Slightly Mad, But Optimistic

It sounds lovely doesn’t it: ‘The South Coast Challenge’, a walk along the cliffs and downs of East Sussex, an area where my mum’s family come from and where I spent many happy childhood holidays

Well, that’s where the nice bit stops

A very silly friend, who is old enough to know better, told me he was doing this for the ‘Bloodwise’ charity who are currently supporting a friend in great need, and when I saw his email it felt very much like I really should join him, as he and I are part of an informal tribe who have already traipsed the West Highland Way together and attempted to scale the 6 Peaks – Snowdon, Scarsdale Pike and Ben Nevis twice each – in 48 hours (we only managed 4 Peaks, but it was worth a shot!). None of the other guys in the random bunch of extreme crazies took up the challenge. Perhaps that should have dissuaded me, but it just made me more determined. Of course it did, so before I could change my mind I signed myself up

The event takes place tomorrow, August Bank Holiday weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

(a) it could be VERY hot

(b) it could be wet

(c) my left ankle ligaments might react very badly

(d) it turns out that we have to get up at 5.00 in the morning to get there before we even start!

Did I mention that it’s 100km long, this walk? Or that my ‘friend’ had decided that we were doing it in 24 hours?

Slightly late, I processed all this information, and Brian (the ‘friend’) added to the mix by saying that there is a nice pub near the finish line. So it was a done deal. A JustGiving page was set up and Bloodwise sent us thank you messages for our prospective efforts

So, think of us as you enjoy the mixture of very hot and very wet weather this weekend (a double whammy!) and please consider donating to this wonderful cause

At least for us by Sunday morning, it should all be over, whereas the path to wellness is long and very hard for those affected by cancer. Ironically, only yesterday I found out that someone else I know has just been diagnosed. We are all hoping for a cure to cancer, but in the meantime, love and practical support are all-important

I will also be thinking of my fellow blogger Spearfruit, whose honesty and positive energy inspires many of us. Here’s to you, Terry …

 

 

Beyond the Pale – Miami Pastels

IMG_0345A business trip brought us here, but it’s good to be back. There’s a special quality about the light, the orange juice (OMG I had forgotten how good it tastes!) and the ubiquitous form of art deco that we almost take for granted when the word ‘Miami’ is uttered

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The first few times we came here C was just a baby and so she has no recollection. One time, we stayed at the Breakwater, right in the hub of South Beach, where the downstairs nightclubs throbbed all night

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South Beach is where she took her early steps, but what she sees now is an exhibitionist’s chaotic paradise where nothing or no-one can be too bright, too loud or too visible. She adores the flashy top-end sports cars – Lamborghinis and Ferraris – that compete for attention, and loves the music emanating from every window of restaurants, bars and carsIMG_0736

Baz and I are not too old to enjoy these things, we’re honestly not

But for us Miami is still all about the art deco. Obviously. Many of these hotels were cheaply built, as is so often the case, and must require frequent maintenance. A few are shrouded in hoardings where major works are taking place, but there’s still plenty to seeIMG_0437

deco

I think it’s hard to beat these simple perfect curvesIMG_0411

I also adore the motifs featured on so many buildings – often painted in typical Miami-deco styledeco

And the odd bit of glass…

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For me, South beach is not somewhere to come for a rest, but for a change. There is a collision here, where the light meets the pastel colours and the shapes. Miami is a confection that relies on all these elements. In addition, it’s a bustling chaotic hub of a town where the buildings and the beach are an almost incidental background now to the nightlifeIMG_0347 We took a walk before the sun was up, and the only other people on the streets were dozing on the cafe chairs or walking aimlessly, hand-in-hand. Definitely a good time to enjoy it

 

 

Those kittens won’t shoot themselves

encounters on South Beach

The boardwalk provides a 4-mile morning loop on an ideal running surface to the temple of Starbucks at South Beach. It’s an easy run as long as I am back to the hotel before it gets impossibly hot each day (around 7 am)

The distinctive huts along the beach are my landmarks
IMG_0625Enjoying my temporary routine I notice others around me, who also start their day by coming hereIMG_0666

