My London dwelling daughters have settled south of the river in Camberwell & Tooting respectively. Last weekend was a first proper foray into South London.
For someone who is both a fairly frequent traveller and a geography graduate – I am embarrassed to admit to a dreadful sense of direction. Or more accurately, I never quite succeed in making the connection between reality on the ground & maps. Whether they are of the paper or Google variety – I struggle to join the dots.
It’s a conundrum because I love maps – reading them and pouring over the detail of the symbols, the cartography and notation. Have even been known to choose an OS map as bedtime reading.
Unfortunately, when walking or running I need more obvious visual references to stop me getting lost and am much more likely to arrive at my destination by following simple instructions like take a left at the big red sign or right at the Wheatsheaf pub.
A perfect example of this disconnect was when arriving at Balham underground station I failed to locate the Balham Travelodge – even though the hotel is pretty much on top of Balham station!
As is often the way – opting for the wrong underground exit and surfacing I saw the hotel entrance beaming out at me from the other side of the road.
This lack of map reading ability does mean that I often make interesting discoveries unintentionally, and as long as I am getting lost in daylight hours, I see this failing as a good thing- and a serendipitous way to get to know a new place.
When venturing out later in the day and in darkness, fortunately Transport for London do keep you informed via electronic bus displays.
On Saturday & after a most excellent evening of pizza & wine – I was dispatched safely by my daughter onto a number 45 bus. And with tables turned, I was given detailed instructions of where to get off, & advice to use Google as back up.
With tables turned, on arrival above ground – my girls have texted to see I have arrived safely & I must update via WhatsApp that I am back in the hotel in one piece.
Happy to report that regardless of being directionally challenged & inclined to a wee snooze on the tube – I survived my first time south of the river & by Monday was slowly feeling I had the measure of another slice of London.
It had been a while since I had last visited London after a spell of working there last year.
This weekend was a time to visit my daughters and see an exhibition or two and the date turned out to coincide with the People’s Vote march – an event that had passed me by in the blur and Groundhog Day noise that Brexit has become.
I did not join the march, but witnessed some excellent placards and did enjoy a good conversation and an expression of solidarity on the topic with a marcher I met on the tube.
Last year my spell of working in London was brief, but during that time I felt I had, like millions of others before me, been welcomed as a temporary Londoner.
Now back home working in Edinburgh, I do sometimes miss the vibrancy of London, and the diversity of people and experiences that were an everyday occurrence.
London is ‘always on’ and can be a hard place to work & live – keeping up with the energy and pace can drive you to weariness, but that energy is also exhilarating and challenging in a good way mostly.
This weekend trip was not about challenge but more about family and a chance to discover new places. With my grown up children living away from home, I was looking forward to spending time with them in their new neighbourhoods.
We had art on our agenda but also time for chatting and wandering, eating & drinking and catching up on news.
In between and by accident almost, I visited three different art exhibitions and as is often the way, the best one was unplanned.
Despite being a fan of pop art, I had not heard of Corita Kent – Sister Corita – and my visit to the House of Illustration was prompted more by wanting to see an exhibition of drawings by Ludwig Bemelmans – from the Madeline books.
The ticket included entry to 2 other exhibitions – Journeys Drawn – illustrations from the Refugee crisis and Corita Kent Power Up. A trio of very contrasting exhibitions.
Journey’s Drawn was a powerful and moving testament to the experiences of refugees seen both by observers and drawn from experience.
Moving on to the Ludwig Bemelmans exhibition felt like a more innocent interlude after the reality of Journey’s Drawn – a brief glimpse into how the stories and characters evolved and a window into his approach and style of Illustration.
Carita Kent was a revelation for me – I had not heard of this pop art nun – whose art combined messages from Holy scriptures with advertising slogans. A mash up of Los Angeles billboards and mass media, creating motivational and uplifting messages screen printed in day glo.
She talked about her art being like the original books of illumination – where Illustration ‘throws light’ onto a message.
Was a joyous, colourful exhibition and a new discovery for me.
On Sunday – we all visited Pierre Bonnard – The Colour of Memory exhibition – at Tate Modern. His was a different use of colour and his ability to recreate landscapes from memory created beautiful paintings and his skilful way and modern composition of painting nudes and landscapes was very evocative.
