Walking, walking, walking …

Looking at my daily steps over the past month on the app I see I’m doing just over 4k steps on average a day. Even factoring in about 12 miles of cycling a week this means my step count is too low. A normal working day back when I did whatever it was I used to do before retiring on 30th June, I walked 5-6k a day just getting to & from wherever it was & being there doing whatever it was I used to do.

I have the smart watch set for a target of 8k steps a day though on the few occasions I’ve done this I do not like the way it tells me I’ve achieved it … feels like a bee has become trapped between the watch & my wrist.

So … I’ve decided to challenge myself to walk 8k steps every day for the next week. Starting tomorrow; Saturday to Friday. A week where I’m not going to Coventry. When I cycle to Zumba, five miles there & back, I’ll count 3k steps. I googled & apparently that’s what it is.

This means a lot of popping out for a walk. Maybe twice a day. Even if it’s raining. And walking TO places. B&M bargains. The One Stop. The cemetery. Happy Mount Park. Sainsbury’s. The clothes bank. And along the promenade of course.

And, as I did in lockdown 1, I will aim to walk down a few more streets I’ve not walked down before. At least one new-to-me or only walked down once before street per day would be a good aim. And to sometimes run up those steps onto the bit that goes over the railway on Broadway.

And I’ll try & do more than 8k a day earlier in the week, get ahead of the game in case I have a lazy day or whatever. And take at least one photo of something interesting, funny or unusual to post on Twitter & Facebook. Hashtag … er … I’ll think of something.

Then, if I can achieve this, I will try for another week. Maybe I can make it a habit. I really should walk to & from the station when I go to Coventry. It’s not much more than a mile. Now I’ve streamlined the amount I carry back & forth.

The thing about walking is its easy, you see stuff, it needs very little equipment and, once you get started it’s usually enjoyable.

Walking Boots & Socks!
Me, Mum & Andy on a walk in Yorkshire, May 1973

The Impossible Thing : The Return.

Who remembers The Impossible Thing? Well, its back.

Recently, someone in my acquaintance has had some kind of weight loss surgery & I witnessed them not taking it at all seriously. Based on something I heard a couple of days later, there may have been consequences. Wish I could tell you more but I can’t.

I would never, could never, do anything like that. It’s just awful, the very idea. I will say no more other than …

… this got me thinking.

Despite knowing getting to a normal weight was impossible (hence the famous hashtag), I never thought I wouldn’t be able to keep off what I lost.

This was seven stone. Or maybe five. Different scales & a touch of body dysmorphia, mean I was never quite sure. My Mum agrees I’ve put some of it back but not all of it. She is in a situation where she’s having to add nutritional shakes to her diet to make sure her weight doesn’t go below ten stone, the weight she was in school. My best friend doesn’t think I’ve put any on, bless her. My clothes are less confused and recent purchases show I’ve put on but I’m not back where I was.

What I did know back in 2015-19 was that I had my fitness regime and my eating was under control at least some of the time. I was confident that I would carry on exercising & doing my best with my eating (without surgery you can have days off!!) forever.

What I didn’t know was the catastrophic events on the horizon. Thank goodness we don’t know what’s to come in life.

So …

I want to have more regular mealtimes. Days at home are often about grazing where you lose track of how much you’ve eaten. And my travels back & forth to Coventry mean crisps. Well, everything means crisps. But train crisps are always more crisps. Then, while with my parents its very regular meal times but not enough food as I run around after them. Then, once back at Cov station for my return journey there’s an M&S & a WH Smiths packed full of … CRISPS.

I haven’t got my exercise regime back but my ‘active retirement’ includes two Zumba classes, cycling to get there, walking & swimming in the sea, or a pool, when the opportunity (and the tide) arises. Some days I do my 8k steps, other days I don’t. The very good waterproof fleece-lined winter coat I bought at the end of last year tells me walks can & will happen whatever the weather.