The cats are in all shades of ginger, grey, white and ‘Branston pickle’IMG_0710Taking shade in the sea grape bushes during the heat of the day, they appear each morning to enjoy small piles of kitty biscuits, lovingly placed by dedicated locals

By the second day I recognise several of the cats, and I am on nodding terms with a few people – some of them runners and some ‘feeders’. One lady says she feeds them ‘every day, sixty three of them’. Another man tells me he gives food to ‘about three dozen’. Clearly this is a great commitment and a real passion

As we settle in bed one night, we tell C that we will both be getting up at a time she’s only heard of, for me to run and Baz to find and photograph the groups of kittens that she won’t see during the day. She groans and pulls her cover over her head, unimpressed

‘Those kittens aren’t going to shoot themselves,’ says Baz, but in the morning the kittens elude us, ushered away by protective parents before we can snap them

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The beach walk is popular with runners, cyclists, dog walkers. Many people practise yoga. Many more sleep on the beach – some through choice, some through necessity. I see one man asleep each morning on the same piece of boardwalk, and there are many more adrift here

After a chaotic Saturday night in SOBE a pair of abandoned or forgotten gold-heeled shoes lounge on the beach. There are lovers and revellers not yet returned from clubbing. As I pass two men in their twenties sharing an early morning joint, one shouts out to me: ‘Good morning beautiful lady, you look great’

I am glad of his encouragement. Name me one fifty year old woman who wouldn’t enjoy that!IMG_0481

The initial warm breeze will become a searing heat by 7 am, so I am delighted to see the beach hut we christened ‘half-of-Lisa-Simpson-hut’, signalling that I am almost back at the hotel. It’s now our last morning in Miami, my last run in Miami, and a man shouts gruffly to me: ‘Cold! Eyes! Bitch!’

Just another nutter, this place is full of them …

Stationed at Slough

Is there anything better than a Victorian station with a stuffed dog?

I hate Slough. I love stations

However much I dislike Slough, it provides a fantastic train artery. If I am sitting on one of its station platforms I am either heading off on an adventure towards the countryside of the West, or East into my old friend Paddington, from where I can access the throng of London and the rest of the country

I love adventures, and this is a route steeped in fond memories. In the eighties I used to finish work at 8.30 on a Sunday night and frantically ‘tube it’ from Bond Street to Paddington to catch the 9.10 train to go home to Bath. One Sunday, a passenger called Solomon sat next to me. He spent the weekend with his family and then worked Monday to Friday in Penzance. We got on so well that it became our weekly routine to seek each other out, and sit together drinking gin and playing backgammon

One Wednesday, as my late-afternoon return train from Bath emptied onto a Paddington platform, an announcement came over the tannoy: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P Bear please go to the Lost Property Department’

On the repetition it was cut short: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P ….’

Must have been a new guy. Hundreds of passengers sniggered

But, I digress…

Last Sunday C and I headed to Olympia to visit a customer at a trade show. As we waited for our train to arrive at Slough, C asked if Station Jim was still around, and suggested we go and pay our respects

Station Jim was a sick stray, adopted in the 1890s by the station staff. Taught to cross the tracks only by the bridge, he apparently took the occasional train journey but was always spotted by staff at other stations and sent home. For the most part he was happy just to collect donations for local causes, and he seems to have led a pretty good (if short) life. Upon his sudden death at home one evening in 1896 the station staff and local residents paid for him to be ‘stuffed’ and mounted on display on Platform 5, where he remains, proudly dressed in his collection harness station jimHowever gruesome this Victorian behaviour sounds, he must have been very loved, don’t you think?

