Scottish Holiday take two

Yay! I did it! I bagged my first Munro. Admittedly it was one with a nice clear path up and down and only a bit of nasty scrambling in places.



How about this for an itinerary? Up before 5 in Gatwick Travelodge, having had our curry the night before, (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). Then the tasty BA omelette at 7.45am. Still good. Arrive, pick up car and be climbing the long steep path up Ben Lomond by 11. At Glasgow we saw some hardcore,
somewhat wild looking and hairy climbers with stacks of gear at the airport which (I think)made John feel wistful for what might have been.

Instead there he is plodding up what is really a very long stumbly hill with his wife, who at the top, sensibly refused the adventure of coming down a different route. Because it was another time when you couldn’t see the path more than three steps ahead and the guidebook said the path was for the sure footed.

Great. Not me then.


Fantastic view from half way back down.


Wait! We’ve not had autumn yet.

It wasn’t the last swim. My daughter, Lydia and I had a spontaneous swim yesterday, it was so warm and still by the sea. It was a vest and pants venture as we hadn’t gone prepared and it was terribly cold going in, but once in, the water was as delightful and exhilarating as it has been all summer. And getting dry was easy, no nasty breezes freezing your parts, the only difficulty was the little orange shape in the corner of the picture.

IMG_2907It was a man with a kayak. He lurked around 200m or so out to sea, of little interest to us, we were more concerned with stopping William eating stones. He’d have a pear in one hand and a pebble in another and forget which was which. But kayak-man was keen to show us his paddling prowess and floated right up to where we were sitting. We sat, she on the changing mat and me on my purple pilgrim coat, air drying, gently swathed in the remainder of our clothes, ie not much and all getting rather damp. Hoping we looked like those Victorian beauties discreetly veiled, we decided not to make a big do of our state of undress and sit in a composed fashion pretending everything was fine. Which it was but he was determined to make contact and beached himself and the kayak sideways on the stones and toppled out. He was wearing middle aged hiking gear, a look I am very familiar with, including a khaki body warmer and taupe cargo shorts. Big thick glasses. No idea of social cues. We are not giving eye contact. Snapping back polite but short answers. I was virtually throwing stones at him but still he advanced.

Bless him, he was very excited as it was his first venture out to sea, having only been on the canal before. It must have been lovely except for the last part when he fell sideways and got soaked. But as we said, no one was watching. We thought no one watched us swim, but I was suddenly aware of a woman stripping down to her bra and pants and entering the water. It was like an advert – one minute she looked all office worker, lipstick and shirt-waister, the next, there she was doing back stroke across the bay. Excellent. Another day stolen from the predations of winter.

Live while you are alive.

Last swim?

September 18th and we swam at lunchtime, and yes it was cold, look at those clouds. They swallowed up the sunshine as soon as we entered the water.Image Image You could paint this picture with just greys!

Is this the end of summer? My wellies are out. The heating is on. The winter duvet is on. I’ve made my first crumble: plum and apple with amaretti in the topping which kept it light. Baked Dorset apple cake, and got half a sack of potatoes in for the winter.

I’ve also made Hugh Fearnley’s mushroom risoniotto, very easy, comforting and not too creamy. While I was stirring the mix I watched Julie and Julia again and resolved again to cook more varied food. But in the winter I want stodge, some food ballast to take me through these next few months. Much as I love fruit and salads, it’s nursery food I crave in winter. And I stick to my old faves. Macaroni cheese, leeks and bacon appears often. Fish pie. Hefty soups with spicy beans and sausage. And I would love more puddings. With custard.

IMG_2901I bought this book for 20p at my local library and while I don’t think I suffer from full blown SAD, I want as many tools as possible to combat the almost inevitable loss of energy and motivation and joie de vivre I feel in the the darker seasons. I’ve not read it all but light boxes are recommended in the first chapter. Mmm, nah, not yet, for now I think go with the flow and follow nature’s direction. Sleep when it’s dark, accept the few extra pounds that accumulate, cook, read, meet friends and family and eat together. Make fires, walk a lot when it’s fine. Walk wrapped up warm when it’s not. Nothing radical.

I have learned to put a few events in place over the winter to prevent me becoming a hermit. Some trips to the cinema or theatre. A trip  to see Helen in Holland perhaps?

Winter tv is often good but I have the attention span of a gnat, and come to things late.  I watched Luther and loved it from behind the sofa cushions. I saw the first two episodes of Game of Thrones and although it was rather bloody and graphjc I really enjoyed it. There’s Strictly waiting in the wings of course. And this year I have got in to the Great British Bake Off, several years after everyone else. Another plan I have is to try some bread-making … watch this space. I may need blue contact lenses for the full effect. Photos to follow, depending on results.

But this evening the sun is shining. All good.  P1000244

One of the things we learned on the Camino was to ask for help when we needed it, so those of you who read this blog: how do you cope with the winter blues?

Suggestions please.