Put it this way, I walked to work in all weathers & in darkness in winter to feed the children, support my colleagues & earn my wages so doing it for my health & (I admit) my appearance, should be a no-brainer. With more time in my day, I like to walk or cycle places like shops or to do errands, which is great cos with not getting up early for work I have the energy & I don’t need to rush.

When I’d lost weight and was fit from all the exercise, I had such confidence. As I’ve said before, I felt like I was in control of something I never was before. I carried around my little nugget of hope. I took my place cycling on the prom & my lane in the pool. Recently I feel like I have gone back to many of my old ways of thinking & acting. That overwhelming urge to get out of other (more important) people’s way.

This is so not about weight. If only I could tell more about this weight loss surgery person. They would never think like me.

The feeling of being in the way has been exacerbated by social distancing of course, which I know I will carry on doing (sometimes it helps you get more steps in) But flinging yourself & your bike into a hedge to get out of the way of another cyclist who isn’t necessarily going much faster than you is an over-reaction. So is the endless apologising. And the trains are back to being busy, which makes all the journey’s harder. Arriving at my booked seat, blocking the aisle with myself & my luggage, finding someone sitting in it & trying to go back the way I came but there’s other people behind me. And doing it all in a facemask too. Nightmare. No, I have never dared say ‘That is my seat’. Pathetic. And to think just over a year ago I had the quiet coach to myself. Bliss.

Yeah, I have to be as fit & as happy as possible to tackle all the stuff to come with my parents. I’m very close to having all the power of attorneys in place and hopefully full access to all my parents’ finances, etc. Then I can begin to really make progress. I don’t know how much longer they can struggle on together in the house. I need to be as healthy, organised & together as I possibly can be for this.

To quote/paraphrase a far more prolific blogger than me … onwards and upwards, but not outwards.

Pepper, Coffee & Family Stuff I Probably Shouldn’t Be Blogging About.

Last Wednesday as I rushed around my parents’ kitchen preparing lunch for them and our visitors, I thought the peppermill might need filling. My Dad is big on ground black pepper. When I opened it I realised it had ground coffee inside. I knocked it out & filled it up with peppercorns. I didn’t tell my Mum. She would be upset but also not be able to resist telling my Dad what he did and laugh at him. They always had a kind of bickering one-upmanship thing going on. Now his dementia has changed the dynamic but it’s still there.

Sometimes I run between them trying not to take sides. They both have had massive losses of confidence & I try to boost that best I can. I pretend I am confident I can do all this. My catchphrase is ‘Its fine. I’ll do it.’ Cos my Mum’s doing her best to look after my Dad and keep them both going, despite the fact she’s unwell & elderly & so used to him doing all the man-jobs.

My Dad will change the subject when Andy is mentioned but my Mum wants to talk about him. And she hates that my Dad is clueless about things like the day they got married and all the holidays they had & his cousins in France who my Mum is trying to keep in touch with on the phone. Whereas my Mum has a memory like mine – ‘Sal’s amazing memory’ ‘both a blessing & a curse’ – & remembers everything. She has so many tales from when she was a child particularly when my grandfather’s work forced them to move from Cheshire to Surrey for a year when she was twelve. New school, new friends, new house then back again when work sent them back to Wilmslow.

If Andy was here he could save us all. Not strictly true but there’s stuff he would’ve been so much better than me at sorting out. Computers, fixing things, finances, knowing what to do. I hate that I wish my parents were no longer here ‘cos then they wouldn’t have to know about Andy. But then I can barely even believe it myself. And, despite the things he could have done for my parents, I really I just want Andy to still be here so he could be living his life. Going on holiday. Being with his family. Working hard. Planning his retirement.

People say he would be proud of me. No, I think he’d still be looking at me like I was mad but also laughing at my jokes. I’ll never forget seeing that Twitter flower tribute at the funeral (my great idea) & thinking it was not that well done (to put it nicely) but Andy would’ve laughed at it. And I hear his shoes are still the hall in his house with one being used to prop the door open. Comedy & tragedy are so close.

