Category Archives: Strings

posts connected with harp stuff

The gift of time

It’s a beautiful day outside. It has been quite a week, quite a month, in fact quite a few months.

And today there is time to stop, to think, to breathe, to write and to plan. I’ve had some really, really good news this week and I made time to celebrate last night.

The to-do list is never-ending but there are lots of good things on it as well as the more normal paper shuffling.

There is running to be done, and practice to be done, a website to launch, reading to be done, gardening to be tackled, food to prepare, but these are all home things so there is nowhere else I need to be.

I’ve gathered everything I need together on the table I like to use to work on, the hounds are snoozing on the sofa, there is proper tea in my mug, and already two of my favourite songs have been on 6 Music since I switched on twenty minutes ago. All is well with the world.

The sun appeared in Glasgow this week, and I strongly suspect the optimism I feel about how the year is going to progress can be directly attributed to the colour of the sky.

And everything stops

I was on my way home last night and just for a few moments, I had to stop. I could hear a familiar pattern of notes coming from a guitar. I wasn’t close enough to the busker to start with, but as I made my way further down Sauchiehall Street, I recognised the song. The tears came and just for a little moment or two, I couldn’t move.

A few years ago one of my friends was killed. As is common in the bike racing world, people who you don’t know terribly well and don’t see terribly often become friends, because of shared experiences and passions. It can be hard to describe why you love doing something so dangerous to those who have never tried it, but with people who have, there’s a kind of shortcut and you don’t have to explain.

The church was packed to the rafters with standing room only, and the first few bars of Hallelujah started up as her funeral started.

It’s a beautiful song which I’ve tried to play many times on the harp. As I settle into the next phase, where there are no big plans on the immediate horizon, maybe this will be something to work on. I’m a lot better at playing through strong emotions now, and I hope I can use them to bring something special to my arrangement.

I’ve been a bit guilty of wishing my life away lately, worrying about the future and making plans for next year so I have something to focus on over the winter.

L/G always reminds me to think of the here and now. I am desperately sad that she has gone, but happy that she had and continues to have such a positive impact on my life.

I hope the weather is kind tomorrow as I fancy a bike ride. I haven’t said that in a long time.

A mountain of a marathon

A few weeks ago, I ran my first ever marathon. Every time I read that, I have to pause a little as it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

This is very long, but it’s my memories of a very special day and I didn’t want to leave lots out.

Way too early in the morning on Sunday 23rd March, I set off on my way to the Loch Katrine Marathon. Loch Katrine is in the Trossachs, just outside Aberfoyle in Scotland. I’m lucky that this is 40 minutes from my house and about an hour north of Glasgow. The race starts at the Trossachs Pier, at the southern end of the loch, and then follows the private road around the eastern edge of the loch all the way to the top and then round to Stronachlachar. This forms the halfway point, and then you run back along the same route. Out and backs aren’t always the most exciting of routes, but this one meant you just had even more of a chance to appreciate the truly breathtaking scenery by seeing it from different directions.

It’s a small event, with just 350 runners split across the marathon, half marathon and 10k races. It was organised last year as a one off event, to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland. I was meant to run the half marathon last year, but an injury a few weeks before the event stopped me, and I vowed to return if it was put on again.

Fortunately for me, race director Audrey McIntosh had created such a fantastic experience last year that she bowed to popular pressure and announced it would happen again in 2014. This time however, I was ready to try a marathon.

It was a pretty scary journey to the start line. I found myself skidding over the Dukes Pass, not once but twice. When I say skidding, I mean proper skidding for the first time ever, out of control on black ice, heading for a sticky end off the edge of the road with a long drop. I was extremely lucky to stay on the road. I can only begin to imagine what the poor driver coming the other way thought as he saw both the look of terror on my face and my car moving back onto the correct side of the road. The second skid was less serious, but afterwards I slowed right down to a crawl and noticed a couple of cars behind me doing the same thing.

After this, I was very glad to still be alive and was much less worried about the race. A marathon now seemed quite achievable really. Sometimes it really is true that getting to the start line is the worst bit of a race.

I use the word race carefully. I wouldn’t be racing in any conventional sense of the word, but a race it was, with a start, a finish, other competitors and a time at the end. There was even a medal, a superb goodie bag and a hug from Race Director Audrey of the Antarctic after crossing the finishing line.

Stepping out of the car and looking around me, I had to pinch myself that I was in Scotland. The skies were blue and the sun was out. It was truly a gorgeous day and I felt extremely spoilt that not only was I about to run my first marathon in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, but I was getting great weather too.

