Where it started

A list going round on Facebook, February 2016: "which of these items have you experienced" etc. Some yes, some no, some didn't interest me. However, it put some ideas into my head, and I figured it was time I followed some of my friends in committing them to (virtual) paper. And then trying some of them out. The first challenge was undertaken on 1 March 2016, and I have no intention of ever completing the list: the more I tick off, the more I'll add.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Walk a marathon: making a difference

My #walkamarathon training is going well. I've walked three sections of the Norfolk coastal path (11.5 miles, 14.5 miles and 16 miles), so far covering from Hopton on the eastern Suffolk border round to West Runton in the north. Next up is around 18 miles from Cromer to Stiffkey, this coming Sunday. All being well, I'll be all set for the full 26+ miles on 3 June.

I've always said I'd choose a charity for this event, and the inspiration has come from my dear friend Clare,who passed away on 30 December. You'll find her elsewhere on this blog, sharing a walk on a glorious day in Wiltshire, and when I attended her memorial service in February.

During the final weeks of her life, she worked hard with her family to set up Clare's Legacy Fund, which will offer opportunities for "eight places on an annual 3-day “Clarify Retreat” for people who face some kind of radical transformation in their life". Clare changed her own life, moving from journalism to home staging and decluttering in her fifties.She has asked for a 'living memorial', and this is entirely in tune with the generous and innovative way she lived her life. For more details of the Fund, please read this document.

When I walk my marathon on 3 June, supported and accompanied by my dear friend Karl Whitfield and others from the wonderful Mother Nature's Diet group, I'm doing it first and foremost for my own challenge. However, if anyone would like to recognise my attempt by sponsoring me, please visit my GoFundMe page.

My walk takes place on The Ridgeway, starting at Wendover and finishing at Wallingford. I know that Clare would have been up for the challenge if she'd been able, and I know she'll be with us in spirit.

In celebration of a dear friend and colleague, and a life supremely well lived.

Photograph: Matt Mulligan (Clare's son)

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Reasons: for Clare

In May 2016 I spent a superb weekend with friends. We took a fairly long (12 mile) walk through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside; spent the night under canvas; shared chat and laughter and information and life stories.

I shared this experience with a particularly good friend who lived nearby. Clare and I had been planning to get together for months (she was in Oxfordshire, I in Norfolk), and this seemed a great opportunity. We took a full weekend for me to share not only the above walk, but also a magical day in the wonderful city of Bath with Trudy, fellow founder of APDO, of which Clare was a highly active and vital member. Such happy days.

I couldn't have known that this was the last time I was to see Clare. She was troubled by illness across that summer, and had several stays in hospital and an operation. Her positive attitude throughout reassured her many friends and professional colleagues that she was on the road to recovery. However, in early November, I received a devastating message from her, letting me know that she had been diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer, and that she might have "as little as six months". (In the event, it was less than two months.) Just at that time, I was on a course with the Mother Nature's Diet group, many of whom had met Clare on that wonderful May weekend.

Clare continued to be in touch with many friends, sharing and creating experiences with her loved ones, never once showing fear or anger or self-pity. Her glowing personality continued to shine through as she shared love with us all.

I planned to visit her in mid December, and was saddened to hear a few days beforehand from her lovely son, saying that visits were no longer possible from any but immediate family. I consoled myself with the memory of that beautiful few days in the May sunshine, enjoying the open air and friends and exercise and food and companionship, and knowing that this would remain with me.

Clare passed away on the penultimate day of 2016. In just over 59 years, she had achieved more and given more love and happiness than many do in a further two or three decades.

On Thursday 2 February, I met with many of Clare's friends and family, including five other members of APDO, to celebrate her life.

Her End of Life Celebrations Fund - which sadly she had too little time to make much use of - has been reinvented, as per her wishes, as Clare's Legacy Fund, intended to help people at a crossroads in their life.

There is no greater reason for continuing my Life List activities - and, indeed, all my life activities - than the pursuit of love. As Clare said in her message to me about her diagnosis, "It's all so simple really when it comes down to it, love really is the only thing that matters. And living life to the full, which I intend to do for whatever time I have left."

I turned 54 years old just a week after Clare's death at the age of 59. I may reach her age, or not; I may surpass it by weeks or years or decades. None of that matters. What matters is what I do with each minute, each hour, each day that I am granted.

Rest in peace, beloved Clare. Your friendship was the greatest gift, and your example the finest inspiration. Thank you.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

As nature intended

One of my more challenging items on this list was 'to pose for a life drawing class'. Having become at least somewhat more comfortable with my body - in its clothed state, at least - I wanted to see how I managed with the idea of nakedness (in front of a specific and appropriate audience, of course).

My good friend Sian spotted this item on the list when she was surveying this blog looking for inspiration to create her portrait of me last autumn. Being an artist, and having other friends with similar interests, she promised to set up the opportunity for me to have this experience; and was as good as her word. In her living room, I posed for Sian and two fellow artists (plus another friend who came along to make the tea!), otherwise only observed by her cat - who happily refrained from jumping on the model...