Sometimes I wish we’d had another brother & sister. They would be older, live near my parents and have spouses & children who all had different skills. We need an accountant, a plumber, a gardener, a DIY expert, a nurse, a solicitor. And someone just good at driving & lifting things. Then I could just be in charge of food, shopping, chatting & playing ukulele.

But it’s my own fault. I should have all that lot – or at least some of them – in my own non-existent family. But then I might be living in Australia with a plumber husband & my ten kids. Who knows?

In the future I see myself floundering around trying to persuade my physically healthy but not capable of looking after himself, Dad into a care home. And at some stage trying to sell the house. And I don’t think that will bother me too much. I did not leave there till I was forty three & I was very glad to go. I do not have the nostalgic attachment that others appear to have, even though we moved in there when I was two. I do hope I will not be completely alone as I fling everything into a skip. Or two skips.

And as I change the stuff over in the peppermill, supervise my Dad making the coffee (sometimes he remembers, sometimes he doesn’t), manage their money, wait on my mum while I’m there to do it, prepare fruit & veg & grate cheese & sort out lots of other things before I rush off for my train I think … I’ll have to do all this for myself.

There won’t be anyone to help me. Save yourself while you can, Sal, by living your life while you still have it. And I must sort out my own finances, a will, power of attorney, etc … then leave everything tidy & organised (as if EVER!!) & stuff myself in a wheelie bin.

Retirement : The First Month

A month today! I’ve really surprised myself getting over my thirty years of being a nursery cook. Just. Like. That.

I thought it’d take a while. I thought I’d think about menus, food ordering & dietary needs more. Truth is, I’ve rarely thought of it. This must’ve been helped by finally getting a nursery-experienced replacement to hand the job over to. I’ve heard nothing & don’t really want to know. I hope the two housekeepers I worked with in that kitchen for over nine years are doing all right & I’m sure they are.

There’s been three visits to Coventry. My parents are both over eighty, my Mum with cancer that’s stable & my Dad with dementia & moderate Alzheimer’s. I get food delivered from Sainsbury’s & put it all away, I get cash out & go to the local shop, I take my Dad for walks in the garden or round the block, I bag stuff up for charity shop or sling things in the bin.

I run between the two of them, fetching & carrying, reassuring & jollying things along. I also cook & prepare food & play songs on ukulele. My Mum enjoys Sh-boom, her choice, & they both like Supertrouper. I think I need to have a go at Rock Around the Clock next. Mum’s era.

In the middle of the month, I went to Leamington Spa for a meeting with the financial advisor. Their finances is also my job. I‘m gradually getting to grips with it. I’ve managed to stop my Mum saying ‘Andy was going to do all this’ by reminding her that when I moved to Morecambe I didn’t know what I was doing with renting a flat and then actually buying one but I gradually worked it all out. In fact, it was my Dad who told me ‘you don’t have to know how to do all of it, you just need to know the next bit’. Wise words that he won’t remember saying. He was, until a few years back, ultra-confident & seemingly knew how to do everything. Now, we’re lucky if he remembers how to make the coffee but lucky he did what he did when he did it, if you know what I mean.

Last week he suddenly decided he wanted to take photos of the garden. He wanted help working out how to use the camera he’d not picked up in a year. Could ‘that lass over there’ help him? That’s me, his daughter. And me and my Mum are both thinking this would’ve been a job for Andy. Cos once photos are taken (they weren’t), there’s the computer and maybe the printer too. But this is not really what I want Andy for. I want him to be getting on with his life and looking forward to a retirement too.

I’m back at Zumba now. I cycle five miles there & back, most on promenade & canal towpath. Perfect. I’m doing Zumba Gold on Monday mornings & regular Zumba on Saturdays. Some of the routines are new. Others remind me of Helen’s classes at the VVV, back when things were good. Music will do that; take you right back to time, place & feelings.