Couldn't have asked for better weather on race day
Couldn’t have asked for better weather on race day

My running had gone really well over the winter. It had been a fantastic combination of running in amazing places having big adventures with very special people, and long steady solo runs just racking up the miles on the tarmac in the rain.

There were a couple of bad asthma weeks before Christmas, and then a very scary few weeks just after New Year where I changed my road shoes a little too drastically and a little too quickly, but thankfully no serious damage was done. Apart from being very sore and swollen for a few weeks, everything was on track. I was worrying whether I had really done enough long runs, but a very hilly 19 miler the fortnight before had gone brilliantly and I felt I had done as much as I could.

And then, the Friday before race day, I felt the tickle of a cold at the back of my throat. Working in an open plan office is truly a horrendous experience in the winter – I am quite badly asthmatic and the slightest cold normally takes ages to recover from. I had managed to avoid illness over almost the whole winter for the first time in years.

A few weeks before, I’d been a bit under the weather so had taken a couple of days off work to try and fend off whatever was lurking. Whether this was a development or a new acquisition, who knows, but it was certainly terrible timing as I felt my chest tighten and my energy levels start to drop. Saturday morning came and I couldn’t get out of bed.

After the Clacton triathlon, I had vowed never ever to race or run when I was ill. I promised myself that if I was no better on the Sunday morning, no matter how big the disappointment, I would not race. I spent most of the day in a very upset state, desperately hoping for a miracle. I am unable to take most cold remedies because of the interaction with my asthma medication, so I stuck to paracetamol, fruit juice, plenty to eat and plenty of tea to drink from the comfort of my greyhound-infested sofa.

By late Saturday afternoon, I felt much better. With some good sleep in the bank, I felt considerably more human on the Sunday morning. I checked my peak flow (a great tool for managing asthma especially through the winter) and it was just slightly short of normal so I was good to go.

The 9 o’clock start time approached, and with many emergency trips to the loo out of the way, we were bundled up at the line and ready to go. Before the start I had seen some very dear friends who had kindly given up their Sunday to marshal. I still feel a very long way from home sometimes, and familiar faces really do lift the spirits.

I set off slowly, even for me, mindful of the freezing cold air hitting my lungs before I was properly warmed up. I find icy cold days one of the hardest aspects of running with asthma, but these chilly days are often the most beautiful and so there is a lot of trading off being done in the head.

I find it generally takes me about 3 miles to really get my chest warm and my breathing settled, but this time it took much longer. Energy levels weren’t great and I was convinced someone had chopped my legs off and stuck them on backwards – they certainly didn’t feel as if they belonged to me, and combined with the asthma situation I was worried whether I was actually going to be able to make it to the end.

The course is notoriously hilly. Some may say undulating, or challenging, but this really means hilly. I do a lot of my running on the hills where I live, and I really enjoy running up and down them. I managed the first few fine, but again being wary of not being 100% and desperately wanting to conserve my energy for as long as possible, when a bigger hill appeared about 3 miles in, I decided that some walking was going to be required.

By about 7 miles I was starting to feel a bit more with it, and after the second water stop at 8 miles I felt much better. At 9 miles I started to flag a bit again, but somewhere between mile 9 and mile 10 I was passed by the eventual winner, Andrew Murray, on the return leg. In just a tshirt and baggy shorts, he looked extremely fresh and if I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was nipping to the shops for a pint of milk before it shut or chasing an errant hound across a park. In comparison, I was packed almost as if I was off to the Antarctic with Audrey. As a slower runner, I knew would be out for a long time and so had plenty of layers and provisions in my trusty little green rucksack.

I also knew I would be spending most of the day in my own company and this suited me fine. I love to run with friends now, but I also love the feeling of a long run on my own, especially in such a stunning setting which I was seeing for the first time. Soon after Andrew Murray came the other front runners, and it was good to see generally happy faces and swap a bit of chat.

Before long I reached the top of the loch, and was heading out of the wind towards the half way point at last. This was a brilliant feeling, but I knew that after the turn I would be heading back into the wind again for a couple of miles. I tried not to think about this and kept going.

I knew my friend Angela would be at the turn point marshalling. In my generally shattered state, I assumed she was the actual turn point so I was a little disheartened to know there was a bit more to go. All the way round I had been urging myself on to the half way point, as I knew that however tiring, every step after that would be nearer home and would hopefully get easier.

I was so pleased to see her. We met at my first half marathon last October and she has been a hugely important part of my life and my running ever since. We’ve had good, terrible and bizarre literally shitty runs together over the winter, and having her here on the day was just brilliant, she is so enthusiastic and supportive of all runners (except perhaps ones who don’t wave back) and I know how many people appreciate her neverending support.

