Thinker’s block resolved by violence

With rain forecast to some extent on both days over the weekend, and a combination of late nights and early mornings toward the back end of the week, it (whatever it is)pointed to a midday-or-thereabouts Saturday start. There had evidently been plenty of rain overnight and a bit more during the morning, judging by puddles on the road, and there were a couple of very brief and fairly light showers during the first hour after I left the house. I did have a ‘bum bag’ waterproof jacket with me but it never saw the light of day.

It was all very gentle fare, not picking up much pace particularly in the six miles to the coffee stop. At least there were plenty of newspapers available this time, and I much prefer Stubbington to Sholing in the coffee break stakes. The staff recognise me there, they remember my ‘usual’, and they are much quicker in serving than other outlets, so I felt more at home.

I wasn’t struggling at all but churning out the miles while listening to footie; no egg-chasing for me at all today! A few more miles in, I was really wondering what to write in this blog. No particular topical news issues with any tenuous connection to my day to day life, I had had nothing about which to complain, Pompey were winning and Matt’s favourites Newcastle were too. Newcastle’s second goal, versus Southampton, came just as I turned northwards from the Elson roundabout, and despite the writer’s block – or thinker’s block – all was well with the world. I just wanted something to write about.

One of the dangers when walking along roads, by that I mean pavements, is the behaviour of other people, mainly cyclists and drivers. And as I passed past a bus stop, a white van veered towards the pavement and the indented kerb straight through a massive puddle and I was absolutely soaked from head to toe. The driver then veered back onto the road and drove off. I have no idea why he (I assume he) did it other than for some joke, probably with his passenger(s), the sort of “you see that t*** on the path, watch this” joke. I was a bit stunned but didn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing me shouting or giving any hand signals; I’ll just be the bigger man, I thought. I consoled myself by thinking it was the highlight of his day within a very sad life.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t angry. It was appalling behaviour, not to say illegal. Yes, splashing pedestrians is illegal and one can be prosecuted under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act for careless, aggressive or inconsiderate behaviour on the road. The maximum penalty is a £150 fine and three penalty points, along no doubt with an  increase in insurance premiums. I believe (from my Home Office days of crime statistics) it is recorded under the ‘violence against the person’ category. Of course, it is only enforceable if reported, and would probably need to be witnessed by a police officer to have any chance of a prosecution – but it does happen: I don’t think that I have one friend who would do what that idiot did, but then none – or at least extremely few – of my friends are idiots. So I still had almost three hours to walk in wet clothes, though they did dry off quickly enough.

And that was where the day turned, at least for 45 minutes. Pompey managed to do their Jekyll and Hyde act again, and Newcastle failed to score than one more goal. But I gradually felt much calmer about the splash incident at least, with no lasting effects, and it was yet more uneventful fare in completing my 18 mile walk. A nice large mug of milk and a touch of raspberry sauce and all is well with the world.


C**** spoils my coffee stop

Thankfully there has been a rapid thaw and the pavements are pretty clear down here, though there are one or two heaps of snow on the sides in places. I was pretty ambivalent about walking today, not particularly enthusiastic yet not particularly worried about setting off in the late morning.

I decided to have a fairly early coffee stop after about an hour, or 3.5 miles, at one of my regular outlets in the Sholing area. The store expanded some months ago after having a couple of windows smashed and now has a sort of extra conservatory tagged onto the main store. Personally, I think it has lost something despite gaining extra capacity, and I don’t go to this one as often as I used to. For the third time in a row here, I had a newspaper issue. I always appreciate a little read at a coffee stop, even if it is not one of my papers of choice, and once, they had had no papers delivered, the next time, all were being devoured by a table of people who said virtually nothing to each other for the half an hour I was around, and today I had to find one discarded on a table. I settled down and then realised that it was yesterday’s!

So, you C**** people, is it too much that, like hundreds of others each day, I spend almost three quid on a large cup of hot milk with coffee flavouring and you can’t provide any up to date reading material? This never happens at any other of your C**** stores, nor at St******* or C*** N*** or any others that I have been? I don’t want to read about the build up to yesterday’s Southampton game, I want to laugh at them in the report in today’s paper. It was a shorter stop than normal today as I harrumphed my way up the road. You’re C**** and you know you are. I can’t even bear to say your name, but you must admit I’ve been fair in applying equally effective anonymisation techniques to your competitors. And, you, autocorrect, it’s with an ‘s’ not a ‘z’. This is England, you know.

