Over two weeks have elapsed. The time has flown. I’ve been busy reading and following up links to actions for and thoughts about our post-virus world. What will it look like? I’ve read in the newspaper that many people are welcoming this opportunity to have the time to re-connect with nature, air quality has improved and that wildlife has been returning to our urban areas. I have certainly seen more birdlife in our small back garden. A bowl of water has attracted pair of robins, blackbirds, jackdaws and wood pigeons. We had not seen birds in the garden for a number of years. This morning the dawn chorus was deafening. It reminded my of days spent camping when the bird song woke me from my slumbers. How can we maximise the positives that have come as a result of the lockdown?
I’ve also been supporting colleagues who are submitting applications to become Accredited Practitioners of the Institute of Outdoor Learning. I love doing this, particularly when the applicants have plenty of time to reflect on their experiences, and to recognise and celebrate their achievements. The experiences of the applicants can be humbling. It’s a time for me to learn and re-vitalise my passion for outdoor learning.
All this has forced me to become much more familiar with apps such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom and gotomeeting, and the ‘joys’ of online meetings. ‘Attending’ my yoga class via Zoom has been an experience. When balance isn’t my strongest attribute, getting into some positions whilst online is a struggle. (There’s a pun in there – I will leave it with you to ponder.)
I have a heap of writing ideas, which hopefully will flow through the keyboard. I’m determined that these remain a pleasure rather than a chore. There are also so many other things to do – clear out the workshop/studio; finish clearer up the roof space; sort out the attic and turn it back from a dumping ground to a usable workshop and office space; and my own office needs a good clear out so that I dispose of the materials from my paid working life and can find the resources that I now need. My photographs also need some organising. The garden needs some tidying up so that I can plant out some tomatoes as we will be here for the whole growing season and will be able to harvest our crop. I could add to this list. I have to remember that it is a wish list – it is for me to decide what to do and when I want to do it – after all, I am retired.
The weekend has started well. The fact that we would have been in the Orkneys right now, exploring archaeological sites, doing photography, painting and writing, have almost dimmed into the mists of time. The sun is shining. I’ve had elevenses – a hot chocolate, using powder brought back from our trip to the Nilgiris a few months back. This has been strengthened with Baileys of course …. and so to action.
Daily, I had been attempting to reflect on what ever has come to mind and I’ve also been taking regular exercise and likening it to an imaginary expedition. I love having this time to respond to what I am seeing, reading or hearing. It feels very self-indulgent. It leads make back to so many positive, and a few not so positive, past experiences.
I’ve also been trying to keep up regular exercise, so that my muscles are in good shape when eventually I get to having something done about my knees. I reckon this will be about two years away. As I first referred myself six years ago, another two years is hardly of any consequence. However, as is my way, my self-image is of someone who is still mountain fit. The realities are that I’ve been pushing myself too hard and so after a few rest days I’m coming up with a cunning plan. I used the cycle the other day, but the after effects were too painful. Yesterday, I walked to the end of the road, which was further than I had planned. It also took me much longer than I had anticipated, but my recovery from the exercise seems OK … and I saw Langstone Harbour and some bluebells. At last, I am back in touch with wild nature, even if it is in an urban environment.
My plan is now to exercise whenever I feel fit enough and to tie this in with my imaginary expedition. In addition, I will keep up writing this blog, but it may not be on a daily basis. I want a life!! There are so many other things I want to have time for in this enforced lockdown. Many years ago (almost forty – help!) I escaped from teaching and went into youth work with as much outdoor education as I could cram in. I loved the lack of routine and the opportunity to have experiences that would not have been possible in a routine teaching career. Then I escaped from that into self-employment when the challenges and opportunities were innumerable. Now, as a retired person, I am enjoying the opportunities to work and play in so many ways that previously would have been unimaginable. So, routine begone. I will dictate when I exercise and write and not be dictated to by a timetable, so there!