September 11th

P1020171It is my birthday, on what must be one of the most famous, or infamous, dates of the year. I’ve always liked my birthdate: I like odd numbers. Coincidentally all our houses have had odd numbers, both children have odd dates for birthdays as does John. It feels like a nice chunky number and for me September is a beautiful month, half summer, half autumn and intensely poignant with the dying of the light.  I loved school and didn’t really mind going back, but when my children were small I found their return to uniform and closed in shoes all too metaphorical. I missed their summer freedom and (guilty pause) when we took them away during term time, the words “It’s only school” were heard to pass my lips. I don’t regret it. School is important but family and making memories is more so.

I know several other people with the same birthday. A rather gorgeous leggy teenager called Lucy G and a poet called Sarah Salway. I know DH Lawrence was born on September 11th 1885. Apparently Johnny Vegas and someone called Moby also share my birthday. I looked them up. President Allende of Chile was deposed and shot himself forty years ago today plunging Chile into years of dictatorship and oppression. I heard that on Radio 4 last week. Mary Oliver my favourite poet was born on September 10th. She got that wrong.

However most people will associate September 11th with the attack on the Twin Towers. Our media saturated world means that story will run and run. No one could deny the pain of those who lost family and friends and it’s important to remember those lives and their loss. However when I began thinking about this post I was thinking of all the babies who were actually born that day and how so many more wonderful events occurred than could ever be reported. Can that equation be made? Not on paper but it’s my blog and my head and my birthday and I am making it.

I came across a website to help those of us blessed with this birthdate celebrate in a new way. Apparently some people feel unable to mark their birthday on The Day. Others got married on 11/9/2001 and now feel eclipsed – wrong word – but that they got off on a wrong footing. Bless them.

Some of it is all too American for me, baking cakes for firefighters, having an extra candle on your cake for those lost, but one of the themes that struck home to me was a call, not only to remember the many dead, but the determined heroism of those who saved so many more lives that day.

“Tomorrow is the 12th Anniversary of the largest and most successful rescue effort in history. It is estimated that anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 people were successfully rescued and removed from the World Trade Center Towers prior to their catastrophic collapse. The collapse of the twin towers killed 2,977 innocent people, including 343 firefighters, 23 Police Officers, 37 Port Authority, who went in the buildings to rescue more people and to put out the fires. Please take a moment to remember each of those 2,977 innocent lives that were lost, especially the firefighters, Police Officers, Paramedics and Port Authority . But also take a moment to rejoice the 10,00 to 14,000 lives that were saved by fire and police officers that responded to the attacks 12 years ago.”    Yes, I will.

I heard Lee Evans the stand up comedian talk about his acting career and his achievements. He said despite playing to 20,000 + people at Wembley Arena, he is a very shy person who struggles to believe his luck. He writes and paints and lives his life to the full. He said ” At least I don’t kill people – I make them laugh.” He adds to the joy of the world. It’s all a question of balance and where we give our attention.

Now, where’s my cake?

No need to conquer the mountain

Scotland was lovely, despite the weather, and although I walked solidly for four hours on our only bright day – half a day really – I put on 3lbs in three days! How does that happen? I know: it was the booze and the chocolate. I took in a lot of chocolate. And a lot of chips. The menus in the village where we stayed were a tad dull. Cod and chips. Scampi and chips. Washed down with McEwan’s, not me, him. I sipped delicately on a small bottle of Sol.  Then had a Drambuie at the end of the meal. It was cold and wet.


John found a new whisky he liked. Pronounced Boonahaben.

The walking was fine. Steep in places, but so beautiful and I did want to bag a Munro. But I am scared when it comes to mist and cloud, especially when you’re near the top and the path has disappeared into a  peaty mess. The peak plays a game of Now you see me:


Now you don’t.


But that pretty cloud is hovering low over the mountain and can descend at any point, throwing a poor lowlander like me into real or imagined peril. Neither of us can reliably map read.  A course in orienteering beckons.


Anyhow we got within 100m of the top and again the weather changed and again I decided to come down. I was disappointed but I felt some consolation when I saw younger and fitter looking couples turn back. I wanted to complete the walk, but hey, it was still a challenge and lovely in the seeing and the doing. I have no need to conquer the mountain.

Home now and basking in tropical temperatures. A swim at 7.30 this morning was glorious. We swam out to that buoy, then drank coffee from a flask. Modest pleasures. An ongoing theme.


Managing expectations

I had coffee with two old friends the other day, one of whom I hadn’t seen in seven years. She is headteacher of a successful, indeed outstanding, school in Kent and despite this she looked great. She had just returned from three weeks in Spain with her partner – another teacher- staying a week in paradors (I know what they are now) and two weeks in a villa. They had done a lot of walking, (not as much as me ;)), and felt replenished. It had taken the best part of five weeks holiday to reset to zero so to speak, such was their commitment to the job.

