The Rise of the Sagittarian Phoenix

daisy's

In 1992, I enjoyed a gap year between A Levels and University.  To fill in the time (and to keep my hand in) I went back to sixth form for six months to study A Level Religious Studies and Philosophy.

The teacher was a wonderful man called Mr Harding.  Tall, lanky almost and bespectacled, with shock of dark hair and a perchance for teaching sat cross legged on top of the filing cabinet.  Not only did he impart enough for me to pass the A Level, he taught me two of the greatest lessons in life:

  1. Always question your beliefs
  2. To appreciate great love, one also has to endure great pain.

To be fair, he didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already.  A Sagittarian questions EVERYTHING.  ‘Why’ has always been the most powerful thing a person can ask and Queen told me via ‘A Kind of Magic’ in 1986 that ‘Pain is so close to pleasure’.  But still, I was grateful for the reminder.

Earlier this week, I was sat in the home of Grant’s Mum and Dad waiting for the carpet lady.  His Mum was seriously ill in hospital and his Dad wanted to prepare the house for her return.  Cleaning the carpets was the final job.

She turned up slightly late and frazzled but soon set to the task.  While setting up, we were going through the usual small talk when she said to me, “I prefer to work outdoors, I’m a Virgo, an Earth sign, so I prefer working with the earth.  I should have been a gardener’.

Well, to be frank with you it rather took me by surprise.  Not the fact that she was an Earth sign per se.  Just the strange direction the conversation went without any hint of encouragement.  I considered replying “I’m a Sagittarius, a fire sign, I’m a secret pyromanic” but I hesitated and then the moment was lost.

But it did get me thinking.  At times it has felt like I am a pyromanic, setting fire to things to see what happened.

Figuratively of course.

I mean, you just have to look at my recent history to see that.  I considered if it was a consequence of the constant questioning.  Those dratted words why and what (if)?  But once the questions have been asked and the answers have been drawn, then is the time for action.

Later that day Grant’s Mum was transferred to a Hospice and was given 24 to 48 hours to live.  The pain and shock was tangible.  The sadness of small things.  She would never get to see the effort Brian had taken to get his wife home and in comfortable surrounds.   The sadness of big things, she would never get to see her family together again.

It was almost too much to bear.

The last straw on the fucking great haystack of straws of the last couple of years.

We were joined by Grant’s brother and partner and sat with his Dad, watching over his Mum in the last few days of her life.  We were joined by other friends and relatives and the gentle, benevolent care of the hospice staff.  Through the sadness, came stories of fun, jinks, japes and naughtiness.  The room filled with laughter and warmth and joy intermingled with the sadness.

And the only thought I could muster is that she was loved.  Wholeheartedly and passionately loved and nothing else mattered in the world at that time.

On Friday I left the room to travel to Eastbourne for the funeral of another friend.  The subject of the previous blog.  G’s Mum was stable and my gorgeous friend Lee was speaking at his funeral (she did great).  I wanted to be there for her and for Nick and be in the warmth of the triathlon family that now, after many years, know my greatest hopes and darkest secrets.

It was every bit at hard as I thought it would be and as the opening bars of Queens ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ flowed through the speakers I knew I was doomed.  Tears flowed down my cheeks.  The release of the pent up emotion of the last few weeks and sadness, that raw, icicle stabbing pain of loss in my heart.  As I tried to stifle the sobs bursting up through my throat, my friend beside me gently slide his arm around me and gave a squeeze.  It was nothing and everything.

After the funeral I headed back to the Hospice to be with G and his family.  The mood was different, more somber, like we knew we were on borrowed time.  At 6.25pm she took her last breath and was gone.

From death comes life.  And a reminder to those of us left behind that we can choose how to live.  And most of all, in the end, the only thing that matters is love.

In that year of 1992, I also learned one more lesson.  In November 1991, Freddie Mercury passed away.  In the following months I revisited all of my old Queen albums to remember the man and the band that had been a constant companion through my formative years.  ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ was the outstanding track on the album and it felt like fate that Nicko had selected it to be his final song.  And then, as now, it summed up life perfectly.

