Where it started

A list going round on Facebook, February 2016: "which of these items have you experienced" etc. Some yes, some no, some didn't interest me. However, it put some ideas into my head, and I figured it was time I followed some of my friends in committing them to (virtual) paper. And then trying some of them out. The first challenge was undertaken on 1 March 2016, and I have no intention of ever completing the list: the more I tick off, the more I'll add.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Climbing mountains

Two mountains in two days. An extraordinarily kind period of weather in late October. A group of eight of us (plus the adorable Max-the-dog) climbed Blencathra and Skiddaw. An experience I never dreamed of, and views that literally made me weep at times.

Further edits to this post very soon, but here are links to the two photo albums:

Blencathra - Thursday 26 October

Skiddaw - Friday 27 October


Saturday, 30 September 2017

Upside-down in a hamster wheel

This was quite a special and unusual experience. It didn't figure on my original list, for the simple reason I'd never heard of it. Through my connections with the world of circus aerial hooping, I came across this extraordinary activity, and was fascinated to know more: German Wheel.

The basic kit is a construction of two parallel wheels, linked with metal handles and foot straps in various places. The trick is to control the wheel in various ways, from a simple cartwheel to vaulting over the wheel to two-person activities to sitting on the crossbars to one-handed spins... and so on. This video gives you a general flavour.

As far as I can work out, there's only the one group in the UK that offers training in this exciting activity; so I was fortunate that it was at least in East Anglia, at the Kesgrave Sports Centre in Ipswich (albeit almost 2 hours away from me). I'm told that people travel to the weekly sessions from all over the country - one lass was known to drive from Barnsley to Ipswich for a two-hour session and then drive back again...

I was excited to attend a half-day introduction to the activity. The tutors - Anna, James, John and Konrad - were friendly, professional and passionate: a winning combination. They take great care and lots of time with each member of the group, whether total beginner or seasoned acrobat.

It requires a fair level of fitness, and there's an intensive warm up to start with. It's challenging and sometimes painful - the weight on the feet in the straps as one turns upside-down, tightly attached (obviously), results in some bruising; and the use of the arms throughout tests the biceps and triceps to the max. The control of the wheel when you're constantly changing direction takes a lot of concentration - and the potential speed of movement can be scary to the point of nausea.

However, on getting accustomed to all this unusual use of the body, the sense of achievement when one manages a solo cartwheel for the first time - two revolutions down the hall - is pretty extraordinary.



I met some other fabulous people on the day, too - a couple of familiar faces from my 'budgie-hooping' sessions, and others who ranged from beginners like myself to experienced and intrepid wheelers. I made friends with Daniele,whose yoga background made her a natural, and we tried out some joint moves...


This was one of the greatest challenges I've taken on so far.  There have been moments during my Life List where a real stomach-churning fear has floored me initially - but I've usually managed to overcome it. There was the first time I tried breathing through the tube of a snorkel, and through the scuba rig; there was the first leap off a high tree-mounted platform into a cargo net or along a zip wire. The first time I turned upside-down in the German Wheel was one of those - but it was amazing how quickly I got accustomed to it. With practice and experience, I might bring at least a tiny bit more poise and confidence to the activity - although I doubt I'd ever reach the extraordinary heights achieved by experts like the four tutors. (Look up Konrad on YouTube to see what I mean.)

It's a long way for me to travel, but I don't eliminate the possibility of doing it again. The charges for the regular classes are exceptionally reasonable, the people friendly and professional, and the feeling of achievement amazing. Meantime, this was a fabulous and memorable experience that I wouldn't have missed for the world.


Click here for a few photographs of the day

Click here for the full playlist of my short videos

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Walk a marathon: we did it

I did it. I walked a marathon - or, as it turned out, 28 miles - with nine amazing people (and two support drivers).

It all started last August, when my good friend and mentor Karl Whitfield, of Mother Nature's Diet, spotted my ambition on this life list to 'walk a marathon'. Basically, he called my bluff. He sent me a choice of routes, a choice of dates, a training schedule, and made sure it happened. And I'm so glad he did.

I started gradually increasing my walking mileage, and was proud of a fifteen-mile walk across the bridges of London in September 2016. However, in late February 2017, training began in earnest, with my good friend and fitness partner of many years, Kim.  Click here to see details of our training along the Norfolk Coastal Path.