I liked the paintings but whether because I was overfilled on art or my expectations were on the high side, it did not have the same impact as any of the exhibitions I had seen the day before at the House of Illustration.
Before visiting either of these exhibitions my first exhibition visit was to see Dorothea Tanning also at Tate Modern.
On Friday evening after a long and tiring day travelling – I took advantage of late opening at Tate Modern and decided to visit the Dorothea Tanning exhibition.
I think as a canny Scot and with my annual membership of the Tate coming to an end, I was trying to use it to the max by seeing as many exhibitions as possible!
I can’t say I really enjoyed the exhibition save for a few pieces, ( e.g. her sketch of tango below ) maybe I was just too tired. I whizzed round the galleries desperate to get beyond the Surrealist paintings and fur fabric sculptures so I could sit down and have a cup of tea.
Although I like visiting exhibitions, I am not a true art aficionado and sometimes whether through tiredness or just sensory overload, I find it overwhelming to process the visuals and grasp what the artist is trying to convey.
Walking out of the Tate onto the riverside picture of night time London, hearing birds singing in the midst of the city was perhaps the best painting for me.
So here we are again – another year is coming to an end and my all time favourite month is here. I say favourite but it is a bit of a love/hate thing. Mostly I love December – it’s my birthday month and I can deal with winter even if the older I get, the more I find the short days a tough gig and increasingly look to December sparkly excess to carry me across to a new year and longer days.
There is something about approaching a year end that makes you even more aware of your unfulfilled life ‘to do’ list and take a reflective view of the story so far. Then for me anyhow, I just end up carrying forward unticked life goals into another year !
Back when my girls were younger – December heralded a kind of rabbit in the headlights – let’s just get through this month kind of vibe. In between badly crafting Nativity costumes, baking for the Christmas fayre and watching the end of year dance shows, I poured flame on the December fire by creating extra, arguably unnecessary, traditions of ‘our family advent’ and Christmas morning baking.
Then as my children became young adults – I switched my December madness to a different focus so for the past few years, I have opted to run every day in December – following a Scottish based challenge – the Marcothon – where you run a minimum of 3 miles every day in December.
And just in case running every day was a bit too easy – the first time I did this, I decided to write about running every day in an aptly named blog Decemberism and found that writing about running every day was almost as hard as running.
Time passes and I am more of an established runner now – but alas not an established writer. It is tough to commit to running every day for sure – but I find it a lot harder to write daily, or even to just get into a writing habit.
So this year I am going to make a big fat effort to write more, and if I can I will run each day in December even if it’s just a run around the block on some days. I will keep to this daft December habit not least because, after 6 years of doing this, it has become a December ritual and maybe like many of us I find comfort in the salve of habits that over time become traditions.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
So goes the Robert Burns song and although a big part of my heart is in the Highlands, ( I was born in Dingwall and spent my childhood near Inverness before heading south to study in 1979) – it is not deer I chase but PBs at the Inverness Half marathon race!
The Inverness Half marathon, held as it is in early March, is one of the first half marathon races in the season (in Scotland). It is a good way to test your legs over a longer distance after winter training and suits many people who are training for a spring marathon.
Until this year, I was not in that marathon training category but had chosen to take part in this race partly because of family connections, but also because having first completed it in 2011 in snowy, cold, conditions and lived to tell the tale – when I compared it with my experience of some other half marathons, I concluded that Inverness is a race that for me offers close to the perfect combination I am looking for in an event.
The course is interesting but not too taxing, with lots of places for spectators to support you, it is big enough to feel like a special event but is not so big to be impersonal or overwhelmed by the razzamatazz. And it is very well organised and friendly.
As a bonus, I get great race support from my brother and sister-in-law and my niece, who between them provide excellent cheerleading, patiently listen to my pre-race anxieties, provide fab post race support and generally make it a most enjoyable occasion.
Even though I have run other races with arguably better PB potential ( Edinburgh and Aviemore ) my half marathon PB was and still is from Inverness. Not completely sure why this should be – and maybe once I have the marathon behind me, I might revisit some other half marathon races to see if I can improve my time.
