Saturday 26 December 2020


 So, we’re here...

Benbecula, Western Isles. Our usual cosy cottage by the sea. We’ve been planning this trip - our usual Christmas visit, for months. Original plan, having essentially quarantined ourselves for 10 days beforehand to avoid the risk of bringing Covid to the islands was to leave home last Sunday to drive to Carlisle, then continue on on Monday to get the ferry across before seeing our “Christmas covid bubble” two days later on the 23rd - but when it comes to travelling up here, things are often subject to change. In this case it was a dodgy looking weather forecast for Monday that got us a bit twitchy - we didn’t want to lose a day, but there *was* a possibility we could get across earlier and ahead of the weather if needed, so we set off on Saturday instead...

Saturday evening all hell broke loose - “Boris is giving a briefing” we heard. Then “the Christmas Covid relaxation is being cancelled” and “London and the south east going to Tier 4” meaning lockdown again and no travel...we checked out the news reports on the BBC, definitely just London & SE, phew, keep driving... We drove up one services at a time stopping for the toilets, to change drivers, to grab an hours sleep here and there and then to pour more coffee for MrEH and tea for me from our trusty flasks. Sunday early hours, just south of Carlisle “but the Scottish border is being closed!” we were told...MrEH checked that one out pretty fast, although there had been nothing on the matrix boards on the motorway. As far as he could see that was due to come in on the 26th - phew again! (We also had confirmed at that point that Harlow was now Tier 4 also - seemingly the BBC jumped the gun by initially reporting that East of England was not included in that change.) We checked ferry options - the forecast for ours looked better, and the captain of the boat, a friend, confirmed that he was duly expecting to sail as planned. (“As planned” already being subject to diversion via Barra as the Barra ferry had gone tech and was undergoing repairs) We looked at each other - exhausted from the overnight drive and only a short distance from our previously planned overnight stay which would have a bed and a hot shower and the decision was made - kill a few hours until we could access the hotel, get some sleep and then revert to “plan A” in the morning. 

Monday morning - more rumours of the border being closed including “a friend of a friend”  who had actually been turned away. We set off - still no suggestion of any closure - we passed through the border with not so much as a sniff of a Police car and started to relax a little, and we rolled into Oban a few hours later with just the small matter of a 7 hour ferry crossing between us and getting over here! 

Slowly the full picture fell into place through Monday - once we were on the ferry Byron confirmed what MrEH had read on the way - that the travel ban between Scotland and England in fact began today (Boxing day) - ironically we are technically not supposed to leave here now! When we return home it will be to effectively a full lockdown again, and our journey home is needing to change a little as well - with a change of ferry route and a drive straight for home when we reach the mainland, rather than the previously planned overnight stop. 

In the meantime, we’ll make the most of being where we’d planned, with the person we had planned to spend Christmas with - far from the case for so many folk. Personally I think the late notice for the cancellation of the “Christmas covid bubble” rules is a disgrace - for the government to have spent the previous several weeks saying it was “definitely” going to happen, only to scrap it after so many people had already bought food for their planned gatherings, in unforgivable. It should have been cancelled at LEAST a week sooner, without question. Similarly- telling people that in some cases they could continue with the plans to see friends or family but “only on the 25th” - what about those who rely on public transport, and all those keyworkers who just a few months ago we were standing on doorsteps clapping? Very much “middle class white man logic” I’m afraid - rules made from the perspective of those who never have to work Christmas Day, and always have a car to travel anywhere they want. It’s truly time that it was understood that this is not the situation for everyone, and this year of all years, we should be considering everyone, not just the privileged ones. 

I hope you too for Christmas what was needed - whether like us that is a time of calm, and recharging of batteries, or whether something a little more lively and full-on. 


Tuesday 15 December 2020

Making a list...

 ...and checking it twice?

It’s the season, isn’t it! I semi abandoned my usual almost constant list-making earlier in the year because I realised that my lists were getting longer and longer and never reaching the end of them was just making me feel like I’d failed - not a good feeling at the best of times, and certainly not when life is full of upheavals and already feeling pretty stressful. Coming up to Christmas though - with lots to think about, lists are invaluable, and I’ve returned to my trusty “bullet-ish” journal to keep everything in one place. 

It’s felt rather like it has been relentlessly great and gloomy here for weeks - in fact although we’ve seen a fair bit of rain, we’ve also had some nice bright days - are at least nice bright bits of days which may not be quite the same thing, but as least give the chance for getting out and absorbing a little watery winter sunshine.

I’m also still impressed with the camera on the new iPhone. I guess partly because I change phone quite rarely - it’s far more to do with when it no longer functions properly than when a new one is released - it’s a more noticeable difference. Technology moves on so fast now. Incidentally I realised a while ago that this is the first time I have ever had a more up to date phone than my Mum, and also the first time I have EVER ordered a new model before the release date. Get me, being an early adopter all of a sudden! 

I’ve had to make the decision to put running on the back burner again this week too. During the last mile of my 5k last Friday my left heel started hurting quite a lot. I slowed to a walk to see if it felt better walking, and it didn’t, so I ran/walked the rest of the way to complete my planned distance but by later that afternoon I could hardly weight-bear. It’s a lot better now, but I think a week or so off from running is probably a good plan. Instead I’m keeping up a decent walk each morning  - today’s took me around several of Harlow’s “bolt on” areas - places that don’t entirely consider themselves part of the town, (even though they are!) - the photo above there is looking up over the Common, from Potter Street. It was a beautiful morning to be out! 

There you go - that’s a discombobulated catch up on my life for you! 


Wednesday 9 December 2020

A restriction free zone...

Sourdough bread - who wants to restrict this?! 

 I’ve made some interesting discoveries on my path of trying to improve my relationship with food. The first thing to say is that I have never - thank goodness - suffered from an eating disorder. I’ve got huge sympathy for those who have, or do - I can’t even imagine how hard recovery must be in these days of so much “nutribollocks” being spouted on social media and a print media that seems to prize the “slim ideal” above all else.

When I first heard the phrase “disordered eating” I presumed that it was the same as an ED - but that’s not the case at all. Disordered eating can cover anything from refusing to allow certain foods in the house because you know you’ll eat them in larger quantity than you feel “acceptable”, to repeated to-yo dieting, to feeling guilt around eating certain foods because society deems them to be less worthy. Disordered eating though - it definitely seemed that it was something that would affect other people, not me, right?