Needless to say, when the turn finally came, it wasn’t a moment too soon. At the water station, marshal Helen reminded me to keep drinking – it was deceptive because of the wind and the chilly temperature, but of course you are still sweating lots. I had made more of an effort to eat and drink than normal because of my cold. I’d taken plenty of drink but still used everything I had and more from the water stations.

On the home stretch, I was able to see all the scenery and views I’d missed on the way out, and looking across the loch and seeing the 8/18 mile water station miles way across the water was a particularly special part of the day. I waved at the marshals deep down knowing they couldn’t see me. Around 16 miles, I came across another runner who was struggling with an injury. He was taking a break to walk a little, and as I was tired and felt like a chat I walked with him for a while.

After about a mile, I could feel things starting to tighten up and, knowing we were near the 18 mile water station so he could get help if needed, I decided to push on. The break had done me some good and I felt renewed and ready to go again. At the water station, marshal Noanie asked me how I was feeling. I had to confess I was feeling rather knackered and she did make me laugh when she replied “Fancy that after 18 miles!”

I carried on, feeling glad to be knocking the miles off gradually and knowing I didn’t have much more to go. Normally, 8 miles would seem like a fair way but after 18, it didn’t seem that far really. Around 20 miles I stopped to grab a quick picture and saw I’d had a bit of signal back on my phone – my friend Sally had sent me a lovely text and it really lifted me. I looked at Strava, and saw my hoped-for time was comfortably within reach.

Heading home back towards the Pier with Ben Venue to the right
Heading home back towards the Pier with Ben Venue to the right

Just before the last water station, around 22 miles, the wheels really started to come off. I was incredibly sore by now. The blister that had started at 9 miles was threatening to come to life and burst out of the side of my shoe. I was starting to feeling some pain in my left shin as if I’d been kicked hard, and also behind my right knee. I slowed right down, walked as little as possible but realised I was not going to be able to run all the way back.

At the last water station, as well as getting my juice bottle topped up, I finally got a doggy cuddle. I seem to attract dogs on runs, and for me a long run is never quite complete without hugging a dog somewhere along the way. Eddy the brindle English Bull Terrier got a very thorough scratch behind the ears, and to be honest I’m not sure who enjoyed it more. He scratched his belly as I scratched his ears, and I had a few moments to relax and chuckle. As my second favourite breed of dog, they are always a special dog for me to see, and again this picked my spirits up and spurred me on for the last stretch.

Those last few miles were pretty bad. I tried to keep running but there wasn’t much left. I started to see the finish point, but the twists and turns of the banks of the loch meant it was rather more out of reach than it seemed. I saw a large puddle with about a mile to go, and couldn’t resist staggering in to cool my burning feet. I do most of my running off road, and icy puddles are one of my favourite bits of being out on the trails.

I got towards the last straight, and could hear cheering from round the corner. Finally the finishing line was in sight and that was me over it, marathon completed.

All done! (huge thanks to Angela for the fab photo)
All done! (huge thanks to Angela for the fab photo)

I collected my hug and medal from Race Director Audrey, then a goodie bag, hugs from Angela and Al, and a much longed for cup of tea – thanks again Angela as it really was divine. The atmosphere was great, with many congratulations and smiles from everyone and for everyone as they came across the line.

Audrey came over to give me my time. I finished in 5 hours 8 minutes. This was just slightly outside the 5 hours I’d hoped for, but really I was just glad to be finished at all and in such good company. Strava tells me my moving time was 5 hours 1 minute, so if I hadn’t faffed about at water stations/stopped for a pee/stopped for a walk/stroked Eddy, I would have done it. It wouldn’t have been half the experience it was though.

With a small field, organised by an incredibly inspiring person and marshalled by so many experienced runners who gave such fantastic support, it’s difficult to see how my first marathon experience could have been any better. I’d gladly have skipped the arrival of the cold and the skidding but other than that, I really couldn’t wish for more.

After the race, sports masseur Mark Rutherford was offering post-race massages for a further donation to Alzheimer Scotland. As I was so sore, and fretting a little about the pain behind my right knee, I decided to take advantage of Mark’s services. It was a chilly wait for a few minutes, but again I was in good company as I chatted to Mark and the customer before me. I was extremely grateful to Les for telling me that running out of puff at 22 miles was normal and about right. I’m also grateful to Mark, firstly for the magic fingers and secondly for suggesting I look into an asthma management technique called Buteyko breathing that I’d heard about but never tried. My exit from the massage table, set up in a trailer some distance above the ground, was not pretty or dignified but no one was injured at least.

