The South Downs Pilgrims’ Way. Part 3 of 3.

Day three. Storrington to Bramber.  ‘Hello … weird people!’

Waking up was such a lovely feeling. I had slept really well and felt thoroughly refreshed. Storrington Priory is massive. Currently it houses the Chemin Neuf Community who regularly open their doors for people seeking peace and a place to retreat as well as weary travellers. We had a lovely breakfast of cereals, fruit, toast and lots and lots of coffee (and tea). During breakfast, Will and Guy were interviewed by Alex, one of us Pilgrims, but also a journalist who was making a programme for BBC R4. We all had to shout hello at one point to prove to listeners that we really were a bunch of 36 people! I believe that particular shout out and interview was broadcast that morning on BBC Radio Sussex.

Storrington breakfast

Breakfast at Storrington Priory shortly before the ‘shout out’ to Radio Sussex

We made an unhurried but prompt exit from the Priory a little after 8 o’clock.  The weather was glorious but the forecast wasn’t – rain and rain and rain for the afternoon.  Everyone seemed in high spirits after their repast and rest of the night before though and the going was good.

We walked the morning in lovely sunshine and stopped at a church (location – not sure!) where in the fields opposite we were treated to the sight of three young stags springing around in a wheat field. Even though I have lived in a rural area for many years, this was something I had never seen before.  Tremendous. It was here that the three of us siblings were interviewed by Alex. She asked simple but relevant questions and we all responded without rehearsing or over thinking things.  In response to the question ‘what have you got out of this experience?’ I said something about relaxing, having the time to enjoy the things and the people around me.  Cathy said something about family and enjoyment, about thinking about the bigger things. Rob said “I have really enjoyed this. What it has taught me is that I know, I really know now, that I am definitely not a Christian”. Wish I’d said that.

Still walking in fabulous sunshine we made our way to our lunchtime destination of Findon.  Crossing ancient barrows and getting to know our fellow walkers better and better, the morning seemed to flow by. A lovely little funny developed when we were admiring an enormous Yew tree in a churchyard. I love Yew trees and I love their connection to churchyards and communities. Someone asked how old the tree might be. We all thought about it and some smart arse (my brother, Rob!) said ‘Reeealllly old’! Everyone called for Jim, who was out of earshot, our resident Tree Surgeon. He came up, took a long look at it, shook his head and sucked in some air, then said ‘Hmmm, pretty old, that.’  Actually, he did indeed know his trees and was a constant source of interest, so thanks Jim! And Rob!

Unbeknownst to most of us, the original arrangements for lunch (a buffet in a pub) had fallen through when the pub had recently changed hands. So we arrived at Findon Church – waited for the departing congregation to leave – and were joined by the people who had fed us at Arundel, with a car loaded up to the hilt with goodies! We ate  a lovely meal of bread, cheeses, meats, olives, salad vegetables, fruit and cake, sitting on tombstones, chatting away and casting the odd glance up to the skies where ominous clouds were gathering, and checking our devices for the most up to date forecasts!! This may be a Pilgrimage folks, but technology is definitely not eschewed! Thank goodness.  I think even medieval pilgrims would have made use of any available technology and that’s exactly what we were doing.

 Storrington to Findon. Rob and Jim talking trees. Lunch on a tombstone!

Refreshed, we began again towards Cissbury Ring. The forecast took a serious turn when it was upgraded to thunder and lightening – sounded like good fun! In the event we didn’t get either but it was wet and everyone’s wet wear came out again.  Time for my poncho again. Oh I do love it!  Just reach for it from a side pocket and slip it over your head, let the whole thing fall over you and your pack, no need to even break your stride.  Doesn’t need to be breathable or technologically clever in any way because the air circulates underneath it.  Perfect!

Ponchos

Poncho selfie (nearly!).

Cissbury Ring. What a place. An Iron Age hill fort. Magical is just not a strong enough word to describe how this place feels. Or felt to me.  It was peaceful yet strong and there were horses! Well, wild ponies really but they were pretty, shy and yet totally at ease with their home.  Some of us did try to ‘commune’ with them but they simply weren’t interested in us humans.  They’d let you get quite close, but then would calmly just get up and walk away from you.

We all took our packs off, those of us who could kicked our shoes off and some just went and explored the huge plateau on their own.  Some of us sat down and took some time out, even flat out, sky watching.

Ponies, chilling and communing on Cissbury Ring.

We were led another merry dance by Maxine and it was indeed very merry. I think we had all relaxed into the mood completely now and there was a little bit of ‘de-mob’ fervour going on because we knew our final destination was near.  We gave thanks to nature really, on Cissbury Ring.  Nature and life.  As a last gesture, in a circle facing inwards, those who wanted to were encouraged to get down on hands and knees and place our foreheads on the soft wet grass. We all did it. Must have looked strange …. a very sprightly, fit, strong, grey- haired woman appeared at this very moment from the other side of the plateau.  She was striding along, a vintage picnic hamper in her hands and blanket under her arm.  She did look a bit startled.  She stopped momentarily as she passed by those of us on all fours. “Hello (pause) … weird people!” she said and moved swiftly on. I think some of us did manage a perky ‘Hello!’ back. What a fabulous little mantra to be left with! Quite proud of being a ‘weird person’.

After some larking about playing an old game with our sticks and watching people trying to do the walking through your stick trick, we took a few more photos, including our end of tour ‘staff meeting’ and we were ready for the final leg of the pilgrimage.  From Cissbury to Bramber.

Last ‘staff meeting’.  Me, Antje with Stephen and Matilda!

When we finally left the pathway down into Bramber some hours later it did seem really odd to see tarmac roads, cars seemed to be moving so quickly! And that was after only two days of off-roading! We stopped at Bramber Castle, memorably described by Will as a ‘Norman erection’ and the first thing I did was to take off my boots. I was just a couple of miles away from blistering so was very pleased to be putting on my sandals and letting fresh air onto my feet.