I was reading The Guardian (30 March 2020, page 28), and was hit by the headline, “Mobiles mean children will no longer be free to get lost – Attenborough”. The article begins “Children will never again know true freedom because mobile phones mean they cannot get lost, David Attenborough has said.” Further on, he explains that this is something that those of us who are pre-mobile may have experienced, but is unlikely to be experienced by today’s teenagers,
In my most recent experience of being lost, I had a mobile with a map, but no compass. I was going to a conference in London and full of false confidence, I had booked an Uber Taxi. I departed the station and looked for a road sign, but could see none. I wondered around. On the map I could see a ‘blob’ moving, but I couldn’t work out where I was and I couldn’t orientate the map as the sun was obscured. I could feel a panic rising and decided to get a coffee and ask for help. I ordered another taxi, this time confident …. only to see it disappearing into the distance, as I hobbled after it, trying to attract the driver’s attention. I felt tearful. I gave it one more try and this time was rescued. It was a sobering moment. I might be able to navigate across the world, through forests and in mountains, but in an alien environment, the city, I am lost.
Recently, pre- isolation, I went with a friend to Port Quin on the north Cornish, and looked longingly as the sunset over the headland. The next night I commented that I thought I could walk as far as that, but that I might be slow. “We must leave now, to get there and have time to get back before the light goes completely.” She was bemused that I could be so direct. She is not an outdoor person and said that outdoor people develop an innate knowledge of being on and moving through the environment. How could I work out. by looking at a map and the landscape, the time required? How would I know about the time it would take for the sun to move below the horizon? How could I judge that we would have enough ‘night sight’ to return to the cottage? This amused me.
I am a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition assessor, working mainly in the New Forest. I think it is this innate way of being in the outdoors that we are encouraging, along with many other things. I am always heartened when young people get lost and manage to sort out their position and put themselves back on the right track. I am also surprised at the numbers of adults I meet who seek reassurance from me, that they are on the right track, when faced with being a few metres from a carpark. Let’s hope that post-lockdown we will again be able to access the outdoors and have the valuable experience of getting lost and then finding ourselves …. and congratulate others when they experience the joy of this simple event.
I am fortunate that I have had so many opportunities to travel, work and ‘play’. Two years ago we were in Vancouver, appreciating the amazing cityscape before setting off back to the UK. We had re-visited places we where we had been skiing some years ago and were completing our mountains to shore trip (See ‘From Summits to Shore’). I had also been here with my mother a couple of times, so it is a city full of memories. This time we were struck by the contrasts – an amazing city in a superb setting. Yet, there where some streets were the obvious poverty and social needs was so unexpected. How are those people fairing in the current situation?
Just a month ago we were returning from Cardamom House, Tamilnadu, South India. Here we had had the time to read, write, paint and experiment with photography, as well as enjoying superb food and the company of our many Tamil friends. When we go to weddings and other functions I am hit by the number of people I know and the warmth of their friendship, whether we understand what each other is saying or not. I sometimes think I know more people there than I do at home, which is a sad thing to say. Life here can become quite narrow and isolating.
Yesterday a friend telephoned. She had gone to the Estate where she worked. People who were self-employed had lost their jobs, others had lost their work, many could not access the Food Banks etc etc. The government, agencies and charities are trying to respond, but there are so many people in dire need and getting things set up takes time. By contrast, earlier I had received messages about how this kind of blog can prompt positive memories and raise the mood. Later, a friend telephoned to read a poem about friendship. These are such mixed times. I know I must remain positive for myself and for others. …. and I’m not rowing today. I am feeling stiff so I am having a rest day … and my yoga teacher has set up an online yoga session.
There is some good TV on this morning. I’ve just watch the climbing of the Cioch on Skye, in the manner of Collie and Mackenzie, who pioneered the first route in 1906. (Coast on BBC2) I am in awe that anyone could venture on rock in such clothing and with nailed boots. This opened into an exploration into some of our climbing guidebooks. I can visualise many hours being filled in the future weeks exploring these guides and drifting into reliving memories and friendships.