My first dieting effort was probably in my mid-late teens when I decided that I needed to be smaller. At the time saturated fat was the particular villain of the piece getting coverage, so I decided I needed to eat as little of it as possible. Quite sensible in some ways, but it did lead to my first venture into obsessively reading food labels and classing foods as “good” and “bad”. I lost some weight, came off the diet, and of course had learned nothing so returned to my old eating habits and promptly put the weight back on...along with a bit more. 

Fast forward a few years and Weight Watchers were running their first points-based plan. At the time I had a close friend who was obsessive about her weight, constantly telling me how much she weighed and how “awful” it was - at the time she weighed about 4 stone less than I did. Disregarding both the fact that we were VERY different builds, and that she was almost certainly borderline underweight at the time, this triggered me to feel that I needed to change my body shape. WW taught me lots of things - that exercise is something you do to earn your food, that it’s all about numbers, that food isn’t protein, fats and carbohydrates, but instead a number of points that means you can either stuff yourself silly on it, or pretty much never even think about eating it, and that a binge immediately after being weighed is what everyone does...WW also set you a goal weight. They told me mine was 7stone 9lbs - which I now know would have been at the very lowest end of the healthy range of weight for my height. Allowing that I’m naturally quite a solid build, this was wholly unrealistic. This lead to probably the most important thing I learned from WW - that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get “thin enough” - at 8 stone 2lbs I looked dreadful - drawn and ill, and my poor Mum was worried to the extent that she begged me to stop. I admitted defeat (while secretly feeling I had failed),  stopped trying to lose more weight, realised that a lifetime of counting points and restricting food seemed rather joyless and dull, of course had learned nothing about actually eating a balanced diet so returned to my old eating habits and promptly put the weight back on...along with a bit more...

Another few years and a spiteful comment from a fatphobic colleague lead to me renewing my acquaintance with WW - more points. Well, it had worked last time, no? (Spoiler alert - no) Same again really - lose weight, learn nothing about the principles of healthy eating, stop the diet, find the maintenance unsustainable, put the weight back on again blah blah blah. 

Of course now I know that the likes of WW, Slimming World etc work on an unsustainable model - by forcing people to use their own system to keep track of what they eat even in maintenance, they can be quietly confident that the majority of people will put weight back on as over time it just becomes impossible for most people, who then put weight back on and so end up as return Customers - the rhetoric being that the plan works, because, look, you lost weight! You just went wrong afterwards, so do the plan again, but better. The fault is always with the customer, never with the plan. 

It was beginning to register by this stage - diets simply teach you about restricting various foods that are deemed “bad” or “naughty”. The rhetoric sinks in though - guilt, shame, you mustn’t eat this, eating that is disgusting, and so by extension YOU are disgusting for eating the wrong foods... I had a  brief skirmish with avoiding refined sugar - blame Chris Evans and his food-demonising for that one, but it had no discernible affect aside from making me quite grumpy so I gave that up. 

Finally, towards the end of 2016 I decided I simply wanted to get fitter and healthier. To introduce more movement into my life, not to earn my food, but because actually I’d learned to love it for its own sake. I started learning about portion sizes, and that actually, no foods needed to be off limits. I let myself buy peanut butter again - one of my favourite foods, but one which previously I almost never allowed myself. I learned that I didn’t need to skip lunch because I was going out for dinner, and most importantly I learned to listen to my body, to take its own cues as to whether I was hungry, or full. Most importantly I learned about disordered eating, and realised that ai never wanted to go back to it. My size has now naturally stabilised at a point that suits me - I get a bit bigger sometimes, and a bit smaller at others, but now mostly longer beat myself up for it. The last few months have been hard though - SO much focus on weight, SO much emphasis on making people feel that they “should” be running, or doing PE with Joe, or whatever. It’s incredibly difficult not to get caught up in feeling that you should be jumping on that weight-loss bandwagon. I’m as comfortable in my own skin as I have ever been now though - even if quite sad that it’s taken 30 years for me to reach this point. I’ve still got plenty of learning to do - finding ways of not getting triggered by friends who are still on the yo-yo dieting journey for a start, simply trying not to engage is a good start but not always easy - but then the most worthwhile things often aren’t easy, no?! 


Tuesday 8 December 2020

WT Actual F?!

 ** A post on a serious topic which may prove triggering and upsetting for some people - trigger warnings : Cancer, death ** 

Listening to a podcast yesterday whilst out and about, a guest was being interviewed and got onto the subject of people with cancer. “Of course...” she said “some of them battle it just brilliantly and pull through, and others, well, don’t...” I waited for her to continue with something along the lines of, don’t make it in spite of everything, but no, she stopped where the quotation finishes above, and went casually on with her conversation. I was totally knocked sideways, and then utterly UTTERLY incandescent with rage.

I’ve lost two close friends to cancer in the past few years, and, some years earlier, my lovely Great Uncle Bob. Lesley had breast cancer - she underwent extensive treatment, surgery and chemotherapy and thought she had it on the run, getting the all-clear for several years before it came back to have another go. She fought alright - the cancer fought harder though. Paula battled for years - countless surgeries, radiotherapy, chemo (long term) - to ensure she got as many years with her son as possible as he was growing up - she eventually died just a few months short of his 21st birthday. Ironically it was as much as anything else her weakened health due to all the treatment that killed her in the end - in other words her “battling” proved too much for her. As for Bob, he was repeatedly misdiagnosed in the first instance - what turned out to be bone cancer being dismissed as muscular damage and even a possible stress fracture I believe until finally the right scans were done and someone said “oops...”. Surgery was not appropriate for his particular cancer - he had radiotherapy and chemo though - his chemo being a spectacularly miserable few months for him - but still he continued and bought himself a precious extra 18 months to spend with my Great Aunt getting his affairs in order and ticking a few “must do” items off what would have been a bucket list had those been a thing then. Had he been diagnosed sooner we would very likely have had him for substantially longer - but even when he knew that all he was doing was extending his life, not saving it, he still chose to fight on. 

And THIS is what makes me so damned ANGRY with this thoughtless woman. Presumably she feels that they all deserved to die because they “didn’t battle hard enough” or “weren’t quite as brilliant as they needed to be” Three of the VERY bravest people I have ever had the privilege to know, dismissed out of hand because some entitled journalist feels it’s ok for her to make a flippant judgement about how people deal with a cancer diagnosis. 