The SDPW!!

Everyone who started and finished in front of a ‘Norman Erection’. Bramber, 23rd July.

Our very last visit was to St Mary’s House and Gardens.  Dating back to the mid 15th century and originally built as a refuge for Pilgrims, this house has been lovingly restored and sustained by its elderly but razor-sharp owner occupiers.  We drank water from the well which is situated in the cellar now and a brief tour was offered. Unfortunately, it was nearing 7pm and reluctantly we had to turn our attention to 21st century matters such as jumping in a taxi to get us to Shoreham for our train journey back to Eastbourne.  Through hastily swapped contact details we said our goodbyes.  I wish I had been able to say goodbye to everyone properly.

So there we were on the train back, all three of us deliciously tired. I can only speak for myself but the weekend had given me an insight into what it takes to relax me yet keep me stimulated.  It was a retreat from the hustle, and I had felt a shift, as if a switch had clicked within me.  I was all calm and serene. Even having the misfortune to encounter the rudest taxi driver ever at Eastbourne station didn’t disturb my equilibrium …. but that’s almost another story!!

As a bit of a post script I can tell you now that as I bring this three-part blog to a close over two weeks later, I still feel refreshed and re-charged by the whole experience.  I will definitely be joining the BPT again.

 

 

 

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The South Downs Pilgrims’ Way. Part 2 of 3.

Day Two – first post to second post, Arundel to Storrington.

I had watched the sun rise through the East window of the Fitzalan Chapel. It was a glorious and peaceful half an hour or so, time to welcome the day. Every day should begin like that! Just as welcoming was the smell of coffee and bacon as we walked back into the Castle restaurant for a full English. Every day should begin like that also! People were really cheerful and there was a palpable sense of excitement about the day to come.

Replete once more, we gathered in the ornate in-house (in-castle?) Chapel for another beautiful piece of choral song from Will and Guy, and some basic instruction, including the ‘buddy’ system so that we could be sure we were always together. Then to the gardens where we were treated to a concise and humorous short history of the gardens by Georgie who had been directly responsible for restoring the gardens to their former glory after they had been turned into a car park! Here’s a little glimpse  …. that’s the Cathedral Church in the background.

Italianate splendour once more. Arundel Castle Gardens.

Now we had some fun choosing our hazel stick (they choose you actually!) and gathered on the lawns for an ‘ice breaker’. Maxine is a choreographer and she, brightly and energetically and with enormous charisma, led us a ‘merry dance’, spiralling the entire length of 36 linked up people round and round the maze.  We ended up making arches and laughing and singing together.

Our final experience of the grandeur that is Arundel was a visit to the Anglican side of the RC Chapel we had slept in. It is truly one building, but one that has a Catholic side that somehow survived the Reformation and the Civil War, and a C of E side that is active and relevant to modern-day believers. Indeed, one of our fellow pilgrims had been married there just 3 years earlier.  The division was once a brick wall but is now a grille and there is a door. Fascinating.  We had a little talk from a senior member of the congregation who couldn’t quite keep his sense of superiority out of his words when he was explaining the acoustics in the Anglican side.  He had a clear view about this and, to his enormous credit, remained extremely gracious when both Will and Guy offered a terrifically tactful riposte to his theory.

And then we were truly on our way!!  We travelled north, through the parklands of the Duchy (again with permission) to a funny little folly of sorts. It really was like a tiny castle and had indeed been commissioned by the 11th Earl, Charles Howard, sometime in the late 18th /early 19th century as an experiment, possibly as a  little practice for more major castle restoration, which he did a lot of in his time there.  Unfortunately,  he died in 1815 before he could put what he had learned into practice and it was left to the Victorian Howards to restore (some might say ruin) the castle as they saw fit.

Off again through the parkland (no public bridle ways for us just yet!) we walked happily and in sunshine on the soft springy grass towards our lunch stop at South Stoke.  I fell into step with Antje, with whom I had enjoyed coffee that morning.  We talked easily and happily and made an immediate connection when she suddenly announced that she was going to call her stick (staff!) ‘Stephen’! Emphatically a Stephen. With a p-h.  This made me laugh out loud and I decided on the spot to call my staff ‘Matilda’ in return. The connection being historical and relevant to Arundel Castle, it being between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, that she never got to reign despite having a better claim, that ultimately Stephen named her son, Henry, his heir and that this Henry became Henry II, the first Plantagenet King. It was hilarious, though I admit in the retelling it seems you had to be there!! The weather was with us and we were indeed a happy band of wanderers.

Lunch was taken inside a beautiful old Church in the village of South Stoke (if I recall correctly). I must admit that, although  I had a notion of where we were headed and what direction we were travelling, I had happily given up all responsibility for navigation to Will and Guy. It was such a pleasure not to have to map read! Sitting in pews beside an ancient font, we were joined by Alastair, a lovely man from Warwickshire. He and I discovered a mutual love of/addiction to coffee and we craved it from then (about 1pm) until we reached our destination much later that day!!

Then we were off ‘up’ the Downs!

people walking the South Downs

The South Downs Way. Sweeping fields and ancient woodland

As you can see, the weather was still with us. We seemed to flow as a group up the hills. Living as I do in Wales I didn’t find this too arduous at all in terms of an incline. The Downs do undulate, for every long and gradual incline, there is a lovely long and gradual decline, but they are not huge. They also do seem to ‘roll’ and offer far-reaching views but are just short of 900 ft at their highest.  We were still walking on soft, springy grass, the kind that hasn’t seen much human foot fall.

