Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Life in Flux

Well this is awkward.
 
I promised you posts every day and December and I managed to keep that promise for a measly three days. Whoops.
 
I hate to fall back on my usual excuses but the reasons I haven't been writing are simply that I haven't had very much of interest to write about. Recently life has consisted of;
 


  1. Working
  2. Planning a wedding.
  3. Throwing strops about how much it costs to organise a wedding.
  4. Working some more to relieve the intense financial anxiety induced by wedding planning.
  5. Thinking about going out for a run.
  6. Realising that it's dark outside and deciding to stay inside and watch Gilmore Girls instead
  7. Considering the fact that watching five hours' worth of Gilmore Girls probably isn't really fulfilling my life's potential.
  8. Worrying about not fulfilling my life's potential.
  9. Repeating steps one through eight daily.
 
As the number of days remaining in 2015 grows ever smaller, I'm feeling a bit ambivalent about this year, which is a fairly marked difference to this triumphant round up of 2014. As years go, 2015 has been a strange one. It started off with a dramatic change of career for me, which has meant piecing together an income from three separate jobs at times. It has been tough and at times, has felt like a huge jump back in terms of my career and as a result there has been much soul searching throughout 2015.
 
Then there was an attempt to start afresh in a completely new field and that didn't quite work out for financial reasons. Financial worries, thankfully, have rarely featured in my adult life but these past five months have been full of them.  Alongside my career changes, Ryan has been building his own design studio. Starting a business is a huge change in mind-set and so, the impact on our little household has been massive.
 
And yet, it would be wrong to write 2015 off as simply a tough year. Money and careers are not the sum of a life and there have been plenty of wonderful moments to reflect back on.
 
Firstly, there were lots of opportunities for me to try out some new activities for the blog including
 
Edinburgh Leisure Aerial Assault Course
DW GT30
A Personal Training session with Edinburgh Leisure
A trip to Go Ape, Aberfoyle
 
There were also more achievements than I might, at first, acknowledge when I reflect back on this year. Those include successfully navigating to and then climbing another Munro, completing another obstacle course event and also completing my first half marathon and in a fairly respectable time too!
 
2015 was a great year for exploring. I explored Edinburgh quite a lot, writing about that here, here and here. Dundee also featured on the blog on a couple of occasions, as did the Cairngorms, East Wemyss, a random collection of other places in Scotland and, of course, Rome.
 
Last, but not least, 2015 was the year that Ryan proposed and we started planning our wedding.
 
This year has been a challenging one in a different way to 2014 but it has also been every bit as fun. The challenges I've faced this year have taught me some pretty crucial lessons. I now have a better idea of the things I like, and more importantly, the things I don't. I have a firmer idea of what I might like to do for a living and less shame about not living up to the ideas I held previously about what a successful life looked like. I'm more appreciative of my life outside of work than I've ever been and I'm trying hard to recognise my past achievements rather than constantly pushing onto the next one.
 
With regards to the blog, I've been thinking a lot about that over the past month. There's nothing like telling readers that you'll write every day to bring about a confidence crisis in terms of content. So, I've been looking back over the posts that I'm most proud of, and thinking about the reasons I originally started this blog and in 2016 I'll be focusing a bit more on returning to that. I definitely won't promise to write every day though. We've all seen how that turns out.
 
 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

You want prints? He'll give it ya.




















Today's post is a little different from most others in that it isn't actually about me. Shock horror.

Well....I am going to start off by talking about me just a little bit because today I was at the Xmas Fair at the Out of the Blue, Drill Hall in Edinburgh in order to help Ryan sell some of his prints. The fair was good, with a wide selection of crafty stuff and there were lots of people out supporting their local businesses. This, combined with the fact that it is Small Business Saturday made me think that I should share with you a little bit about what Ryan does.

This year has been, to understate it somewhat, a bit of a whirlwind for him. This was partly because earlier in the year, he took the plunge and started his own design agency. You can peruse most of his work at Ryanstrachan.co.uk and if you have any design needs then you can contact him on ryan@ryanstrachan.co.uk to discuss a bit further. All of his work is wonderful, but my favourite is the design that he did for this wee blog. Often when people talk to me about my blog they start off by saying that the design is their favourite bit. I'm not bitter about it all. (WHAT ABOUT THE WRITING EH? OR THE PHOTOS? OR ANYTHING THAT I DO? TRAITORS) 

In addition to being a super hero designer who has saved this blog from my terrible HTML skills, he has also designed a range of animal prints, which all the cool kids are hanging on their walls. They are digitally printed on 260gsm uncoated iPrint stock, which Ryan assures me is good stuff. Trust me, he should know because his favourite part of the week is when the paper man comes to visit and it wasn't that long ago that he dragged me to a paper exhibition. I can tell now that you're all jealous of my rock and roll lifestyle as a graphic designer WAG.

Ryan's prints would make a great addition to your Christmas gift list if you know any animal (or paper) lovers. Otherwise, they are great gifts for children as they look great on a nursery wall. In the spirit of Small Business Saturday, if you'd like to support a new, Scottish designer and also, you know, fund my wedding, then you can buy the prints online here.