Within days of retirement, I enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Cosy Club with Stella in Coventry. We’re there again next week. Hurrah! Discovered their new potatoes in garlic parmesan butter. No more boring chips for Sal. I few days before I retired, I cycled fifteen miles there & back to my friend, the FGE’s place. It was tiring but I would do it again. Preferably without another beetle going down my cleavage. I enjoyed an al fresco lunch in the garden. Homemade beetroot hummus with cheesy tortilla chips; deliciously moreish. I returned this with chilli tacos and all the trimmings halfway through the month. Then we went for a late swim in the sea.

I started the sea swimming with the FGE before retiring. This month I’ve swum several times when a high high tide calls. Anytime between half five in the morning when the sun’s only just up and half nine at night when it’s setting. Should’ve started the sea swimming ages ago. I’d like to swim in a pool too sometime but the sea swimming is free, there’s a no chance of people soup and it’s convenient as I can cycle there in ten minutes.

On the hottest day so far, a Twitter-friend visited & we swam from the beach nearest mine & then walked the prom to have tea at The Midland. A far cry from last time she visited. Full lockdown & a wet ‘n’ windy prom walk. A successful but very tiring day.

Last but by no means least – or even the highlight! – was the Frank Turner concert at Top Rope Brewing in Bootle with another Twitter-friend who won tickets for this fab event. Over three thousand people applied but only 60 got to be there. So lucky.

My last gig was March 2020. At Sheffield City Hall for Elvis Costello I was wedged in between two strange men & did later wonder if this virus we were starting to hear about was wedged in too. Cut to sixteen months later where us pandemic-experts were at spaced out tables, being brought drinks ordered via app. It was also in one door and out the other, well-ventilated & you wore a mask as you arrived or if you got up.

Frank Turner is very special; a brilliant performer and singer-songwriter, charismatic and intelligent. He makes it all look very easy. From my ukulele dabblings I know it damn well isn’t. I knew most of the songs and sang along. He was supported by two excellent acts, Berries and Pet Needs, & they all played together as a finale. Then Frank met some of the audience who queued up for autographs/photos and my friend went over there. He met Frank, got his book signed & a photo & they had a good chat. What a guy! (Both of them of course!)   

All the friends mentioned here have helped me so much this last year. And many more, including lots of Twitter-friends I’ve not met. Despite some horrible things happening in my family, I know I’m very lucky to be retired & to live in a lovely place & to have great friends.

Now we’re heading into August. Another Cosy Club lunch & good chat with Stella is booked for next week, three more Coventry visits, a meet-up with my uncle in an Italian restaurant in Carlisle & hopefully finally getting the Lasting Power of Attorneys through and sorting full online access to my parents’ bank account. I can do this.

I might even go to another gig. There’s one next Saturday I’m eyeing up, early evening in a pub near Preston. A ukulele band. Wonder if I could persuade someone to come with me. It’s my teacher Mike’s band & I hope to see them live someday. If not there’s always YouTube again.

Maybe Sunday group will start back soon. At the moment it seems like all the members are putting in their opinions about the future of the group. I’ve said I don’t have an opinion. In March 2020 we were told there would be a three month sabbatical. I laugh in the face of that Sal. But … it could happen. And when it does, it will be brilliant.

And at the end of August it’s my niece’s wedding. An auntie-of-the-bride outfit has been put together. A hotel room booked. It won’t be the same without Andy but I will do my best.

Look at all the photos mixed up in a gallery. What a month!

A Small Blue Quilted Anorak

I wrote this yesterday and submitted it to Flash Flood. It’s now 2am and its been rejected. I decided to post it here. It’s just what happened last Monday morning while I was at my parents’ house.

A Small Blue Quilted Anorak

The mother and sister tackle the oak chest. While the sister collects bin bags, the mother removes the tea caddy, silver teapot and jug from the carved lid of the chest. The sister opens it. Inside’s a mess. She shakes open bags. ‘One for rubbish, one for charity’. They pull things out, trying to make quick decisions. If they do this now they’ll have achieved something.