***

Having spent the four months from the end of February to the end of May following Karl's schedule of walks, from 11.5 miles to just under 23 miles, we felt ready and confident for our 'marathon plus'.

We met up the night before to share supper in Wendover, spent the night in an agreeable AirBNB a few miles away, and then gathered for a 6.30am start on the Saturday morning. Our two drivers, Joe and Selwyn, bid us farewell, and we set off on a mild, initially cloudy, warm morning (the sun came out very soon, and remained with us right until the final half-mile).


As Karl had predicted, there were some moderate hills in the first few miles. It was well worth it when, after just 1.5 miles, we arrived at the Coombe Hill monument, with its sensational views across the countryside - I believe at least three counties were visible.


I was excited to see large numbers of red kites - brought back from the brink of extinction in just the last few decades - above us for much of the walk.

Earlier I mentioned a 'marathon plus' ... Karl didn't want to run the risk of us coming in just under the 26.2 mile marathon target ("another quarter of a mile! Round the block!") - so in planning the route, he aimed for 27 miles. However, at the last minute we also agreed to add a short diversion (about six miles into the walk) half-a-mile each way off the path down into Princes Risborough, where there was our final chance for a shop, a cafe and a public loo - as opposed to the dodging-behind-trees we did for the rest of the day. Which brought it up to 28 miles. (Or 28.8, or 29, or 29.5, depending on which walker's GPS you choose to believe! Mine was 28.07, so that's what I'm going with.)

Our planned lunch stop was (somewhat unromantically) just after walking through a sub-M40 underpass. This, in fact, was well over halfway, being at just under 16 miles in. Our drivers met up with us - Selwyn having got there some time before decided to walk out a mile or two to meet us and then accompany us to the cars - and we restocked with sock changes, extra water and food. Before setting off again. we took what's probably my favourite group photograph of the day.


As we moved into the final five miles, the dogged determination is evident.


As Jason pointed out, at least when you're coming down a mountain you have a clear idea of where the finish line is! But we kept going...

Finally, we reached the bridge over the river at Wallingford, where family and friends were waiting for us in the riverside pub.


This was a completely remarkable day and an amazing achievement for all concerned. Five men, five women, ranging in age from 30 to 65, all levels of fitness but one level of determination, and we all made it. We arrived about 12.5 hours after setting off, although around 10 hours of that was actual walking time. Many of us knew each other already, but new friendships were forged. Once again, the lovely Karl had initiated, bullied, planned and encouraged, and we managed an extraordinary feat.


For Chris, Jane, John, Jason, Karl, Cristina, James, Kim and Rebecca - my heartfelt thanks and love for joining and supporting me in this endeavour. It's a day I will never forget and an achievement of which I will always be deeply proud.



If you're interested, you'll find the full album of photographs here, including some provided by my fellow walkers.

***

One final comment. I initially took on this challenge for myself personally. However, as various folks asked me if I was accepting sponsorship, I decided to donate any monies raised to Clare's Legacy Fund (details in this posting). At the time of writing (mid June), £520 has been raised online plus a further £98 in local cash donations. I know that Clare's indomitable spirit was with us, and she would have loved the day - being, as it was, fairly close to her own home near her beloved Cotswolds.

For friends, for challenges, for fitness, for love and for nature, I give grateful thanks.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Walk a marathon: the Norfolk Coastal Path

When I committed to training to 'walk a marathon', I was already walking a minimum of 70 miles each month by that time, usually around 3-4 miles per walk, with the occasional 5 miler, and a couple of 13 milers to train for the 15 mile sponsored London Bridges walk in September 2016.

Starting in February, work began in earnest when my fitness buddy Kim joined me. We decided that we would train by walking the whole of the Norfolk Coastal Path (around 85 miles, Hopton to Hunstanton) in sections, which we achieved in six chunks. We were joined on one of these by James and on two others by Rebecca - both of whom completed the final marathon walk with us.

Click on the links to see photographs of each of the walks, and on the map to view at larger size.