N.B This post is not technically sponsored by Ryan Strachan but he did promise he'd do the dishes all week if I gave him a shout out so you can make your own judgement as to whether I've been compromised.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Podcasts I love


I've been running quite a bit recently, which you probably already know because I keep banging on about it. It's quite a turn around for me because although I've been running since I was a teenager, I've always harboured a secret hatred for it and only forced myself out onto the pavements as a means to keep my weight in check. Upon deciding to sign up for a half marathon in October, I felt sure that my relationship with running wouldn't get any better and I'd continue to see it as a chore.

That wasn't quite the case. In fact, I've become quite a convert, planning my runs in advance and getting a little angsty if I don't manage to get out regularly. I've even enjoyed the runs which have lasted longer than an hour. That's unheard of for me. 

A big part of this change has definitely been my discovery of a few key podcasts which have kept me company on those longer runs. I now look forward to getting outside because it means I can pop my earphones in and catch up with the stories I've been following.

Thanks to a comment on yesterday's post by Katy, I was prompted to write a post today sharing some of my favourites with you.

The first podcast I ever came across was Serial. This is an absolute must listen to. The production quality is top notch, as is the story telling. It's a journalistic exploration of a real life murder case in Baltimore just before the turn of the millennium. I won't give too much more away, because the podcast does such a stellar job of telling the story and I wouldn't want to give away any spoilers in case you haven't listened to it. 

My obsession with Serial led me on to the Undisclosed podcast. This continues on with the story that Serial focuses on. It's worth noting that you shouldn't jump straight into this without listening to Serial first as it definitely assumes that you have knowledge of the case and so the hosts often reference certain things which are explained more fully in Serial.

Undisclosed is produced by three lawyers so it's a lot more technical and less about telling a story than Serial is, but it's just as fascinating, if not more. When training for the half marathon, this was the main podcast I would listen to as each episode is quite long and there are quite a few to get through. It can be a little difficult to keep up with all the legal jargon and the complexity of the story. I found that quite useful though as it meant that I was so busy concentrating on the podcast that I didn't even notice how tough the run was!

There's a clear thread throughout this post because Serial is actually a spin off from the next podcast I'll mention which is This American Life. This is a weekly podcast which tends to have a few stories loosely based around the same topic, although the format varies a little from time to time. As with Serial, the production quality and story telling are top quality and so it's a really good listen. I also have quite a strong crush on the main host, Ira Glass. Give it a few episodes and you'll totally be with me on that! This American Life has a huge back catalogue and publishes a new episode each week so you'd have to be a really obsessive listener to run out of episodes. 

With such a wide variety of episodes to choose from, I'll highlight a few of my favourite ones for you to get started with.

The Night in Question  - This explores the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, the resulting consequences and the conspiracy theories which have circulated ever since. I'm an international relations geek so I love diving into these sort of topics and this was excellently done.

Abdi and the Golden Ticket -A really touching and eye opening look into the life of a Somalian man facing many obstacles on his way to fulfil his dream of emigrating to the United States. It's highly likely that I cried at this one, which was a little bit awkward when out running in public.

Cops See it Differently: Part One - This is a two episode exploration of the issue of race and American policing. I liked it because it took the time to explore both sides of the issue and was really quite thought provoking.

Batman - I won't tell you anything about this one. Just listen to it. It's incredible.

These are the main podcasts that take up a most of my time but I dip in and out of a few others such as 

Dear Sugar - an advice podcast featuring Cheryl Strayed who wrote the wonderful Wild. 

Invisibilia - this is actually the podcast on which Batman was originally featured and it focuses on more of the same type of thing. Overall, the podcast is a look at the forces that shape human behaviour and is an interesting mix of science reporting and story telling. 

Radio Lab - Another podcast weaving science and storytelling together.

Hopefully there's something new there to pique your interest. If you fall in love with any of the podcasts (or Ira Glass) then do let me know. 

Also, I realise that this list is quite USA focused so if you know of any good British podcasts then please tell me because I'm desperate to find one.

Have you listened to any of these? What's your favourite podcast?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

I like to blog all the time, blog all the time

Tenuous christmas photo link.

Do you remember that time I promised to read and write every day for 100 days and managed to do so for only, erm, a pathetic three days? Despite that poor effort, I'm back to making promises I will likely never keep. This one is to blog every day in the run up to Christmas. Blogmas, it's called apparently.

I don't really know why I'm doing this, other than that I've been a bit sporadic with the blogging recently and I figured it might be a good kick up the arse and a way to get the creative juices flowing again.

I thought that the best way to kick this whole thing off was just to give a very brief summary of what I've been up to since I last wrote here and I might come back to some of these things in blog posts of their own later in the month.

Firstly, some wedding chat. We've set a date! And booked a venue! And organised food! And hired a photographer! And had many palpitations about exactly how much it costs to put on a pretty basic wedding for quite a small number of people. Also there was a really fun evening when we realised that there's a big, mad eighties festival in Perthshire the same weekend we get married and so there is NO FUCKING ACCOMMODATION FOR ANYONE. Then after a few panicked phone calls to our parents and more than a few tears (on my behalf rather than Ryan's) we decided not to take the internet's word for it and called a couple of hotels, upon which we discovered that, in actual fact, there are indeed some rooms available. This has done nothing to dissuade me that Google is trying to ruin my  life.