We joined the South Downs Way and even picked up the Monarch’s Way at one point I think.  The Monarch in question is Charles II and it is said he travelled this way (600 odd miles in all) escaping to France after defeat at Worcester.  More food for history nerds!! The weather started to close in on us now – the summer storm clouds that had been following us since lunch time – and it was wetwear on/wetwear off pretty much for the rest of the day.  We started our descent into Storrington in the rain …. single file on well-defined but narrow chalk tracks.  Wet chalk is like ice! I had already made my acquaintance with my purple poncho and now I got to know it really well. The perfect piece of apparel for wet weather walking in my view! There is something really comforting in hearing the rain splashing onto your enveloping piece of plastic! A bit like the sound of rain on tent canvas.

Summer storm clouds

Storm clouds over the South Downs Way

There’s no doubt walking in the wind and rain puts a damper on conversation (see what I did there?!). Peoples’ heads went down and we all started to concentrate on our steps to try to avoid slipping. Some of us sat out a little detour to see an old WW2 Churchill tank abandoned in a field of stubble.  It was very companionable.  Silence with others can be very comforting.   People were getting tired though and we were a quiet bunch of quite wet travellers when we arrived at Storrington Priory just after 7pm.

Oh the pleasure of dropping your ruck sack, taking off your boots and sitting down with a cup of coffee!! Made even more delicious by the thought of a visit to the local Indian and then a bed for the night.  We’d only been one night without a bed and it already felt like a luxury!!

A quick freshen up and we wandered the 10 minute walk through peaceful, tidy Storrington to the local ‘Injun’.  The food had been pre-ordered banquet style which was absolutely spot on, not just in terms of simplicity (36 of us and we weren’t the only diners!) but also speed, quantity, and ease of settling the bill.  It was hacking down with rain when we left and I certainly got much more wet getting back to the Priory through the back lanes and the pitch black churchyard than I had been all day. Should have taken my trusty poncho with me!!!

We all went straight to our beds. I slept like a log and did that thing you only really do when very pissed which is wake up pretty much in the same position you went to sleep in! And this was the view I woke up to the next morning ……….

Storrington Priory

Storrington Priory. Sunday 23rd July, 7 am.

 

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The South Downs Pilgrims’ Way. Part 1 of 3.

Day one – base camp to first post, Eastbourne to Arundel.

We began our pilgrimage on foot. It seemed fitting somehow, even though this entailed nothing more historic or glamorous than walking the mile and a half from our Parents’ house to the Railway Station at Eastbourne. We were embarking on a two and a half day pilgrimage through West Sussex.

We were travelling to our start point of Arundel Castle to join others to walk the South Downs Pilgrims Way, organised by The British Pilgrimage Trust (for ease of reference info@britishpilgrimage.org!) after Rob had seen an article about them in The Guardian.   The BPT offers an opportunity to reflect, to take time, to work out what your truth is, to ‘bring your own religion with you’.  It also offers a guided, off-road as much as possible, but organised route through the Sussex Downs, stopping at out of the way Churches and holy places you might not otherwise find.  It felt like a happy little group walking through urban Eastbourne anyway because we are three siblings. Myself, my sister Cathy and brother Rob had never been away like this before – let alone on a pilgrimage!

off we go

And off we go!! Cathy, Rob, me.

We arrived at the station with plenty of time and our rucksacks full of stuff, including lots of (un)healthy snacks bought from Tescos that morning.  It took three trains, including a twenty seven minute wait for the final four minute train ride into Arundel itself, but we were buoyant and cheerful, snacking away (well I was anyway!) and reading up on what we were about to spend our weekend doing.

‘Tis but a short walk from Arundel Station to the Castle. You simply can’t miss it! What you can do though is get a bit confused by which entrance you should use to get you easily to your destination! Clear instructions and a smashing little map were provided, but none of us had it to hand. So we asked the (departing) staff. “Oh, you’re the campers on the hill!” said a lovely woman, “Hold on, I’ll ask if someone will take you up there”. I offered her and the two drivers chocolate (I was still snacking!) by way of a small thank you and that went down well but as Rob said afterwards “Everyone is so NICE!”. So we were driven up the hill through the castle grounds in a smart buggy. We were grateful. It was a long hill. Arriving as we did a little bit James Bond style (Yamaha 350 engine, don’t you know) was totally unexpected and a million miles away from the philosophy that had us set out on foot etc etc, but it was great fun and we had the dubious honour of being the first to arrive, but also of being nearly an hour early.

After introducing ourselves to Will, who was up to his eyes in stuff but who was just lovely, and if irritated certainly didn’t let it show, we helpfully took ourselves off for a walk around the grounds. People began to arrive and we wandered back.  We had a choice of where to sleep, either in the tents or in the Chapel. All sleeping kit was provided so it was a case of pick up your bed roll, silk inner and sleeping bag and choose your sleeping spot.  We made our way to the Fitzalan Chapel to check it out. Rob and Cathy were keen immediately but I wasn’t. My first reaction was that I’d rather sleep under canvas, thanks very much! But as more ‘pilgrims’ came in to have a look and the place filled up with living bodies, it became a peaceful atmosphere, and one with a certain amount of excitement at the thought of doing something so unusual.  So I had a re-think and decided it was the Chapel for me. I have slept in a tent many times, but never in the private chapel of the Duchy of Norfolk – the Howards for goodness sake! Quite something for history nerds like the three of us!! By now I had realised this was the family chapel, private even to paying visitors, and that this was a privilege.  Before we left for a big meet up, the kind woman who had led us there, with a wonderful warm smile and an excited gleam in her very blue eyes turned to me and Cathy and said she felt it would be right to say a prayer for all ‘the ancestors’ and to ask their permission for a peaceful night. Something like that anyway. So she unclipped the ropes cordoning off the altar and all three of us knelt and prayed. Being a heathen I simply thought about the bones of long dead nobility I was going to share the night with and hoped they wouldn’t mind!!