Alongside the Scottish guides was an aged climbing guide to Malta. Ian and I ventured there after he came across a late 1940’s guide, that had been his uncle’s. It had instructions like “climb from the plane’s wheel to the Spitfire engine” – both humorous and sobering. I wish I could find that booklet. So many memories tied up on the book shelves … and some people wonder why I love books.
…. and I’m now watching a programme about a research plot of daffodils in the Brecon Beacons. (A to Z of TV Gardening on BBC2) A liquid is being extracted which can probably delay the development of Alzheimer’s. Amazing! Warning – do not liquidise your own daffs – this is being researched, trialed and prescribed under strict medical research conditions.
I’ve just made a discovery. I was enjoying my late breakfast/elevensees of apple and yoghurt and sprinkled some rice crisps on the yoghurt and it DIDN’T snap, crackle and pop! The things you can discover right here in the house.
It’s time to go out past the tulips and wallflowers to the rowing machine. Today I’m feeling mere energised, although my knee is playing up. I’m hoping to try to make up the distance that I missed out on yesterday. In my mind I’m heading along the shore, still on my way to Southampton Water. It’s a beautiful sunny day, so I’m hoping the going will be easier, provided that my volunteer cox and the fishing friend don’t slow me up too much. It is so good to get feedback from friends, who are reading this blog. Thanks. it raises my spirits and I hope this will raise yours.
Last night, it dawned on me. There are probably at least another twelve weeks to go. That is over 80 days. While I quite enjoyed the first two days of isolation, I am realising that there are plenty more of these to come. Talking with friends on Zoom and just on the phone helped. I miss not getting a hug, or reading the emotions in their faces. It’s also good to get letters and emails, because these can be read and re-read. It has even felt that I might be saying goodbye to some people, who are ill. I am definitely saying farewell to a way of life, as attitudes, travel freedoms and materialism are challenged. Having the internet has helped and thanks to TA Loeffler for the contacts about the Banff Mountain Centre Film Festival , with the list of films, and her encouragement at my rowing machine “expedition”. I have achieved some things, but I am really going to have work at keeping myself motivated. I have managed to complete some work tasks that I had been putting off and I now know I need to do a few more days of planning, so that I don’t slump in front of the TV. So ACTION.
After my negative start as the realities begin to set in, I have changed the title of this blog to Corona Light. On the internet I saw a photo of the corona around a Brocken spectre. Where have the photos gone of that amazing Brocken spectre in Torridon? so that is another task – sort out those boxes of colour slides.
I must stay positive. It is good hearing children outside laughing and giggling … and then being called back inside to continue their home schooling …. even better ….. oooh I can be so mean! Our next door neighbour has contacted us to say to get in touch if we need anything. Another friend has dropped in porridge as our supplies were getting low (plus wine and ginger nut biscuits).
The rowing has helped to lift my spirits and in my mind I am off the shore at Lee on Solent. I have learned that I must be careful as to what I listen to on the radio, so as not to dampen my spirits.
There’s another bonus with the sun. Its has heated up the kitchen, so that we don’t need to turn on the heating until the evening. Now that is a bonus.
In my imagination, which is transmitted via the rowing machine, I am rowing down to Cornwall. We won’t get there this spring, to meet up with our climbing club friends as we had planned. It’s a warm sunny spring day as I set off from Langstone Harbour at the end of the road. I have already been to the corner shop to forage for the basic of the food cupboard that have run out, or will do in the next day. I pick up the last box of eggs and feel guilty. I locate the last small loaf of bread. They are well stocked with mushrooms and have just had a delivery of carrots and broccoli, but there’s no cheese or meat in any form. I climb on to the rowing machine and set off.