Perhaps partly due to the wedding stress I decided that I need a holiday to Italy. As you do. So I booked a little trip out to Como to see my Sister in February. I realised after booking, that it has been at least seven years since I've been out there. I can't wait to see her, eat pizza and drink wine at lunch time. Also she lives near George Clooney so sometimes we drive past his house on her moped and hope that we might get a chance to give ol' Georgie a wee wave.

Meanwhile, I'm still running. Although not nearly as much as I was when training for the half marathon. I was supposed to be taking part in a 10k run at the end of November but, ahem, just didn't quite manage to get out of bed in time for it. I did, however run six miles by myself later in the day to make up for it. I'm trying to get a little bit faster and had my first introduction to speed work today which was definitely not a wonderful experience. I much prefer just plodding along, listening to my podcasts and barely breaking a sweat.

So that's a little update for you all and I'll return tomorrow with equally dull enthralling stories no doubt.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Christmas Wish List for Losers

This time of year the blogosphere is filled with wish lists, detailing all the pretty, quaint and wonderful things that have made it onto peoples' Christmas lists. I was thinking that I might do something similar until it dawned on me that I have, perhaps, the least exciting Christmas list ever.

Would you like to know what I'm asking Santa for?

A decent waterproof jacket.




In fairness to me, I do live in Scotland, where it has been known to rain from time to time. So really, it's a mighty sensible choice of Christmas gift, if a little uninspired.

In any case, at least it's a little bit more exciting than the year I asked for (and received) a kitchen bin for Christmas.

Image from here

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Great Scottish Run - Half Marathon




This post is exceptionally late. I haven't been a great blogger of late but there have been far too many demands on my time recently and so the blog posts have been relegated to the back of the pile. For those of you who follow me on twitter or Instagram you might be aware that I ran my first half marathon in October (god this post really is late!!) I thought that it was about time I gave a little update on what that experience was like.

The weekend of the race I was also in attendance at a hen do so it's safe to assume that I wasn't feeling totally fresh on the Sunday morning. Whoopsy! However, I managed to successfully get myself to Glasgow and get all limbered and vaselined up in preparation for the longest run I had ever attempted so far.

At the start line I could see Glasgow residents hanging from their windows with good luck signs for the runners. I wasn't running for charity as I figured that I'd milked all the money I could from my friends and family in 2014. However, as I looked around me I noticed all the wonderful causes that people were running for and also understood just how much these meant to people. This was something I kept noticing the whole way round the course and it made me a little bit emotional.

The atmosphere around the course was electric.  There were bands every mile, people hanging from their windows shouting words of encouragement, bystanders handing out jelly babies to the runners and so many encouraging signs on display. Children who had come out to watch stood at the side of the road holding out their hands to high five the runners. My favourite bystander was definitely the Glaswegian gentleman trying to hand out bottles of Irn Bru from a plastic carrier bag. Only in Scotland eh?

The training paid off and I felt reasonably good most of the way around the course, keeping a steady pace and even coping well with the hills dotted throughout. The furthest I'd ran in training was eleven miles and it was at this point in the race that I started to flag a little. I'm positive that the course markers overestimated the distance between miles eleven and twelve. It seemed to last almost as long as the previous eleven miles combined.

As I passed the mile twelve sign I started to reason with myself that there wasn't very long to go and was determined to finish strongly so refused to slow my pace. Up ahead I saw what appeared to be the finish line so I braced myself and started pushing the pace for a sprint finish. I crossed the line, elated. Then I noticed that the people around me continued to run on.

'Erm, excuse me. Why aren't you stopping? Aren't we finished? Please tell me we're finished' I asked.

The person beside me looked puzzled and told me that we had not in fact crossed the finish line.

'Well, what the bloody hell was that big thing we just ran through?' I shouted, my voice cracking in desperation as I tried to convince my little legs not to crumble, depositing me in a heap.

Apparently it was a wall of supportive messages. Some bloody support. It just about killed me.

My legs had pretty much given up responding to my desperate attempts to move them in a rhythmic fashion and I had started to feel very queasy, which as I've mentioned before, doesn't normally end well for me. There was nothing I could do but shuffle along at a speed somewhere between jogging and walking which Katy has named 'Jorking'. I moved at this slightly awkward pace for the final 500 yards and eventually crossed the actual finish line in a time of two hours and 37 pesky seconds. I was pretty pleased with myself, although I do blame all the high fives I'd been handing out for stopping me from achieving a sub two hour time.

Case in point. (sorry I was too cheap to actually buy the photo)

Afterwards we treated ourselves to a McDonalds, which I'm sure is how all the pro athletes do it. Right? Then I complained constantly about feeling sick and we got the train home and then had Dominos for tea. Really, what is the point in running 13.1 miles if you don't refuel with excessive amounts of junk food?