There is so much more to say about my ‘big’ day, so I’ll keep the rest of it for future posts. I’ll definitely be visiting Loch Katrine again – I have a new favourite place in Scotland, and there were so many best bits and special spots along the way, in particular the Clan McGregor cemetery in the middle of the loch and the smiley face that had appeared for the day at the top of the aptly named Graveyard Hill.

But perhaps the most important part of it all for me, was to admit to myself and others just how incredibly proud I am of my achievement, and to be comfortable saying so.

We are taught to be modest, and culturally we (girls especially) often talk our achievements down. Every marathon is special in its own way – it’s a phenomenal physical and psychological achievement to run 26.2 miles. This really was something particularly magical for me though.

Back in 1998, six months after starting university, I had what I refer to as a minor climbing accident that resulted in a major injury. Skip the next couple of paragraphs and photos if you are squeamish or prefer to hide behind the sofa in the more graphic scenes in Casualty/ER…..

While climbing in the Peak District, doing my first lead no less, I fell the spectacularly embarrassing distance of just four feet, and caught my ankle on a ridge in the rock on the way down.

I dislocated it and broke/shattered it in several places. The drips of blood on the floor in A&E were not coming from a graze or a cut as initially suspected. I had a compound (bone exposed) fracture, which I had to have pulled back into place by a very brave doctor so that my leg was stable enough to X-ray. I was conscious throughout this, and unfortunately I remember every second of it despite being on some very groovy drugs. Picture warning – not pretty….

Post accident, pre surgery
Post accident, pre surgery

I then had several hours of pioneering surgery, carried out by a truly brilliant surgeon on his last day before he retired. The initial prognosis was not good, but thanks to his incredible efforts, I avoided the normal external fixation/leg cage. Instead I have something not entirely dissimilar to a section of the Forth Rail bridge inside my ankle.

Newly bolted
Newly bolted – still in place

I spent almost three weeks in the orthopaedic ward of the Manchester Royal Infirmary. I picked up a couple of infections in the metalwork. These were normal but frustrating as they lengthened my stay on the ward. I got to learn far too much about the bowel habits of my elderly wardmates.

Those who were around me at the time know just how bad the injury was, how loud I screamed when I landed, how frightening the time in hospital was and just how long the recovery was. It’s the moment in life that I truly recognised myself as an adult for the first time – aged 19 I had to sign the surgical consent form myself. This didn’t stop me wanting my mum though, who was 200 miles away. I had some extremely aggressive (but extremely vital) physiotherapy so that I didn’t lose any more mobility in the joint than absolutely necessary. I was not allowed to leave hospital until I could raise my foot to 90 degrees from a flat surface, and trying to do this every couple of hours was excruciating. I was not allowed to see my Xrays for the first week in case I refused the truly agonising physio. I spent the best part of six months on crutches.

And so, the fact that I can walk unhindered let alone do any running at all has always been a bit of a miracle. But to run this far, in a respectable time, well I still can’t quite believe I did it. My mum asks me who I am and what the aliens have done with her real daughter. I am so, so proud.

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Many people say “ooh I could never run a marathon” or “ooh I could never run at all”. I thought this, but the actions of another metallically-enhanced friend suggested otherwise when she announced she was off running not long after breaking her femur.

I started running a little in the spring of 2012, and then when I moved to Scotland later that year I ran for longer and longer, finding fabulous places to explore as I went along. I found that while I am a slow runner, I can keep going slowly and pretty happily for a very long time as long as I have beautiful surroundings to run in.

I have a BIG year of running planned, and I had been worrying that maybe I had taken on too much. If I couldn’t get through the marathon, it didn’t bode well for the rest of my plans. Thankfully a successful day at Loch Katrine suggested otherwise and I’m really excited about the next step – a bit of a Fling as part of a relay team with some friends in April, and then onto the next big milestone – a 35.5 mile long ultra marathon along (part of) the Kintyre Way….

 

There are many people who have supported me along the way and continue to do so, but special thanks must go to:

Angela, for taking me under her wing, introducing me to a huge running community and showing me just what was possible if you got your head down and ran lots. Also for marshalling on the day and therefore sharing it with me.

Al, for a lovely long soggy run in the rain in December, which consisted of lots of gossip and some advice on how and where to find a man if the new one didn’t work out. For marshalling on the day and keeping me company in the very early stages of the race. For endless enthusiasm and support, pictures of amazing places, being stark raving billy bonkers at times, and for knowing that the sensible/practical option isn’t always the best one.

