally be tidying up, and hopefully finishing, the many half read books stacked on my bedside table and around my home. Once that’s done, I’ll head to the library.

Social media, Like? Or not?

Social media has had a bad press this week. Celebrity suicide has been linked to abusive messaging; there have been allegations of a Downing Street adviser tweeting in favour of eugenics. I’ve seen posts from people stating that they want no further part of it and are leaving. I wonder if this is the best response.

It was against that background that I met a facebook friend for coffee yesterday. We met, hugged, and spent some quality time together. We also spent a small amount of cash in a local independent coffee shop.

Our contact over a number of years has been restricted to the ether of the internet. Although we don’t live far apart our paths don’t often cross. Walking to and from our meeting I also bumped into a friend and neighbour. We stopped for a real world chat. It was a morning of tangible social interaction.

Facebook had shown us what we have in common, including a desire to see and nurture the best in people. In the frenzy of post-Brexit day online activity, with friends sharing euphoria, indifference or depression, we made a connection and agreed to meet for a half term coffee date.

We talked, in the real world, of many things. Topics included matters of faith, as distinct from organised religion; rat free composting, running, flooding and global warming. We shared our concerns for the future that our children and grandchildren are facing; I was, yet again, challenged to do more to play my part in looking after our planet.

Neither of us will be leaving social media. But we will do our best to use it for good, and hopefully to arrange another real world meeting.

Splashing the cash

From the Whitley Bay park run to the Hollywood dream via the Holy Spirit; this granny has had a water themed week. Storm Ciara brought too much water with many Yorkshire homes flooded with muddy and filthy water.

We are fortunate here, our town is built on high ground well away from the river. I often complain about this, I’d like some water to run and walk beside; but sometimes there are benefits to being further away.

I read that The Splash, painted by Yorkshire born David Hockney, has sold at auction for £23.1million. To an anonymous buyer. I can reveal that it was not bought by me and, I suspect, not by anyone of my acquaintance.

It is a beautiful picture of a man made scene within a greater landscape. Central to the picture, the splash; displacement and movement of the water, evidence of an unseen diver breaking the surface. An inviting picture, this granny would enjoy swimming and floating in the pool.

One homework challenge from last week’s writing class was to write an ekphrastic poem. Not something of which I had any knowledge. Jackie explained: ‘it’s a vivid description of a scene, usually a work of art, focussing on the action to expand its meaning’. Belinda and Pauline wanted to know if it should rhyme.

I chose a different exercise. Until I saw this piece of news and focussed on the water. One splash, made up of so many droplets of water. Frozen, hanging in the frame. I gave the poetry exercise a go. And found an easy rhyme, all that cash to buy the splash…

Then, by chance, at the theology class on Monday evening, we were looking at images for the Holy Spirit. There are many, so they were shared around the group. I was allocated water. Clear life giving water: thirst quenching, cleansing, immersing, carrying us along on its flow. Powerful. And, unlike The Splash, freely available.

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow within him.

Running through the woods

A bright early spring morning. The sun shines in at the windows. It breaks through the fingerprints on the panes; highlights the dust dancing in the air. I could stay indoors and wage battle on the dirt, but it seems a little early for spring cleaning. I’m not expecting visitors. Even if I were, I would likely wave an arm around a hastily tidied room whilst issuing a vague apology for my standards of housekeeping.

I choose to put myself on the other side of the dusty windows. Cleaning windows is, by his own choice, one of Mr A’s jobs. He enjoys it. Almost as much as our grand-daughters enjoy leaving face and hand prints on the glass. It’s not a day for staying indoors, I get ready to go for a run.

Halfway through the door, the phone rings. I hesitate. Who rings the house phone these days? Sellers, ‘just carrying out a survey in your area’; fraudsters, claiming to be my internet provider…

I give in and answer. A pleasant, if delaying, surprise. For a change it’s a friend, seeking clarity on a date. More usually resolved by a quick text, it turns out that it is quite nice to take the time to chat.

I run away from town and into the woods. I am cheered by the light filtering through the trees, and by the snowdrops bursting into flower. My head clears and my thoughts unravel. The steady rhythm of running always straightens my thinking. The endorphins are doing their work. I run out of the woods, aware that last week’s knee pain seems to have passed; possibly helped by the consumption of large quantities of pineapple. The sadness that I feel reading my newspaper has not diminished, but at least I am able to find some respite.