All pilgrims finally met together, under the cork tree (cork tree?? I didn’t know!) to introduce ourselves.  I had already lost track of time and it felt great.  We were 36 in number, which comprised 3 guides, 2 patrons and a choreographer (more later!) and 30 of us would-be pilgrims.  We stood in a circle and were asked to just say our names and then make eye contact with every other one in the circle. It took some time but it was a lovely thing to do and, with the exception of two names I didn’t understand, I remembered everyone’s names. The woman who had the keys to the chapel and who had prayed with us introduced herself as ‘Georgie’.   It was only later that I came to know her other monika is Her Grace, the Duchess of Norfolk.

Then we visited Arundel Cathedral Church of Our Lady and St Philip Howard. Wow. Wow. Even a heathen like me can appreciate the beauty although I always prefer the simplicity of an Anglican church. There’s something in me that feels uncomfortable with all the glittering gilt and gleaming marble, all the ‘riches’.  Even though it is very beautiful. What was even more beautiful in my view was that the two guides, Will and Guy, walked quietly up to the Altar and started to sing. I think it was a madrigal. It was beautiful and I wish I could better describe how their voices soared and blended together. It was a massive treat (even for a heathen!) and it felt so calming. When they had finished they bowed their heads and quietly walked away from the Altar. Magical.

We had a very convivial meal in the Castle restaurant – plenty of hot food, good bread, wine, beer and cake!! I sat next to Dean Tim who had kindly kept his Cathedral Church open for us even though we were much later than expected. He had some very interesting things to say and I enjoyed his company very much.  Getting to know the other pilgrims was fascinating. Everyone with their own reasons for making the journey, coming from all over the UK. Completely replete, the whole company seemed to make a mass decision to wend their way to their quarters.  So we walked slowly back to the Chapel to begin our night of rest.

the keep

The Keep. Our journey from eatery to Chapel.

Once back in the Chapel, there was talk of throwing peanuts (every one had snacks!) at the loudest snorer, a temptation to use the silk inner bag as a mock shroud and pretend to be a ghost, and other such ‘larks’ but in the end we resisted all the mockery and Scooby Doo antics, head torches went out and we all drifted off to sleep.  I think we all slept really soundly. There was snoring, oh dear me yes, there was snoring! But it didn’t matter.  If anything it was comforting, because in amongst the dead, it was a sure sign of life!!!!

chapel sleeping

Bedding down for the night. A chapel selfie!

People got up for a pee in the night and I woke quite a lot. It was a very warm night and I think we’d all expected it to be cold, given we were sleeping on a stone floor. But I was glad to wake and remember again where I was. The best part was the sun rise.  This picture (below) doesn’t do it justice, but the sun at about 4.30 am rising through the stained glass was entrancing. Mesmerizing. I just sat, leaning against the tomb of William, the 9th Earl of Arundel and his wife Joan Neville (as pictured above), and watched it for about 30 minutes.  What a start to the pilgrimage!!

fitzalan window

Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel, 22nd July 2017. 4.30 am.

 

 

 

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2016, the worst year ever ..?

That’s what people are saying, the worst year ever.  Obviously highly subjective but I understand this to be a view formed by many because of the number of ‘celebrity’ deaths, the awful cock up that was (and still is, and probably forever shall be) Brexit, Donald Trump becoming President-elect of the USA and the awful events in the Middle East.

Well apparently, the number of celebrity deaths has  indeed been an increase on 2015, by about 30%. Celebrity in this case being defined by whether or not the recently deceased person had a pre-written BBC obituary.  Which probably excluded Prince and George Michael just on their age and definitely excluded David Gest.  So it’s not really an accurate reflection.  But, in the interests of apples and apples, this BBC list has been increasing year on year for at least 5 years. What was unusual in 2016 was that many more deaths occurred during the first 4 months of the year than the same period the previous year.  That sort of set the perception.  We are going to have to get used to ‘celebrity’ deaths it seems, because there’s simply more ‘celebrity’ around now than there was 50 years ago.

Brexit was a massive shock for Remainers like me.  I continue to believe this country was duped by the referendum, being asked to take responsibility for an ill informed concept and at the mercy of a badly run campaign.  Badly run on both sides. Trump being elected was another massive shock but I don’t understand American politics and, rightly or wrongly, I feel detached enough to not worry about it on a daily basis.  Ditto problems and enormous human tragedy in the Middle East.

So, now that I have cleared my conscience somewhat of the problems of world politics and religion, I can concentrate on what this blog is about, which is getting positive things from everyday life as I know it.  On this basis I can safely say that 2016 has been one of the best ever. They say things come in threes and I have got three clear winners!  There have been many other little triumphs and liberations, the letting go of past concerns and nerve shredders, but I just want to concentrate on the nice, big,  warm glowing ones.

In order of excitement and as it happens, in chronological order too, March saw the birth of my first grandchild.  This little girl has brought such joy and pleasure to all of us.  I just can’t believe how cute and funny and lovable she is.  I love being with her.  She makes me laugh and I make her laugh.  She is in fact ‘lush’.  The feelings I have for her are so strong they remind me of the feelings I had for her father when he was a baby.  An overwhelming urge to protect and guide and make sure she is happy.  I am truly a very lucky granny!

The second thing happened later in the year but was the culmination of 5 years of living with the knowledge that I have had cancer.  I was effectively given the all-clear by way of a final annual mammogram that was declared ‘entirely satisfactory’.  I had not quite recognised the enormous weight of that diagnosis and the feeling of it being lifted was much more emotional than I expected.  I am under no illusion that I am immune from any other episodes, either with cancer or any other serious illness, just because I have been cleared of this one.  But it is very liberating to think that I am normal again right now.

The third thing only really sorted itself out just before Christmas.  This was the opportunity to work permanently in an organisation I had been ‘temping’ for since April. I knew I liked the look of the organisation when I was doing my background reading and research prior to an interview.  I liked the website, I especially liked the remit and I had heard very good things about the whole organisation. The good old word of mouth, never fails.  I liked the people who interviewed me. I felt they ‘got’ me and I felt that I ‘got’ them too.  I liked the offices, I liked the location.  It was all good. Ticking all my boxes. I was delighted to be offered the role.  It wasn’t until I actually started that I realised just how much I liked them and the culture in the place. My contract was originally until mid-November and I was delighted to be offered an extension until end December. So it was  the best Christmas present ever to be offered the role permanently.