As I took an almost random path westward, I didn’t ever speed up but I did take a greater than normal batch of hilly roads to test myself. Apart from the snow heaps, it felt like a typical late-February / early-March / clocks nearly going forward day, with the temperature not cold enough for the woolly hat but I did have my gloves on for the most part as my hands have suffered a bit during the cold snap. The outside chance of rain never materialised, but after all it was an outside chance, so the forecasters just about got today right. They never get any credit when they get it right so this is the last we’ll hear of it, except probably in the Express where – depending on the next couple of days and the whims of the editor – we’re either in for another month’s deep freeze or a sustained heatwave.

The perils of such an early stop are that it means a long haul for some hours. I did snack up with some rather against the ‘Nutritional advice for Athletes’ handbook items of a hot sausage roll and a Belgian bun, but they did help in giving me the energy to complete a 19 mile walk. Yes, it is a good distance, but I’m really just passing time until finding the right challenge or event. I’m considering the Chiltern 50k in September, which is half challenge distance but might be really nice without feeling dead on my feet for days after: Methinks however that, without being too cocky, that that may not be a challenge for which I can get so motivated (since I know I can do it!) [It also clashes with an international conference that I will be expected to attend – mmm, that reminds me that delegation is a key aspect of management]. Part of the challenge thing is to have doubts that you can actually succeed. I may do that one, but I’ll keep looking for something else, perhaps a bit different, and so I won’t be annoyed by any paperless C****.

None too shabby

Feeling somewhat under par physically today, though slightly more content with the world than I have been, before my walk today. Reflecting on things during the week, I couldn’t recall the last time that I was happy with everything and had absolutely no worries, but felt perhaps that is the way of the world. I have resigned myself many years ago to having at least a little stress in whatever job I have at the time, and I know – from a short period a very very long time ago – that there is nothing worse than when no-one cares about what you do. A small amount of stress is crucial to delivering well, even if it only comes about through, say, having to phone someone you don’t know, or having to write a paper to a deadline.

Ok, I think the last time I was happy with everything and had absolutely no stress or worries was during school summer holidays, when six weeks seemed to last forever. The only minor worry, if that’s what it was, was whether to go and play cricket, play football, watch a bit of television (there were only three channels at that time, but there was loads of cricket), perhaps help Mum or Dad with something to do with their shop, or something else. They really were stress-free worry-free times, and by about the fifth week, I was always ready to go back to school, often to see some of those mates whom I hadn’t seen since school broke up.

It is a hard road back, not from near Stokes Bay, the furthest point of my walk today (well ok it’s not easy), but from stress, depression, anxiety and the like. There has been interesting coverage recently of research showing that anti-depressants do work., which flew a little in the face of other research a couple of weeks earlier. My take on this from my own personal experience is anti-depressants can work, at least at first, though they weren’t the whole solution, nor were they a long term one. I thought that when I was prescribed fluoxetine (yes, that’s Prozac) that I would see instant effects, one way or the other. After a couple of weeks, I had only felt marginal gain, and my doctor (who was a fantastic support for many months) said “Yes, we’ll increase that – at the moment you’re only sniffing the bottle”. I understood later that he had only given me a very weak dose so that we could assess any side effects, which would only be short-term and minimal, and that I was pretty much being given a placebo to see if any symptoms were psychological.

An increase of the dose worked well, though I was very wary of the addictive potential. I weaned myself off fluoxetine when I was through the worst and I had found that other treatments, such as exercise in the form of regular walking, was sufficient for me. I still take a very mild dose of a beta blocker, which does help with anxiety. I occasionally increase the dose as and when I feel a bit on edge during the day, almost always at work! There may now be a certain psychological effect of this, but I am taking an amount that does not have significant side effects. Nevertheless, it is a very personal road to recovery, and every individual has their own things that work for them. I am certainly not preaching that what I did would work for everyone, nor that it is the road most likely to work.

In the news this week, in the wake of the terrible school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the angle being taken by the President is that more, rather than fewer, guns are the solution. This issue polarises opinion in the United States and I don’t wish to fan the flames by commenting any more on the culture of another country that I have only visited twice. Myself, I don’t think I could shoot anyone, even an intruder in my house. I suppose however that since I’ve never been in the position of having the lives of my family under threat in such a way, it is impossible to say that I could never kill someone. But my mind did go back to the times when I was at my lowest ebb, and let me say straight away that I never had serious suicidal thoughts, but loads of people at their own low points must feel, in a split second or perhaps longer, that if they did have a gun to hand, they might consider using it on themselves or other people. Thankfully, I’ve never been there.