My Inverness race history
So having taken part in this race 5 times since 2011 – my times are as follows
2011:2hrs 16 mins 38 secs
( did not enter 2012 )
2013: 2hrs 16 mins 14 secs
2014: 2 hrs 14 mins 04 secs
2015: 2 hrs 11 mins 02 secs
2016: 2hrs 02 mins 09 secs
Each year before Inverness, I will have followed a self-designed if somewhat fluid ‘training’ plan – mostly around adding in a longer run at the weekends to my regular run schedule of around av 12 – 15 miles per week. I also do this run streak challenge every December and maybe running 3 miles every day in December gives me a base of fitness.
I know from reading my large collection of running books, that my training for Inverness could not really be described as following a plan, and even more so now that I am following a proper training plan for the Stirling marathon. My lead up to Inverness has never included any specific sessions of speed work or hills or running at race pace, although last year I had started to do a weekly session with a PT to help my core strength and build on my endurance.
But although I was not taking run training as seriously as I should have – between 2015 and 2016, I had been following a new eating plan with fitnaturally and because of this, I had lost quite a bit of weight. Being over 14 lbs lighter meant I found running more enjoyable and I think largely due to being lighter and despite my casual approach to training – I was absolutely delighted to knock almost 9 minutes off my time in 2016.
My time in 2016 was 2.02.09 – a new PB and tantalisingly close to sub 2 hours, and so in the post-race euphoria, I foolishly said I would come back and get sub 2hr in 2017 !
2017 arrived and I started my marathon training plan – sharing with Sally that I would quite like to do sub 2 hrs in a half. This was built into my plan, and then I discovered that I really did not enjoy speed work ! As the Inverness race drew closer I started to get the jitters about achieving a time of under 2 hours, when I knew that it meant me averaging 9-minute miles for the full 13.1 mile distance.
I started to back pedal and keep quiet about my sub 2 goal, saying that the marathon was my 2017 goal and anything else a bonus – of course, a new PB would be nice – but hey – I only had a knock a few seconds off my 2016 time to do that 😉
I know that one reason I felt the pressure was because this was the first time I was approaching this race or any race against a background of having properly trained. Excuses for failure were thin on the ground, and as is the contrary way I am around pressure and expectation – I was dreading the race more than I had on previous occasions. I am slowly understanding that in running, putting in the training hours is about giving you the foundation for success, and I knew this would be the first real test.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.
Having already put in a decent amount of training since January, come race weekend I did my best to avoid sabotaging my chances, first by resisting the temptation for a night before glass of wine or two, then on race day following Sally’s nutritional advice to the letter, and I even took heed of her race plan advice which went something like this:
“warm up for a mile, run as strong as you can for miles 2 – 10 , then run as fast as you can after that – ending with a sprint finish “- which as my brother translated was pretty much saying – warm up for a mile then run as fast as you can for the rest of the race 🙂
Overall I did feel more in control during the race – and had an inner strength that I will put down largely to the mileage and other training I have been doing as part of my marathon build up. But I did not find it easy, and particularly as I got closer to the finish and knew that my sub 2 hour time was within my grasp.
With 3 miles to go and with a big part of me wanting to just accept a PB and abandon my ‘not so secret’ real sub 2hr goal for another day – I had a conversation with myself and it turns out that even I have a bit of competitive spirit. So with less than 2 miles to finish I gave it my best shot – and helped by a final and extremely loud cheer at around 12.5 miles from my niece Laura – I got there in a time of 1 hrs 59 mins 18 secs.
Including sprint finish 🙂
I am taking part in Stirling Scottish Marathon on May 21st and it will be my first marathon. To get me ready for this challenge I am following a marathon training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally.
fitnaturally offers a range of healthy eating plans that can help with weight loss and sports nutrition. They provide bespoke training and nutrition for people taking part in sport at any level. I have been following fitnaturally plans for over a year and I have become leaner and fitter, losing more than 20lbs in weight and a reduction in body fat% in a gradual and sustainable way and by eating normal and enjoyable food !
Through my marathon efforts, I am hoping to raise funds for two charities – Scottish Womens’s Aid and Smalls for All both of these charities work to help women in different ways. If you would like to support either of these charities, please consider making a donation, however modest by following the link to my Justgiving page ( Scottish Women’s Aid ) and Mydonate ( Smalls for All ) pages.