I am a small company girl I think. I’ve done it all during my working life, big companies and little ones.  Private, public and voluntary sector.  I was self employed for nearly 2 years too once.  I hated that.  Not enough security for my liking. I ended up having to take one of my clients to the small claims court to get my money.  I got it but it was a complete ball ache. Despite some success it does always look like a bit of a blip on your CV too.  If you are sitting in front of a potential ‘on the payroll’ employer in an interview situation, then something’s gone wrong.

No, I like the smaller company,  especially one that values its staff and what they are all there to do.  One that recognises the longer term, supports learning and development, even for one who’s getting a wee bit long in the tooth like me.  Makes me feel I still have something to offer, that as one little part of a big team, that team is getting to where they want to be.  Making a difference to people’s lives.

So it’s a very satisfying end to a very satisfying year for me. I feel calm and content.  At peace.  Patient and yet excited by the prospect of the years to come. Happy with my place in the big picture.  Ready to learn more, to help others, to have fun, to rest and to enjoy the little things.  To enjoy watching my granddaughter grow up.  No high octane, bucket list challenges for me!! Just the small matter of going up to Cumbria with my sister for my birthday so that we can both gallop along the beach on some beautiful Friesians.

But for me, speaking purely personally, as far as celebrity losses are concerned, it’s Bowie’s death I feel the most sadness about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Shooting Life …

Well it’s been ages since my last blog. So here’s a new one!  It follows on from my last one in a way because the little pup I was talking about in that blog is now a yearling. He’s 14 months old and we began our first shooting season together a week ago yesterday.

Jac and I have had a good summer.  A quick trot out in the morning before work and a long walk in the woods for him and his big buddy, Billy, every evening without fail during the summer months has kept all 3 of us fit and regular.  I have worked on his ‘steadiness’ and his ‘obeedjunce’ as best I can and am happy that he’s making progress and it’s all going in the right direction.  He seems to work for me (but not my OH!) and although he still has a tendency to allow himself to be distracted I am hopeful that he’ll grow into a useful gun dog.  He is still very young.  I have no expectations other than enjoying ourselves (and not f*****g up the drives!), but I am a first-time trainer and I want to get it as good as possible.  Do my very best.  Watching the dogs work on a shoot confirms my view that dogs are born for it and love it but it takes time and patience to bring a dog on.

I’ve had dogs – the odd JRT but mostly black Labs, as Jac is, and usually a pair – for more years than I care to remember. Oh, alright then, 32 years to be exact! Some of them have been lovely, some of them have been a pain in the arse.  Poor old Hannibal George (aka Bob) and I never saw eye to eye. I didn’t take to him, and I don’t think he took to me much either.  But he’s gone now and the current pair, Billy and Jac, are lovely.  As was Jac’s predecessor, Hannibal Charles, aka Fred.

So, now that I have stopped working like a hooligan, don’t have to do ‘working motherhood’ anymore, have had a natural break caused by a serious illness and have, to my complete delight, become Granny to a beautiful, beautiful little girl called Isla who brings me a massive amount of joy and love, in my 50s, I have decided that The Shooting Life is, at last, for me.

It’s convenient too.  My first love is horses but I still don’t have the time to give it my all and, despite what I said above, my work life is important to me. I enjoy my work, I am lucky enough work with some lovely people who are involved with improving lives,  and wouldn’t want to be 5-days-a-week-work-place-denied.  So it’s the dogs and the shoots for my winter weekend activity for now.

You’ll never catch me with a gun in my hands though.  Just not interested.  Maybe it’ll come, maybe it won’t, but at the moment I have no curiosity and no urge to take up shooting.  It’s the outdoors and the dogs I enjoy.  The craic, as they say in Ireland.

And it is a good craic! I am lucky enough to be able to go to 2 shoots, which are run on alternate Saturdays, both of which welcome me and young Jac for the help we can provide. At the moment we join the beaters but in time we will help with picking up too.  I think like beating better than picking up because once the guns are on pegs, you are constantly on the go and cover much more ground.  Picking up is a more serious activity, involves a lot of waiting around, and, apart from the fact that Jac’s not up to it yet, your dogs really do need to be ‘en pointe’.  If they’re not, frankly, you will f*** the drive up!!

There’s more to organising a shoot than might meet the eye but I am just happy to be there to help and have a day out.  Lots of responsibility and observing health and safety stuff is required, as you can imagine.  The shoots I go to are small, private syndicates who appreciate unpaid help which suits me nicely.

Both have great atmospheres and there’s lots of banter and camaraderie, which I love.   Going to a shoot is about a lot more than just exercising your dog, it’s about getting together with a common aim and  being healthy enough to enjoy a whole day out on the hills, whatever the weather, and however many birds you can flush. Jac and I are novices at the moment – the only prize I can claim so far is the ‘whose wellie went the deepest into the mud’ medal – but, and I’m sure I can speak for Jac too when I say this,  we enjoy it hugely and are looking forward to lots of ‘shoot Saturdays’ between now and the end of January!

It’s great getting home and enjoying the ‘hygge’ of being back in the warmth and comfort of your favourite chair – in my case, after a long hot soak in the bath!! Oh yes, and there’s the added bonus of having a brace or two of pheasants to look forward to putting in the pot!

Next time ……. photos and funnies !!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pup vs Toddler!

With the very greatest respect to those of you currently raising a toddler or weaning a puppy, and an even greater amount of respect to those of you who may be doing both,  here’s my light hearted little take on why living with a 10 week old pup is more similar to living with a toddler than I had realized ….and I have done both. But not at the same time!!