I’ll be avoiding anything featuring the woman in the future - that’s for sure. The anger I felt kept me awake for a chunk of last night - indeed this post pretty much got written in my head during those hours. I’m not going to name her - it would benefit nobody and would simply give her more coverage than I feel she deserves, similarly I’m not going to name check the podcast either - I’d hate to think it might get any more hits as a result. Please though - be desperately careful how you word phrasing  around such an emotive subject - for the most part someone’s survival of cancer has less to do with “how hard they fight” and more to do with what sort of cancer it is / how early it was diagnosed/ how effective the treatment for it is. Some people will make a conscious choice not to even HAVE any treatment beyond pain relief - should they be judged for that? I think not. Please, let’s be careful what message we put out there. 


Monday 7 December 2020

This week...

 I will be hoping that the weather improves- today started out foggy...

...and stayed that way for the rest of the day...

It didn’t stop me getting out and about though - I walked with MrEH, then continued with a run this morning, then made two separate trips out on foot this afternoon to get various errands run. All in all a total of over 15 miles today - no wonder my feet are feeling it a bit!

I’ll be turning my attention to Christmas stuff this week too - we’ve got various things planned that require some preparation and will also be voluntarily locking ourselves down from tomorrow ahead of seeing people over the Christmas period - this is the reason for my errand running today! After tomorrow we will be aiming to avoid all non essential contact with others until after we’ve spent time with our “Christmas bubble”. 

I will, all being well, complete my annual running challenge distance this week too - my run this morning left me with under 4 miles still to cover, which I’m happy with - at this time of year you never quite know what the weather will throw into the mix, so I’d sooner get it ticked off and done ahead of the very end of the year. 

I’ll also be aiming to focus a bit more on sleep this week - I realised last week that heading to bed slightly earlier is often better for me - so just going at 10.15pm rather than 10.30 often leads to better quality of sleep. Also while I really enjoy reading for a short time before I sleep, sometimes that means I miss the natural point when I would doze off, so again, I’m trying to think a bit more about that, too. 

Other than that it will be a standard week in the “new normal” - MrEH continues to work from home, and I spend quite a lot of time trying not to do anything that will be too distracting for him, but also find things to fill my time. I’ve been selected for Jury Service again in January so I will at least have two weeks with a bit of structure and something to focus on. I found it really interesting last time so I don’t mind being called for it again. 


Wednesday 2 December 2020

After dark...

 A couple of weeks since I got it, and I am still utterly blown away with the quality of the camera on the new phone - especially it’s night time capability. The shot above was taken last night as we walked to do our shopping. The super-bright moon was shedding so much light I was interested to see how the camera would cope with the combination of that and the surrounding streetlights - as you can see the answer was “astonishingly well!” Most impressive to me was that it even managed to capture some of the brighter stars - and this handheld, with no tripod. It uses a form of long exposure, combined with extremely sophisticated image stabilisation and noise reduction systems, and delivers quite incredible results. 

It’s no slouch at close ups either - even on a challenging subject like these white flowers seen in the museum walled garden at the weekend, where it could so easily have lost the highlights or given the whole  thing a grey-ish cast. I said in a previous post that some of the justification for spending the money I did on the phone rather than the less expensive lower-spec version was that it also these days replaced a compact camera for me, and the results I’m getting from it certainly bear that out. Money well spent! 

In other news, England now moves out of our second lockdown and back into a Tier system - although with stronger restrictions than the previous tiers. Aside from a few tiny areas, almost the entire country falls into either Tier 2 or 3 - we are back into 2 here, although since fear we’ll be headed for Tier 3 before too long as our numbers here are rising at a frightening rate. It feels locally as though a lot of people were SO upset by Essex’s decision to force a move to a tier 2 back in October that it just became the last straw for them and they gave up following the guidelines entirely as a knee-jerk reaction.  Not the right thing to do, but allowing that when the earlier tier 2 decision was taken, we were among the lowest case numbers in the country I can understand the frustration. We can only now hope that in fact lockdown was observed rather better than it seemed to be, and that we start seeing the numbers heading the right way sooner rather than later. For us personally there will be little difference from the lockdown to Tier 2 - the rugby club has decided that edge to the restrictions being imposed, it can’t afford to re-open the bar, and very few of our local pubs serve meals so they won’t be re-opening either.

Personally I found the second lockdown far easier to cope with than the first - partly because we’ve done it all before, partly because of the time of year - with shorter days and colder temperatures it feels less of a bind to be asked to stay at home, and partly because there were less restrictions this time round on, for example, going outside for exercise. I’m still struggling with the lack of routine that being furloughed gives - although I’m trying to bring a bit more structure back to my days now as a conscious effort to tackle that. It’s still, with the best will in the world, tough to fill 7 hours of the day though. Running three times a week and some extra walks are at least netting me some extra daylight - and that is much needed with the scaffolding meaning that once inside, the lights are on pretty much all day! 


Tuesday 1 December 2020

Another one down...

 ...and there was November, done! It really does feel as though months are flying by now - possibly a good thing allowing for how 2020 has shaped up, but it remains to be seen how different the start of 2021 at least will be! 

Lockdown 2 has in many ways been less challenging than the first one - for me, at least. The lack of socialising is starting to bite a bit now - MrEH is routinely speaking with people on a daily basis for work, but I realised the other day that I can now go days at the time without speaking with anyone other than him, the checkout staff in Aldi or saying hello to random strangers in the street while out walking. 

On the subject of walking - it’s been a good month for it! 

We even managed to start the month with a bit of Underground Overground walking - although on some of this stretch the walking shares the above ground but with the trains too! It was great to be able to revisit this project for the first time since the pandemic took hold, although definitely odd getting onto the tube to do the return stretch back to Leyton!  

Running has taken a back seat a bit this month - I took a week out at the start of the month through conscious choice to try to ease out some niggles, and have cut back a bit on running elsewhere in the month too - ended the month on 8 runs and 35 miles. I have however now got only 12 miles to cover for my 500km annual challenge, which I’m pleased with! A series of bad runs also left my confidence somewhat knocked - so I’m now working to tackle that - the first stage being realising that where I’ve been doing run/walk intervals I’ve been making the run intervals too fast - often, for me, the trade-off of trying not to look at my watch too much. Yesterday mornings run started tackling that with a much closer eye on a far slower pace leading to far more running than walking and an improved overall pace. I've got caught by this before - getting torn between not wanting to rely on tech too much (because we are told it is a "bad" thing to do) and ending up not pacing myself well, so that is something to remember and take forwards again now.

