If you haven’t got anything to say, don’t say it

It’s advice that both my mum and wife have given me many times, in the nicest possible way. “If you haven’t got anything to say, don’t say it”. So here am I, having notched up another 19 miles on to my career tally of I’ve no idea how many, struggling to know what to say, purely for the traditional post-walk blog post.

When I say “I’ve no idea how many”, of course that is not true. I know the total is not 3 and I know it’s not 3 million. So I have an idea, I just don’t know the exact total. Since I started distance walking in 2012, I would reckon somewhere in the region of 8,000 miles? Today’s 19 or so miles included a decent trek up the Itchen Way from Swaythling to Bishopstoke, which was a nice change from the roads. On the roads, the pavements betrayed the autumn with a thick covering of leaves, so I was thankful for a dry few days to ensure it wasn’t slippery. The mileage was certainly enough to keep me in trim and to settle a rather troubled mind after a couple of difficult issues at work and, after assuring myself that troubles don’t always come in threes, the news that my dad was not in the best of health. A trip to see him on Saturday indeed confirmed that, but he sounded a lot lot better when I spoke to him this morning before setting off.

Visiting my dad meant that Pammy and I didn’t get to see The Girl on The Train. No spoilers please! La la la la, I can’t hear you. Given the recent non-performance of the UK rail companies, I expect she will still be there if we decide to see her next week. If you’re not following this, let me reassure you that that TGOTT is a film to see at the pictures, not some strange weekend arrangement where we meet some stranger for as yet unconfirmed, er, activities.

It’s been an odd time recently. After a long period of very few mentions of my long walk, suddenly I have had quite a few comments from others. This thing goes in phases. I expect that when I retire in ten years or so, more will be made about that walk than any work I have ever done. I’m not sure whether that is a good thing or not! I still want to do that walk again, after I retire, perhaps starting at John O’Groats instead, taking a different route. If I can become the oldest person to do it, then all the better (the record is held by 74 year old Reg Savill, before you ask). It would take a monumental effort and similarly monumental support to do that.

I certainly miss the life that I led for over ten weeks. Free as a bird, with the only task for the day to walk a pre-specified distance and find the way. Oh, and write the blog…..

Right, I’ve said it.

 

Caution: Walking can be dangerous for your health

Quite a few miles recently so I decided to let myself off a bit today. A later start and a very sedate pace for the afternoon. My feet are not happy feet at the moment and I am simply being the caring person that I am.

So a day off from long distances – a mere 17 miles today – but enough to de-clutter and de-stress. Never reached a great pace but that was ok; I wasn’t really in the mood. It was the first time too since about February that the chill was sufficient for a thicker hoodie despite the presence of plenty of sunshine. I doubt that the temperature was even in double figures and that is far more helpful for doing decent length walks.

However. The title of this post. As I turned for home, westward, I became more troubled by the lower sun as the afternoon wore on. Dazzled disaster almost struck on two occasions as I could barely see anything of detail in front of me. Both times, I was saved by trees and buildings appearing in the path of the rays, otherwise I would have walked into a lamppost, first, and then a telegraph pole, in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy films. I can just imagine the BBC South News.

“And finally,….”

Trying to work out the likely time when I can next have 4 weeks or thereabouts off work to do the “Three Sites Walk” between the Office for National Statistics offices in Titchfield, Newport and London. The walk itself looks quite feasible – the minimum walking distance is 325 miles (Titchfield to London 74 miles, to Newport 141 and back to Titchfield 110) but that appears to take in a number of main roads like the A36 that have no pathway. I would prefer to consider a few off-road paths like parts of the Clarendon Way, Three Downs Link and Wansdyke Way, for example. I don’t mind road walking at all but there has to be a pavement – there are around 400 pedestrians killed in road accidents in England and Wales each year, and I would like to minimise my own probability of becoming a mere statistic.

So there will be plenty of work to plan a route that is likely to be in the region of 400 miles. As for timing – I am hoping next year (2017) some time but, like many, finding a likely lull in work is hard. Like everyone else, I have to take my annual ration of leave but whether I want to use a very large portion of it in one go (forcing long spells without very much leave at all) is another thing. September/October look favourite if there is a time. Watch this space.

Star Trek (2016)

Captain’s Log, Stardate 46379.1. There will be some out there who know all the Star Trek stardates by episode, and could tell you exactly when that particular one took place, but I am not one of those. I’ve never been a great Star Trek fan – I watched a few episodes of the original series as a child and was mildly interested but no more than that. I’m not going to knock any Trekkies because everyone has their own hobbies and interests and every person is different. The relevance here is that yesterday I had what I found my best walk of the year so far, apart from London2Brighton, in fact, er, um, my star trek of 2016.

Rain was forecast from around 5pm so I endeavoured to make an early start. A 7:45am alarm on a Saturday may not sound that early to many but, believe me, it is for me. Despite my plans to get a train to the starting point, with her car needing ‘a good run’, Pammy gave me a lift. This is not unheard of – she has driven me to Winchester, Hythe, Brockenhurst and now Chichester. Each time I have managed to walk home; at some time she will finally manage to get rid of me by driving somewhere just a bit too far.