Silence is no longer always golden.  It becomes worrying and you can’t relax until you know your little one is safe/not causing harm. This usually involves having them in your sight and preferably within reach.

Basic domestic tasks like sweeping the floor, folding the washing or hoovering take a lot longer and almost always turn into a little game.

You are followed everywhere – even to the loo.  But you don’t mind.

A stair-gate is a must and is your friend.

You notice little piles of ‘things to go upstairs’ building up because you don’t go upstairs on a whim anymore!!

The exact location and condition of the favourite toy is of paramount importance. Always.

Cardboard boxes take on a new meaning. They are now a potential toy, something to amuse and enjoy with your little one.

You watch them eat.  And you love it!

An inordinate amount of satisfaction is gained from seeing your little one go to the toilet if they are in the ‘right place’ and even more if they have asked to go there!

Someone says ‘I’ll have him for a while’  … you now know the meaning of relief.

They fall so fast asleep on your lap they are in danger of slipping off.  You might be cold, hungry or needing to pee, but you don’t move.  It’s one of the very best things.

Saying no is hard.  You do it but it’s hard.

There’s pretty much always a small charge underneath your feet which will be hurt and will squeal should you step on them.  Which you sometimes do.

Bedtime is a safe and cuddly time.  Silence can be golden now!!

And finally, you just love ’em and they love you right back!!

 

 

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Explained – again!

People can’t seem to open the previous word document properly so I am cutting and pasting this below – with a caveat that this is more of a story than a blog and so is quite a bit longer than my usual musings!!

Explained

Well, here we go. She turned off the dual carriageway and onto the roundabout. God knows how many times she had done this journey, but she still worried about parking. Bloody parking.  It always seemed such a ridiculous thing to worry about but it could be such a nerve shredder.  The hospital had a massive area for parking, but still there had been times when driving round for 20 minutes trying to spot someone leaving had been the only way to get parked up.  Once she, along with many others, had had to park on the grass verges for fear of missing their appointments. A veteran now, she no longer worried about not putting enough money in the meter to cover the duration of the visit. How are you supposed to know how long you’re going to be? Having over-paid many times just to be on the safe side, she didn’t now.  A young houseman examined her once and had decided to send her for an ultra sound scan. This had involved waiting a couple of hours, and had turned what was potentially a 10 minute consultation into the best part of a day.  Fretting about getting back out to feed the meter, but not knowing when she would be called for the scan, he confided that as long as she had paid something it was unlikely she would be fined and if she was they would vouch for her and it would be waived.  So kind. It is the little things.

Today was going to be a little easier though because at least she knew she was going to be there practically all day.  The appointment letter had made that clear.  No need for a flask either today because this department had a passable coffee shop close by.  There was even a restaurant on the first floor somewhere she seemed to remember.  Notebook and appointment letter in her handbag, she swung around the roundabout and sighed deeply.  I’ll relax a bit more once I’ve parked up.  Despite it being mid-morning, finding a space had been surprisingly easy and she was even able to pick a space quite close to the building.  That felt better already.  Funny the things that can trouble you and then turn out to be completely untroublesome.  Comfortably early too, as planned.

The sub-waiting area for Nuclear Medicine in X-Ray 1 was a small area that reminded her of the waiting area and little cubicles you had to use when waiting for radiotherapy. She wouldn’t need to get undressed for this one though.  No dressing gown required.  Luckily the radiographer popped her head out from behind the double doors of the machine room and seemed quite pleased she was there early.

‘Juliet? Oh lovely, I’ll be about twenty minutes and then you can come through and we’ll get it all started.’

‘That’s smashing.  Thank you!’ aware that the bit she was looking forward to least was about to happen.

This bit was the injection of some radioactive isotope which would then take a few hours to soak into her bones so that the gamma rays of the scanner would be able to pick up any anomalies.  Presumably.  Needles, in particular cannulas, were a cause of something approaching dread to her now and this was going to be where the deep breathing exercises she had been taught and the ability to keep calm would be needed.  Her friend, Alison, had had one of these scans just a few weeks earlier and had put her mind at rest when she told her it was just an injection, rather than an infusion delivered by cannula.  It turned out that this hospital do it via what the nurse called a ‘butterfly’ contraption which just held the line in place whilst the phial of radioactive stuff was introduced to her bloodstream.   It was the work of a moment though and gently and smoothly administered by the kind and calm radiographer.  No digging about to find a vein and all that, thank goodness. After lots of questions about her medical history the radiographer explained that she should return at about 2.30.  She should try to have something to eat and take plenty of fluids, as this would help the isotope to absorb and would also help to flush it out afterwards.  She was told not to be nervous, this stuff should not make her feel sick or unwell in any way. Right then, that’s phase one complete and she walked away to explore the hospital and find the restaurant, with two and a half hours to wait.

District general hospitals are enormous places and you could ruck up a lot of corridor-miles during a working week in one of them.  You certainly see all manner of the human condition in these places.  Young, old, those who look really well and those who look really, really sick.

The reason she was here today to undergo this full body bone scan was because she hadn’t been able to answer no to the red-flag question ‘have you had any bone or muscle aches or pains?’ asked during her annual check-up which had only taken place 3 weeks earlier.  She had indeed had some aches and pains and, even though this had been treated by her GP, because of her history, she had been offered this scan to ‘rule it out completely’.  ‘It’ being the possibility that cancer had developed somewhere else following her run-in with breast cancer a few years earlier.