“What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare ?” – so said WH Davies in his poem Leisure “…. no time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows “.
Like Shylock’s soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar learned in English class aged 15 and many public information films watched regularly in the 70s – these scattered lines are locked nicely in my brain and pop to the surface easily.
The poem Leisure has a simple message with an easy rhythm and while it may not be to everyone’s taste I like it for a couple of reasons. First up it reminds me of my Dad. He was not given to reciting poetry often, but I am pretty sure he introduced me to it quite possibly while out walking the fields. Growing up on a farm I often watched our cows standing and staring and they looked to have the right idea.
And I like the poem because the sentiment resonates with me – as a reminder to remember to take some time everyday to just be.
My memories of my Dad are few and fading, as he died many years ago from cancer when he was only 58 and I was not quite 21. Before that my mother had died from a different cancer, so very young at 38 and long before I was old enough to remember her.
So many of us have an experience of cancer whether through a close family member, a relative or friend. But what I find hopeful is how science and research are progressing in the areas of prevention and cure, so in the space of a generation, a cancer that killed my mother can now be prevented in many cases through vaccination.
And better still, attitudes and support for those who have cancer have got so much better through charities and organisations who exist to provide practical and human support- so far removed from a time of not speaking about the ‘big C’ or other euphemisms around the illness.
Charities like Dimbleby Cancer Care exist to provide the softer care and support for people who have cancer, and they rely on challenges like everydayinmay help to raise much needed funds to help them continue with the support and services they can offer.
Maybe for those of us taking part in this collective challenge it is a way to feel joy in being healthy and alive and having time to stand and stare like those clever cows.
Day 5 4.03 miles
EDIM total 19.9 miles
If you would like to you can sponsor me via Scout’s page here
Earlier this month I made wild garlic pesto with my daughter and thought it a very current thing to do. Foraging,making food from scratch and connecting with nature definitely seems in vogue right now.
The day before we had taken a walk to collect the wild garlic from a woodland path and then, with a 21st century twist to our attempts at wild survival,had Googled to verify the plant type lest we pick anything deadly and then referred to Google once more to find a recipe.
Was very enjoyable to first harvest the leaves, then make the pesto together – even if the pine nuts, pecorino and olive oil were neither free nor foraged locally. But satisfying still to make food with a tiny connection to the land and to enjoy a bit of mother – daughter bonding over a shared food discovery at the same time.
After our pesto adventure I came across my ageing copy of Richard Mabey’s book -Food For Free – given to me as a school prize for Modern Studies in 1976. Prize winners were free to pick their own book and my choice of this guide to feeding yourself from nature’s larder was, I imagine, something that fitted with me going through something of a mildly hippy phase – along with dressing in cheesecloth and listening to Bob Dylan.
In the mid 70s at the school I attended my favourite teachers seemed to me very modern and liberal – certainly after my village primary school. My teacher of Modern Studies,with her views on the Russian revolution and questionable power of the media certainly appeared to be interesting, worldly and cool to my 14-year-old self.
Choosing the Richard Mabey book coincided with a rather fogeyish interest I had at the time around the disappearing skills of food preservation and cooking and wanting to know more about how things were done in the ‘olden days’ – quizzing my farmer dad about how to preserve food, make butter and making a reasonably successful attempt at crowdie – basic cheese making.
With the benefit of hindsight I could say this was me reacting to the change I saw in eating patterns and dominance of factory produced ready meals – Vesta curry, Findus crispy pancakes and the like, but I don’t know that I was trying to make a social comment or that I was ahead of the curve, more likely I was just a bit of an odd child.
Is interesting now as with a renewed interest in food provenance and craft skills more prevalent to think of that curiosity and my childhood experience. Many things I took for granted growing up in the countryside around freshly grown food and a kinder approach to farming now seem to pop up on lifestyle and food programmes, magazine articles as a return to a better way to live and eat. Reassuring I suppose to know that while food trends and fashion ebb and flow the fundamentals of good taste, heathy food and craft survive.
These days I no longer live in the countryside so my foraging is of the urban variety and I am really just a dabbler in trying to find food for free, but through the small act of gathering wild garlic and making pesto with my daughter, I felt I had gone some way to rekindle my latent hunter gatherer.