‘But touch my tears with your lips,
Touch my world with your fingertips,

And we can have forever,
And we can love forever.
Forever is our today.

Who waits forever anyway?

 

Advertisements
Posted in Holistic Lifestyle, Mental Health | 5 Comments

A Friend

Acer

A friend passed away today.  A life stolen too soon, a life that was vibrant and full.  And another sad reminder to treat the life we have as a gift, not the burden so often reflected back at us these days through the mirrors of social media.

It’s a sentiment we’ve heard so many times.  To put yourself, that heart and soul, grit,  determination, sweat, blood and tears in the things that matter.  Really bloody matter!  Not dreams driven by greed or superficiality.

Now is the time we can make a difference.

So, get plenty of sleep, eat as well as you can, move, experience and most importantly feel.

I’m not often drawn to the Bible for quotes.  But this is one of my favourites and a true template for life…

“And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”.

1 Corinthians 13

My heart goes out to those left behind.

 

Posted in Holistic Lifestyle, Mental Health | 5 Comments

Slowly and surely

ascends

There have been lots of updates on the allotment of late and not quite so much on the activity side of life.  That’s not to say that nothing has been happening there, just nothing of note sufficiently to talk about I guess.

But, G and I did join a gym a few weeks ago.  It’s well stocked with equipment and classes and we’ve spent the last few weeks getting into a rhythm and setting a routine for the future months when training gets progressively more intense.  The focus at the moment is very much on enjoyment and participation and after such a long time of nothing, it’s been good to get back to it.

As I told you, a couple of months ago I was diagnosed with a sprained Sacro-iliac joint and banned from running by the chiropractor who has never banned me from anything before (so I really believed her).  Not that I needed much encouragement, the pain in my hip after running, even just five minutes, was so bad that I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards.  After a month of spinning without too many side effects (other than mourning the loss of my fitness) I’ve been given the green light to run again.  Although, only for 15 seconds in each two minute ‘segment’.  That 15 seconds goes awfully quick but goodness, it’s wonderful (other than mourning the loss of my fitness there too).

Next to be re-introduced is the session I used to do with Pete on a Thursday morning (although without Pete – golly I miss his sessions).  They were great for strength training which I sorely need now I’m starting to get moving again.

The spin classes have been great and have re-introduced that hard, sweat inducing wobbly legged workouts.  Although they’re not a patch on Barries classes, they have brought in discipline and a safe space to work hard and push myself.  There are also options to do a double a couple of times a week, which is my target before Christmas.

G and I have also started Yoga.  It’s a gentle ‘stretch and relaxation’ based class, definitely no headstands thank goodness.  It brings some calm into a world that’s still manic at times.  And do you know what, I love it!  I can also really feel the benefit in my poor beleaguered muscles.

So although it’s a little steps, a lot of progress has been made already.  More updates soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Autumn Equinox 2017

pumpkin.jpeg

This year, the Autumn Equinox fell on September 23rd.  Although it heralds the start of Autumn, since the remnants of summer appeared to be clinging on, it has snuck up on us almost unnoticed.

At a glance, the allotment as a whole, still looks green and verdant. But on our wander round at the weekend, the signs of impending dormancy are there.  The strawberry leaves are starting to turn, the courgette plants are looking a bit tired and the rhubarb is gently wilting as leaves start to die off.  The allotment plots are also full to the brim with squashes and pumpkins.  Looking around us we can tell it’s been a bumper year!

Because we didn’t take on Plot 35 until a few months ago, we didn’t have the space to plant them.  I was about to say, maybe next year but then that would be a lie as I’ve already ordered the seeds  for 2018 and haven’t included them, so maybe ‘one day’ is more accurate.

Our lack of desire to grow squash didn’t stop us admiring the whoppers on the adjacent plots.  As the picture above shows, some of them are enormous!  Perfect for Hallowe’en next month.

Meanwhile on Plot 36 there was a lot of tidying up to do.  The primary job for the weekend was to grub up and replant the Strawberries in their new home.  The original nine Strawbs planted in August last year, were runners from plants I had originally donated to Laurie a couple of years previously.  These had been taken from my original plants purchased many years ago for Overdale.  I just love the continuity of it all.  It’s a reflection of life really and at least I can trace the genealogy of them over five generations now.