Leaving the Westdale Leisure Centre in Chichester at around 9:30, I was in Hampshire by 11:30 and Havant town centre about 45 minutes later. In the interim, I walked through places of which I was only vaguely aware by them appearing in listings of stations while waiting for trains of my own. Fishbourne, Bosham, Southbourne…. Emsworth was probably the largest town in the whole of Hampshire that I had never visited and it looked a place worth revisiting but, today, it was only fit for walking through on the way to Havant. I just needed to slog on through a difficult morning and places I didn’t know, for a distance that I hadn’t achieved for some time.

After a coffee in Havant, I felt a trifle more energised and enthusiastic about the whole thing. It was a long trawl up through Bedhampton to the outskirts of Cosham, continuing straight on to the top of Portsdown Hill by the Churchillian, finding a 40+ strong queue (mostly bikers!) to the refreshment van, then taking a spell of good paths and greenery off road before turning almost back on myself at the roundabout down the pavemented road to QA Hospital. This felt more familiar territory as I reached the top of Cosham, now with only about 11 or 12 miles to home!

No great dramatics and rain started at around 4pm, though I was more interested and distracted by the football on the radio. I didn’t feel I needed much food but I did get a small snack in Portchester. The distance was taking its toll and my feet were sore for the last hour or so – and have continued to be sore today, along with achy calves. Showers on and off until around 6:15pm when I reached home, and the distance was checked at a totally bonkers 25.5 miles. A really tough but enjoyable walk, and it felt an achievement to step up that far.

Limping around a bit today but I was boosted by weighing myself at under 14 stone now. Not anything particularly to write home about but a step in the right direction. A few more pounds lost would not go amiss and this weekly 20+ mile walking certainly appears to be taking effect. I was thinking at various times yesterday about friends and colleagues of my age and younger who are having health problems that would almost certainly prevent them even attempting to do this sort of thing (even if they wanted to), so I am extremely grateful for my own health.

A new challenge is in my mind but I have no idea when I can do it. The issue is not so much the distance (something like 325-350 miles) but when it could be done. Taking four weeks off work is not straightforward and the cost will be significant, but it is my sort of thing: 15-20 miles a day for something in the region of 100 miles and one rest day each week. My thought is to walk between the three sites of ONS: Titchfield, Newport and London, for which I would hope to get significant publicity within the Office, and therefore significant sponsorship. I haven’t thought even as far as the drawing board stage, to be quite frank, and have no ideas on charity – it ought to be something supported by a number in the Office. I would prefer it to be a smaller charity rather than one of those who always receive loads of support every time any event comes round. Needs some thought and planning – but, as I say, I have no idea when this will be done. Beam me up to that time, if you could…

 

A Gentle Ben day

Just to say firstly today that nothing, yes nothing, that I ever do could get anywhere near this: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/charity-fundraiser-runs-401-marathons-8987146. 401 marathons in 401 days, and I even heard people say that it wasn’t such a great thing because he missed some days and then just caught up by running two marathons on another day. Wow – Take a bow, no, take anything you want, Ben Smith. If you could leave Pammy with me that would be appreciated.

Without anything of great interest to listen to, I ventured out for today’s walk without a radio, tablet or phone. The only thing I did take was my bottle of flavoured water. So just me and a bottle. At least I would fit in around Gosport or Rowner, the general area where I was intending to go. It has been a difficult fortnight after coming back to work from leave and I really wasn’t in the mood for walking, more like curling up on the sofa and watching the three back to back to back episodes of Columbo on 5USA. Give me Columbo or Hitchcock on TV and I will always be happy. And yes, I do have the complete box set of Columbo episodes and all of Hitchcock’s films on DVD. And more yes, I did know that Marnie was on BBC2 quite late last night.

The days that I don’t want to go walking are usually those when I need to. I am not building up to any particular event or challenge but just gaining fitness and simply intending to maintain a good level through the winter. Sometimes, you’ve got to want it – ok, that is football cliché number 1 – and today I did even though at the same time I didn’t. It was a day of head music and at least the first two miles were dominated by Together in Electric Dreams. Over and over and over again, but it helped me to get a start. I think I must be a child, who all love repetition, especially of music and films. I am sure I know all the words now to The Lion King and, with a few minutes to revisit the precise script, I could take just about any part in a live version (though you wouldn’t want me to have to sing). I’m sure I could be Mufasa and imitate the voice of James Earl Jones, though the down side to that is that I would be stampeded by a herd of wildebeest halfway through the film. What about that shadowy place? That’s beyond our borders, you must never go there, Simba. But still, I did move in the direction of Gosport.

