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.

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.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Long walk: the London Bridges Trek

The aim: to be able to walk a marathon distance in June 2017 without keeling over. The training: gradually increase the distance of my longest walks, and add in more medium-length walks, for the intervening 9 months. The additional benefit: sponsorship to fund-raise for my choice of charities.

Having managed two 12-13 mile walks in recent weeks, this was my first 15 miler: a walk across the bridges of London, from Putney to Tower. Roughly 25K (15 miles). I publicised it, asked around, and was rewarded with generosity and support from many friends.

I lost two dear friends to pancreatic cancer - which is (I believe) the fastest, least often detected, lowest survival rate cancer in that ghastly cast list - during the last couple of years. So - as much for awareness-raising as for scientific research - I chose to support Pancreatic Cancer UK.

At the time of writing, I've raised £610 (plus in many cases gift aid). Thank you, all, so much. (The link to my fundraising page is here.)


Additional bonus: meet up with work colleague of (whisper it) almost 30 years ago. The fabulous Janice was walking with some present-day workmates, in aid of Small Steps (helping young children with disabilities). I hadn't seen her since a reunion in 2011, and before that since I moved jobs in 1988 or so. We won't leave it so long next time.

So: off we went. My 'wave' set off at 11:45 from Putney.

It was a very damp day. By the time we reached the 5K mark, it was raining heavily - although thankfully, most of the rest of the day was no more than a drizzle. Still pretty soggy by the end, though. Funnily enough, it didn't bother me too much. If it had been very cold or extremely windy, I think it might have been a different matter; but warm rain isn't too unpleasant.

I took just under five hours to walk just over 15 miles - hence a pace of a bit under 3 miles/hour. Which I thought was pretty good over such a long distance - until I realised that Janice had got in about half an hour before me having started 15 minutes later!

I chatted to a few other walkers along the way; but mostly was quite happy with my own thoughts. Observing the busy life of Londoners and visitors alike, seeing areas of the capital that I'd never seen before (to my shame - having been born a Londoner); appreciating some magnificent architecture, buildings and bridges alike. I took a photograph at each bridge - some selfies, some of the bridges; you can see the whole album here if you're interested...

I have to say that the one disappointment of the day was the poor quality of food supplied at the lunch break (Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens). This being a major physical challenge, and considering that in many cases we were fund-raising for health-related charities, I was baffled by the lack of healthy food.

Apples were the only items that weren't stuffed full of sugar or additives. Danish pastries? Mars Bars? Haribos, for goodness' sake? Even the cereal bars, when one examined the contents, were overloaded with sugar (which is, after all, one of the main causes of cancer). And no, you don't need sugar for energy; far higher-quality carbohydrate can be obtained elsewhere. Where were the bananas? The plain nuts? The green stuff? At the risk of drum-banging on this topic, I wish that the organisers (Action Challenge UK) would think a little more carefully about this element of  their event - which was otherwise pretty well organised. They could learn a lot from my colleagues at Mother Nature's Diet. OK, rant over.


Finally, shortly after 5pm, I was greeted by the aforementioned speedy Janice, together with my lovely husband. T-shirt, medal and congratulations all round. (I had a nominal mouthful of pink fizz but declined the free hot-dog...)

I was thrilled and proud of what I'd achieved. I've learned that London pavements are a good deal harder on the joints than Norfolk country lanes and beaches; that I have more resources and determination than I thought possible; that I don't mind walking in the rain; that many hundreds (and thousands) of people want to challenge themselves and often to support charities at the same time; that there is a great deal of open-hearted generosity in the world. I was proud to be part of it all.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Long walk: training with a friend

It was a real pleasure to share this walk with a good friend, Christine, who I met through the fabulous Mother Nature's Diet. We spent the whole walk - around 5 hours, including a pause for lunch - chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen about all aspects of food, exercise, health - and life in a holistic sense. It's fabulous to exchange thoughts and experiences when you're so much on the same wavelength - and seem to share quite a few life experiences!