One hundred and twenty years on he’s still in pretty good nick and he looks very noble. He has a very prominent spot on the main platform to Paddington, so that new people still see him for the first time every day – not something that a simple plaque could have achieved

And those of us who have ‘known’ him for years continue to visit

 

 

Shades of Brown

check your Farrow and Ball colour chart

I am steadily ridding the world of horrid shades of brown. It’s not that I don’t like brown, but I dislike some of its manifestations, which could be named:

Glastonbury 16             Slug            Dysentery           Other end            Disgust

Most of which were in both our UK and French houses in abundance

Our UK home is on an island along with thirty-plus other houses. At the moment the small Victorian iron bridge – the only access to our homes – is being closed at night for repairs and a neighbour asked us all on the facebook page to vote on the colour/s it will be re-painted

The first person said ‘rust colour’!!

But, rust aside, the two colour schemes favoured are dark and light grey, and blue with white/cream. No-one has discussed the actual shades yet but the population seems split firmly down the middle on this, and I fear another ‘Brexit’ type situation – ‘Bridg-it’ perhaps?

The thing is, people in the UK tend to form a very strong opinion (as we have recently seen) and are polarised in their points of view. I do hope that families on the Island will not be torn asunder by such an important matter!

Personally I don’t think it matters which colour scheme suggestion they go with in name (if indeed we even get to voice an opinion) because surely it’s not whether it’s blue or grey, but whether it’s the right blue or grey, etc that matters

And oh please, anything but rust!

 

 

 

Are You Really Going Out In That?

More stories of spandex. And inappropriate smoking

IMG_2469Running isn’t for everyone. But if it’s your thing – if you are used to just popping out and running fairly good distances – and then suddenly you can’t anymore… well, it’s hard to explain how that feels

Tonight the towpath beckons and I decide to do a couple of miles. I’m easing myself back in slowly after hurting my ankle back in March. It seems incredible that an injury caused while standing still can have set me so far back

Sadly, this will be the year I hang up the Hawaiian bikinis for good (it probably should have been a few years back!), but even that sturdy and sensible one-piece swimsuit won’t wear itself. So I’d better get on with it before the summer hols

There’s a honeysuckle that stretches along the path by the river, and as I pass it the scent is incredible. I fill my grateful lungs with the perfume, taking a reward for my small discipline this evening and feeling so glad I came out

Breathing is everything. I mean, obviously, because we wouldn’t be alive if not breathing, but also in running terms. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other but it’s the right breathing that allows you to run. If you can’t match your body’s oxygen requirements you’ll just be exhausted in no time

Of course, there’s an exception to prove most rules:

Norman, a friend and associate in Singapore, is a hard-living heavy drinker who has chain-smoked all his life, but after suffering a heart attack in his late fifties in 2008 he told me he had taken up running on the advice of his doctor. He was fully expecting to hate it. Yet in 2014, while I was injured and had to forego my first ever marathon place at Brighton, he was running regularly and looking forward to his first marathon in Singapore. By the next time we got together for a few drinks a year later he had run two marathons and I was absolutely in awe of him

I asked if the second one was much easier

Norman told me how he had struggled on the second one, but had really enjoyed the first one. He was eating up the miles, he told me, and he only stopped for a cigarette at eight miles, twelve miles and twenty-one miles. I honestly thought he was joking. I didn’t know it was possible for a smoker to run a marathon, let alone to stop for a fag break along the way

I wonder if he stopped for a Scotch too?

As I hit the end of my two and a bit miles I stride out a bit, get a bit of momentum going, and I feel how my lung capacity has improved

I am no Norman. But for the first time this week, there is more in the tank🙂
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Framed at Last – ‘Our Auds’

a story and a collage sparked this post

I finally bought a frame for the little collage of Audrey that C made last year. The picture is SO Audrey, I just love it. It was hard to get a decent photo in situ, so please try  to see past the reflections to find her in the bottom left cornerIMG_9973

Yes, Audrey was a chicken. We lost her in August 2015

You might think that ‘a chicken is a chicken is a chicken’, but ‘our Auds’ was a special kind of gal

We had ten chickens in 2013, various breeds, but Audrey and Gertrude were the only legbars. They could not have been more different, both physically and characteristically. Auds was top girl of the flock from the beginning. Not in a bullying kind of way, but in an ‘I’ll take care of this’ sort of way, and Gerts was her hench-chicken