Ross, specifically for taking on dog walking duties over the weekend meaning firstly I got more sleep and more importantly, I wasn’t rushing over the Dukes Pass on the morning of the race. I dread to think what would have happened if I had been driving quicker or concentrating less. Also for the brave but unorthodox post-race present 😉

Norry, for all the enthusiasm, advice and encouragement, and for introducing me to night running in the hills.

Daniel the osteopath, for keeping me running safely and helping me manage the after effects of my injury.

Also to all the marshals and to Audrey for such a brilliant day, and of course to those who have started my year off with donations to the Lymphoma Association which is how this whole running thing started.

At last …. some Strings!

Given the title of this blog, you could be forgiven for wondering what on earth had happened to the harp. As it happens, the harpist has been pretty quiet too, but the world of full time work has been something of a shock after almost a year away from an office of any kind and it has taken a while to adjust to a different pace of life once again.

I left the RCS at the end of October. It was a horrendously stressful time for all manner of reasons, but finally the final bowline was thrown off and the house down south was no longer mine. In its place, a lot of debt and still far too much clutter in the current abode. But the weight had well and truly lifted. January 1st/2nd/3rd came and for the first time in 12 years, no mortgage payment left my bank account. I had made huge sacrifices each month to pay my bills, and it was very hard adjusting to the fact that financially, I had made some dreadful mistakes that I will be paying for for some years to come.

But. I have a supportive family, brilliant friends both old and new, and the constant that is a pair of furry but windy greyhounds.

I’ve had a long break from the harp. I played in a Remembrance Day concert in the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, an experience both good and bad for reasons that are not to be shared here. I vowed never to work again for nothing. I promised myself I would never again play orchestral music I didn’t love.

A couple of weeks later, I played the beautiful harp cadenza from the Ravel Piano Concerto with a local orchestra. I had studied the cadenza as part of my first year technical exam at the RCS, and had struggled with it. After  a few months in the pot though, it had matured and felt much more breathy and effortless, which is exactly how it should sound. Nerves on the night got to me a little, but I did a reasonable job and it was wonderful to hear the concerto in its entirety. The harp has a very small part and so I could relax and really listen to the piano. This is one of my favourite pieces of music and was a very special experience.

I then had a late request to play Saint-Saens’ Christmas Oratorio in mid December. This is a gorgeous piece for small ensemble and choir, and was performed in a traditional Scottish kirk on the Southside of Glasgow in an area I had come to know very well. I was dreadfully nervous and unfortunately didn’t play as well as I had hoped. However, it was followed by a good singalong of some carols afterwards and then curling up in front of Match of the Day with company for the first time in many years, so turned out to be a pretty special night.

I’d had high hopes of videoing a couple of carols for friends and family as a Christmas present, but after the Saint-Saens, I was pretty much done for. The harp spent some time wrapped up safely, and I went running and climbed hills a lot.

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The harp didn’t emerge until the middle of January, when he went on an extended holiday to a very smart house again in the south of the city. I was knocked for six by the green eyed monster as I wheeled my harp into their music room which was bigger than the whole downstairs of my house. But I was glad that I was able to help another harpist out of a predicament, and very glad my harp was being played and enjoyed.

There has been much musing on whether to continue playing at all. If I continue to play, at what level? What do I play? Who with? Am I professional? Semi-professional? Amateur? None of the above? Most importantly, do I keep the object worth a five figure sum that I will be paying for for another three years, that takes up a whole room in my house and dictates the car I drive?

All You Need is Love?

You can probably guess some of the answers. Mostly, they are along the lines of I don’t know. But this is reason enough not to sell my harp. I do want to play, and play regularly. Listening to some brilliant music and great radio programmes keeps me in touch with something that is a huge part of me, and reminds me I have a talent that I enjoy sharing in the right ways for me.

Most of all I love playing with others. I love quirky, off beat, different, unexpected. In my old town I was lucky enough to find a bunch of musicians I adored playing with, and who pushed me in directions I never could have imagined.

Back to reality

 

Back to reality

I have struggled without them, and the time has come to begin the search for some others to join in with. This is a scary prospect, and I’m not quite ready to jump right in just yet.

I’ve been inspired by revisiting some of my favourite albums and songs, listening to the radio in the car on the way into work and on the motorway on my way to visit my family.

I’ve been to some brilliant gigs, and travelled to hear and play music in some incredible places. Music has changed me and continues to do so.

I know a few things for certain:

I’m not giving up.

I’m still a harpist, and a musician, and a good one at that.

I have a good tone and a good technique, and I don’t need to worry about not being good enough (whatever that means).

I love performing.