They yank out curtains, duvet covers, hundreds of curtain hooks, a fox fur in a bag, knitting needles, sixties sewing patterns. The sister makes swift which-bag decisions. Scraps of car seat and wedding veil. Orange sofa covers.

A second rubbish bag’s unrolled. The mother sits and sighs. She never wanted this thing anyway. Michelle polished it but didn’t buff the polish off. The sister drags out a pair of her Dad’s trousers. And a small blue quilted anorak.

They hold it between them. The sister says ‘Oh.’ She can’t look at her mother. It’s her brother’s anorak from fifty years ago. She unzips the pocket and puts three fingers inside, unsure what she’s looking for. The hood falls back. They read the name tape. The mother suggests it was kept to fix something. The sister shrugs. Together, they drag it into the rubbish bag.

‘It kept him warm when he needed it.’

They’re both thinking about him. Her son, her brother. About the funeral, how wrong it all is. The sister, trying to remember we’re born and we die but we must think about the life in between, the life they celebrated at the funeral, in masks and spaced out, while her parents watched online. The worst possible year to have treatment. To be in hospital. To die.

The sister ties the bags firmly.

It’s empty, the base dustpan-and-brushed. Lid closed. Ornaments placed back.

Future Plans; Retirement Life

I’ve had eight jobs in my life. All in kitchens. (I’m not counting me & Andy delivering leaflets about ladders for ten quid) Worked in a restaurant, a racquet centre, a catering company with a franchise in the same racquet centre, in five different nurseries, in four different towns, in two different parts of the country. Not bad for someone who’s first job was a ten minute walk down to the round-about & who didn’t leave her parents’ house till she was forty-three.

I had a year off in 2009/2010 when I went to uni to do my creative writing MA, so I’ve worked a total of 37 & a half years, more than half of it full time or very full time.

And now I’m retiring. End of May or end of June. Very fortunate to be able to do this at fifty-five & a half. I know I’m lucky and I’m going to make the very best of it. Therefore, plans are needed.

Family – My parents are my priority. As long as I can still do other stuff. I’ve always juggled things around so I can spend time in Coventry. (Hopefully these visits will soon include lunch with Stella again too) At this stage, I don’t know what will be necessary but these days I am as much carer as visitor. I’m thinking in terms of going for shorter visits but more often. I do not mind the journey in the slightest and, although wearing a mask on the train is not much fun, I’ve enjoyed the trains being quieter. So, I will keep doing what I can to help my parents. Aside from visiting I will continue to try and get to grips with my power of attorney duties, aka floundering around.

Exercise regime – It’s possible that, without an easy accessible pool that I’m a member of, I won’t swim as often as I’d like to. I intend to try the council run sports centre but maybe for a one-off swim rather than joining up. Can I discipline myself to once a week? There’s also the swimming in the sea option but that’s not the same as staying an hour in a pool and doing a mile’s worth of lengths. And I;’ve not done the first swim yet. I will set myself a target of 10k steps a day which will cover my work steps and then some. It’s also the amount we’re told to do. I’m thinking of getting a waterproof Fitbit. Need to do more research on which one to get. The Zumba teacher is doing two daytime classes that are a bit easier. I’ll try that. A few miles to cycle there; along the prom, up to the canal and a few country roads to a village hall. Or there’s the Monday night one in a nearby church hall. I want to get back to doing a variety of different exercise, adding movement to my day in different ways. An active lifestyle, so to speak. Partly having to discipline myself to do it, but also that it’s just a part of all the other things I do.

Ukulele – Before lockdown/pandemic, I’d wanted to do even more ukulele stuff. I know I said it my last blogpost that I wasn’t getting my hopes up about things going back the way they were, about the groups being back on. But I still hope for this. I’m optimistic. The groups do gigs but I’ve not been to any of them. Being free from work means I might be able to give that a go. I’d also like to try open mic in different places and then there’s ukulele festivals. All possibilities with a bit more time & money at my disposal. Having said that, the main thing is to get back to what I was doing before, ukulele-wise. In some form, ukulele & singing will be part of my retirement life.