The route we followed was the one that I tried out on my own three weeks ago, starting in Holt, up past Greshams School and Voewood, off through Kelling Heath and past the steam train line; and up to Salthouse for lunch. Then back out of the village and heading south, back into Holt through the forest.

Here we are at the fabulous lily pond on Kelling Heath early in the walk.

The day started beautifully sunny, and our paths across Kelling Heath and up to Salthouse were wonderful. Butterflies everywhere, and we're moving into blackberry season, so did a fair bit of scrumping along the way...

We stopped, of course, at Cookie's Crab Shop to buy dressed crab for lunch as I had last time - delicious.

We felt a few spots of rain as we left Salthouse, and it turned into a gentle drizzle as we made our way along the footpaths that cross the fields running parallel with the sea, then turning sharp left along the edge of the fields. By the time we reached Kelling village and the road past the church it was raining fairly insistently, but the forest provided a fair amount of cover. By the time we reached the outskirts of Holt again we were fairly soggy...

However, the rain couldn't stop us continuing to enjoy ourselves, swapping thoughts and ideas, and delighting in the fact that we were (notwithstanding a few aches) both pretty comfortable walking what was very nearly a half-marathon. 12.6 miles (if you're observant you'll see that's half-a-mile less than last time; having tried it before, I got lost far less!), over 950 calories burned, and a respectable pace of almost three miles per hour, which wasn't bad.

As Christine has observed: not bad for a pair of Norfolk broads...

Next week: the 15-mile sponsored walk across seventeen London bridges, from Putney to Southwark!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Long walk: in training

Back in May, I spent a fabulous day with Karl and several of our Mother Nature's Diet colleagues on a long hike in the Wiltshire countryside. The 12.25 miles we achieved that day was the longest walk I'd done in several decades.

One of my aims for this list being 'to walk a marathon', I booked myself onto a 25 km (approx 15 mile) sponsored walk for September. I decided a couple of training walks of that sort of duration were in order, so asked among the group on Facebook if anyone wanted to join me. As a couple of friends are up for a long walk on 3 September, I reckoned that I needed to try out said walk before I dragged anyone else around it.

Today was that try-out day. Having discovered the very useful GriffMonster site, giving lots of different walks around the country but specialising in East Anglia, I selected a circular walk of around 13 miles, starting in the rather nice (and very smart) market town of Holt, walking through Kelling Heath and up to the edge of the marshes at Salthouse. I drove the hour from the east coast to Holt, parked in the main car park, and set off at about 11am.

It was, unlike recent weeks, a rather cool and cloudy day when I started out. I left the town centre and passed the impressive Greshams school, walking up the Cromer road for about a mile. The route then turned off the main thoroughfare, passing some houses in a quiet unmade road on the outskirts of town, and bringing the walker into the Kelling Heath Holiday Park. Plenty of holidaymakers in there, of course, and many walking the forest paths. It took me a couple of attempts to find the correct path up onto the heath out of the camp (my sense of direction is not the best!) but once there,  I was into one of the most enjoyable parts of the walk. The fabulous North Norfolk railway, complete with genuine steam trains, passes through the Heath, and makes you expect a visit from Jenny Agutter at any time - and the tiny station stop has a glorious view of the sea. A complex network of paths meanders through gorse and heather.

After crossing the main road just outside Kelling, I followed the footpath northwards towards the marshes at Salthouse. I realised that I'd overshot the turning that the route took to the left across the fields and retraced my steps to find it. Despite the footpath being clearly marked on the map, there was no point that appeared to be accessible, presumably due to the heavy foliage growth in the summer. So I continued northwards and instead followed the alternative footpath closer to the marshes, which brought me in to the same place anyway.

Being around 7 miles into the walk by this time, it was time to pause for refreshment. I knew from previous visits that the centre of the village included the splendid Cookie's - a cafe and deli specialising in all kinds of seafood. 