Today my pace is slightly faster than on yesterday’s practice paddle. It must be the superb conditions. I head along Southsea Front. The sea is flat. The conditions are almost idyllic – turquoise waters, cloudless sky, no swell, and a slight current. It’s just coming up to high tide which should push me on towards the entrance to the harbour. It’s an amazing stretch of water full of history – the remains of the submarine barrier; the beautifully restored and elegant South Parade Pier (shown on the home page); Spitbank Fort; Southsea Castle from which the sinking Mary Rose was viewed; and the Square Tower, Round Tower and hot walls, which fortified the seaward side of the old town of Portsmouth. It was from the hot walls that the crew would be transported out to The Victory. And, now I’m remembering how my great aunt said that her uncle used to venture out dressed as a woman to avoid the pressgangs. At first I thought this was a bit of fiction, but when I worked out the dates., I realised that there could have been some truth in the story.
I finally ‘put in’ to work out how to restock the Baileys which is running out. How can I cosset myself with a coffee or hot chocolate laced with this luscious cream if I completely run out of supplies?
I’m now thinking that it is time to stay indoors. It would be so easy to become a carrier of virus. I was thinking that I had prepared well. The store cupboard is restocked with enough to survive for one to two weeks. We could do with some eggs, fresh vegetables and fruit and bread flour and yeast, but we can mange without these. (We had run the store cupboard down when work was being done on the kitchen) However, I’m now realising that I haven’t thought about reading material . I am well stocked online and on my shelves with reading to support my more academic writing but it is the lighter reading materials that I am low on. I know I can read things online but this isn’t conducive to reading in the bath and in bed. I had left my watercolour brushes in India, so I’ve ordered some more online.
How am I viewing the weeks a head? A few weeks ago, my initial reaction had been of resentment that I was being targeted as an over 70. I was being stereotyped. That feeling is still simmering, under the surface, but for the well being of others I can understand the need to reduce face-to-face interactions. I’m planning on setting myself a timetables so that I don’t become more of a couch potato than I already am, and I can keep some track on the passing time.
I get “cabin fever” when I am stuck indoors for long periods. I feel claustrophobic, that I must get out. Often my mother and I would be walking along the beach in the early hours. However, I am appalled at the numbers of people flocking to the beaches or hills. Many rural areas are imploring people not to consider self-isolating there and putting a strain on stretched resources (BBC News), apart from not considering that they could also be spreading the virus, so I’m planning to stay fixed and try to row (on the machine) the equivalent of from Portsmouth to Penzance, as the crow flies. This might help me to reflect on an imaginary journey, in the same ways that I would have been reflecting on now cancelled trips to the Orkneys and Cornwall.
My other major concern is that the two of us will fall out. We are used to the luxury of having our own space. we can still do this in the house, but it will still be a pressure. I’m hoping that having a plan and targets will help me, Wish me luck!.
I was in my late 20s. I was fit. I had climbed in the Alps and wintered in Scotland’s Cairngorms. I had been caving for ten years mainly on the Mendips but also in Yorkshire and South Wales. I was on expedition to Grotte Casteret, near Gavarnie, in the Pyrenees. This photo was taken just by the Refuge de la Brèche de Roland on the way back down to the minibus. I was becoming interested in the historical aspects of places, travellers and explorers.
I was a reluctant outdoor leader/ instructor, preferring to act as a back up, rather than lead. I had the experience and expertise to take responsibility and was beginning to gather a plethora of certificates, evidencing my abilities. I was beginning to develop an interest in the variety of approaches and strands of outdoor learning.
The Grotte Casteret expedition stands out because I was travelling in a group I did not know particularly well and I was forced to change my role in a group. I had made assumptions that fellow group members were technically competent for the terrain, and that I could be a happy follower. However, when, to avoid a wired path, they had descended a glacier, I became concerned. This meant that they had to ascend a wall of the glacier and cross the bergschrund to reach the cave. I had the skills and experience and pushed myself to the fore. I coached them in using an ice axe, sorted out a crossing point from the glacier to the rocks and set up the safety ropes, belaying people across the gap and over the loose moraine. I had take on a leadership role as my confidence in my technical and group work skills became apparent to the rest of the group.
This was pivotal in re-thinking my career away from teaching to a career in which I could share my enthusiasm for the outdoors. I became a youth worker, with the luxury of developing outdoor activities with the young people and fellow youth workers.