(And, talking of music, I know someone who’s in three choirs. I’m wondering whether to inquire.)

Lie Ins – I’ve always had to get up early and get to work early. In more recent years this has meant getting up by six and leaving for the bus stop at 7.10am. Nursery cooks start early and, without a car (NO, I will NOT be learning to drive … you know how you know you’ll never be a ballet dancer?) Anyway, I think I will get up fairly early on some days and go out for a walk or bike ride to get my steps in early, weather permitting. Other days I might stay in bed till whenever. Hopefully I’ll do more in the evenings and get out of the habit of sleeping in the evening then being awake later.

My flat – I started a major spring clean in April/May of last year. Now, you wouldn’t know it. A combination of laziness, busyness (who am I kidding?) and having no visitors has left it somewhat messy & disorganised. Having visitors always makes me keep the place fairly clean and tidy. I am still, rather naively, convinced I can get it up to a certain standard of cleanliness and tidiness and keep it that way. Is this the person I want to be in retirement? It would certainly help, when doing a variety of activities, to have everything organised. And the long range dream for the future is to leave flat life for a bungalow. I love it here but in a flat you are at the mercy of your neighbours, though right now they are lovely. Lovely and quiet and enjoy my ukulele’ing & singing. Anyway, in the meantime, my bed is over 10 & a half years old. So I’ll definitely be ordering a new one.

Food/cooking – It’s going to be very weird not to be the person who runs a kitchen and cooks for lots of other people. So, I should have no excuse not to be making everything from scratch at home. I also look forward to cooking & baking for visitors. I will need to discipline myself with my eating. This is always my biggest ongoing challenge in life.

Writing/Reading – Ah, yes. The thing I was going to do loads of. The thing I left my home town to study. I still love writing. I’m enjoying being back to blogging. More of that definitely. I should be submitting stories, working on novels, etc. I enjoy reading other folk’s writing and putting my spoke in so am always up for that kind of help if it’s necessary. I have often given up writing but always gone back to it so never say never.

Cinema – I want to go more often. My favourite cinema is in the Duke’s theatre in Lancaster. They have good films on. Old movies and stuff that’s a bit more esoteric. I will aim to go once a month, probably in the daytime. I like to sit at the front when I go and see a film. You have extra legroom and there’s no one in front of you to distract you. Except the folk in the film of course.

Going places – My main priority for places to go is gigs (whatever comes up whenever. I’ve never seen Billy Bragg and I’d like to see Frank Turner some day too) and outdoor pools (I have the Lido Guide with only a few ticked off and I’d like to go back to them or to other ones). I don’t mind how far in this country I travel for swimming or music and can always book a hotel or B&B if necessary. These get combined with going to new places, having a good walk & explore, travelling by train and finding whatever food I can for lunch. Always interested in an extensive pub menu or a vegetarian/wholefoods café. And taking photos and posting them on Twitter & Facebook and blogging will all stem from these trips.

Seeing friends – After over a year of no visitors, I want to have people here. It will probably just my local friend coming for soup or a curry & a good chat some evening. Just? This sounds great, after a year of going for walks on all weathers or sitting in the garden with mugs of tea & two metres apart. And I want my special July visitor back. Stella has been staying four days at the beginning of July since 2012. Apart from last year of course. This tradition needs to come back again. There are several graveyards I need to show her. We can celebrate my retirement with lots of walking and lunch and tea and ice cream from Brucciani’s. I would also like to meet up with various other friends. The Twitter friend I met up with on my birthday last year, for example. We walked as far as the Midland & sat outside on their seating eating food we’d brought with us. It was very cold & wet. My idea is we should be inside with afternoon tea next time.

And maybe I will even get to Hawaii or have a pool put in my garden. Who knows?