I bought a delicious dressed crab and retired to the grass next to the stream.

After resting for about half an hour, off I went again. I managed to find the tiny footpath just up the road from the Dun Cow pub; this path emerged across the middle of the crop fields, running parallel with the marshes and giving beautiful views towards the distant sea. By now the clouds had mostly lifted and the day was much warmer.

The path then turns sharp left and continues for about a mile along the edge of the fields before emerging onto a quiet road. I stopped briefly at the junction for breath and to enjoy the splendid view of the sea between the trees. 

The main road finally dips into the forest. Unfortunately there is no footpath through the forest that I could find; it's densely wooded and covered with ferns, so the safest place to walk was along the road. From here, the last 2-3 miles down back into Holt are mostly on the road, except for a short length of footpath, cutting behind the first residential area of the town.

I arrived back at the car park, a bit footsore but very happy with my achievement, around 4pm. I had plenty of time to change out of walking trousers, guzzle lots more water and gear up for the hour's drive home. According to my OutDoors app, which I'd used for the route for this excursion (and was later able to export to my usual Runkeeper), 13.2 miles (which happens to be my total mileage for the whole of the previous week), 983 calories burned (apparently) and well ahead of the game on this month's 70 mile target. Oh, and an average pace of around 3 miles per hour, which isn't bad for the distance and some fairly rough and narrow paths around the fields.

When I started the walk I was a bit dubious about it being interesting enough for other folks joining me on my next 'training walk'. However, I think that the lovely Kelling Heath; the splendid railway; the option to walk down to the beach at Salthouse; the beautiful paths from Kelling, and the bonus of Salthouse itself, all more than compensate for some slightly dull residential bits for the first and last mile of the excursion. And now that I'm familiar with the path and less likely to need to retrace my steps and constantly check the phone, I'll be able to spend more time myself appreciating the beauties of the Big Norfolk Skies.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Budgie-hooping: loving it

As promised, I haven't posted about all my sessions - as my Circus Aerial Hooping is here to stay, rather than being a tick on the life-list. However, the occasional update will still sneak in...

This was my eleventh session. I was a bit apprehensive as it had been three weeks since the previous one (due to my own holiday and before that to the instructor's), so I knew I'd be out of practice. However, I was so pleased that I am still holding my own.

Much to my surprise, I am now managing to get into the hoop (most of the time) with minimal assistance from Jo & Dawn, and even to get up with a jump rather than 'stepping' (which is only possible when the hoop is low enough for that anyway). That seemed like an impossible dream when I started back in March.

Today's new pose was this one (the Gazelle, I think). Not as scary as I thought it would be!

I realised, as I walked back to the car park, that these sessions give me an incredible 'mood boost'. I mean, ANY exercise does that - scientific fact. But there's something about this activity - unusual, challenging, inclusive, joyful and a little crazy - that is really special. The folks that I work with are at a variety of different levels and standards, and we all encourage each other. And Jo & Dawn continue to be fabulous, patient tutors.

Long live the budgies.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Bike: first try

I have absolutely no idea why it took so long. Way outside my comfort zone. Back on 1 May (yup, two months ago) my lovely BFG sorted out all the adjustments, got it all ready, gave me a lesson... then back it went into the garage. Until now.

Just back from a week's holiday and with a lot to do today. Called in to see mum, who seemed more interested in the fact that she'd run out of cigarettes than anything else. I promised I'd drop a single pack in later in the day and get her usual supply from the supermarket later.

To save time, once I'd got back home and picked up my purse, I decided to cycle down to the shop, back to mum's and back home. Just under a mile round trip. A bit wobbly. But OK. Nice day. New muscles to work.

The village is a nice quiet safe environment. Real roads may be a different matter.

