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.