I have something to say.

If I put on a concert I can entertain an audience and they will come back again.

I love practising but am easily distracted when things become busy or stressful.

I’m not selling my harp. Unless it’s for a better one and even then I would struggle.

I love classical music.

I love pop music. In fact there is very little music I don’t love other than happy hardcore (blimey remember that!!).

I don’t have enough hours in the day. But who does.

Other than that, I don’t know. And I’m fine with that.

Into the new

Hasn’t it been a while! I have missed my blog, but I’ve been in the truly wonderful position of squeezing every last drop from the last few weeks and only today have I felt that I’ve caught myself up coming back the other way.

Over the last year I decided I would minimise the looking back, and at this most special time of the year, for me it is all about looking forward.

I’m not really a girl for resolutions any more, but it’s good to take the time to re-focus on what’s truly important and start making some plans for the year ahead.

Despite this, I feel it’s necessary to review just a little. November started with great fear and trepidation, but ended up being a wonderful month thanks to pushing myself out of my comfort zone again and being able to lean on my friends. I ran out of white space on the calendar and it was christened Nuclear November. This gave way to Divine December, where things went mostly well and I didn’t have that awful feeling of “this is going too well, what’s going to go wrong”. Don’t get me wrong, plenty did, but it mostly bounced off the surface and was dealt with as required. I spent lots of precious time with friends old and new. I even squeezed in a couple of concerts, and enjoyed the complete contrast of show tunes with a large orchestra in a huge modern concert hall versus a choral piece with a small string ensemble and harp in a beautiful old church.

How I didn’t make myself ill I will never know, but somehow I made it to the end of the year in one piece and even managed to run 80 miles in the month – an achievement I am hugely proud of especially given that due to a hectic social life (three little words I never thought I would use), 50 of those were run in the last 8 days. A significant number of those miles were run with friends, which was a new experience having done most of my running on my own.

The year was rounded off with an 11 mile run over the Forth road bridge and back on New Year’s Eve. I’d headed east and we were incredibly lucky with the weather – not only did the rain stay away but the expected icy blasts never came, despite the recent storms of epic proportions, and I ended up having to remove rather than add layers.

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I would never have imagined finishing my year here and in this way, despite starting it circling Arthur’s Seat rather too many times, and was chuckling away about this to myself most of the way (apart from the last mile which is a story for another day). I wonder where I will be seeing out 2014.

My body held out despite the increase in miles in a short space of time, and my hard work paid off with my first gift of 2014 – a comfortably sub-60 minute 10k run.

I’m pretty proud of that too, and given the miles that lie ahead as I prepare for my first marathon in March and my first ultra marathon in May, I know the elation of achieving these goals will carry me through many dark and soggy runs to come.

There is much that is uncertain about the coming months but based on recent weeks, I am both optimistic and extremely excited about what’s waiting for me in 2014.

2013 was my first complete calendar year living in Scotland. I’m pleased to say I have the new life I wanted, even though it doesn’t look as I thought it might. Seeing the seasons come and go and come round once again has been a very special experience which I hope to write about over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve just packed my little Christmas tree away and I feel rather sad as it was so beautiful. I am back at work tomorrow after two weeks off, but rather than dreading it I’m raring to go and get back into the swing of things.

I wish you a very happy new year and hope it brings you everything you wish for.

IMG_2652(thanks to Ross for the fab photos!)

Just for today

I didn’t expect to be de-icing my windscreen at 8am on a Monday morning.

I didn’t expect to be sat in traffic in heavy rain on the motorway every day at 5.45pm.

My plans for winters in Scotland never featured commuting. Life was meant to be different. But circumstances took a turn for the worse, and things have changed yet again.

I’ve gone back to work full time. My musical dreams are over, at least in the short term and in the expected/intended format. I can’t say I’m thrilled to be working where I’m working, but I have work until Christmas and this means the very near future is looking OK. It’s quite challenging work and it buys me a little time to decide what’s next, while allowing me to make some inroads into the horrific financial situation.

I’m deeply ashamed of the state of my finances, despite knowing and being able to justify the reasons for things being as they are. I’ve made some terrible choices and there is only one person to blame. Continuing with my studying would have been utterly restrictive, and also incredibly reckless. The pressure was increasing exponentially, and unfortunately if I had continued there was only going to be one outcome. Fortunately, I have wonderful people around me who have supported me in making my decision. MY decision.