Now I've started, there will be more.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Flashback: outdoor swimming

I knew I had it somewhere. The last time that I went outdoor swimming (as opposed to just splashing around)... I was entered into a junior race. In the sea at Margate. Not sure what time of the year, but it was clearly very cold. I'd bet quite a lot that I came last as usual. Mum towels me down while little sis looks smug that she didn't need to join in. I think this was around 1972, so I'm nine years old.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Reasons: do something useful

I'm doing all these daft things for my own pleasure / challenge / satisfaction. However, I also reckoned that I could be useful at the same time: a bit of sponsorship wouldn't go amiss.

So my "walk a marathon" target now includes an incremental event: walking across all the London bridges from Putney to Southwark (that's 25 km, about 15 miles). This is on Saturday 10th September, and I'm doing it in aid of Pancreatic Cancer UK. My initial target is the obligatory £125, but I'm very much hoping to be able to increase that once it's achieved.

Two very dear friends of mine were taken by this especially awful disease - a particularly cruel form of cancer, as it's so hard to detect in time for preventative measures to be taken. Both Alic and Peter were dead within two months of diagnosis. So anything that I can contribute, no matter how small, to research that may improve matters, will be an achievement.

If you feel that you'd like to support this present endeavour with this good cause in mind, please click here to visit my JustGiving page.

Thank you.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

An amazing weekend

I'd decided quite a while ago that 'walking a marathon' would be on my list, and blogged about it here more recently (while watching the London Marathon). As such, some increased distances (over my regular 3-4 miles and maximum of around 5-6 miles) were definitely on the cards.

I've been an increasing enthusiast for the work of Karl Whitfield at Mother Nature's Diet for about eighteen months. He's an inspiring, enthusiastic, passionate advocate of healthy living, with an approach that's a superb combination of commonsense, motivation, his own experience, humour, inspiration and integrity. I 'found' him and his group on Facebook back in November 2014, as I was entering the final phase of my weight loss journey and the beginning of my improvement / maintenance / learning curve (you know, that one that lasts for the rest of your life).

Karl provides huge volumes of information, loads of support, advice and encouragement, seminars and webinars, and many more chances for learning and sharing. Among all these possibilities, every so often he arranges a 'walk and talk' day, and this is the first one I've been able to attend. This one was a walk of around 12 miles in wonderful hills, through fields and villages and beside rivers.

At some distance from my home in Norfolk (which, let's face it, most places are), this one was based near his own location in Wiltshire. So I combined the trip with a long-overdue visit to fellow professional organiser Clare, who lives in Oxfordshire, and was delighted when she agreed to join in with the mad weekend - even when it became clear that we'd be spending a night under canvas (this being another item on the life list).

Fourteen of us met by the duck-pond in the picture-postcard village of Biddestone on an improbably glorious May morning. Most were folks I'd met before on previous MND events, a few were new friends, and the 'talking' bit was as delightful as it always is. Here we all are before setting off.

Along the riverside we went, through fields full of buttercups, greeting cows and horses, between rows of nettles (tough on those who were wearing shorts!), over stiles and small bridges. There were also stunning avenues filled with beautiful, pungent wild garlic.

We paused for slower walkers to catch up; Karl obsessively counting every so often to ensure we were all still safely in the group. We stopped for group photographs every so often, including on 'the beach' - a fabulous corner of the stream.

Then, at roughly halfway, we stopped for lunch. We took our boots off to walk in the grass for the last few hundred yards, enjoying the feel of the grass under our bare feet, and sat by the stream (feet in for some of us!) before gathering round with our lunches. Getting going again was a bit of an effort!

After lunch there were more hills than in the earlier parts, including some pretty steep climbs; a particularly narrow path between more nettles (which Clare managed to do a spectacular prat-fall [her words] into, when she took her eyes off the path to look at the view). Most of us took a trip into some caves - fascinating and eerie. And we saw some of the local red kites circling.