Also positive during the month was the amount of stretching I managed to fit in. I gave myself a 7 hour target at the start and have exceeded that slightly, and in the process I've started learning what sorts of stretching and mobility work suit me and are most beneficial.

I’m planning to leave that time target in place for December, too - although it might drop off a bit during the Christmas period depending on what else is going on! 

December's aims are going to be to wrap up my annual running challenge and get that submitted - and otherwise just to try to maintain a decent level of activity. Strength & stability work needs more focus this month so I will be aiming to beat November's figures for those. Our morning walks (with additional distance top ups on days I am not running) will continue.  Away from fitness, I want to start building structure back into my days a bit more - from part way through lockdown 1 I began to struggle with an endless list of things to do, and the right thing for me at that stage was to let structure go, to a degree. Now though it's time to start rebuilding that I think, so I'll be doing some thinking about how best to tackle that. 


Friday 27 November 2020

Frugal Friday...

(Low light shot taken with iPhone 12 Mini)

Our Sky contract (for phone, broadband and TV combined) recently came to an end, and the amount leaving our bank account for it each month came close to doubling. Long term readers will be aware that we don’t like it when this happens, although this time round it slipped through the net for a little longer than usual as we knew that the building we live in was about to be surrounded in scaffolding, and last time this happened they took the dish down and we were without a signal for an appreciable amount of time, so we wanted to hold off committing to a new contract until we knew what would happen there, rather than potentially end up paying for something we couldn’t use. 

18 months ago I beat Sky down to the grand sum of £35 a month for all three services. At the time this was an offer being marketed at new customers, so I made the entirely reasonable point that if new customers would get that price, you’d think that really long term customers like us would be able to get it too. It’s fair to say that Sky didn’t entirely agree, but they did eventually get bored with me repeating “but that’s not what your advert says” every time they insisted that I “had” to add this package or that extra to the deal, bumping the price up to what they felt was reasonable, and I felt wasn’t...

We’ve always tended towards quite simple tastes. Our phone service is simply the line rental - when we make phone calls we use our mobiles as we both have calls included in our contracts on those. The TV is a fairly basic package - we’re not interested in movies or sports packages, and have no need of kids TV channels. For the past few years we have added the Box Sets pack as we’ve found plenty of stuff to watch in there, and the £5 a month it cost was well worth the cost. Broadband too - a standard service, no fibre here as we do very little downloading or streaming, and the ordinary slow internet has always been fine...of course now not only we, but rather a lot of other people too, are at home and using it more, it does feel rather more restrictive. Add to that the small matter that literally on the day our Sky contract ended, the speed dropped off appallingly - at one stage literally making it impossible to use for anything else while a TV show downloaded onto the Sky box...! Combine the sneaking suspicion that Sky were throttling our broadband speed, with a lingering feeling that, quite honestly, I was a bit fed up with having to spend anywhere up to an hour plus on the phone every 18 months or so just to get a fair price for a not that great product, and we decided that a bit more research should be done. 

First step was the assess our broadband speed. Sky themselves offer various tools for checking the service,  and their speed gizmo told me that we were getting in the region of 6.1mbps. Ok - not great, but for standard internet, not that surprising. Then I ran a couple more speed checks via independent speed-check services...and got a figure of around half what Sky were claiming...hmmm! At that stage we decided that had made our minds up, and that we would move provider. As usual, was our reference of choice for finding the best deals out there at the moment. We narrowed it down to 2 options, discussed the pros and cons of each, and then signed up for a new “fast fibre” supply with phone line included, for £10 a month less than Sky were charging us at that stage, with a further discount in the form of a chunk of bill credit to come back in a few months. By the time you read this post our new supply will have been in place for several days, all being well, and hopefully we’ll be enjoying rather faster speeds than we were previously!

All that was left then was to sort out the TV once we had set our minds at rest about the scaffolding, and that proved surprisingly easy. A quick look at the “SkyVIP” app showed me that they had once again restructured the packages they offer - combining great basic TV pack and box sets together into one deal, for £25 a month, a price we decided we were happy with. More to the point, there were no other packages for a better price from suppliers we would go with, and we get an option to add a cut-price Netflix package to that if we want to also. In summary, we are paying more than we were before, but should also be getting a better service than previously, and with the amount we are relying on the broadband at the moment, plus the prospect of a winter where we will be indoors a lot more than usual, it feels worthwhile and a good use of our money. Haggling can be great, but sometimes you just need to vote with your feet! 


Wednesday 25 November 2020

Looking back...


Obviously we’ve had almost no airshows this year, and relatively little aviation action all told. As much as I’ve missed that, it has at least given me a chance to look back to pick up on gaps from photos taken in years gone by. 

Recently I’ve been working through shots from 2014 - my first season of “full on” airshows and one which got extremely busy from June onwards with lots of excitement and stuff happening - check back at my “CircusAtWork” tag over in the cloud to the right for a reminder!  Because of that I wasn’t hugely surprised that there were a fair few images that I’d seemingly never so much as glanced at previously. So far a I’ve found shots of some great old favourites (like the Lancaster above, seen here at Waddington Airshow) and also some aircraft that we’ve not seen in the air since like this English Electric Canberra and Hawker and Hunter pair...

...operated by Midair Squadron - sadly their operation had to close down at the end of that season due to lack of funds and most of the aircraft have now been sold overseas.

It’s been a real voyage of discovery going back through so many happy memories too - thinking back to things like seeing the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers flying together, all the activity around the Red Arrows 50th display season and the many friends I made at that time - several of whom I’m still close friends with now. While we’ve all missed the fun and activity we’re used to in a normal summer this year,  we have still managed to cram in whatever has been possible when we’ve been allowed to, and when we can get back to airshows it will perhaps feel all the sweeter for the enforced break! 


Tuesday 24 November 2020

Close of day...