Music works for me when everything else is working. The slightest hint of stress or pressure, and it becomes unbearably hard. Playing and practising is not an escape for me as it is for many of my incredibly talented and devoted colleagues. When I am upset or worrying about things, I can’t play. From the simplest of warm-up exercise to the trickiest and most consuming bits of pedalling, I just can’t concentrate. When I play, I am deeply connected with my instrument and the physical resonance of it really does affect me on every level, but not always in a good way.

Having said that, my instrument isn’t a part of my soul, and it doesn’t define who I am. I wanted to study at a high level, and to have space to explore the part that music would and could play in my life when it was the sole focus. But a lot of other things needed to happen for that space to exist, and losing yet another buyer on my house and the resulting financial disaster meant that this space has unfortunately gone.

I have many other ways of enjoying my life, and while I love music, playing classically has been quite a destructive influence on my life for a very long time. The rewards are small and hard fought, but utterly addictive, which means it had been worth chasing them. I have to accept that I am not committed enough to this as a career in order to make all the necessary sacrifices. I no longer doubt the talent I have, and I’ve also achieved many of the other objectives I had set out when I decided to come. But I couldn’t continue with things as they were any more.

And so I start again. I’ve been here before, so many times. Moved house, moved school, changed job, moved city. Endless introductions, going along to new things in the hope it will mean a connection with like-minded people. I’ve kind of given up on the concept of really feeling at home anywhere for an extended period, but I desperately want to find somewhere I feel I can belong, some sense of permanence. Maybe they are the same thing. I thought I’d found it, but it seems I was wrong.

A wise friend introduced me to the following a couple of years ago, and I was reminded of these words today. In the midst of escaping from the aftermath of the wedding-that-wasn’t, which now seems like such a long time ago, I had a Reiki massage which had a profound effect on me at the time.

The 5 principles of Reiki:

1. Just for today, I will not be angry.
2. Just for today, I will not worry.
3. Just for today, I will be grateful.
4. Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
5. Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

There is a lot going on emotionally at the moment. Things haven’t worked out as I’d planned, let alone as I’d hoped. Despite the deep sense of failure, and the feelings of guilt and inadequacy, there is still a lot to look forward to. The thought of just getting through each day, without pressuring myself too much over what the future may hold, feels like something I can manage. It also reminds me if I get it wrong one day, it’s just one day and I can start again tomorrow.

Even with things as they are, the promise of a fresh start is a welcome one. I’ve made the break from the very worst aspects of my old life, and there was never any compelling reason to return to it. My move here was never just about the harp, although it was the driving force behind me coming to Scotland.

I love where I live. I have good friends here and while I will miss college life terribly and will see my friends much less now, it’s quite exciting knowing that I pretty much have an open book once all my debts are cleared off. I am lucky to have the means to do this although it will mean working very hard for a good while.

I’ve not been back up Meikle Bin since I took this picture, but Tuesday saw me out that way for a rather soggy and very cold night run on the forest trails with a bunch of people I’d never met. I’ve never done that before and I loved every second of it. I felt alive, and it was good to be doing something new that I could never have done down south.

It was a hard run, and being out with other faster people who I didn’t know meant there was some pressure not to push too hard and/or wobble, but I also felt I was doing something to move forward and also to contribute to some other big goals for next year. I don’t find running easy, but I know that if I put the miles in and just keep going, it gets easier and I can make a success of it on my terms. In that way, it’s one of the easiest things I can do in my life and unlike sitting down to practice, I never have any difficulty in getting myself out of the door for a run.

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Climbing Days

Last night I was lucky enough to see Sir Chris Bonington speak about his 60 plus years spent in the mountains.

For me it was a bit of a trip back in time. In 1997 I was working stupid shifts at my local supermarket over the summer between finishing my A Levels and going off to university. A team of rope access technicians were working nights up in the roof and came to the deli each night to get their tea. My little CB250RS had been clocked in the car park and a few of them had messed around on bikes so we used to chat lots.

I’d just split up with my boyfriend at the time and while sadly nothing came of anything with the particularly beautiful climber, he did leave me with some words rattling round my head. “If you like your bikes, you should try climbing, I reckon you’d love it.”

Freshers Week in Manchester saw me hunting out the climbing club, and off I went in Tom’s car up to Stanage Edge in the Peak District. The chap we picked up on the way who was still on crutches after a climbing accident around Ardnamurchan was later to become my husband although we didn’t know it at the time.

I’d lived in the flat south all my life, had never been to Guides or Scouts or anything like that and I hadn’t shown any interest in climbing or mountains at all. I knew my dad had done a lot in his misspent youth (hmm, maybe there’s a theme there as I definitely get the bike thing from him).