Finally, after approximately 5 hours and ten minutes of walking (I paused the Runkeeper app for any major stops for breath or lunch), and a clocked distance of 12.25 miles, we returned to the green at Biddestone. The last couple of miles were quite an effort for all except the fittest of us, and the feet were sore; but the sense of achievement was tremendous - not to mention the camaraderie. We'd all learned, exchanged hugs and support and motivation, made and renewed friendships, and had the most amazing time.

So: I'm well on my way to my target of 'walk a marathon'. This walk was just a little under the distance of a half-marathon; my aim is to do a sponsored 25 km (15 mile) walk across the bridges of London, from Putney to London Bridge, in September; and then incrementally to increase my 'longest distance' so that I'm ready for the full 26+ miles at some point in 2017. Given that my previous longest distance EVER (except that 24 mile sponsored walk when I was just eleven years old) was around six miles, I'm pretty pleased with progress so far!

Thank you to the lovely Karl and all other members of the MND family for such a special day.

Full album here.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Under canvas

Camping's changed since I last tried it. As a Girl Guide (around 1974-1979) I went on camps from time to time; the tents were an incredibly heavy canvas with what seemed like an endless number of heavy pegs and complicated guy-ropes. On family holidays (in roughly the same period) we usually went to sites down the French west coast where the tents were already there for you - except on the couple of occasions when we used a trailer tent.

I decided that one of my challenges was to spend a night under canvas for the first time in nearly forty years. My now middle-aged back wouldn't cope with the lack of a mattress, so the blow-up variety was brought along. Not having the old sleeping bag any longer, I reckoned that a duvet would be enough (it wasn't!). And life was made much easier by the fact that the lovely Karl not only brought along his own spare two-man tent, but swiftly constructed the whole thing for us.

My friend Clare shared the tiny tent with me on the night before our twelve-mile hike in the Wiltshire countryside with the Mother Nature's Diet family. We were very fortunate with the weather, setting up one night and waking on the following morning to glorious sunshine. Fellow camper Jane wonderfully cooked banana omelettes for us all for breakfast, and Karl & Kerrie's little single-ring gas stoves boiled water for tea. There's nothing like camaraderie to enhance the great outdoors!

So how was it? The actual sleeping, in fact, wasn't comfortable; but that was my own fault for not investing in a new sleeping bag (even in May, one needed total cocooning). I was much too cold to sleep properly. Mercifully, I usually sleep so well that one poor night's sleep doesn't cause too much harm.The mattress was fine. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't spooked by the confined interior. The two-sink, two-loo, one-shower washroom was a bit cramped and spartan, but serviceable. And the experience of emerging into a quiet, slightly misty, sunny morning was delightful.

What would I do differently? Buy a sleeping-bag, obviously. Take a head-torch (much easier than trying to navigate with the iPhone torch in the middle of the night). Pack much lighter and ignore the fact that I look a bit ropey without makeup. Enjoy the world of nature for what it is and not try to adapt it to normal home comforts.

Oh, and one more thing. Having inflated the mattress using the lovely Kerrie's neat little gizmo that plugs into the car cigarette lighter attachment, we then discovered that it wouldn't actually fit through the door of the tent... quick deflation, both of ego and mattress! :)

Which implies that I'll give it another go? You bet.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Monday, 2 May 2016

Outdoor swimming: unexpectedly challenging

This might be the second day in May, but the temperatures are still unseasonably low (around 8-10 degrees C); so the waters of Whitlingham Broad were, in the words of the session leader, 'fresh'.

I met up with local friends Emily & Rebecca for this experience - this being Norfolk, they filter in to my circles from totally different bits of my life! Emily's an experienced open-water swimmer and triathlon veteran, Rebecca (shown with me below) is training for her first triathlon.

Photo: Rebecca Wass
I've been a confident but slow swimmer ever since I was very young; having a swimming teacher for a mother, I was introduced to the water when I was too young to be scared of it, and plodded through lengths of various swimming pools in school swimming galas - although I came last, more often than not (as explained here). Even today, although I rarely swim, I can still manage several lengths at a steady pace without feeling uncomfortable. So I reckoned that open-water-swimming wouldn't be too scary.