I thought I'd hate running a half marathon but I loved it, which was really unexpected. As a result of the training, I've found myself enjoying getting out for regular runs and so I've signed up for my next race already! I'm not quite willing to put in the long runs over the cold, dark wintry months so it will only be a 10k but I'm hoping to manage it in less than fifty minutes. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

BarreConcept at the Happy Being Studios, Edinburgh

I've been a little bit M.I.A from the blog for a while but I'm back now! Yes, I'm back with wonderful stories of  taking part in a ballet fitness class. When you think about a ballerina, perhaps the person who falls out of trees and off of toilets is not the graceful type of person you have in mind?

You'd be wrong though because clearly, underneath the klutzy surface, I am a sophisticated ballerina just waiting for her moment to shine.



Or perhaps not.....


I was invited along to the Happy Being studios to take part in the BarreConcept taster class run by Veronika, who actually is a graceful ballerina type so maybe with her guidance there is hope for me yet.

The class took part in a small room which was great because it was an intimate setting and so Veronika's attention wasn't spread over too many people. The basic concept behind Barre workouts is to blend movements and postures from pilates, yoga and ballet. It follows a pretty straightforward format in that first, full range muscular contractions are performed. For example, a full plie. (Look at me using the ballet jargon like I actually know what I'm talking about!) This is then followed by end range isometric contractions which would be something like pausing at the mid plie stage and pulsing up and down. Finally, a static hold is undertaken and this causes the muscle to fatigue. I can attest for this fact as it was during the static holds that my legs began to resemble a wobbly jelly. A range of stretches are also incorporated into the routine in order to allow this poor wibbly wobbly ballerina to rest elongate the muscles. It's not hard to understand why ballerinas look so bloody good.

The class consisted of a lot of reps of a few classic movements like plies, lunges and leg raises. There was also a lot of time spent holding our hands gracefully in the air, which is a lot harder than it sounds, honestly. Try it if you don't believe me and tell me how long you can keep it raised before the burning sets in.

Overall, I found the class tough but enjoyable and would definitely try it again. I imagine that it would be good for cross training when I'm running as it's a bit lower impact but still a good workout for my legs.

If you're interested in trying out the BarreConcept classes then Veronika is running regular classes on Tuesdays at 12 noon, 1pm, 5.15pm, 6.15pm and 7.15pm at the Happy Being studios located at 14 Alva Street, Edinburgh.

Prices are £60 for a block of five classes or £110 for a block of ten. Block bookings are valid for six months from the date of purchase.

If you want to find out more then you can email Veronika at info@edinbarre.co.uk and she will help you set up an account on the online booking system at https:/studiobookingsonline.com/edinbarre








Monday, 14 September 2015

Total Warrior Edinburgh 2015

After managing to successfully navigate my way out of Tough Mudder this year, I was kind of hoping that my dalliance with mud runs was at an end.

Then I remembered that I had signed up for Total Warrior. This was at the cajolement of my friend Ruth (on the left in the picture above), who also added a few challenges on to my list for last year. I'm reconsidering our friendship, if you were wondering. The day seemed so far away when I agreed to take part but alas, time moves swiftly and before I really knew it, it was a cold, wet and windy Saturday morning and I was getting out of bed at 6.30am to make my way to Balgone Estate in order to throw myself around in some puddles - which, let me be very clear about this, is the very biggest understatement ever.

It was freezing when we arrived and I desperately wanted to keep my jumper on as a defence against the weather but after much discussion I agreed with the others that it would only get wet and I'd end up even colder. I knew this. I did. I still didn't want to take my lovely, warm jumper off. However, I capitulated to everybody else's good sense and that is how I came to be standing outside on a freezing September day in Scotland in a state of undress.

The course design team at Total Warrior obviously predicted my upset at the cold weather and decided to make the first obstacle a run up and down a steep hill, four times. That was nice of them, I thought.

I got to the end of the hill runs and no longer felt concern about hypothermia, rather I was somewhat more concerned with whether or not my legs would continue to hold me upright. Then we entered into the woods and made our way down to the lake, navigating the tree roots and the muddy spots. As with Tough Mudder there were plenty of water obstacles. I look strangely happy about this fact. Appearances can be deceiving.

My particular favourite was the one which you had to jump over a fire to get into. As I approached it I screamed to the steward

'I can't do it! I can't hold my nose because my hands are muddy!'

The horrifying thought of a nose full of water clearly helped me get over my reservations about my muddy hands.



Look at me - leaping like a gazelle!! Exquisite form if I do say so myself.

As a result of the whole whiplash situation there were a couple of obstacles I didn't bother to attempt because I knew that I wouldn't manage them and I didn't want to fall and jerk my neck again. This included the monkey bars (not a forte of mine) and a wall with climbing footholds which we had to traverse horizontally, falling into water if we slipped off. I was definitely going to slip off so I just daintily trotted around the side. All in the name of health and safety, obviously.

I did however give the obstacle titled 'Logging it' a shot. This involved carrying a log up a hill (those course designers bloody loved hills). I'm glad I did it if only for the photographic evidence in which I am the epitome of Scottishness.


All in all, a great day was had so I'm thankful to Ruth for roping me into this challenge (honestly) and it was great to catch up with my old pals from NFU Scotland and run around in a muddy field being a bit of a prat.