Sunday 26 February: Winterton-Happisburgh (11.5 miles)


Sunday 12 March: Winterton-Hopton (14.5 miles)


Sunday 26 March: Happisburgh-West Runton (16.1 miles)


Sunday 9 April: Stiffkey-Cromer (19.4 miles)


Sunday 14 May: Wells-Hunstanton (22.8 miles)


Saturday 20 May: Wells-Blakeney plus Blakeney Point (19.6 miles)


Each time we'd completed a walk, we said "we can't imagine walking any further..." - but we always did. Interestingly, the final five miles of the 'real thing' were the toughest - from mile 23 to 28 - and that was unknown territory at that point, as 22.8 was our furthest until then.

The coastal path is an extraordinary and wonderful landscape. Each section that we walked had its own remarkable character and atmosphere - and level of difficulty. The shingle beaches were the hardest, especially Blakeney Point - three miles in each direction mostly on heavy shingle. There's the uninspiring Great Yarmouth town centre, which then gives way to the rather lovely path alongside the industrial boatyards and down to glorious Gorleston. There's the fabulous marshes to the western end of the walk, around the Stiffkey-Wells stretch. There are hills (yes, really, in Norfolk!) in the Sheringham area, and Beeston Bump. There's the only bit of coastline in Norfolk where one can see a sunset directly across the sea: Hunstanton. There's the alarming coastal erosion around Happisburgh and west of there. There are walks across beaches, on dunes and inland, on shingle and on hard sand and on soft sand.

This was a pilgrimage of nature, enjoying and appreciating our beautiful county, pushing our physical boundaries further than we believed possible, and learning all the while. I am so delighted to have shared this remarkable experience with my lovely friend Kim, every step of the way, and look forward to new challenges together.


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Walk a marathon: making a difference

My #walkamarathon training is going well. I've walked three sections of the Norfolk coastal path (11.5 miles, 14.5 miles and 16 miles), so far covering from Hopton on the eastern Suffolk border round to West Runton in the north. Next up is around 18 miles from Cromer to Stiffkey, this coming Sunday. All being well, I'll be all set for the full 26+ miles on 3 June.

I've always said I'd choose a charity for this event, and the inspiration has come from my dear friend Clare,who passed away on 30 December. You'll find her elsewhere on this blog, sharing a walk on a glorious day in Wiltshire, and when I attended her memorial service in February.

During the final weeks of her life, she worked hard with her family to set up Clare's Legacy Fund, which will offer opportunities for "eight places on an annual 3-day “Clarify Retreat” for people who face some kind of radical transformation in their life". Clare changed her own life, moving from journalism to home staging and decluttering in her fifties.She has asked for a 'living memorial', and this is entirely in tune with the generous and innovative way she lived her life. For more details of the Fund, please read this document.

When I walk my marathon on 3 June, supported and accompanied by my dear friend Karl Whitfield and others from the wonderful Mother Nature's Diet group, I'm doing it first and foremost for my own challenge. However, if anyone would like to recognise my attempt by sponsoring me, please visit my GoFundMe page.

My walk takes place on The Ridgeway, starting at Wendover and finishing at Wallingford. I know that Clare would have been up for the challenge if she'd been able, and I know she'll be with us in spirit.

In celebration of a dear friend and colleague, and a life supremely well lived.

Photograph: Matt Mulligan (Clare's son)

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Reasons: for Clare

In May 2016 I spent a superb weekend with friends. We took a fairly long (12 mile) walk through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside; spent the night under canvas; shared chat and laughter and information and life stories.

I shared this experience with a particularly good friend who lived nearby. Clare and I had been planning to get together for months (she was in Oxfordshire, I in Norfolk), and this seemed a great opportunity. We took a full weekend for me to share not only the above walk, but also a magical day in the wonderful city of Bath with Trudy, fellow founder of APDO, of which Clare was a highly active and vital member. Such happy days.



I couldn't have known that this was the last time I was to see Clare. She was troubled by illness across that summer, and had several stays in hospital and an operation. Her positive attitude throughout reassured her many friends and professional colleagues that she was on the road to recovery. However, in early November, I received a devastating message from her, letting me know that she had been diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer, and that she might have "as little as six months". (In the event, it was less than two months.) Just at that time, I was on a course with the Mother Nature's Diet group, many of whom had met Clare on that wonderful May weekend.

Clare continued to be in touch with many friends, sharing and creating experiences with her loved ones, never once showing fear or anger or self-pity. Her glowing personality continued to shine through as she shared love with us all.