Right, lightening up, in other news, it was cold today, very cold. Virtually every day on Facebook I am receiving those “4 years ago” messages and others are pulling out others, with me at various stages of that Land’s End to John O’Groats walk. Some of those stages were reminiscent of today. The very last day, where I had left myself a mere 4.8 miles stroll to complete 1,026 over ten weeks, was as bitter as they come. I had become quite used to having four layers of clothing, but that day I had five, and at John O’Groats, I pulled out my Pompey shirt from my rucksack and put that over the top. No wonder I looked so fat, much bigger than at the start, despite being 21 pounds lighter! Today, it felt somewhere between three and four layers, and I settled for three – a base layer, a long sleeved football type shirt, and a fleeced hoodie. I did hanker for a fourth at times, especially along the promenade at Lee-on-Solent, one of my favourite walking haunts, but I walked quickly enough to ward off hypothermia and frostbite. Despite not really feeling my best, and not always being that enthusiastic, 21.5 miles was none too shabby.

Goodnight. Don’t have nightmares.

24/7 and the audio Gogglebox

I have been going through a very difficult time recently and was looking forward to a long walk more than I have for a while. I was even persuaded to get out of bed considerably earlier than I might have done otherwise and, after a shave, shower, smoothie and a, er, hot cross bun, I was out of the house before 11am. Now that might not seem that early to most of you. However, it did give me time for a trifle over 7 hours walking, along with a 25 minute coffee stop, and 24 miles, the furthest I have walked since the Thames Challenge thingy in September.

In the early miles, I was reflecting a lot on what is technically often known as ‘stuff’, things that are affecting me quite seriously both outside and inside work, and then moved on to other events in the world. I was far enough away from home not to turn back when I realised that I had forgotten my glasses and knew that it would then take me a minute or two to focus on any reading material on which I could put my hands at my coffee stop in Fareham, which came just short of six miles. The store was packed and it was a bit of good fortune when a couple left just as I received my large latte. I was on a bar stool by a small table but beggars can’t be choosers, as they say.

With the Daily Mail the only newspaper available, I wasn’t regretting forgetting the glasses – and someone had pinched the football supplement anyway. But it didn’t matter. An elderly couple – when I say elderly I would say around 70 to 75 years old – were on the nearest table, and it was fairly close to me. The man was tapping on his phone while the woman had the newspaper, though I couldn’t quite make out which publication. For a good 15 minutes she provided a commentary on the big news stories of the day and her views. The man occasionally nodded or muttered “mmm” or “yes” but he would have struggled to get a longer word in even if he’d tried. To the uninitiated – like me – they looked like a couple who’d been together for many years, and he’d got to the point of giving up trying to have his say. It was so funny and I found it hard to stifle a snigger at times.

But she was not entirely uninformed. She spoke first about “these West Bromwich Albion players” and (as I have been thinking) that if anyone else had been on a work trip and stolen a taxi, they would have most probably been fired, but, in her words, “they were not even kids, they were two England players and one Northern Ireland one, and so they get away with it”. Next, she was on to Oxfam and how she wouldn’t be donating to them “until it was all sorted out”, whatever that meant. After another few minutes about “those poor children”, the school shooting and the need for gun control in America, I felt as if I would much sooner have this as my news feed for my coffee break than reading it for myself. It was like an audio version of Gogglebox, and really entertaining too. Scarlett Moffatt has nothing on this couple. I’m not sure which of the two was funnier.

Unfortunately, it was soon time to get back on the road before she was able to get on to the intricacies of the luge or skeleton at the Winter Olympics and I ate up the miles. I hurried past Wickham, since I often find it full of faux-posh chavs out for some culcha – no offence to those who live there, of course. A long haul on the road to (and through) Botley, past the Rose Bowl and West End, up Chalk Hill towards Bitterne and then back to Sarisbury, whose hill’s steepness is directly proportional to the square of the number of miles already walked.

My soles were becoming painful but my soul was intact as I finished at around 6:30pm. Yeah, these things take all day, but I really feel the fitness coming and a certain satisfaction (ok, smugness) at being able to trot out these long distances each week. I definitely felt less troubled and it was nice to not have to put on the woolly hat that I had carried, though it was still chilly enough for the gloves for much of the day. Not sure that I’ll be able to match this distance every weekend, but spring and summer are coming, with longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures. Hopefully that couple will turn up again.

Hail and pace

The ease with which I negotiated 18 miles today at a good pace augers well for whatever walking challenge(s) I decide to take on this year. I can’t say that I have looked after myself that well with plenty of snacking on the Christmas pile-up of chocolates, biscuits, cheese and whatever over the last couple of months, so it is somewhat surprising how quickly I have got back up to achieving regular late-teens distances.