Next stop - half marathon!

Plans

I leaned back into the comfort of the passenger seat and allowed the sunshine which streamed through the window to percolate through my skin and warm me up from the outside in. It was September in Scotland so this type of warmth was surprising and I wanted to soak up every bit of enjoyment it offered me. I squinted out from under my hands at the road ahead, which was a grey haze because of the heat. My eyes were drawn to the mountains which rose up around the road and reached towards the sky. They reminded me of just how much space there is here that I haven't explored yet.

***

I grew up in Dundee which is slightly north of Edinburgh.  When I first moved through to Edinburgh people would regularly ask me if I was going 'up north' at the weekend. That seemed strange to me because Dundee, to my mind, doesn't qualify as North Scotland. To those of us belonging to the Scotland south of Inverness the 'north' brings to mind images of remoteness, smallness (in terms of the sizes of the towns) and vastness (in terms of the landscape). It is the Scotland that tourists flock here for and the Scotland of literature and Hollywood films.

The road to take north from Edinburgh is the A9, Scotland's longest road at 273 miles and depicted in the James Bond Skyfall movie as some kind of single track, crumbling road to nowhere. Actually, it's a bizarre mix of a scenic route whilst also being a major trunk route. It's rarely as still and quiet as the landscape surrounding it, as commuters, weekend hikers and haulage lorries crowd onto its sometimes single, sometimes dual carriageways. The changes between single and dual are regular and abrupt. It's easy to be caught in the outside lane, trying desperately to find a space to pull in as the road narrows. When driving along this road it isn't too much of a stretch to see why it has the nickname 'the Killer A9'.

Of course, despite the fact that I'm a Scot, my idea of North Scotland is as vague as the tourist's visions because I've never actually been. Well, I've been to Inverness and Golspie too, but both for flying visits and I didn't explore as much as I might have liked. I fancy remedying that.

***

I've been doing this 100 day reading and writing challenge and one of the books I read was partly about an adventure around Scotland. This was the main reason I picked the book up but I ended up being pretty disappointed. Each leg of the journey only had about two pages dedicated to it and it just didn't do much to form the picture in my mind of the places that the author visited. I suppose that reading is as much about discovering what you don't like as much as what you do. In that respect, this book has been as influential as any that I've loved because it solidified an idea about how I might write about Scotland.

Which is all my way of saying that I'm going to try and get a little bit more organised around here. I'm going to save up and buy myself a bike again so that I can get out and about more often and I'm going to make more of my weekends by travelling further afield now and again. I'm also going to try to make the posts more cohesive as opposed to me just rambling on, so I'll try to get a little bit sharper in terms of writing. The ideas are still marinating just now but I'll keep you posted and as ever, if you have any suggestions of places to visit or things to see then I'd be delighted to hear them.


Friday, 11 September 2015

Half Marathon training: Update 1.



If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter then you might have noticed that I'm in training for a half marathon. I really don't know what prompted me to sign up for this because I've made no bones about the fact that I'm not the biggest running fan.

Except from, now I am. 

I'm one of those now. You know the type. The person who wants to chat about pacing, routes and running trainers. The creature who wants to update everyone on how far and fast I managed to put one foot in front of the other. It's dreadful.

It's all because now I have a fancy app that records my runs. Honestly, I might be the most easily pleased person in the world because all I require in order to have a good day is that little green tick that says I've met my target.  My social life is now planned around how I can manage to fit my runs in lest I might miss out on a tick. Clearly my life is really exciting right now.

This half marathon has come at a good time for me. It's given me something specific to focus on when much of the rest of my life seems a little out of focus and perhaps that's one reason I've thrown myself into it so much. The training definitely hasn't been plain sailing though, largely because I am the most useless person ever. 

Firstly, I had to miss a session because I came down with a heavy head cold (my second one in as many months) and then there have also been gigantic blisters to attend to. Neither of these are really my fault so I can just chalk that up as bad luck.

Then I fell while running along a completely flat, smooth road. More concerned about protecting my iPhone from the collision with concrete, I heroically took the brunt of the fall on my right side. A crowd of people gasped (how dramatic) and ran over to my assistance.

One man reached out his hand to help me up. I frantically scrabbled around the ground trying to reach my phone. Glancing at the screen I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that my phone wasn't smashed. Scratched to bits mind you, but intact. His hand still outstretched he asked me,

'Oh god! Are you okay?' 

'My phone isn't broken!' I said.

I beamed excitedly up at him about this fact. My hip, on the other hand, I couldn't be quite so sure about.

I thanked the crowd of people for their assistance and then limped through the final mile and a half of my run. I had a green tick to achieve after all. The experience took a toll on my running pace for the next little while. I didn't particularly wish to relive the experience of getting beaten up by concrete so I concentrated extra hard on picking my feet up properly, the kind of thing that comes naturally to most people over the age of four years old.

And on we move to perhaps the most tragic barrier to my training out of the lot. For the last 10 days I've been training with a touch of whiplash.