This turned out to be a very different kettle of fish. The hired wetsuit, to start with: much tighter-fitting than I expected (looking around at other swimmers, it was supposed to be), which gives one the feeling of constricted breathing even before getting into very cold water. (It's quite a workout just getting into the suit!) Then the suit gives additional buoyancy - a curiosity that took some getting used to in my scuba try-dive - although in that case, you have control over that buoyancy with inflation and deflation of the BCD.

In wetsuit, I stayed resolutely on the very surface of the water; my breathing was far more shallow than usual, due to a combination of the tight suit and the extreme cold; and the result was that the actual strokes I took, no matter whether breast-stroke, front crawl or (to a lesser extent) back crawl, felt as though I was fighting through treacle. After just one circuit (I later learned about 300m) I felt as though I'd done at least half an hour on a particularly vicious treadmill setting. However, I couldn't cope with the idea of giving up, so set off again.

Photo: www.triharder.co.uk
I found that I could keep going for longest using breast-stroke, breaking occasionally into a few yards of front crawl; when I ran out of steam, I would turn on my back, do back-stroke for a short way, and then simply use the buoyancy to float and kick my legs - and get my breath back. I reached the end of circuit #2 feeling slightly more confident. However, by the time I'd reached the end of #3, fatigue was really setting in, and I had to admit defeat. (I think the whole process took around 30 minutes.)

But hey: around 900m on a first try wasn't too bad, even though my technique was extremely questionable; I displayed at least the doggedness that I used to show as a child (never giving up until I finished the race, even though I might be several minutes behind the rest of 'em); and I came out feeling that great blast of adrenalin that only high-intensity exercise can give. Magic.

What this has demonstrated to me - and I already knew from the 'budgie-hooping' activities - is that my upper body and core strength need serious work. My main exercise is still my walking, which is great for the legs and a moderate amount of cardio, but some muscles are getting neglected. So next up is to develop a short routine with weights and own-body weight exercises - which will also involve work towards another of my life-list goals: "do ten REAL press-ups".

Huge thanks to Rebecca and Emily for their encouragement and company, and to the organising team at triharder, who made the whole event a real pleasure, with safety and encouragement being paramount.

I reckon I'll try this at a similar event later in the summer, and see if higher temperatures make for an easier swim!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Bike: help from the expert

So the BFG kindly comes over to Winterton to help set up my 'new' bike. He gently explains that the front wheel goes the other way round... that's a good start.

He then goes through a bewildering sequence of checks and bolt-adjusting, seat-moving, chain-cleaning-and-oiling.

He explains about the 18 gears (in Norfolk I'm less likely to make full use of those!); ah, so it's not that far removed from the way they're used in the car. We talk about maintenance and the sort of kit I'll need (helmet being priority, followed by padded shorts...).

I try a quick ride around our drive, and all the adjustments have (of course) improved matters considerably - not to mention having the front wheel the right way round. Duh.

So next week it's off to an appropriate shop to get the lid and a few other things; then I'll take a cautious ride through our village and see how I get on.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Reasons: this sums it up

A posting by the excellent Stuart Humber, one of my colleagues on the mad but wonderful Mother Nature's Diet journey, and himself responsible for the Mother Nature's Fitness partner site. This simple statement, to me, sums up the whole darn thing.

Don't you think?

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Walk not run

Back in 2007-08, I was an enthusiastic runner. For some eighteen months, running - albeit very slowly (a sub-10 minute mile was a big achievement) and not far (5K was about my sensible limit) - was a big part of my life, and my main tool in keeping my weight under control. I'd got to a stage when I would run for around two miles about 3-4 times each week. It was an efficient use of time - I could do a decent workout in around thirty minutes - and of course, the adrenalin hit was always special. I ran a couple of the Wroxham 5K races, and my personal best was 31'45" (August 2008).