I planned to visit her in mid December, and was saddened to hear a few days beforehand from her lovely son, saying that visits were no longer possible from any but immediate family. I consoled myself with the memory of that beautiful few days in the May sunshine, enjoying the open air and friends and exercise and food and companionship, and knowing that this would remain with me.

Clare passed away on the penultimate day of 2016. In just over 59 years, she had achieved more and given more love and happiness than many do in a further two or three decades.

On Thursday 2 February, I met with many of Clare's friends and family, including five other members of APDO, to celebrate her life.



Her End of Life Celebrations Fund - which sadly she had too little time to make much use of - has been reinvented, as per her wishes, as Clare's Legacy Fund, intended to help people at a crossroads in their life.

There is no greater reason for continuing my Life List activities - and, indeed, all my life activities - than the pursuit of love. As Clare said in her message to me about her diagnosis, "It's all so simple really when it comes down to it, love really is the only thing that matters. And living life to the full, which I intend to do for whatever time I have left."

I turned 54 years old just a week after Clare's death at the age of 59. I may reach her age, or not; I may surpass it by weeks or years or decades. None of that matters. What matters is what I do with each minute, each hour, each day that I am granted.

Rest in peace, beloved Clare. Your friendship was the greatest gift, and your example the finest inspiration. Thank you.


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

As nature intended

One of my more challenging items on this list was 'to pose for a life drawing class'. Having become at least somewhat more comfortable with my body - in its clothed state, at least - I wanted to see how I managed with the idea of nakedness (in front of a specific and appropriate audience, of course).

My good friend Sian spotted this item on the list when she was surveying this blog looking for inspiration to create her portrait of me last autumn. Being an artist, and having other friends with similar interests, she promised to set up the opportunity for me to have this experience; and was as good as her word. In her living room, I posed for Sian and two fellow artists (plus another friend who came along to make the tea!), otherwise only observed by her cat - who happily refrained from jumping on the model...

I undressed before the other artists arrived and put on a robe until we were ready to start. The house was warm, we had tea and hot apple juice, I knew three out of the four people present personally, and all was very relaxed and cheerful.

When we were ready, I felt quite un-stressed removing my robe and taking up a comfortable position on the sofa. Sian told me to make myself as comfortable as I could, and that they'd start with a couple of five minute poses so I could get used to it. (Dawn, who was on tea-making duty, timed the poses on her phone.) As we went on, we made the poses longer - 10 or 15 minutes - and I would often remain in pose beyond the allotted time to allow the artists to finish.



Seeing the first images was curious. All artists had (logically) focused on the body and left the face blank, which gave an odd sense of freedom in its anonymity - even though I was happy for them to be published later and identified as me. The body is neither perfect nor particularly toned - although it's a lot healthier than it was - and the most difficult area for me (the breasts) is shown in its unsupported, middle-aged glory. Accepting that as part of the way I am was one of the most important lessons of the process.

There was no sense of shame or fear in the event; I was surrounded by friendly and accepting people, who appreciated my curves, my skin and my femininity in all its imperfections. As I managed to keep still (most of the poses were very comfortable) for the duration, I was told that I was a good model. I was proud for that to be so.

The erotic element to this was interesting. There was no feeling of being cheapened or at risk in any way; but that doesn't mean to say that it was without its sensual side. There is an extraordinary feeling of empowerment when feeling comfortable with a safely exposed body, and when feeling appreciated rather than objectified.

We continued with the session for some three hours in the end, including a break for warm drinks (and for me to cover up for comfort!); by the end I was surprised that time had gone so fast. As I said above, to relax and feel appreciated without fear or threat was amazingly empowering and surprisingly positive in its emotions.

The artists put their favourite works out for me to photograph afterwards. They all showed sensitivity and skill, and it was a privilege to be the subject of their creativity.

Sean's simple line drawing was wonderful:



I especially liked Julia's final study in blue and gold, which captured the relaxed quality of the whole evening:



and I simply loved the whole range of  'Cassie's Rainbow', created by Sian by using coloured pastels on appropriate coloured paper:



This is a challenge that I know I will be more than happy to repeat. It's also brought me to a slightly shifted perspective in how I view my body, my imperfections and my good points, and how I feel about its health and happiness rather than that difficult and self-critical barrage of "I must" that is normally so disruptive of true self-acceptance. Thank you to all my friends, and especially to Sian,for helping me to open that door.