I undressed before the other artists arrived and put on a robe until we were ready to start. The house was warm, we had tea and hot apple juice, I knew three out of the four people present personally, and all was very relaxed and cheerful.

When we were ready, I felt quite un-stressed removing my robe and taking up a comfortable position on the sofa. Sian told me to make myself as comfortable as I could, and that they'd start with a couple of five minute poses so I could get used to it. (Dawn, who was on tea-making duty, timed the poses on her phone.) As we went on, we made the poses longer - 10 or 15 minutes - and I would often remain in pose beyond the allotted time to allow the artists to finish.

Seeing the first images was curious. All artists had (logically) focused on the body and left the face blank, which gave an odd sense of freedom in its anonymity - even though I was happy for them to be published later and identified as me. The body is neither perfect nor particularly toned - although it's a lot healthier than it was - and the most difficult area for me (the breasts) is shown in its unsupported, middle-aged glory. Accepting that as part of the way I am was one of the most important lessons of the process.

There was no sense of shame or fear in the event; I was surrounded by friendly and accepting people, who appreciated my curves, my skin and my femininity in all its imperfections. As I managed to keep still (most of the poses were very comfortable) for the duration, I was told that I was a good model. I was proud for that to be so.

The erotic element to this was interesting. There was no feeling of being cheapened or at risk in any way; but that doesn't mean to say that it was without its sensual side. There is an extraordinary feeling of empowerment when feeling comfortable with a safely exposed body, and when feeling appreciated rather than objectified.

We continued with the session for some three hours in the end, including a break for warm drinks (and for me to cover up for comfort!); by the end I was surprised that time had gone so fast. As I said above, to relax and feel appreciated without fear or threat was amazingly empowering and surprisingly positive in its emotions.

The artists put their favourite works out for me to photograph afterwards. They all showed sensitivity and skill, and it was a privilege to be the subject of their creativity.

Sean's simple line drawing was wonderful:

I especially liked Julia's final study in blue and gold, which captured the relaxed quality of the whole evening:

and I simply loved the whole range of  'Cassie's Rainbow', created by Sian by using coloured pastels on appropriate coloured paper:

This is a challenge that I know I will be more than happy to repeat. It's also brought me to a slightly shifted perspective in how I view my body, my imperfections and my good points, and how I feel about its health and happiness rather than that difficult and self-critical barrage of "I must" that is normally so disruptive of true self-acceptance. Thank you to all my friends, and especially to Sian,for helping me to open that door.

Monday, 24 October 2016

To see ourselves as other see us

There's this really talented, quirky, creative artist who lives in Norwich. (I met her at the 'budgie-hooping' classes.) I'd seen her work and portraits of some of my friends, and loved them. So I decided to ask her to create one for me.

She used my Life List as her inspiration.

I absolutely love it. It's helping me with my new view of myself as somebody active, fit and healthy, and full of life. (It hasn't always been that way.)

Her name is Sian Rhys, and you can find her on Facebook here. She's building her website at present.

This is an example of some of her other work:

When somebody sees the new life in you, it's a huge inspiration and a real motivation to continue.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The life list so far: 7 months in

Original photo collage was here. I've added a few experiences since. Exactly seven months today: March 1 to October 1.

Click on the image for a closer look. Clockwise from top left (months are first encounters, but not necessarily last):

  • budgie-hooping (circus aerial hooping) (March)
  • Go Ape circuit (April)
  • scuba try-dive (April)
  • indoor climbing (March)
  • snorkelling with seals (September)
  • cycling (April)
  • Nordic walking (September)
  • spend a night under canvas (May)
  • walk 15 miles (September)
  • open water swimming (May)

Plenty more to come...

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Walking: the Nordic way

When I was on my sponsored Bridges walk, I saw quite a number of folks - of all ages - walking (usually much faster than me) with lightweight poles. I'd come across references to the technique several times recently, and having discovered that the lovely Barbara Ives occasionally leads walks and runs training sessions, I resolved to give it a go, booking myself in to one of those sessions for just after our return from holiday.

So, having arrived back in Norfolk on the Friday afternoon, I found myself setting out on the Saturday morning for the recreation ground near Catton Park, just to the north of Norwich. We were lucky to have a beautiful day for it, just a touch of autumnal cool and wonderful sunshine. Including Barbara, six of us were there.

Barbara started by passing out the lightweight poles and explaining how to adjust the length to suit our height. We warmed up with a few stretches (using the poles for balance), then moved on the walking technique.