Anyway, although these little buggers grew and reproduced prolifically, they never really settled into fruiting much.  So, I’m hoping a new home will change that.  Although we only started with nine plants last year, I took out over sixty!  I’ve repotted those I couldn’t get into the bed in the hope I can find another home for them one way or another.

strawberries.jpeg

While G cleared the space for our new seating area (below), I removed the courgettes and the last of the runner beans and started to turn over the soil ready for a delivery of some well rotted manure next week.

G clearing the new seating area

Allotment time seems to run differently to normal time, an although it felt like we’d only been there for a couple of hours, the light was starting to draw down and most importantly, there was a cold bottle of dry white in the fridge waiting for us.  Just time to cut down the summer fruiting raspberries and then to pop in a few bargain lettuce from the local garden centre, before it was time to go home.

more lettuce

Posted in Allotment, Food, Holistic Lifestyle, Mental Health | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Plot 35

Sage

For someone who loves being outdoors, living in a flat with no outside space was always going to be a compromise.  A happy compromise for the most part, with the flat providing affordable accommodation without the need for flogging myself to death to pay a mahoosive mortgage.  Which of course, gives me freedom to pursue lots of other things instead.  One of those things is time spent outdoors at the allotment.

When G and I moved to Southwater early last year, one of the first things we did was contact the lovely lady in charge of the local plots.  Displaying enthusiasm, strength and a bit of experience, we were soon assigned one of the more challenging plots and by the start of this year, we had pretty much cultivated it and quickly ran out of room.

So when the adjacent plot to our original one came up, we jumped at the chance to care for that one too.  After 18 months of neglect, it was in a very sorry state.  The soil is good there, really good.  Perfect for cultivating bindweed, bramble, grasses, nettles and lots of other weeds left to grow unchecked.  All of this was buried in between raspberries, potatoes, currents, chives and lord knows what else that had also been allowed to run riot.  The picture below was taken on day 1 of taking over the plot.

IMG_4886

Crikey!

Anyway, over the last four months we set ourselves a plan and attended the allotment with diligence and persistence.  Today, we finally cleared the last of the big vegetation,  digging out the diseased blackcurrents that bordered the end of the plot.   We’ve replaced the currents with the water butt and compost bin that we’d found lurking in the undergrowth.

Ta Dah…

Allotment 35

While we’ve worked on Plot 35, Plot 36 (our original) has yielded fabulous croppage.  These onions were planted last November and overwintered well.

IMG_0122

The leeks were another over winter crop.  And they were absolutely delicious.

IMG_4841

Spring and summer has also been very generous with courgettes, runner beans, green beans, broad beans, beetoot, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, raspberries and carrots that would have made my Dad weep with joy (he could never grow them, he blamed carrot root fly!)

produce shot 1.jpeg

 

carrots

It’s been a fabulous year and I’m very grateful that we are given the opportunity to have so much fun getting dirty.

 

 

Posted in Allotment, Uncategorized | Tagged | 3 Comments

Ironman is the easiest thing in the world*

IMG_0331

314 days to Ironman Austria; 2lb lost since 18th August 2017

In a recent job interview, I was asked what my greatest achievement was.  The question was intriguing and I suspect, loaded.  I mean, what credit would “getting through an episode of the apprentice without shouting at the telly” receive in comparison to say, discovering the double helix structure of DNA.

Watson or Crick I am not.

So, what to answer then?  Well, I was tired and emotional and packed ready to go on holiday and it was 8.30pm (what crazy time is that to hold an interview for a job).  So, I went for the obvious answer.  “Completing Ironman Austria” was my reply.

The response from the interviewers was typical.  People are easy to impress if you throw physical achievement they do not understand at them.  And Ironman has enough kudos that most people will appreciate A) it is a triathlon and B) the distance is longer than they would consider doing themselves.

In a surprising let down of my carefully developed guard, I responded to the familiar expressions of “I don’t know how you do it” with a sweeping statement.  “It’s the easiest thing in the world”, I said.