Unfortunately, a nasty episode of plantar fasciitis in my left foot in the autumn of 2008 (which lasted for two very painful years) messed me up; and as I started to get back to serious walking, in June 2013, I had an argument with a pothole in the road, took a serious sprain to my right ankle (yes, that's one injury each side), and I knew that my days of high-impact activity were probably over. Even now, nearly three years on, the right ankle has a constant niggle of discomfort. So I stick to walking.

Watching, as I type this, the inspiring London Marathon, I feel somewhat wistful. It would have been such a brilliant entry on my Life List. So I was encouraged to find this article, which explains why there is no reason why one shouldn't power-walk a marathon. There are some wonderful events that encourage walking rather than running. I'd already added a similar idea to the List: "charity trek, e.g. Great Wall of China".

In both cases, I'll need to bump up the training. My present schedule is 70 miles per month, which I'm proud of achieving (I did 60 miles minimum per month for 12 months, and then last month was my first 70 mile achievement; on course for April success too). My usual walk is around 3.5 miles, with the occasional 5-miler when I get the chance. To successfully walk a marathon in a day (taking, I would guess, around 7-8 hours) I need to ramp up those distances!

One last thing. I have, in fact, walked a marathon (or very nearly) once before: when I was just eleven years old. It was a school sponsored walk, and I managed 24 miles. You can read about it here. So if I could walk that distance aged 11, I'm damn sure I can manage it more than forty years later.

Watch this space. Or come and join me.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Budgie-hooping: getting there

This activity looks set to become a regular thing, so I promise not to bore with every single darn session. However, this one was particularly notable. Session 5, and I finally manage to get into the hoop - just - without standing on the instructor; and once again (with continuing help!) did the splits in mid-air underneath the hoop.

My core strength is still pitiful and needs loads of work, and graceful I am not; but I'm mighty proud of how far I have come.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ride a bike

I didn't have a bicycle when I was a child, for the very sensible reason that we lived on a large major A-road in east London and my parents didn't much like the idea; I couldn't blame them. I used a bike occasionally during my twenties, as my first husband was a keen cyclist and we used the machines mostly to get to the pub... However, it's never been a method of transport I've felt very confident with, and I haven't tried it much since - and whenever I have, I've been very wobbly and way out of my comfort zone.

So: time to get a bike and get over my fears. I consulted with my good friend Huw (known as the BFG): a startlingly fit cycling nut of 6'5" (as well as being one of my most useful singers, as he has a splendid bass voice). Huw took a look at some of the secondhand bike adverts, recommended a 'hybrid' type (for town and trail, it turns out), and off I went.

I got this lady for £40 and was well pleased. Those of you who know anything about bikes will spot that the front wheel is actually the wrong way round; having got it out of the back of the car, I didn't realise that it COULD go the wrong way round.

So that was why it felt odd trying to ride it. Well, what do I know?!

Now to get the BFG over to check it over, adjust seat height and anything else that needs adjusting, explain to me about gears (apparently it has 18 of the things), recommend kit...

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Reasons: always be a rookie

A useful article popped up on Facebook the other day that gave me a useful definition: "challenge yourself to always be a rookie at something". I've spent a lot of my life refining that which I already know, perfecting it. Obviously, in a professional sense, I need to be the best I can be for my clients. However, in my personal life, it's become more and more limiting: I've built up a wall around myself ("if I can't do it right I won't do it at all").

When I was a child, I received a school report which is burned into my brain: "good at everything except games". Actually, that was a bit of an overstatement - science, for example, was never a natural area for me - but in earlier days, my academic achievements in the basic "three Rs" were fairly near the top of the class. This resulted in my inability to cope with being bad at anything. A few swimming galas in which I consistently came last - I have a couple of silver medals for coming second in a two-horse race - put me off sporting activities of any kind, big time. It took me until my late 40s to realise that you don't have to be good at sport to benefit from it, and to enjoy it.