The weather forecast once again pointed to one of the weekend days being very preferable to the other, Saturday full of rain and drizzle, with Sunday pretty dry. A 10% chance of rain was sufficiently low. I can handle any weather if I really need to, and I don’t mind the cold, rain or wind, as long as it’s just one of those, with the worst combination very much being rain and wind together.

I wasn’t considering that that 10% might include or exclude the chance of snow or hail. At past half distance there were three brief snow flurries, none of them heavy enough to settle; that merely came as a bit of a surprise and it was pretty cold out there, though I was well wrapped up with the obligatory gloves and woolly hat. Three radio football commentaries sounded like a perfect accompaniment to a few hours plodding, and took my mind off the weather until a heavy hailstorm arrived just as the adverts came on at the end of the second game. The first encouraged the listener to use a specific bookmaker’s website to place bets on football, ending with the usual “When the fun stops – stop!”. At that moment, my walk was certainly not fun, but I carried on for a few minutes and the weather cleared.

On such days, my mind often harks back to that walk from Wookey to Bath where I ended up in a student hostel with precious few heating or drying facilities after six hours getting absolutely soaked. My rucksack had leaked and much of my paperwork (evidence of booking accommodation, notes on particular routes etc) was, you know, how soaked paper usually looks and feels. I had to somehow dry sufficient clothes to get through two more (thankfully dry) days before a rest day when I could have my clothes washed – virtually every B&B owner was fantastically kind in doing this. But, today, when it is just one day, it is no real problem, even if uncomfortable for a while.

Talking of which, I will soon be receiving Facebook notifications, more days than not, recalling this day “4 Years Ago” and the corresponding section of the walk. I guess that, at the time, I never realised quite what an effect those ten weeks would have on my life, and was more concerned about the cost and loss of earnings than thinking of the immense non-monetary value to myself. Memories do fade but there are certain days and moments that will remain with me for as long as I have the ability to remember anything. Occasionally, just occasionally, I read back the whole of the blog from 16 February to 29 April 2014. Yes, it is very self-indulging indeed, but as much as the achievement (that only hit me afterwards) I like to remember the support that I had throughout – that does come out in many of the responses and comments, some from people now no longer with us.

Reminiscing of this time always begs the question – would/will you do it again? Well, who knows what will happen, and if I am going to do it again, I will wait until after I retire and hope to be the oldest person ever to complete it. Yeah, I know, I have said this before (75 years and 88 days, in case you are wondering). But I will need to keep going in the meantime and find other challenges that don’t involve me taking several weeks leave from work. I can’t say that I am as enthusiastic at all on the “three marathons in three days” type challenges that appear to be as much the rage as the “100km in one day” that I have done in the last three years. It seemed such a good idea when I first suggested it to a few friends but, for one thing, it involves getting up far too early, three days in a row! I am not one for giving up bed too easily in the morning.

Weather and football apart, it was pretty unremarkable today though it is becoming normal to have to queue significant time for a coffee. Despite how it might seem, in the UK, the growth in demand for coffee in coffee shops (around 10% per year) is outstripping the growth in the number of coffee shops (around 6% per year). Perhaps that’s why queues are longer. Mmmm, this almost needs a blog post on its own……


Roll up, roll up for the nuclear shelter

I have thought hard recently about going back in the gym to get a more rounded fitness than is offered by just loads of walking. I was a regular for a couple of times a week for about three years in the noughties, and was as trim as I’ve ever been until an injury prevented me going for a couple of months. I never really got back into it, and anyway had been finding so many people who spent as much time in front of the huge mirrors as anything else. So I was more than happy to do my own thing and hog the machines that I specifically wanted to use before Mr Poseur was able to sit on my favourite and flex his muscles in the sight of any tight-bodied female or male who deigned to glance in his direction.

Before I really accelerate into rant mode, I shall say that walking has been my thing for over six years now and it has become a way of life that does it for me. The first part of the walk today saw me at a reasonable pace down to Stubbington for a coffee break and then down to Lee on Solent. Having been pretty cold for most of the day so far, I was expecting plenty of windy thuggery buggery on the sea front but they were conversely the calmest conditions throughout the 17 miles. When I turned northwards it was very much a case of finding the sunny side of every street to ensure suffering slightly less cold than otherwise.

But I have been under the misapprehension in thinking that walking is good for my mood. Well today shot that out of the water. Firstly, on a road with a narrow path and a perfectly good cycle lane on the road, a cyclist on the path pretty much forced me onto the road while muttering something that didn’t sound too complimentary. Having just brushed that off as one of those things that does happen occasionally, I crossed a road on the impression that a driver travelling quickly and not signalling meant “straight on” and so it was ok for me to cross. Of course, he then veered left, stuck on his indicator and bashed his horn as I took evasive action. And when I deigned to press the button to cross the main road, another driver took offence to me delaying his journey just a few seconds by shouting something and offering me some coffee beans, I gather.