During the first U.K. lockdown for the first few weeks I took photos most days - either documenting the stuff that was going on relating to the unprecedented situation we found ourselves in, or using the sheer amount of sunshine we had during those weeks to play with my macro lens. This time round it’s been colder, shorter hours of daylight, and frankly, the whole situation has long since passed the point of fascination into “when will it be over” boredom. That said though, the promise of what looks like it might be a nice sunset is still enough to get me out of the door even now, and all the more so with a new phone camera to try out...

A short wander from home up one of the town’s old roads - now a cycle track and footpath - gets me to a position where you can look due west across fields (the same fields that house the cows during the summer - I’ve posted photos of them before I think?) and I was greeted with the sight above. As is so often the case, the best of the light came after the sun sank below the horizon... the sunlight reflects off the cloud. This is how even on a quite overcast day you can often get a good sunset, and also why it’s always worth holding on a few moments after the sunsets to have set - often the best is yet to come...

...and even a slightly zoomed in phone shot can work out quite nicely!

After ten minutes or so I turned back towards home - keeping my eye on the clouds as I went back down the Lane...

...and then finally when almost back at home - such a variation in colours, and some beautiful cloud formations too - well worth a stroll in the chilly autumn air! 


Monday 23 November 2020

Lessons learned...ish...

A misty morning at Netteswell Pond.

A few weeks ago I wrote about being foolish, and continuing to run when I wasn’t feeling 100%, and ending up making myself poorly for a good few days. Having acknowledged that, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t do that again - and indeed I even took a full week off running to properly recover my energy levels. 

Last week was another “low energy” one - nothing lurgy-related this time, simply one of those things that happens from time to time as a result of a health issue. I’m used to it - sometimes it stops me doing things sometimes it doesn’t. Sensibly I decided that running on Monday wouldn’t be sensible, but instead I’d go for a longer walk. I was still low on energy on Tuesday but decided it wasn’t enough to put me off running...and by the end of the week I’d set my sights on my planned three runs in the week and my weekly goal distance. Circumstance also lead me to do quite a lot of walking throughout the week, including a trip to the sorting office to collect a parcel that the postman didn’t even attempt to deliver. Friday’s run was frustrating - my legs felt heavy, I felt generally really tired. I ticked off my three miles and called it a day. I told myself that the weekend would be more relaxing, with less distance...

...well it sort of was...! I think this might be the most distance I’ve recorded in a week since I originally got my first FitBit back in April 2017. I’ve done 100km weeks a couple of times - notably the week we did our first Underground Overground walk, and on a few other occasions since then too, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve hit 114km in a week. Ironically it really wasn’t intentional, and undoubtedly it wasn’t a great week to do it either! 

This week will be a bit less active for sure - I’m planning 2 runs, and quite a bit less walking, probably saving any higher mileage days for the weekend when MrEH wants to head out as well. There’s no question that I do need a bit of recovery time and this time I intend to remember the lessons I’ve learned previously! 


Sunday 22 November 2020

This week...

 ...has mostly been about movement (I’ve covered over 70 miles walking & running this week!)  and finding my way round my new phone, or more specifically it’s camera. With my old iPhone SE being 4 years old, there have been huge advances in phone cameras since I bought last - not least in terms of the low-light capability...

Moot House - Harlow

It deals really well with both the bright doorway and the darker shadowed areas in the foreground and on the roof, neither blowing the highlights or losing the shadows, and replicating really well the colours present in the scene - it’s nice to find a mobile camera that doesn’t try to cancel out warm light in a shot.

There has been plenty of lovely warm autumn colours to try it out with too - this time of year our town really comes into its own with all the green spaces and planting turning to yellows, reds and oranges. 

I’ve picked up on a project I began some years ago again recently too - my other blog,  Recording Harlow which looks at the history of our town, and specifically what has changed over the years. Quite a bit of my walking this week has been around the various neighbourhoods searching for bits of history and also trying to capture more of the autumn colour where I can.  

We also have several areas of woodland scattered around the town - among them Brenthall and Barnsley Wood which forms the border between two of the newer housing developments on the east. At this time of year there seems to be fungi wherever you look in the woodlands - so a good opportunity to try out the camera’s close up capability too - and it’s no slouch! 

Another thing I have long envied those with newer phone cameras is their wide angle lenses - and the new iPhone doesn’t disappoint on that level either! There is a fair bit of distortion but then you expect that with this field of view...
Our Lady of Fatima Church 

...I’m certainly looking forward to playing with THAT setting in the Hebrides, it’s just meant for those wonderful landscapes! It’s certainly done justice to all the detail in our local Catholic church, above with good sharpness across the frame from spire to the intricately patterned brick wall. 

So far then, hugely impressed. Apple have gone over from giving us the option of using HDR mode (high dynamic range) to “auto HDR” which I confess made me slightly nervous as this is the sort of thing I’d usually rather have control over - however it’s a gentle touch that ensures that the detail in a bright yet overcast sky isn’t lost, and that colours are dealt with faithfully. Photographs from the iPhone 12 are mostly good to go straight from shooting from what I’ve seen so far, with less need of stand-alone processing apps to bring out the shadows and control the highlights. Depth of field is nice on close ups, and there is a portrait mode to create blurred backgrounds to help the subject stand out if required. I’ll be enjoying some more exploring to put it to the test even further this week, anyway! 


Friday 20 November 2020

Frugal Friday...

 ...or - spending money wisely! 

It’s been a spendy few months. I mentioned before needing to replace our laptop as the old one (8 years old, and heavily used!) was threatening to keel over. We researched, chose - not the cheapest, but the one within our chosen budget that best suited our needs - and purchased on the cashback credit card (while it still pays cashback - that is changing soon) and then MrEH applied for a 0% balance transfer card, we threw the cost over onto there, and will pay off a chunk each month over the period of the 0% interest. The bulk of the money stays in our savings for the time being - it won’t get spent on anything else but it IS earning a teeny bit of interest still. 