After what seemed like half a mile, she reached the Restaurant, which judging by the size and scale of the kitchens seemed to be the hospital catering unit too and was a canteen rather than a restaurant. Restaurant sounds better than canteen doesn’t it, it’s all about branding.  Even though it did smell quite nice, if greasy, she decided against a hot meal.  It did remind her of school/factory canteens and she’d never been in the habit of a big greasy meal in the middle of the day and besides, really wasn’t that hungry.  So she bought a prawn sandwich, some fruit and a big bottle of sparkling water and sat down with her newspaper.  She was soon joined at the empty table by a chap who looked like he was in an enormous hurry.  He was in scrubs.  Blimey, that doesn’t seem right, it just doesn’t seem right.  Talk about transfer of germs!  He had bought himself a massive plate of chips.  Just chips.  He covered them in salt and vinegar (a man after her own heart!) and ate them so quickly she had to make an effort not to keep stealing a look at the rapidly diminishing pile of carbohydrates on his plate! No sooner had he finished than he was up and off, striding purposely away out of the canteen and into the bowels of the hospital.  She couldn’t help but wonder if this very hungry time-constrained surgical medic was about to spend hours in surgery and had chosen this high saturated fat and carb explosion on purpose for the instant energy burst.  It didn’t seem right that he was in his scrubs in the canteen though.

With still well over an hour to a kill, she decided to spend some time in the hospital charity shop which just happened to include a rather large collection of second hand books she’d rummaged through on previous visits.  All for 50p.  The system was very much geared up for patients because once you had finished a book you could bring it back and ‘swap’ it for another.  But she managed to pick up a copy of James Joyce’s The Dubliners and this one was a keeper.  Even though she remembered she had a copy of this volume at home, it was only 50p and it provided a great opportunity to read it then and there.  It was a brilliant find in another way too because The Dubliners is a collection of short stories and she had been mulling over the idea of actually knuckling down and writing a proper short story,  not just a blog, for some time now.  It seemed that reading a collection of short stories with an eye to the technicality of the genre would be as good a place to start as any.  So she paid her 50p and sat down and started to read.  Two things struck her.  One was that the subject matter was very ordinary.  Joyce had chosen to write about ordinary people doing ordinary things.  It was not humorous (well, it was James Joyce!) and sometimes the events and the people were quite sinister but it was very well observed.  It was more about the people that events were happening to than the events that were happening to the people.  The other thing was that these stories were short.  Very short.  She calculated that there were about 300 words per page.  The shortest story was not quite 9 pages.  That’s fewer than 3,000 words.  Her average blog was about 750 words long and she struggled to keep that down because anything over 1,000 is a bit long for a blog.  Apparently.  This realization felt like progress and whilst she was in no way intending to compete with James Joyce for goodness sake, it did seem that in her own little way, she was closer to being able to achieve this little, private challenge of hers by the simple act of counting the words.  All she needed was an idea, something to happen. She wondered how Joyce got his.  Did he just make them all up, or had he in some way witnessed these things and just been able to describe them so well?

Before she knew it, it had gone 2pm so she got up and made her way back through the corridors to the little sub-waiting room in X-Ray 1.   Within a minute or two, some double doors opened and a bed was wheeled into the corridor by a porter and a nurse.  The occupant of the bed was an old woman.  She immediately noticed the so-familiar bed clothes, the hospital shift that ties up at the back, and the thick set of case notes on the bottom of the bed by your feet that travels with you everywhere when you are a patient in transit.  The old woman was chatting to a nurse.  Or rather, responding to chatty questions from the nurse.  In a cut glass British accent (think Celia Johnson), the old woman told the nurse that her husband had been in the Army and they had spent their early married life in India and that her son is an antiques dealer who lives in Paris.  With a clear, smooth complexion and skin which, though thin and pale with age, still gave her the look of a handsome woman, her hair was silver grey but thick and shiny and neatly shaped and tucked behind her ears.  Her eyes were pale blue and they sparkled (think Anna Neagle).  Small and very thin, looking quite engulfed by the size of the hospital bed, she was nevertheless sitting bolt upright and looking bright and alert, despite the surroundings and her ignoble attire.  She noticed the old woman’s lovely hands, though aged and wrinkled they were still elegant and she had long fingers with clear, manicured and strong fingernails.  This old woman looked at once neat and classy but also kind and wise.  When the nurse asked her what her name was she said ‘It’s Ann. Actually my name is Elizabeth Ann, but people usually call me Ann.’

As the old woman said that, she looked up and the two women smiled at each other.

‘Oh that reminds me of the poem about how God began! “Elizabeth Ann said to her Nan, Please will you tell me how God began”?’ she said.

The older woman’s face lit up and she responded by quoting another part of the verse, ‘She ran to London and knocked at the door of the Lord High Doodelum’s coach-and-four! Goodness me, A A Milne.  How lovely! I don’t think I can remember anymore!’

‘Oh dear, me neither!’ she said, ‘Although I do remember Jennifer Jane being in the ottoman and that she didn’t much care for speaking, so she replied by squeaking.’

And so the two of them began to reminisce about the delightful collection of verse A  A Milne wrote for his son Christopher Robin.  Elizabeth Ann’s father had read her these poems when she was a small child and she had indeed been named after the little girl in the poem.  And she told Elizabeth Ann that her father too used to read these to her and her sisters when they were small and that his edition of ‘Now We Are Six’ was a first edition.  She then remembered that she used to recite ‘King John’s Christmas’ and ‘The Knight Whose Armour Didn’t Squeak’ to her son when he was little to get him off to sleep, and Elizabeth Ann said she did the same with her son, except his favourite had been ‘Alexander Beetle’. Both women laughed at the memory of the little beetle trapped in a matchbox …

‘I found a little beetle,

So that beetle was his name,

I put him in a matchbox,

And he answered just the same!’

 

And joined in together with the immortal lines,

‘But Nanny let my beetle out,

She went and let my beetle out,

Yes Nanny let my beetle out,

And beetle ran away!’

 

and agreed that the beautiful and innocent little E H Shepard line drawings were still etched on their memories.

‘Ah but my dear, you are much younger than I am,’ said Elizabeth Ann.

‘Well yes, I guess so!  My father would be nearly 80 now, and he loved them as a child.  I’ve always been grateful that he passed on his love of these verses to me and my sisters,’ she replied.