Although sweeping, the statement was not flippant.  In some regard, Ironman IS the easiest thing in the world.  You swim until told to stop and then you cycle until told to stop and then you run/walk until someone gives you a medal.  Swim, bike, run and that all there is to it.  As long as you have a reasonable boredom threshold (and I have – I once listened to EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’ twenty two times in a row and spent a whole summer watching ‘Enter the Dragon’ and ‘Airplane’ every single day) then it is very simple indeed.

Sadly it didn’t get me the job, but that is another story.

What it did however was give me something to think about on the long journey to Hamburg the following day.  I was initially surprised I went for Austria over the cut off chasing stress of Ironman Switzerland or the back sprained Outlaw Full distance.  Why was Austria my greatest achievement when I was probably fittest for that event and from a physical perspective it was the easiest of the three by far?

Well, the answer to that is easy too of course.  It pays regard to the mental drive behind all of the swimming, biking and running.  Given, in the run up to Austria Part 2, my ill mental health, impending homelessness, the breakdown of my marriage, the impending risk to my businesses, financial worries, experience of the year before and all the other shit that was going on, it was a miracle I had the strength to start on the start line at all, never mind find the determination to get to the finish.  That was why it is my greatest achievement and that is why I need to go back and give it another go.

Now I’m back on the road to Ironman, I’m devoting lots of time to mental training.  I’ve been given the opportunity to put to bed, once and for all, the mental demons that have haunted me for years.  And the solution to that lies in food.

Because, after a discussion with my lovely friend Lee, and really it is her epiphany, the disgusting relationship I have with food and sugar in particular, is a mechanism to hide behind rather than face up to my emotions.

Actually, to be fair, PT Pete might have mentioned it more than once too.  And in my heart I knew that every bulimic episode was more to do with distracting from stress rather than dealing with its cause.  Distraction and diversion, cause and effect.

And only now am I ready to deal with it.  And for that to happen, so does a total embargo on sugar and refined carbohydrates in all its forms.  Because with it still in my life, it will always be a (highly addictive) stress relief option.

Refined carbohydrate has a terrible effect on my body.  It upsets my irrational mental health, worsens my fibromyalgia and causes weight gain and skin irritation.  All of which have a significant impact on my ability to train for Ironman.

And, if I want to be healthy, fit and well, I cannot permit that to happen any more.  So, I’m back on the paleo wagon and already it’s having a positive effect.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ironman, Mental Health, Paleo, Training | 9 Comments

327 days to go – Ironman Austria 2018

Worthersee

The good thing about the days after entering an Ironman is the feeling of time.  Plenty of time to make plans, start training, lose weight.  To fantasise about how much you are going to do and, of course how well it will go.  I know I’m not the only one to do this and to be fair, I think it’s an important part of the whole experience.  Hopes and dreams iImmutably tied up with the reality of doing something that requires total commitment.

I’ve learned though, that in order to achieve something properly, it’s better to turn those dreams into reality sooner rather than later.  Especially as in my case when there is a lot to do.

I’ve been watching Grant perform a masterclass in strong mental attitude and commitment over the last few months.  Even when he’s returned home exhausted and not in the mood to train he’s got on with it in good humour.  Although his bike mileage had not been massive, at the recent Outlaw he stepped up to the cycle and nailed the bike leg over an hour quicker than his previous time.  A result of consistency.  And with Hamburg less than a week away, I can see he is ready.

Inspired by his lead, I’ve made steps to sort my own health out.  A prolonged hip injury that I’d written off as a bout of fibromyalgia following a prolonged period of stress, turned out to be a sprained sacro-iliac joint, that I repeatedly sprained while trying to power through.  So no running or weights but I’ve been given the green light to ride and swim.  So that with lots of ice and massage and in a couple of months I should be good as new.  It’s the prefect excuse to go gently with the pre-base training, focussing on installing a routine and losing weight, for the next eight to ten weeks before starting training properly.

It feels great to finally have an answer to the pain and a plan and I’m excited to get started on it.

Posted in Ironman, Training | 4 Comments