The key words to remember were 'soldiers and lemons'... the 'soldier' reference being to keeping the arms as straight as possible in a marching action (while moving the poles and managing not to drag them on the ground); and the 'lemons' being ensuring that the front of the foot pushes fully down (as though squeezing a lemon under the sole), using the whole length of the foot. We all found quickly that these guidelines resulted in a much more upright posture and unusually rapid pace - and arms & shoulders that were unaccustomed to so much activity!

We then moved across the road into Catton Park for a circuit of around two miles. I found it quite difficult to keep the arms straight and the rhythm of the poles going at first, but this had improved by the end of the walk.

Here's the group pausing for breath and consultation - and selfies! - partway round.

It was easy to see why some of my walking colleagues on the Bridges Walk had kept up such a punishing pace. I think if I tried that I'd need to get some of the little rubber 'feet' to stop to clunking of the sticks on hard pavement! It would be interesting to see how differently the technique works if I try it on our beaches - always a challenge at the best of times, especially if the tide is high and the walking therefore on soft sand.

Finally, we returned to the car park after a very enjoyable couple of hours. I would definitely love to get some poles for myself - although they're not cheap (the version we were using are around £70). However, they'd be a great investment and would last for ages. Let's see how the post-holiday client bookings go...

This was another highly enjoyable new 'lifelist' experience - well worth trying for a new approach to a commonplace fitness activity, and one which may well become a more regular part of my life. Meantime, it was a lovely group, a great instructor and a beautiful day. What's not to like?

Click here for information on Nordic Walking, and click here for Barbara Ives' website.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Snorkelling with seals

A few photos are shown below (click to view a larger version); you can see the whole album here.

When I did my scuba try-dive, way back in April, that opened up another possibility: snorkelling. Having got to grips with the rather bizarre sensation of breathing through the mouth alone, I figured that the surface-of-water nature of the rather more straightforward activity (and without a socking great tank on the back!) would be OK: and it was. Finding myself with the opportunity to try this out during our holiday in the beautiful Isles of Scilly was a real delight.

The Scilly Seal Snorkelling team is based on the tiny island of St Martin's. High winds on our original intended trip (Friday) scuppered that day, but Saturday was fine. As the tripper boats don't go out from St Mary's early enough, Anna and Lewis collected us from the quay in their RIB (rigid inflatable boat) to travel to St Martin's. That in itself was an exciting experience - belting through the waves!

Once at the quay, we were kitted out with the various layers of wet-suit - including boots, gloves, hood - then fins and mask. (The hire of all the kit was included in the very reasonable £45 session fee - I only needed to take swimsuit and towel.)

Then it was back in the RIB to travel to one of the many tiny, uninhabited (except for the wildlife) islands near St Martin's. Once anchored up in a bay, from which we could see dozens of seals basking on the rocks, we had a debrief, and then we were in.

I was oddly nervous as we started - mainly getting back used to the no-nose-breathing. However, Anna stayed close to me until I found confidence, and I was soon able to breathe through the kit and remain with face submerged for long periods of time.

My only handicap was (as with scuba) my short sight: obviously I couldn't wear specs, and I didn't want to risk losing my (rigid gas permeable) contact lenses. However, it's also true that the goggles and being underwater corrected my vision to an extent so I was quite happy. I've decided that for any further similar adventures I'll get a supply of disposable soft lenses.

The seals are wonderfully inquisitive. Within a few minutes of us all getting into the water, they'd started to come up to investigate. As Anna had warned us, they often approach from behind, nibbling our fins, and can make you jump when suddenly a large mammal swims around your legs without warning! You can see the chap below on the right of the photo watching us as we were all looking under the water...

The other bit of kit that I dearly wished I had was an underwater camera. When (not if) I get the chance to do this again, I'll definitely invest in one. Seal after seal swam across my vision, sometimes some yards below and sometimes right up to me; the closest twined around my lower body very gently before swimming off. There were also small fish, a few inches long; and beautiful fronds of seaweed dancing from the rocks.

I popped back up to the boat briefly to share with my husband (who was watching and taking photos) what I'd been seeing. He told me that the seals had been following us when we didn't know it:

... and also coming right up to the boat to check it out.

The wetsuit ensured that the water didn't feel cold at all, and only right at the end of the 90 minute swim did I start to feel that it was time to come out. As I relaxed into the environment and became confident, I felt increasingly in awe of the opportunity I'd been given: interacting with and observing these gentle, playful creatures was such a privilege.

Finally our time was up, and we all returned to the boat. Hot ginger tea and Twix bars were on offer to revive us. We all shared experiences as the RIB returned to St Martin's, clearly all thrilled and excited by the encounter.

The tide was low as we reached the island, so our final job of the trip was for the swimmers to get out and wade in pulling the boat containing the non-swimmers! It was probably less than half a mile, but that was quite a workout...

The whole of our visit to the Scillies was a true delight and a wonderful experience; this morning's excursion was indisputably a major highlight for me. Another challenge to my notions of what I could and wanted to do, an extraordinary encounter with nature; special beyond words. I would do it again in a heartbeat.