The latest thing to need replacing is my mobile phone. My iPhoneSE is 4 years old, again, very well used, and now at the stage where the battery dies in a very short time indeed if I use it for anything at all, and even more so if I use it to take photos. Now, you know me...! I’ve been delaying looking at a replacement because Apple have been making the iPhone progressively larger and larger for years, and they are simply too large to use comfortably in my fairly dinky hands. Even the new SE is substantially bigger than the old one was. And yes - to quote Martin Lewis, “iPhones are never MoneySaving” - but I like them - I find them intuitive to use, I like the way they perform, and I do, after all, get my money’s worth. I also don’t have an expensive phone contract to add in to the equation - my EE SIM only deal costs me under £9 a month for unlimited calls and texts, and more data than I can use. When Apple announced the release of the new iPhone12 mini I decided it was time for a straight comparison between that and the new model SE, released a while ago. The new SE model appealed on price - no question, BUT it did fall short on a number of other factors - not least size and weight, the 12 mini being substantially smaller and lighter. The 12 is also of course an absolutely bang up-to-date phone - all the technology is the most modern I’m going to get right now, whereas as with the original SE, the technology in the SE2 is based on an older model of phone. Both would demand new headphones - no headphone jack on either model, and a new phone case too. I did my usual pros and cons - and eventually came to the conclusion that the only “pro” of the updated SE would be the far lower price tag... In any normal year that substantial difference in price might have been enough to convince me (although ai suspect I would have regretted it later) but 2020 has - as we know - been anything BUT normal, and I have a fair fund of airshow savings from events that were cancelled during the summer, of course, so the decision was made. Use the money I already had stashed aside, with subsidy from the airshow savings account for the price difference. The new phone was pre-ordered last week (just after our credit card statement date!) using the cashback card again, and the cost will shortly be transferred onto another 0% balance transfer card and paid off in the same way as the laptop will be. 

Neither of these purchases were frugal in the traditional sense - but in the case of both we will get value from them, they were carefully researched, they will almost certainly last longer than a cheaper alternative, the money was already saved ready and waiting for the point when it was needed, and most importantly for us, the purchase is managed to leave the money with us for as long as possible AND earn us a small amount of cashback in the first instance, and interest in the longer term. The use of credit, meanwhile, will cost us nothing. Being frugal isn’t always about spending nothing - but rather about choosing carefully what to spend your money on, and so far as possible, making it work well for you while doing so. 

(The new phone arrived earlier in the week and early impressions are excellent - the camera in particular being a real step up from my previous model. As, these days, my phone also takes the place of a compact camera in my everyday life, this was quite a consideration. The shot at the top of the post gives an idea of the quality even in very low light.)


Sunday 15 November 2020

For Today...


It’s been a good while since I have done this - indeed I had no idea if the Blog hosting it does though, so I will follow the guidelines as always. 

Looking out of my window
It’s raining, and breezy. The beautiful golden autumn leaves of the birch trees are dancing and every now and again a particularly strong gust of wind sets the falling like snow onto the grass...

I am thinking
Random, scattered thoughts. The weather, that there is little nicer than being cosy indoors on a wet, chilly day...

I am thankful
For a day with no pressure to do anything in particular - we may go for a walk, there is a jigsaw to be done, sent by a friend, so if the weather doesn’t improve boredom will not be a threat!

One of my favourite things
Starting the day slowly, quietly. Tea, toast, a good book...

I am creating
I’m spending much of my time during the week currently working through the many old photos I have on backup drives - airshow from years ago where I ran out of time to go right through the shots before the next show came along - enjoying both the memories and also that I am producing new shots to share with those who appreciate them. 

I am wearing
Right now? Pyjamas still!

I am reading
I’ve been working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s marvellous “Outlander” series again from the beginning - wonderful characters, beautifully written. 

I am hoping
That we soon start to see better news relating to the Covid 19 virus which is still giving the U.K. as a whole such problems. The second wave is now gathering pace - England has been in our second lockdown now for just over a week - that is due to end in Early December but we can only wait, and hope, that it does...

I am learning
Better ways of doing some of the things I do to process my photos. I have an updated version of Photoshop - necessary because of our replacement laptop and it has some features which are new to me. 

In my kitchen
The slow cooker has been on overnight with a beef stew which we will have half of for lunch - the balance will be eaten during the week. We also have a full bag of red onions to make red onion marmalade with...once MrEH has tracked down the recipe we have used previously to good effect!

In my garden
The growing season is mostly over, here. We did well this year from our tiny space - a good crop of tomatoes from a few potted plants on the balcony. A steady supply of runner beans for several months - the last of those were eaten just last week. Kale - the plants are still there but they have now been rather badly attacked by a small but determined greyish sort of fly so we will probably get no more from those. 

Shared Quote
Not a quote as such, but just perhaps, some wisdom. 
You are enough as you are. You are not a work in progress. 

A moment from my day

A slow start...

Closing Notes
It’s a tough time for many of us at the moment. Shaken out of our usual routines - in some cases for quite literally months, and with little idea when (or indeed, if) we are likely to resume any sort of normality. A dismissive, “snarky” comment from an acquaintance this week brought home to me how important it is to recognise now that the shape of everybody’s stress looks different - for one person yes, it might be a stressful job, but for another it might be not having gainful employment. In the U.K. many people are like me, still furloughed - being paid a proportion of their working wage but effectively giving nothing in return - not a comfortable way to live, for most of us. At this time of year there is seasonal work out there for sure - but assuming we can live on our furlough wages, should we take that purely for occupation allowing that we know there are many more out there who need that employment to live on, and we would be taking opportunity from them? THAT doesn’t feel comfortable to me, either. Be kind. If your only response to something is to say something unpleasant, catty or spiteful, then please, just take a breath, step away and leave it unsaid. If someone makes such an unpleasant comment to you remember that it says more about them than you. Take note - reconsider that person’s place in your life, and consider whether it requires a reaction or whether you are better just to ignore it, and not give the perpetrator the attention  they are clearly craving. 


Inspiration from The Simple Woman’s Daybook...

Friday 13 November 2020

After the rain...

 We went out this morning for our walk, as usual. This is a habit that will stand out as a good thing from the pandemic - we decided right at the beginning of lockdown 1 that we were going to walk each weekday, and barring the odd day when it has simply been too wet, or when one of us has had something happening early in the day, or the handful of days I have been away, we’ve continued ever since. It’s a great way to start the day - some movement, some fresh air, some daylight, and a chance to talk over whatever needs discussion before MrEH settles to his days work, and I try to not annoy him too much just by pottering about the place doing...whatever. 