It was as if, for half an hour, I had travelled to a parallel world where everyone was behaving as their social media persona. Everyone was getting something out of their system, and much of it was landing in my direction. This must have been how Brooks felt after being released after 50 years in Shawshank Prison, and we all know how he ended up (if you don’t, then you really need to see that film).

Perhaps we should have one designated day in the year where we all act as if we are on social media. So I can abuse anyone I like, be as discriminatory as I want on any grounds, to whomever, and as long as I then hold up a fishing rod and reel, everything is fine. Wouldn’t that be just great and absolutely cathartic? Get it all out of our system just for one day, and the next day go back to being human beings again.

But, really, there are some times when I go home and think “it’s us against the world”.  My plan for this is to build an underground nuclear shelter and live there. I have composed a letter to Fareham Borough Council, requesting planning permission, and am putting out feelers for local builders. It needs to be large enough to live long-term, and I am about to start on the short list of around 30 people for co-dwellers. OK, me, Pammy, Matt I suppose, and the rest are up for grabs. Applications welcome, and once I have all those in, I will work out whom I want and then – and only then – draw up the criteria after the fact. Because that is the way things are done these days. Ah yes, the other thing, compose two letters, one from Donald Trump to Kim Jong-Un, and one the other way, that should instigate dusting off of red buttons (are they really red? Or just a normal button?), by which time the 30 of us should be fine and dandy.

Or perhaps I should give up walking and get in the gym. Smash all the mirrors first, obviously.

A long and cold one

Tap tap tap. Yes, it’s the BBC weather website. Right, I see, it’s raining on Saturday, but very little chance of precipitation on pretty much every one of the following six days. Tap tap. Sunday. Maximum temperature 5 Celsius. Right, perhaps a little colder than I would ideally like (that’s around 8-12 Celsius) but ok, I will have my gloves and woolly hat. Click. Ah! what’s this? “Feels Like: -1 Celsius”. Ok, we’re in for a cold one. That is pretty much how it went this week. I have a week off coming up, with the possibility of a couple of extra walks, but Sunday is the one.

There’s been quite a bit in the press, media and social media about the creation of the myth of 10,000 steps. So let me have my own say. Anyone who is getting through that number every day, most days, or even two or three times a week, will be doing themselves some good. It sounds nonsense to suggest that two minutes strenuous exercise does you as much good as five miles’ walking. However, four people have asked me about this week, one suggesting that I might as well give up walking because it’s not really doing me that much good anyway (I think he was joking, actually, but you can never be absolutely sure with some people). But it is not unreasonable to think that both activities have something going for them, and they can be combined, of course.

Anyone who has the time to walk 10,000 steps should be able to fit in a few flights of stairs or a speed walk into that regime. In fact, the latter will help you complete the number quicker. For me, in any case, the “High Intensity Training” is incorporated in virtually every one of my walks with a speed walk for a mile or so, and/or by pushing myself very hard up a steep hill. Anything that makes the heart beat quicker or builds up a sweat is ok. This is the way I have to do it – I can’t see two minutes intense exercise doing the same for my mind as a long walk. Head music wouldn’t even get through the first track.

I was determined to walk just a little bit further than last week’s 16 miles, and today I knocked out just under 20 miles on what was indeed a very cold Sunday late morning / afternoon / early evening. Yes, it does take that long, and that is the biggest barrier to anyone taking up long distance walking. The details of the route: from Sarisbury to Southampton via Sholing, Itchen Bridge and Ocean Village, the habitual coffee stop, and then pushing hard northwards through Bedford Place, Southampton Common and The Avenue. Turn right down Bassett Green Road, through Swaything, Mansbridge, pass by West End, then down Kanes Hill and back to Sarisbury.

I didn’t really feel the distance in my legs until late on, which is a good sign (yeah yeah – “always do one or two miles more than is comfortable”). I was in the zone today and sometimes in deep concentration, though not so deep that I couldn’t acknowledge a couple from work walking together in Southampton, and a car driver flashing and waving (I’ve no idea who you were, sorry!). I did feel the cold for a bit after the coffee stop; it is surprising how much one can cool down during half an hour or so, even while partaking of a hot beverage. But I was pleased with myself today – I would class anything over 15 miles as a decent walk, and over 20 as a long one. So almost long, and very decent indeed. No doubles entendres intended, though you may like to play with that one. Let’s see how stiff I am in the morning.