That sounds pretty dramatic, I'm sure. That is, it sounds dramatic until you find out that I sustained this injury by falling off a toilet. Honestly. It could only be more pathetic if the ambulance crew had found me on the bathroom floor without any clothes on. Oh wait.... 

This stopped me training for a couple of days and it's still a little sore so the runs have been a touch slower than I might have liked, as I try to take it easy on my poor, pathetic body. Still though, despite my best attempts to get in the way of progress I have somehow managed to break the nine minute mile on some of my 3-4 mile runs and also run further than I've ever managed before so you can go right ahead and feel impressed.

Now I just need to talk to you all about running gait and foot structure......no wait, don't go......




Thursday, 10 September 2015

A trip to the Cairngorms with SYHA

I'm a big fan of Scottish Youth Hostel Association and stayed in their accommodation when I climbed both Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond. Recently, I was invited to stay at their Cairngorm Lodge and write about the adventures that can be had up there.

It was an early start to the day as we left Edinburgh at 8.30am on Saturday morning in order to face the drive up the A9. Some light entertainment was provided when we noticed the traffic slowing, only to realise that it was because there was a loose cow on the road. It was apparently not bothered about holding up a queue of traffic as it sauntered quite calmly along this busy road. We sat behind it for a few minutes while a couple of farmers tried, pretty unsuccessfully, to herd it out of the way of the traffic. Eventually, it decided that the game was over and retired to the grassy knoll at the side of the road to have a little lunch.


The Cairngorms is a mountain range in the eastern highlands of Scotland and is situated within the Cairngorms national park. Our first stop when we reached the area was to the Funicular railway which takes visitors to the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain. It wasn't possible for us to exit the mountain at the top (you need to be booked onto a walking or cycling tour for this) so we stepped out onto the viewing platform for a bit before quickly retiring to the cafe for a warming bowl of soup. Cairn Gorm, because of its elevation and closeness to the North Atlantic, has a very cold climate, which is particularly illustrated by the low temperatures during the summer so something to warm me up was very much called for. You will notice that I look particularly bulky in the photograph below. I have five layers on. I should have worn six. It was cold, so very cold. Despite the low temperature, the trip up to the top of the mountain was well worth it for the views across the mountain range.





If I had taken the time to do a little research before the trip I might have realised that Cairn Gorm is home to Britain's only herd of free ranging reindeer. But no research was done and so, we were surprised to come down from the mountain and find a number of reindeer pottering around in the car park. We were even more surprised by how close we were able to get and how comfortable they seemed with our presence.



Visitors to the Cairngorms can take part in a vast array of activities from skiing, biking and watersports. Ryan and I decided to stick to walking for this weekend. There are almost too many routes to choose from so we took the advice of the SYHA staff at the Cairngorm lodge and headed down to Loch Morlich first of all which is situated very close to the hostel so we didn't have to walk too far at all.



After dinner at the Cairngorm hotel in Aviemore we returned to the hostel and bedded down for the night. The next day, the hostel staff suggested a nice walk around Loch an Eilein. We parked at the Rothiemurchus visitor centre and set off from here. We walked for four miles around spectacular woodland. At some points the forest floor was completely covered with purple heather as far as the eye could see. Apart from the occasional walker or cyclist, the route was very quiet and I was reminded of just how wild Scotland is, which is all to easy to forget when I'm surrounded by the noise and hustle of a central belt city.





Thursday, 3 September 2015

100 days of reading and writing



One of the things I like best about writing on this blog is the record of my life that it holds. Even if nobody else reads it, I still like to flick through some of the old posts and remind myself about what I got up to and what fun was had along the way. I have a faint obsession with tracking time because sometimes it seems to slip away from me too quickly. I find that this blog is a good way to do that.

I've never been one to keep a journal, save for an awkward teenage diary which was only written in intermittently,  usually when I was having some hormone fuelled rage about something or other. I never really got into the habit of documenting each day, preferring instead to just savour the moments in real time.

Sometimes I feel regret about that, particularly when I think back over particularly enjoyable parts of my life and the memories are a little fuzzy. I can remember how I felt, but not the specific details of the conversations, or the names of some of the people involved. The general location sticks in my mind but I'll be damned if I can remember exactly how the buildings looked to me, or which route I wandered along to get there. I try to bring the memories into focus but as hard as I try, they're just a blurry mess. If I wanted to write about them now, it would be largely fiction, with only a small basis in reality.

***

I used to read a lot. All the time in fact. I do that less often now. Partly it's because Ryan and I like to spend our spare time together (barf) so after tea we will sit together and watch a mutually agreeable television show rather than go off into separate rooms and do something independently.

When I do have a few spare moments, during my lunch hour at work for example, I tend to spend them scrolling through social media and reading articles online. All of which is fine of course, but really I'm tired of skimming the surface of things.

***

I was reading Katy's blog and saw that she's taking on a 100 day challenge during which she'll run every day. The original idea started here and there's a Facebook group and all that jazz to help you commit to the 100 days.

I'm already doing a lot of running to train for the Great Scottish Run in October, (I'll come back to this in another post) however I liked the idea and thought that I'd amend it a little to suit my current needs and desires.