My second vaccination is booked for Friday June 4th. I may be retired by then. If not, it will only be a few weeks to go. It’s going to be weird, especially teaching someone else the job, and an adjustment but I’m up for it. In fact, bring it on!

More lockdown photos … I seem to have quite a collection

What’s Helping Me Through

I realised I’d not blogged for 18 months. I’ve done very little writing either. Except for #VSS365 & #StoryCubesTales on Twitter, that is. For the latter, follow @VicenteLRuiz. You get an image of two dice (cubes) with funny little drawings on every day. You can interpret them as you wish. It started June 2020 & set me off with my characters, who I use for my #VSS365’s these days too.

My characters are food-obsessed Dom, his Nan, her partner ukulele playing, cheesy mash lover Spike & Dom’s sort-of younger brother Paris, the son of his father’s fiancé, Melissa. I killed Dad & Melissa off and sent Dom’s Mum to Australia when I realised I wanted the boys to live with Nan & Spike. Aside from Spike being kidnapped by a woman from his past who fed him watery instant mash and forced him to teach her the ukulele, they live a great life together with lots of food, fun, music and laughter. Nan & Spike’s wedding’s booked for May but that’s when the court case is.

I love doing these tweet-length writing challenges. I usually do them early in the day in just a few minutes. Whatever else is happening, one thing has been easily done and dusted. Sets me up for the day.

This pandemic has, of course, been a complete disaster for the whole world but I’m wondering if that, for me, was the easy part. In April I was forced to resign from my job by being threatened with disciplinary action if I didn’t go & work in the care home, my Mum declined more cancer treatment, my brother was by this time having his own cancer treatment in lock down, the worst possible time. He fought it incredibly hard, in circumstances made extra difficult by Covid but died in January of this year. My Dad was finally diagnosed with dementia & moderate Alzheimer’s the week after. My Mum’s cancer is stable, for now. She struggles on, looking after my Dad and doing all the things he used to do. With my help & support. Well, doing the best I can from a distance. We used to talk twice a week on the phone, since the first lock down it’s been every day. I‘m embroiled in sorting out all kinds of things; from the stuff that needs a financial advisor and a solicitor to practical things that are more my forté, like ordering food.

I’ve been thinking about what has helped me through all this, what is helping me through, I should say. I made a list.

Ukulele – Even though it seems as if the moment I began ukulele, everything started going wrong, I’m so glad I did it. Cos it is just coincidence, I know that. Up until the middle of March last year I was going to two groups & having my lesson every week. I did go back to the latter for eleven garden lessons in late summer, when restrictions were lifted enough to be able to meet in gardens. But, the whole time, I’ve carried on playing songs every day, practicing & trying to learn songs by heart.

For years my Nana said I should ‘join a group’. I didn’t know which group but clearly it was a ukulele one. It’s been a year. They zoomed, I didn’t join in. They sent emails back and forth, I kept out of it. They met up in sixes. They met up in gardens. Friday group met in a garden but I was at my parents. The last but one Sunday group, I did my song in the open mic. I wanted to have another go as soon as possible. I hope I get to go back to groups some day but I try not to get my hopes up. Cos it feels like everything’s changed forever. I know I’ll always be able to pick up the ukulele and, concentrating on playing/singing, I cannot think of anything else.

Exercise – With lockdown, my exercise regime was over. April & May of last year, while I wasn’t working, I did a lot of walking, discovering streets and locations in my area I’d never been to before. Then I went back to walking to and from work, perfecting the dash for the one-bus-an-hour in June/July. Wish I could say I did other exercise. I rejected Zoom Zumba. There’s been a few bike rides, nothing major. I did swim for a few weeks in the late summer/autumn then the place closed down completely. I miss swimming. Swimming would put me right. Anytime now I’ll be having a dip in the sea, I promise. But still, just getting out for a walk helps. I’ve had prom walks with friends, in various weathers. And when I’m in Coventry I take my Dad for walks. After the police had to find him that time he’s not allowed out on his own.