This morning my plan was to walk with himself, then add on another few miles running afterwards. My kit was on, I walked in my running shoes to facilitate a smooth transition from one form of exercise to the next. And then, 10 minutes away from the end of the walking bit, the heavens opened. There had been a little light drizzle earlier on, but the actual “rain” wasn’t due until 10am according to the weather forecast app. The app is an inveterate liar - I know this. Today it proved it. 9.15 = deluge. Deluge to the point where I said “I’m not running in THIS!” and we squelched home. A change of clothes was needed by both of us when we got there too - as I say, a deluge! 

A few hours later though it was altogether a different story - the sun was out, the sky was blue and it was quite clearly perfect running weather! I love this time of year - the temperatures are great, far nicer to running than the sticky heat of summer. The colours are amazing, and the light too - just beautiful. So I found some dry leggings (there was no way the ones from this morning were going back on!) and some dry running shoes (ditto) and laced up and got discover that my legs felt heavy, my breathing felt rough, and it generally felt like flipping hard work! Frustrating when this happens - there’s nothing you can do about it but grit your teeth and get on with it, or give up and walk home if it feels REALLY thankless. Today I was only after a gentle 3 miles to round off my week - usually I’d round it up to 3.1 for the straight 5k, but today, no - I reached the turn towards home and decided that the straight line rather than the “add a bit of distance” short diversion was in order. Of course when I got home, and looked at the stats on Strava I discovered two things - firstly that it was substantially faster than it felt, and secondly - THAT WAS WHY IT FELT SO TOUGH! Honestly - will I ever learn?! 


Monday 9 November 2020

Medal Monday...


In the running world, we love a #MedalMonday hashtag - and so you can imagine my glee when I heard the post drop through the door earlier today to discover that my medal and shirt from running the Vitality Virtual London 10k a few weeks ago.  This is a run that I would never have signed up for in its usual form - too busy, too crowded - so it going virtual because of COVID-19 gave me the opportunity to participate, albeit on a route near home rather than in London, of course. 

I ran it when I was really struggling with running a few weeks ago - with hindsight now I think it is pretty certain that I was suffering from some form of virus at the time - no, not THAT virus, not the right symptoms! I was SO determined to do it though  so went for it when really, I probably shouldn’t. It was slow, but I got it done, and the medal feels like a very well deserved reward! 

This morning I went out for my first run in just over a week - and things felt SO much better! From the full-on slogs of a fortnight ago, it felt great to be able to run the first mile at a decent pace, then switch to run/walk intervals for another 3 miles - bliss! Everyone has the occasional bad run - you expect that, and just have to shrug it off and remind yourself that it IS just a one-off, and that the next one will be better. When the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after THAT too is still grim though, it becomes ever harder to overcome and get out there again - hence the week off, in part, and yes, that break feels as though it has done the trick, thank goodness! It’s wonderful to feel enthusiastic about lacing up my running shoes and getting out there again on Wednesday now! 


Saturday 7 November 2020

Fulfilling a purpose...

 Our town has what might be considered a moderately unusual feature on the OS map, for a small town at least. It’s a heliport - and in fact we actually have a second helipad too - at the hospital. That one isn’t shown on the map though... 

In the 1950’s when Harlow New Town was planned and building began, and around 10 years since the first practical, economical helicopter had been flown, it was assumed that helicopters would be a method of transport much used in the future. So the town planner very sensibly designed a heliport to ensure that this brand new form of travel could be easily used. Of course, for day to day civilian transport they have never really taken hold, and so our “heliport” is now essentially an empty field...except, today, it wasn’t! 

We were walking towards the town centre - partly just for a walk, and partly as there were a few items of shopping we wanted to pick up - I’d been unable to get teabags during my regular supermarket shop so a trip elsewhere was needed, and hear the sound of a helicopter nearby...a quick check on Flightradar24 confirmed that it was the air ambulance and that it was landing somewhere rather closer than the we diverted slightly and went to see if indeed, as we suspected, our “heliport” might be in use. 

By the time we got there the medical team had already left to attend the incident they had been called to leaving the flying crew to wait with the aircraft in the sunshine. I only had the phone with me of course, but it would have been rude not to grab a couple of photos... 

...she did look rather splendid casting a shadow with the sun behind her. It is of course to be hoped that the casualty they were attending had a good outcome, these guys don’t get called unless there is significant threat to life, or a strong likelihood of life changing injury, so although it is nice to see the helicopter in a location like this, it is always tinged with the knowledge that someone’s life had just undergone a dramatic change. 


Friday 6 November 2020

Not doing “shoulds”...

The most beautiful sky on our walk this morning - one of my favourite routes as well, out along the lane, a diversion to get MrEH’s paper, then along the bridleway to the Common and it’s fabulous views, before heading back towards home. I’m still gritting my teeth and resisting running, but assuming it’s dry I’ll be back to that on Monday and there are three runs in the plan for next week. 

This week has - as planned - been all about strength workouts and stretching. A couple of stability sessions on the balance cushion, a weights session, and one of Alice Liveing’s workouts from her 28 day challenge that she is running on Instagram. Bless her - she taught live workouts almost daily through lockdown 1, and is planning the same for this month as well. I’m not going to be doing all 28 days, but will dip in and out and pick some of the workouts that will suits me as the month goes on. As with last time, there is a huge amount of pressure being created around “shoulds” during lockdown - using the time to build fitness,  complete DIY jobs, practise mindfulness....and so it goes on. For me, the only real difference is that e Erne is in the same boat, and I won’t be going to Scampton, or to catch up with friends etc, but of course with the weather getting colder I would have been doing less of that in any event! Doing strenuous exercise on a daily basis, with no room for recovery, wouldn’t suit me any other time, so I won’t be doing it now just because we are back into lockdown either! (To clarify, this is in no way a swipe at Alice - her workouts are carefully crafted to work different body areas on consecutive days, so are designed to allow for recovery). 

We do have a few small DIY jobs to be going on with, the front room curtain rail is threatening to fall down, and one of the fibreoptic light strips in the kitchen is flickering and needs re-fixing. There might be a few other odd jobs as well. We’re also planning a return to local walking - our local OS map will be out again, and our plan for the weekends at the moment anyway is to do a shorter walk one of the days and a longer walk the other. 

Do remember - you don’t have to feel that you must be making use of every second during lockdown. This is a stressful time for everyone, and this time round might be hitting you harder than before combined with the colder weather and lack of daylight. For me, it’s actually feeling easier than before - in part because we don’t have so much planned stuff being cancelled this time round - unsurprisingly we’d mostly not bothered planning much for the next little while! If that’s not the case for you though, remember the value of just curling up on the sofa with a good book, or a film, or whatever suits you if that is what you need to do. You do you - and don’t be made to feel guilty because of other people’s “shoulds”! 