Much heated debate could now incur about teachers and their timetables and their whingeing and ‘proper jobs’ etc but the bottom line is they do it and we don’t and we don’t want to, otherwise we would. It’s a pretty thankless task facing thirty kids, their parents, the demands of an ever-changing National Curriculum and so on. But that’s not my point. My point is, and I’ll be brief, this couples’ children, slightly younger than mine but still adults, are nothing like their parents. Furthermore they are nothing like the parents expected them to be. The parents are ambitious and fit and dedicated. Their kids are content to mosey along in dead end jobs so long as they have enough to pay the rent and buy beer. One is very overweight and the other represented his college at poker. He never lost but that’s not the point. In our day (yawn) poker playing was not a legitimate leisure activity and had I not known the family personally I would have formed a negative impression of the children.

This is all about me and my prejudices. My expectations. The last time I saw these kids they were fresh faced and in short trousers. Not quite, but they still did what their parents told them – lots of healthy outdoor pursuits and homework handed in on time. I expected them to carry on in the same vein and be mini versions of their uber successful parents. They aren’t.

If we are lucky enough to have children we (many of us, OK, I did) place an enormous burden of expectation on them. The only time we want them to be normal is as the emerge form the womb. From then on we are watching to see that they reach their milestones and achieve the required level in literacy, pass their GCSEs, driving test etc etc And their personal lives are subject to scrutiny as well. We want them to be happy and many of us know they should be happy in their own way but we have an idea how to make that happen – our way, the way we did things.

I read that expectations are ‘resentments under cultivation’. John, the wise old bunny, calls them ‘disappointment waiting to happen’.

My mum is a fine friend to many people and walks the extra mile for them. She is thoughtful and considerate and can’t understand when some other people don’t behave in like fashion. They don’t and it is hurtful. How do you deal with that? By being true to your self and not expecting quid pro quo? It’s tough. But wise. I find it takes constant monitoring of my expectations to allow people and events to unfold and take their own shape. Letting go of my shoulds-template for how things ‘should’ be. Then I am free and so are they.

Another swimming photo. That little dot of flesh is John, yes he’s crazy for sea swimming too now. For some reason I can’t make the picture bigger!

Mountains are not friendly

Today I am in Scotland in the village where John spent four happy weeks whilst I walked the Camino. We left home where temperatures were comfortably warm 23/24*C and drove to Gatwick airport Travelodge. There we had a surprisingly good curry served by smiling staff – not all Eastern European – who cheerfully processed the orders of crowds of excited holiday makers, bringing tray after tray of lamb shanks and cod and chips. No doubt the Peroni helped but we had a cheerful and hygienic experience. It was also ‘tasty food’. My culinary experiences now are measured by Helen’s criteria. “Let there be tasty food” and there was. So far so good. And the room was clean and the bed was big. Yes yes. And despite the ravening hordes the night was quiet. All good.

Next our British Airways flight to Glasgow: we unwittingly chose row 4. Excellent choice. Two wide seats and something for Flat Stanley inbetween. More decent food: a hot breakfast, a well seasoned omelette, bacon, sausage, tomato and mushrooms served in funny foil tray but all piping hot. Ours is not to reason how. Ours is just to get it down.

Because a Munro beckons. We are going to climb Beinn Ime and The Cobbler. Happy sunny climbs he performed with no difficulty in May. However today it’s 10* cooler up here than home. I’ve not been silly: I’ve come prepared with kwik drying trousers and all my Camino kit except Vaseline. And my MERINO BASE LAYER! I got one as soon as I came home having suffered from severe base layer envy in Spain. Got my poles and I am fit! So I set off with a will. But very soon the rain set in. Then the wind, almost gale force and able to gust me off my feet and into a peat bog. Not nice but the path was clear and we pressed on, determined not to let the elements prevail. My thoughts: this feels familiar, damp legs and reaching for my buff to wipe my nose. Head down pressing my glasses back onto my face, wondering if I might be better off without them, all damp and smeary. No I’m not.

Almost at the top and all hell breaks loose. “Have I developed tinnitus?” No it’s driving rain and sleet against my hood which is flapping like one of Scott’s tents. It then occurred to me that if we were separated by the dense cloud cover John is carrying the rucksack and has my lovely purple pilgrim jacket, my phone, the map ( much good it would do me) and all the provisions ( lots of chocolate). I then thought, Which part of this is fun?” None of it. And decided to turn back.

No Munro for me today, but a long slithery scramble back down the mountain John whooping away in front of me gleeful at the descent. Note to self, did I pack ibuprofen? Another note to self: so glad I didn’t get my facial thread veins done. It’s not yet winter but I feel like Greasy Joan red-faced and in need of a pot to keel – indoors.

Made it to the car, in that confused freezing cold and sweaty state that comes from exercise in inclement weather, we drove to our modest hotel where we drained the tank of every ml of hot water and made them put the heating on. Bed by 7.30 pm.

Just looked at the Folkestone forecast for the week. Wish I hadn’t.