While some of these new activities of mine (especially the 'budgie-hooping') are proving to be rather addictive, much more than one-off ticks on the list, it's also a new experience for me to try something out and not worry about 'getting it right'. Safety is paramount, of course; but perfect expertise is not necessary, and sometimes isn't even desirable. I now know that I can scuba-dive for a few minutes without coming up for air. It would take a lot more work to get me to a point at which I would comfortably do a 'real' dive. I may progress with that; I may not. But that first scuba experience was thrilling and important in itself, without perfection. And that's the approach I want to start all these activities with - and then see where they take me.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Scuba try-dive

Now, this was a challenge I never thought I'd attempt.

Our good friend Milton has been a keen scuba-diver for many years, and has often offered to take me on a 'try-dive' - giving the chance to have a first go at using the complex equipment and to experience the extraordinary sensation of breathing underwater, but in the reassuringly safe environment of a swimming pool. Until now, I'd always refused. However, when it came up on my friends' suggestions for my Life List, I took a deep breath (above water) and said OKAY - not least because we were due to visit Milton and Dorothy for our post-Easter break.

In the event, our short visit didn't allow Milton to act as my instructor due to timetables (so I thought I'd get out of it for the time being). However, they weren't going to let me off that easily, and Milton's fellow instructor, Sue, stepped in. So on the last day of our holiday, I headed off with Sue to the HQ of Bolton Area Divers.

Scuba is one of those activities which is completely safe at the same time as being potentially dangerous - rather like driving a car, really. In other words, as long as you learn carefully, follow the rules, don't panic and do as your instructor says, you'll have an exciting, enjoyable and magical experience.

The first 90 minutes or so of my experience consisted of learning. Watching the DVD, receiving instruction from Sue, answering questions to make sure I understood what was involved, signing disclaimer forms, being fitted for fins, wetsuit, mask and the rest of the kit, learning what all the tubes and controls were for and how to fit them together, experiencing the extraordinary weight of the air tank on the back. Then, after a drive to the local swimming pool, we spent about another 90 minutes in the pool itself.

My first attempts were very strange and mostly infused with panic. Being a performer, I'm used to the 'in through the nose - out through the mouth' technique of breathing, so the fact that one has to leave the nasal breathing out of the equation at all times took a lot of getting used to. My first couple of tries resulted in a panic-stricken splutter back to the surface. Breathing through the reg (regulator) and never through the nose was incredibly weird.

However, as the brain tuned in to what was needed, and with Sue's patient encouragement, I managed it. First, just face into the water while in the shallows; then swimming along the surface but with face submerged; then sitting on the bottom of the pool; and finally, swimming along the bottom of the pool (although still in fairly shallow water). By now, I was managing to stay under the water and breathing through the reg for a few minutes at a time.

Among all this, I also needed to get the hang of inflating and deflating the BCD (buoyancy control device), which is effectively an inflatable waistcoat. One of the myriad of tubes is used to inflate (keeping you nearer the surface) and deflate (allowing you to sink deeper). This took a lot of getting used to!

Lastly, Sue weighted a couple of hoops, and set them up for me to swim through. The sense of achievement was immense. Comically, I ended up collecting the hoops (they got caught on the cylinder) so by the end of the manoeuvre, I looked more like a triumphant sea-lion than anything else.

I didn't manage to pluck up the courage to go to the deepest point in the pool on this occasion; and I know that I'd need to practice in the safety of the swimming pool quite a bit before I might feel brave enough to try the Open Water course. The thought of 'real' scuba - and, of course, underwater photography - is hugely exciting and still pretty scary.

However, having learned the basic 'breathing underwater' technique, I also realise that this might open up the possibilities of snorkelling, which is something else I'd love to try, and previously wouldn't have attempted.

Sue was a brilliant instructor, patient, thorough and clear, and I was so glad that I let Milton talk me into trying out this amazing experience. It's pushed my boundaries once again - and I'm feeling really proud of myself!