Thursday 5 November 2020

Here we go again...


Today England starts its second period of full lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Numbers of cases have been rising across the country and with people starting to look towards wanting to be able to spend time with families over Christmas, it was felt by Government that the sacrifice of a months lockdown now might enable an easing of restrictions over the festive season. We will see if this proves to be the case - currently we are being told that once the lockdown finishes on December 2nd we will all be returning to our previous "tiers" which for a good many across the country means no mixing of households indoors, and for a good many more means no mixing even in private gardens or other outdoor spaces. For us here, in Tier 2, this will write off any chance of seeing family over the Christmas period - much as I would love to be able to spend time with my parents, and MrEH with his, our respective parents are all in either their later 70's or 80's, with varying levels of health issues, and a Christmas spent outdoors in very probably low temperatures and possible inclement weather is not something that would be practical for them.

Elsewhere in the world the Americans have been given a chance to redeem themselves for their ludicrous choice of president 4 years ago, and from reports it would appear that record numbers of them turned out to try to do just that. Currently votes are still being counted (I believe because of the higher than usual numbers of postal and ahead-of-time voting where people wanted to avoid the risk of attending polling stations on election day itself, this process is taking longer than usual). Meanwhile Trump is - as was inevitable - bouncing wildly from overconfidence (he made a formal address on election night claiming victory!) to toddler-tantrums, threatening legal action to any state where it looks like a majority might have voted against him. Terrifyingly in some states which are looking like going in Joe Biden's favour but counting is not yet complete, he is trying to get the counting stopped (it's reckoned that a higher proportion of the ahead/postal votes are likely to be for Biden). Even more terrifyingly, rather than stopping to think, and asking how the hell THAT would fit with democracy, some of his supporters are taking to the streets in support of his viewpoint. I'd like to say that you can't imagine a situation where that sort of anti-democratic behaviour would happen here in the UK, but to my shame after those who tried to overturn the will of the majority (and regardless of which side you sit on, that is what it was) on the question of leaving the EU, it would appear that the gradual Americanisation of many in the UK continues apace, as depressing as that thought is to many of us.

Anyway - Lockdown 2.0 as it is being called by many has a few key differences from the previous one. Schools and colleges remain open this time - it's been decided that the continuation of education must take precedence, and I have to confess that I can very much see that point. Losing substantial amounts of school time - particularly as a teenager beginning to work towards exams, is incredibly difficult to come back from, as anyone who was at school during the teachers strikes in the 1980's will acknowledge. The big issue with the schools and universities is the sheer number of children who having been brought up by the media and in a few cases, their parents, to believe that their rights are surpreme, are now deciding that even when outside their places of learning the regulations around social distancing etc are something that they are unwilling to adhere to. It's not all of them by any means, but it is in enough numbers to ensure problems when out and about generally at the times that schools are arriving and leaving for the day. Also different this time are the rules around exercise - the "one form of exercise per day" ruling of the first lockdown has now, thank goodness, made a reappearance. This time the benefits of being outside in the open air for movement are being recognised - something which is key at this point in the year too.

For me, I plan to continue working through old photos - any aviation fans reading may recognise the shot at the top of this post as one from 2014 - and the "stripes" Typhoon that the RAF Typhoon Display Team used for some of that season. I'm finding a surprising amount of shots to play with - mostly those that didn't get processed at all at the time, probably due to lack of hours in the day, but also some that I had processed previously and now feel I could make a better job of. Just looking back at some of the old memories is great in itself too - and more particularly allowing that it may well, from the look of things, be a fair few months before I get to socialise with  my aviation pals again. I suspect there will also be more baking, by some fluke of fate we purchased a jigsaw, some DVD's and some books from a charity shop on Saturday, and some more longer walks might be happening as well. As the days shorten, the temptation is more to curl up indoors anyway, so rightly or wrongly this month of restrictions don't feel quite so stressful as the first time round. 


Monday 2 November 2020

Pressing pause...


I’m not good at admitting when I need to step back a bit - this applies generally, but all the more so when it comes to running, and especially when I’ve been on a bit of a roll with consistency and distances. 

Last month went well - 3 runs per week, 11 in total for the month. I exceeded my monthly target of 50 miles by 7, increased my distance to beyond 10k, ran the Virtual Vitality London 10k, and got myself to within 50 miles of my annual mileage target too. I also did several strength sessions, a fair bit of stability work, and a LOT of stretching, however, I also aggravated a bit of a niggle in my left foot and ankle, and ran on when I knew I wasn’t really feeling “right” which has lead to me feeling rather out of sorts and under the weather for the past week. And of course in spite of THAT I ran some more... Add in quite a lot of walking and general time on my feet, all this on top of a LOT of mileage covered walking in September too, and frankly, my body is crying out for a bit of a break.

This week then is a re-set. No running for at least the first few days - instead either a strength or a stability session each day, and a longer yoga/stretching session too. Walking to get my daily aim of 5 miles in, but not too much more. Plenty of fruit and veggies, lots of water. Listening to my body and giving the niggles a chance to settle. All being well I’ll get a run in on Friday - just possibly Thursday - but I’ve suspended any weekly target for this week, and won’t be putting myself under any pressure to do too much until things feel right again. With what is now being referred to as “Lockdown 2” approaching, I think it’s likely that I’m going to want to be able to get out and run or at least walk plenty over the next few weeks, so a bit of stepping back now should help to put me in the best possible place to allow that. 

While I’m not spending too much time on my feet this week, I plan to turn my attention back to some of my old unprocessed photos. I’ve got airshow stuff going back years that I want to look back on - from the 2 Lancasters flying together in 2014, through to the various classic jets that we no longer see fly for various reasons, there is plenty of stuff to be working on, and the new laptop is proving to be an absolute delight to work on, too. Slightly more up to date software is also meaning I can get far better results from my processing, so that in itself is proving an incentive to work on some stuff that I ignored or just simply missed previously. I’ll maybe post some of the results here - but in any event a fair number will appear on Instagram (@robyn_pf) or Twitter (@EssexHebridean) and as usual everything will land up on my Flickr account (Photozone72) so pop over there and take a look!