Soon, climbing became everything. I’d had to leave my motorbike at home and I made most of my friends through the climbing club. Weekends were spent in the Lakes, I quickly learnt to down a pint and had my first ever hangover after a long night in a remote pub with a very flexible licensing policy somewhere near Borrowdale. I wasn’t a very good climber but I enjoyed doing something so new and so exciting. My boyfriend at the time (not the husband to be) was a sport climber always chasing technical perfection indoors, and was thoroughly miserable company out on real rock as he got frustrated that his head would always get the better of him.

December 21st that year was to prove a real turning point – my friend Ed was a nurse at the local hospital and was an occasional unofficial member of the climbing club. He had a few days off work and knew I wanted to go and try something different. It was a beautifully clear but mild day, and he had chosen Tryfan as my first proper mountain. The whiny boyfriend came too but I think we would all have had a better time if he’d stayed in the car.

It involved a lot of scrambling which I loved. It didn’t matter where I put my hands and feet as long as I got up. I was a five foot very flexible slip of a thing out with two gangly six-footers, and this meant I could crawl through bits and find ways up they couldn’t.

We got to the top. Officially I can’t claim the summit as I didn’t complete the leap between Adam and Eve. But it was beautiful at the top. This was in the days before digital cameras and camera phones, and while I think Ed has a photo somewhere, I know I don’t.

We made a start up Bristly Ridge next door, but I’d been a bit slower than Ed thought and the appearance of some impressive sea fog after a little while meant we decided against it and came down.

Not long after this, I had a minor accident but suffered a major injury. A shattered ankle, several hours of orthopaedic surgery, two six inch plates and sixteen screws, almost three weeks in hospital, six months on crutches and significant pain for much longer.

The sudden realisation at the age of 19 that you are old enough to sign your own surgical consent form, but you still want your mum and your parents are three hours’ drive away. Wanting to see your x-rays but being refused for various spurious reasons – mostly to avoid the risk of the patient realising the extent of the damage and refusing to do any physio.

I climbed after the accident. I took my crutches to some extremely dubious approaches to crags, and led a harder route than the one I’d fallen from. I found a great climbing partner – Cath was tiny like me, gobby like me and great company. Turns out she’d also had some experience of the whiny boyfriend.

On the night that Manchester United won the Treble in 1999, I was living in the shadow of the Kippax Stand in the old Manchester City Stadium on Claremont Road. Unusually I wasn’t watching the football, as I’d popped round to Cath’s for my dinner and to drop off some climbing kit. I walked home down some eerily quiet streets – even in this bluest of blue areas, everyone was watching the game. No word of a lie, I turned on the telly in the 89th minute, and caught all of the action in extra time.

Life changed soon after. I started going out with the guy I’d met on my first climbing trip, who was the housemate of the whiny boyfriend. Everyone had started work, there was less time for climbing and soon we would end up heading south away from easy access to the Peak District.

Names of people and mountains, routes and camps came flooding back last night as we listened to Sir Chris. He was a brilliant speaker, warm and engaging and so careful to acknowledge all his team that you often weren’t sure which mountains he had stood on the top of and which he hadn’t. He had started his climbing life in North Wales too, and his tales of hopelessly inequipped adventuring touched everyone’s hearts – I think we’d all been there at some point, up something we had no right being up, hoping everything would be OK.

The words that will stay with me, were towards the end of the evening, where he talked of his ambitions now, having climbed everything he had wanted to and much more besides.

He described his goals as being less tangible – the sole aim being to go somewhere new, be it walking or climbing, but to go with people you enjoyed being around.

As someone who struggles with the concept of long term planning outside a work environment, I felt I could really make something of this and understand what he was saying.

Often when times are difficult and a change is called for, we hope to become a new, happier, more fulfilled version of ourselves, if only we can achieve this, or live there etc.

In my case I often wonder where I left my old self.

The same person who took me up Tryfan left me with some other things to remember, mostly some harsh words after a late night – “…you can’t make up your mind what you want to do with your life, I just can’t deal with it”

Years later, I’m just getting my head round the fact that despite expectations around me, it’s OK to change my mind, to not know, to accept I will probably never know, and to think that maybe when the dust settles on the current crazy situation, I need to build my life with a little more flexibility so that when I want to change the situation and do new things, I can. This won’t always be going somewhere no-one’s ever been, but it might be somewhere I’ve never been, and as Sir Chris said last night, hopefully it will always be with the people I enjoy being around.

The title of this post is from a book by a lady called Dorothy Pilley, who climbed with men when it was far from the done thing. I need to go back to the book as I’ve never finished it. I do remember a line though… we climbed, then we had lunch and then we had cake. Or something similar.