So for the next 100 days, I'm going to read and write something everyday. Some of the writing might make it onto the blog but likely, more of it will remain unfinished scribbles. Regardless, I'm keen to start writing with more frequency and get flexing that muscle. Recently, I've been thinking about playing around with short stories but I'm a bit nervous about putting them out here on the blog in case they're a bit crap.

I'll keep a track of what I'm reading over on my Instagram and as ever, I'm interested in getting some suggestions, fiction or non-fiction.

I'll also try to post as much of the semi-acceptable writing on the blog or snippets on social media so you can follow along if you like. I've decided to start a little hashtag to keep it all in one place #readwrite100

Creative, huh?

So... use the hashtag. Let me see what you're writing, what you're reading and what words you're loving right now and I'll do the same too.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

It's a cat's life


This week is Scottish Animal Week and I was asked by the lovely Charlene to get involved with blogging about it to raise awareness of the work and fundraising efforts of the Scottish SPCA.

With the focus on animals, I thought I'd take some time to introduce my pet. He lives with my parents so I don't see him as often as I like, and I have, at times, cried to Ryan about this fact. I even once suggested that we move back home because 'I miss cuddling my cat'. So that's the extent of our bond. Just so we're clear. At least, that's how strongly I feel about him. I'm pretty sure that he's less bothered about me. I can't think about his lack of emotion for me in this photograph below for too long or I start to get a little upset.



Crunchie is, in my humble opinion, the best cat who has ever blessed this earth. He's got attitude like I've never seen before. He also has a preponderance for getting himself into difficult situations. Much like his owner, then.

He's used up a few of his nine lives in his thirteen years. He's been run over by a car. My Mum's car actually (oops). He's also gone for a spin in the tumble drier (again my Mum's fault). Crunchie doesn't let her forget about it easily. If his food and milk bowl isn't constantly full he exaggerates his limp a little bit until she feels sorry for him. Other than guilt tripping my Mum, his hobbies include tripping humans up, eating ice cream, sleeping in the sun and gazing disdainfully at the neighbour's cat. He also likes taking selfies with me. Clearly.



Aside from the 'accidents' Crunchie has had a pretty good life with us and he's just like another member of our family. Sadly, not every animal has such good luck and that's where the Scottish SPCA come in. They are Scotland's animal welfare charity which prevents cruelty to animals through education. They also investigate animal abuse cases, rescue animals in distress and find them new homes.

This week is Scottish Animal Week which aims to raise funds to care for Scotland's injured and abused animals. You can find out more about how to get involved in the week here or if you're feeling generous and would like to make a donation then you can do that through this page.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A random collection of adventures - St Andrews, Kelpies and Corstorphine Hill

I had some time off in August so I decided to explore a few places close to home.

Firstly Ryan and I ventured to St Andrews to check out a potential wedding venue. We don't think it's the one for us but we had a great sunny day out and managed to sneak in an ice cream from the one and only Janetta's ice cream parlour. St Andrews holds a special little place in my heart because when I first passed my driving test it was the standard day trip for me and my friends. We'd come here, eat too much ice cream and trot around town marvelling at how pretty everything was.






While we're on the subject of eating too much ice cream, I recently heard about Scotland's ice cream trail and have decided that this definitely has to be incorporated into a challenge for the blog. Sadly, the Scottish summer (all two weeks of it) is likely over for this year so this idea will be put on pause for a while.

We also had a trip up to Go Ape in Aberfoyle. This is in the Trossachs area of Scotland which makes for an awesome road trip filled with plenty of spectacular scenery. On our way back we decided to pop in to Helix Park in Falkirk to get a closer look at the Kelpies as neither of us had seen them up close before despite driving past them quite a few times.





These magnificent statues pay homage to the Scottish mythology of the 'Kelpies' which are said to be shape shifting horses living in the lochs of Scotland, preying on any humans that they encounter. Most often this takes the form of the Kelpie encouraging the humans (usually children) to ride on its back which then becomes sticky so that they can't fall off. It then drags them into the water. Most of Scotland's Lochs have their own story about the Kelpies lurking in the depths.

The Kelpie statues pay homage to this myth but also embody the industrial history of Scotland and in particular, of the Falkirk / Grangemouth area in which heavy horses would once have been crucial, providing the necessary 'horse power'. You can read more about the inspiration behind the Kelpies here. They are definitely worth a visit and it's a fairly cheap day out as all you'll need is enough money to park in the on site car park.

Then to round off a week of activities I went for a jaunt up Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh. I walk past a little opening into a wooded area each day on my way to work and often wonder what I'd find if I ventured in. It turns out that after a (very steep climb) I'd find some of the best views of Edinburgh. It's definitely a bit underrated, with Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill getting all the glory, but if you're looking for a nice walk in Edinburgh, this one is definitely a must see.






Monday, 10 August 2015

That homecoming ache.




I drove to my parents' home recently. On the way there was a blockage on the dual carriageway and the traffic was crawling along. To avoid the queue I flicked my indicator on and took the the slip road down towards Longforgan and travelled home via the country roads which take me through Knapp then on to Liff. These roads are surrounded by green trees and stubble fields. They are so narrow that meeting another car requires that you pull into the verge to create enough room for it to pass.