Gradually, I really got into the walk today despite a mild tummy upset at the time of the coffee stop at around five and a half miles. I was wary of a repeat but hung on nevertheless. I took an unusual diversion from Stubbington to Hill Head, then speed walked the whole of the promenade nearest the beach from Hill Head through Lee on Solent. I felt really determined and even sped past a pair of ‘power walkers’ – you know, where they swing their arms forward so they almost slap their face and then backwards to just about the point of dislocation and slapping anyone who is following close behind. Forget the arms, just bloomin’ walk! Looks quite stupid but at least they are letting everyone else know that they are ‘power walking’. Yes, it is super that they are getting some great exercise but if that were two blokes they would be laughed out of town, or off the promenade, at least.

I continued at a slightly lesser pace toward Gosport, passed Privett Park and turned left just before Haslar Hospital. This was a new route for me and soon I didn’t know where I was. I could only take solace from the shadows to know that I was walking in the general direction that I needed to be going, and that there was a bus route evidenced by bus stops with buses to Fareham. If I followed those I couldn’t go wrong. But I had no idea where I was. Lost in Gosport, that rapidly deleted follow-up by Bonnie Tyler to Lost in France, which incidentally I heard a few times over the summer by oh-so-clever-and-wacky DJs soon after the debacle with Iceland.

Lost in Gosport. Well, not quite true. I knew I wasn’t in Machu Picchu or that Angel Falls were just around the corner, nor could I hear cheetahs chasing down zebras in the African plains. Yes, I was somewhere between Gosport and Fareham and I would just walk until I saw something familiar, which I did after about ten minutes of mystery.

I was still feeling a touch queasy at times and was glad to take a familiar route back to Fareham and then home. Some more inspirational head music helped and I was really pleased with how far I thought I had walked – I reckoned about 22 or 23 miles based on my normal formula (relating distance to time) and the spell of speed walking. So I was disappointed when Google Maps indicated a smidgen over 21 miles. I checked it a few times and the most I could make it was 21.2. I am still sure it was more than that but I have no evidence to say otherwise. Not dinky-doo or dinky-dee but dinky-dun. Now 21 miles is a good distance, without a doubt, but I don’t understand it. I can only think that the distance-time exchange rate has plummeted after the Brexit vote and the apparent determination of the PM to carry out the “will of the people” as soon as is possible. No, I’m not going to open that debate again. What’s done is done. Get on with it now and good luck with that one…….

So not even an average day for Ben Smith. What an amazing achievement.

 

 

Feeling groovy

Been a tough time on occasions recently but gradually getting through it. Just upped my medication a bit which tends to work for me. There has been some criticism in the media and from prominent celebrities recently over the use of medication to treat anxiety/depression but I don’t think any two people are quite the same. I was taking a much larger dose a few years ago, and again that worked for me at that particular time. Nevertheless, just now and again, an extra dose during moments in the day can take the edge off whatever I’m feeling. Sometimes it is hard to tell if it is the condition of depression or whether it is merely the quite normal thing of someone feeling a bit down. The key point at these moments is “Find what works for me”.

Signs that I’m not good are both specific and vague:

irritation at minor things;

taking decisions that you know are not the right ones but that are somehow easier to take;

worrying loads about work, alternated with not caring at all about work (that’s a tricky situation – flipping between anxiety and depression);

thinking I need to lose weight but at the same time wanting chocolate (or occasionally junk food), which if I succumb makes me feel even worse than before!;

difficulty sleeping and/or weird dreams, sometimes apparently meaningless;

desire to listen to music that I haven’t heard for ages, usually from my teens or young adulthood;

don’t want to talk to anyone – it is often better just to leave me alone (because no-one can help, I might upset them and they might tell me something that I don’t want to hear), which is a problem if I have a work meeting – thankfully this situation only happens rarely;

 

I go very quiet on Facebook (!) and general communication. I tend to go into myself for a while and have long periods of deep thought. Often I can sit and read for half an hour or listen to music. Motown appears to work – there is one artist that I avoid like the plague, and that is Simon and Garfunkel. Not that I dislike them, in fact they are great when I’m feeling, er, groovy, but if I’m already miserable, they accentuate the mood.

Of course, I can go walking. This might not work for everyone but exercise cannot be anything but good if you can manage it. And on Sunday I took the weekly opportunity to find a route with plenty of decent climbs – I prefer the roads normally – and without any great drama I notched up almost exactly 20 miles, which should now be the norm for a once-a-week distance, even as the days get shorter. In fact, chances are that the walks will get longer rather than shorter with less threat from the heat.

If you are a trifle concerned at the tone of the first part of this post, then don’t be. It is very unusual if I talk or write about this topic at the time of feeling less chipper. So I am okay. All demands are quite reasonable in isolation but it is difficult when they all come at once. I could do with a hug here and there but then who couldn’t?

Thinking about walking – I am absolutely loving it and felt like the world was lifted from my shoulders. Yes, 20 miles, and it is comforting to find it becoming slightly easier each time. I’ll soon be ready to get to more serious distances – anything of 25 or more miles is a decent walk by virtually anyone’s standards, certainly mine. Feeling groovy? Yeah…