Tag Archives: moving on

A pause

I’m flying. I’m out of Clearways and as I come round Clark Curve and onto the Brabham Straight, I wind the revs on and click up the gears, and I’m flying.

I crouch as low as I can over the long tank, in control of far too many kilos for the 48.6 bhp bike I am riding. I’m not fat, but there’s no escaping the fact that this bike was built for posing on Italian piazzas, not hurtling round race tracks.

I see my markers for Paddock Hill. I ease off, brake and tip in. I can’t see it but I know the apex is there just slightly round the corner.

I giggle in my helmet as I feel the swoosh and the splash as I hit the dip at the bottom of Paddock Hill and ride through the duck pond.*

I feel the wind hit my helmet and my arms as I come up Hailwood Hill, and I drift towards the left of the circuit to get ready for Druids. Not too far over, so no one can take an inside line and come past me, but enough to give me a good line into the corner and set up a good fast exit. My knee just skims the tarmac.

I come out of the corner, heading left again towards the edge of the circuit. Not too far over, as Graham Hill is next and I need to move over to the right for the entry to this one.

I tip in as cautiously as possible when trying to go fast on a track. It’s the only left hand corner on the circuit, and so the left side of my tyre will be considerably cooler than the right side.

I’m onto the Cooper Straight now, getting ready to flick through Surtees and McLaren. I know the medical centre is in sight but I won’t be visiting it with any luck. One day, I will turn left here, but for now it’s straight over and ready for Clearways.

My line is terrible through here. I’ve been taught the right line, but I’m not going fast enough on it and it feels wrong, so I am always trying to find a better one for the speed I am going at. My knee touches the floor again, and then I’m into Clark Curve and back onto the Brabham Straight.

It has taken me just over a minute. One day it will be less. I have  hardly breathed. My heart is beating so hard and my legs and arms are shaking so much I will struggle to get off my bike afterwards.

I’ve been here on sunny days, on rainy days and on one freezing day in February when the icy cold air blowing down Hailwood Hill hit my lungs so hard I could barely breathe.

One time round Clearways, I was on the inside of the track, blocked in by a pack of bikes with much more power than mine. If I had braked, or hesitated or moved off line in any, the consequences would have been pretty serious. But I didn’t. I believed I could get round and I hung on, back into Clark and onto the Cooper Straight where the faster bikes would pull away again.

Another time, I spent a weekend here in baking hot sunshine,  watching World Superbikes with the hordes. I barely spoke to another soul, apart from the ice cream man. It was wonderful.

This is Brands Hatch and it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

It will be a while before my next visit, but when I shut my eyes I can hear my bike bouncing off the rev limiter and my kneeslider scraping on the tarmac.

I can feel the rubber of my Renthals and the end of my foot pegs digging into the middle of the sole of my boots. I feel one knee dink the tank as it grips on tight, as the other drops away towards the track.

I think of nothing else beyond getting safely round the next corner.

*a somewhat misnamed puddle, as it is tiny and no ducks go on it

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And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

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Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

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Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

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Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

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This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

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Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

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I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

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Winter sun

What could be better than a sunset?

A sunset on a beach?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration, with slightly sore legs and arms from a spot of scrambling on the side of a mountain the day before?

A sunset on a beach on the west coast of Scotland a long way north and in the winter, on a Wednesday afternoon, with the very best of company, having a bit of a week long celebration, with slightly sore legs and arms from a spot of scrambling on the side of a mountain the day before, followed by some very fine fish and chips in Ullapool?

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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.

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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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