The thing with living somewhere other than where you grew up is that the place which was once your entire story becomes an ever smaller chapter in your current narrative. Driving along those roads my mind is filled with a moving video of the past. A girl cycling down the winding hill, crouched low over her handlebars, urging her bike faster and enjoying the cold breeze of the wind on her face. A small, brown pony thundering through the stubble fields, the girl grasping her fingers through his mane for stability and revelling in the speed and rush of adrenaline. Easy Sunday hacks with friends, the sun on their faces and the rhythmic ringing of the horses' metal shoes against the tarmac. Snatches of the conversations make their way to the front of my mind.

A quick Google search reveals the etymology of the word nostalgia to be a combination of the Greek words Nostos meaning 'homecoming' and Algos meaning 'pain, ache', which makes it sound a little like homesickness. The difference in the two is that homesickness can be quelled by a trip to a physical place or words spoken with those you miss.

Nostalgia is a different beast entirely, it is not possible to return to memories, at least not as fully as we might wish. I can see all of these scenes playing out in front of me but when my hand reaches out to grasp onto them it smacks against the cold, unbreakable window pane of time. My heart sinks a little and that hungry ache in my stomach grows a little stronger for those moments that I will never be able to reach.

Go Ape Aberfoyle.

You might remember my trip to Go Ape Peebles last year. Well, I was kindly invited to try out the site at Aberfoyle so this Sunday, Ryan and I made our way from Edinburgh to the site which is about 45 minutes past Stirling.

I did recognise that village name and as I was driving there was a distinct feeling that I'd been round these parts before. Then, when I saw a familiar village shop it became clear that I was driving the same way I'd gone when I incorrectly navigated to Ben Lomond. It brought back some quite traumatic memories but thankfully this time I successfully managed to get to my goal destination on time. The fact that I had a helper sitting beside me in the car may or may not have been relevant to this achievement.


The first thing I'll say about the site at Aberfoyle is that it's set amongst a pretty spectacular landscape which you can see in the photograph above. This was also the first time that I've had the opportunity to make the most of my shiny new Go Pro camera which Ryan bought me for my birthday. I'm still having bother with resizing photos for the blog and some of them are stills from a rather shaky video (given that I took them in the process of navigating my way around a tree top assault course). I'll try to share some of the shorter videos on my Instagram so if you're interested you can check those out there.

Before you set out on the Go Ape activities you get set up in your harness, given a thorough explanation of the safety rules from an instructor and have some time to practice using the carabiners. Clearly, I've been before because I know all the lingo now. 

I'm also well aware of the golden rule of Go Ape which is 'Always Stay Attached'. Despite being well aware of this, in practice I made the schoolboy error of double unclipping. I'd barely removed the second carabiner when the instructor came over to inform me of my mistake. The system is fairly straightforward once you've had a little practice and out on the course it's much easier to remember not to double unclip. Something about the risk of falling from the tree tops really motivates you to adhere to the safety system. There are also plenty of signs to remind you about the golden rule should you have a carefree attitude to heights and a lackadaisical approach to your own safety.

The Aberfoyle site begins with a large zip wire into the forest. For anyone who hasn't been before then this is a baptism of fire but it is good for giving you a bit of confidence to tackle the remaining obstacles because nothing seems quite as daunting after that.

There are five sections, of increasing height, to complete. Each has a ladder to begin, a range of tree top obstacles and a zip line to finish. Some of the stand out obstacles for me were the stirrup crossing and the Tarzan swing. Both were exactly as their names suggest. The stirrup crossing consisted of a number of ropes with stirrups on the end and we swung across, placing a foot in each one. It's a particularly good workout for your legs and upper body as the achy feeling I'm experiencing today demonstrates.



 The Tarzan swing was basically a free-fall off a ledge followed by a swing into a big net once the harness kicked in. This was the one that struck the most fear into me because there is something so unnatural about just letting yourself fall, even though it is only a very, very short free fall. It was the most scary obstacle, but also the most fun.

Shortly after the Tarzan swing, it was time to make our way back to the start, via the main zip line. Having managed the zip line at Go Ape Peebles and also the one on the way in, it felt quite easy to leap off and zip across the forest on this occasion. It was good to be relaxed about it as I got to take in the spectacular views and attempted to take some snaps using my Go Pro but given the speed I was moving at, they don't really do the view justice. You should probably just go see it yourself. There's the plug.




If you'd like to take part in a Go Ape adventure it will cost £31-£33 (depending on location) for those aged 16+ and £25 for those aged 10-15. An outing will take around two to three hours, although if it's really busy it might take a little longer. We were there for four hours on Sunday but that was a peak day, during the school holidays.

At the moment, Go Ape are running a great campaign called #Shareadventure. All you have to do is share one of the adventures on social media and you could be in with the chance of winning a variety of prizes, including a discount code for Go Ape. I'm really fond of this campaign as I love reading about everybody's adventures.

Disclaimer: I was invited to take part in the activities at Go Ape Aberfoyle free of charge in return for writing about the experience. As ever, all words and thoughts are my own.