I was in my late 40s. I was fit. I had spent numerous winters in Scotland. I continued to cave regularly. I had an interest in sea kayaking, mainly off the coasts of Hampshire, Dorset and Cornwall and on numerous occasions had pushed myself well outside my comfort zone. I had also developed a passion for cross-country skiing, spending time each year in North America, Scandinavia, Scotland or the Alps. I was on a expedition to Stok Kangri, in Ladakh. My travels were drawing me to an interest in the impact the culture of the place on activity. I had evolved into an outdoor leader / instructor taking young people and adults caving and hill walking. My real enthusiasm was for working with groups of women who had not had the opportunity to experience being in the outdoors, questioning issues related to access and equality.
The Stok Kangri expedition came at another time of change. I was the only woman in a group of people I had walked and climber with for twenty years. It had become a friendship group. We recognized that we had been in some tricky situations and an ethic of mutual care. Here, I was outside my comfort zone. I struggled with the altitude and dehydration. as well as the physical challenge. For the first time ever, I “hit the wall”. I felt that the guides and sherpas saw me, a middle-aged woman, as a bit of an oddity. I was certainly not slender and rippling with muscles. For the first time, I seriously began to question my levels of fitness. However, I loved being in the mountains and observing everyday life – the ways in which spiritual and ecological connections with the landscape seemed to permeate all activities, from the positioning of toilets to the blessing of food. Outdoor activity was not in a silo. The potential breadth of outdoor learning that was striking me. I also recognized the privilege of being amongst a group of tried and tested friends.
On my return, I embarked on a course in magazine journalism. Our first assignment was to write an article about a fellow student. I was “outed” as a middle-aged extreme sportswoman. The thought of being seen as an extreme sportswoman challenged my self-concept. As a result of the expedition and the course, I developed my self-employment to encompass writing with outdoor learning and to focus on challenging stereotypes.
I was in my late 60s. The ravages of long descents with ludicrous rucsacs and the impact of injuries were taking their toll. I had become interested in photography and painting and making aesthetic responses to place. Here, I was just outside Disco Bay, Greenland. A Greenlandic guide had entreated us to understand how rising temperatures were impacting on the ecology of his landscape. We had previously visited a summer school where local children and Danish incomers were experiencing aspects of the indigenous culture of the place, in the hope that it would not die out. I hoped I was becoming a possible catalyst for change, both on a personal level through my art and talking about what had prompted it, and more widely through my writing and speaking at events.
The Greenland trip was one of the first times that I had become clearer about the ultimate purpose of outdoor learning. It is so much more than making a superficial connection with the environment. It has direct links with the future of our planet and the sustainable use of our resources. Instead of talking about development, why do we not consider consolidation, and a slower more reflective and responsive pace of life?
I continue to challenge stereotypes. I am interested in how our relationships with the environment may change as we become older. For me, being connected to the outdoors is as important as it ever was. It is who I am. It is more than a part of my self-concept. Being an outdoor person is my entirety. It permeates my total life.
Passionate about the outdoors, I continue as a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition assessor. This gives me an opportunity to spend time alone in nature, as I wait for the next group to arrive. Being alone in nature is important to me. It is my thinking and marvelling space.
…. And I am still bemused that some friends continue to see me as an extreme sportswoman, even if now slightly battered and tarnished and awaiting artificial joints!
We have often travelled to Canada. We’ve skied many times in the Rockies and Quebec. We’ve camped in the Rockies and British Columbia. We’ve ‘done’ the Inside Passage on the Ferries. We’ve had a fleeting drive around Nova Scotia, so we were convinced that we knew what to expect.
Listen in to a very brief description of the start of our journey.
Poor visibility accompanied us on our journey from Calgary to Kananaskis.
Finding breakfast involved ploughing our through the snowy woods.
We should have paid extra for underground car parking – but we are Brits! We don’t do things like that! The car was buried – at least digging out the car warmed us up.