Yet, whereas Gertie has grown to be tall, upright and necky, with a signature rockabilly quiff, Audrey was always very low-built and purposeful, and, I thought, looked a little like Margaret Thatcher. Her disapproving mannerisms and discourse somehow exaggerated this resemblance

Her instinct to roost was all-powerful and she would stay out on top of the coop in any weather, so Baz would go out and put her to bed at night. Sometimes some of the others would join her, but this was intermittent, whereas she was constant. When we were away our lovely neighbour Sue would ‘tuck Audrey in’ for us

Audrey first got sick in the New Year of 2014. The vet said she was beautiful but basically inferred that she was a bit of a runt really. An x-ray showed a growth, possibly a tumour, in her stomach and a serious heart murmur was diagnosed. Realistically there was nothing much they could do, so she was given antibiotics and came home with a short life expectancy. It was a shock. We set up camp for her in the living room so that she could keep warm and we could administer her meds. That first evening as the sun started to sink she caught us all offguard by flapping out of her enclosure and up onto the back of a chair. She just wanted to roost – even indoors!

She would sit calmly on our laps, watching telly and chattering to us – always a very vocal chicken – and she came to work with me for a few days, where we set up a holding pen for her in my office, but she sat on my lap much of the time. You see, we’d never had a sick chicken at that stage and we just could not imagine losing her – or any of them. I remember that we found ‘the Secret Life of Chickens’ online for her and she watched it with intense interest on a laptop

When she was boxed-up in the car and we reached about a mile from home, she would make very urgent and specific calls, as if she had reached the distance where she regained contact with her flock. We noticed this near the same spot on outward journeys as well. After a few days we took her out to visit the other girls, where Tilly, a thug strong and fearless pirate of a Blacktail (also the complete opposite in character to her own sibling, the sweet-natured Fudge, and no stranger to being disciplined with the water pistol) had established her dominance. Audrey was weak and tiny, but she feathered and flustered herself up to look bigger, and she demanded that Tilly back off. And she did. Auds was back in charge and wanted to be with the flock, so she went back out to the coop that day, though she took a few days off roosting. It’s a very high coop to get onto but we put a small table in the corner of the run to break the climb and it wasn’t long before she was back on top each night

And that became the marker for her health. If she couldn’t get up to roost we would keep a closer eye on her, but she was fully aware of this and was an accomplished actress – chickens are very resourceful – and Baz continued to put her to bed every night so she wouldn’t get cold

She had further illness in 2014, and we took her to the vet several times but she was so plucky and determined that putting her to sleep was never an option. In the meantime we lost two other chickens, brave little Babs on Remembrance Day after a stroke, and Coco after a badly broken leg that wouldn’t heal

In early spring 2015 Audrey became terribly sick and the huge doses of antibiotics seemed to be doing as much harm as good. She had to come indoors and by the Friday morning after the last dose of meds she was no more than a handful of feathers in the corner of the travel cot. Baz said a final goodbye to her before leaving for work and I stayed home to deal with the inevitable. I put the telly on for her and kept chatting to her as I loaded the dishwasher, then turned around to see her waddle over to the water bowl for a good drink before eating some grit, and then some treats. Incredibly, Auds was back in the room

So we accepted that she was ‘different’ and allowed her to live the life she loved – outside, telling other chickens what to do. There was never any trouble, no-one ever picked on her like people say they will, and Gertie was always watching her back. At the age of two and a half, while we were on a weekend away, Sue was herding them back into their run when Auds had a little fit and was gone. When I saw Sue’s number come up on my phone we all knew what was coming, and she was as devastated as we were

So, yes, Audrey was more than a little bit special to us, as plucky a character as can be. If you are still reading this, I thank you for your time. Even I think that writing an obituary for a chicken is a bit mad and hugely indulgent, but it was the timing that caused it. You see, I am enjoying a lovely summer-sky story about a character named Audrey on Our French Oasis, and then I put the picture up last night. Things, they say, come in threes, so this post makes a trilogy
Audreynotwell.jpg‘Our Auds’ during a rest spell indoors. See the resemblance to MT? It’s uncanny