‘I was 85 last week.  I think the collection was published a few years before I was born, though my father loved them and read them to me and my older brother.  It was such a joy!’

‘Oh, yes, it was for me too!  When my son was a small child I recited them to him so often –  well every night! – that I knew them by heart.  I especially liked King John and Sir Thomas Tom of Appledore because they were really long and he’d be sure to be nodding off by the time I had finished.  Oh but I wish I could remember the one about Elizabeth Ann properly!’

‘It was called ‘Explained’, I remember that,’ said Elizabeth Ann, ‘All about a little girl who wanted to know how God began, her nurse wouldn’t tell her so she ran round the world,’ at this, Elizabeth Ann leaned over and closer to her with a gleam in her eye, ‘to find an important man who could tell her, but that was no good. So she ran home again and asked Jennifer Jane. It was Jennifer Jane who knew.  I always liked that part.’

It occurred to her that she could utilise technology here to provide some genuinely heart felt remembrance, for both of them.  ‘Shall I google it so that I can read it out to you?’ she offered hopefully.

‘Oh my dear, that would be marvellous!  You can do that from your phone can’t you?’ said Elizabeth Ann, with glee, leaning closer to her again, ‘I’ve had to get one of those phones with oversized digits on them, they’re made specially for old people like me you know, for when I’m out and about because it’s so much easier. I’m afraid and I haven’t worked out how to go on line with it yet!  I don’t even know if you can on one of those things, people still seem to think anyone over about 60 can’t use the internet don’t they?  I use my lap top when I’m at home.’

So she googled ‘Explained’ by A A Milne and began to read it out.

Elizabeth Ann said to her Nan

“Please will you tell me how God began?

Somebody must have made Him.  So

Who could it be, because I want to know?”

And Nurse said “Well!”

And Ann said “Well?

I know you know, and I wish you’d tell.”

And Nurse took pins from her mouth, and said,

“Now then, darling, it’s time for bed.”

 

Elizabeth Ann

Had a wonderful plan:

She would run round the world til she found a man

Who knew exactly how God began.

 

She got up early, she dressed, and ran

Trying to find an Important Man.

She ran to London and knocked at the door

Of the Lord High Doodelum’s coach-and-four.

“Please, sir (if there’s anyone in)

However-and-ever did God begin?”

 

But out of the window, large and red,

Came the Lord High Coachman’s face instead.

And the Lord High Coachman laughed and said:

“What put that in your quaint little head?”

 

Elizabeth Ann went home again

And took from the ottoman Jennifer Jane.

“Jenniferjane,” said Elizabeth Ann,

“Tell me at once how God began.”

And Jane, who didn’t much care for speaking,

Replied in her usual way by squeaking.

 

When she got to the last verse, the real Elizabeth Ann remembered it almost word for word and so they recited it together.

What did it mean? Well, to be quite candid,

I don’t know, but Elizabeth Ann did.

Elizabeth Ann said softly, “Oh!

Thank you Jennifer. Now I know.”

                                                       

Of course, time was short and she was invited into the scanning room just as they had finished the last line together.  As she took her leave, the two women wished each other well, and laughed over the last line about Jennifer Jane knowing all along.  10 minutes later she was lying still with her eyes shut and her arms bound to her sides as the machine started its journey down her body by looming down at her from above and very close to her face, and she thought that maybe, just maybe, James Joyce’s brilliance had been his ability to recognize the simple things in life.  Thanks not just to James Joyce, but also to Alan Alexander Milne, another wordsmith, who wrote in such a kindly, innocent way for children, that simple act of recognition just now, a memory from childhood rarely shared yet shared that day with a stranger would provide that simple thing.  Joyce’s ability seemed to be to recount something that might be quite ordinary but that  had struck him as extra-ordinary and that might just be the hook that would help her with her first proper short story.  Because despite all her private dreaming about writing a short story and her little challenge with a past-master of the genre, even prosaically counting how many words he used, what had made it happen hadn’t been another appointment with the medical world, or a busy hospital canteen, or a medic eating his chips too quickly.  It had been meeting Elizabeth Ann herself.

Elizabeth Ann was no longer waiting in the corridor when she emerged half an hour later.  Their conversation during their brief meeting had not been about their health, which in her experience was what two strangers usually end up talking about, waiting alone in a hospital corridor.  It had been about so much more. It had offered them both the opportunity to remember their childhood and also that of their own children.  A collection of verse written for children, for a child, almost 100 years ago that had brought them together today. She wondered if Elizabeth Ann’s son still remembered Alexander Beetle, or any of the other delightful verses.  Whether he’d ever recited them to his children, if he had any.

‘King John was not a good man,

He had his little ways,

 And sometimes no-one spoke to him

For days and days and days.

And men who came across him

When walking in the town,

Gave him a supercilious stare,

Or passed with noses in the air,

And Bad King John stood, dumbly there,

Blushing beneath his crown.’

 

she mused to herself as she walked the corridors to the main exit.  All her life she’d loved the word supercilious.  She wondered if she could still recite it all off-by-heart, like she used to, so that Charlie would drift off to sleep.  It had never failed to send a tired little boy off to the land of nod, she remembered with a smile.

Nevertheless, the serendipity of the moment ebbed away and by the time she drove out of the hospital grounds back onto the dual carriageway, although she was pleased this scan had been done there was still the little nag about what the result would be.  Whatever happened, she reasoned, that feeling of uncertainty would soon be removed.  For good or bad.  One way or another.  Things would be explained.  She hoped the same for Elizabeth Ann.

And so it was.  A few weeks later, the breast cancer consultant had breezed into the room and with his first words put her completely out of her misery, ‘Hello, how are you?  Well, I’m pleased to say that your bone scan was completely normal.  A touch of arthritis developing in your wrists and toes, but apart from that, completely normal.’  She couldn’t help but wonder how Elizabeth Ann was today.

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