Food – I have to confess, to anyone who knows about The Impossible Thing, that I have treated myself. Food is my comfort. It always makes me feel better. The pandemic caused me to buy more food, eat more food, have more food in. Many of the things I’d got out of the habit of buying are back: Lurpack, Nutella, Aunt Bessie’s oven chips, big bags of crisps. It wouldn’t matter so much if I was swimming. The food I’d really like is a meal at the Brasserie with my local friend, lunch at the Cosy Club with my Coventry friend, lunch in Garstang Booths before Sunday ukulele group, lunch in Lancaster before a film at the Duke’s. Not cheesy chip butties and chocolate in bed.

Friends – online, real life and in-between. Those I met up with, those I talked to, those who liked & replied to my tweets, who looked at my endless childhood photos. Those who messaged with offers of help. I had sympathy cards off folk I’ve never even met, I had a gift of a cheese hamper, a book, long message chats. So much support. A lockdown birthday visit, good chat and prom walk in horrible wet weather with no chance of even a cup of tea in a café. And big thanks to the two special friends I spoke to on the way to the funeral. With your phone, Twitter & messages, you’re never alone in the back of a far-too-posh-for-you car on the way to your brother’s funeral to do a reading and represent your whole family.

Me – I always knew I’d have to step up and help my parents as they got older. I never imagined it would be like this, in a pandemic & with my brother dying. What the actual HALIFAX?

I got through the funeral and the next day when my parents, myself and family friend Janet as witness, had to sign all these papers. I waited till I was on the train on the way back to have a bit of a cry and a panic attack about everything; Andy, and Mum and Dad. Then I had to change trains at Manchester Piccadilly. Running in a mask with two bags and a ukulele and social distancing & panicking at the same time, I do not
recommend. Then, on a breezy platform, my ukulele blew away from me. Arghhhh! I was very glad to get home.

I’m actually astounded how well I’m coping. A lot of it is because for every time my Mum says ‘Andy was going to do all this’, I tell her I can do it. I almost convince myself. And … there’s also a bit of ‘What next? Bring it on?’

Here’s a gallery of images from the past year …

My notice is now handed in at work … again. I’ve been a nursery cook for thirty years and worked in kitchens since I was seventeen. It’s time. I know I’m lucky I can do this.

Next time … Future Plans

The Impossible Thing : Giving Up

Yeah, misleading title. Of course I’m not giving up completely.

I’m managing to keep off the approximately seven & a half stone I’ve lost in the past nearly four years. This is beyond anything I could ever have imagined or thought possible. However, it’s NOT The Impossible Thing. That was … is … ‘to find out what it’s like not to be fat’, which means getting into ideal weight range.

Not there yet. May never be. Don’t even know if the weight I’m getting on my cheapo scales is correct. I constantly doubt this. I watch YouTube videos of shows like Secret Eaters and Supersize versus Super Skinny and stare at people who are the weight I might be, or the weight I was. This just adds to my confusion. The same weight on one person can look very different on another and I suspect this is due to a variety of different factors, including height, age, how active, distribution of fat, clothes, maybe even ‘heavy bones’, I don’t know.

I wonder whether to go for third time lucky buying digital scales. The first set I could only get 0.00 on, the second told me I was 2 stone 10. About right for a four year old! Back to Argos with both. But the thought of finding out I’m a higher weight than I think I am. Disastrous.

I set out to lose 9 stone 4, preferably ten stone. I’ve tried and failed recently to get further with calorie counting. I’ve mostly kept up my exercise but there have been some times of eating extra. Though, admittedly I’ve never quite gone back completely to my old ways. I’ve had my moments this summer. Things happened – the health club’s unexpected closure, illness and the accompanying treatment in my family, the death of an old work colleague/friend who I only met up with again a few years back and who was a mere three months younger than me. Sad … and scary.

But this is no excuse. And although summer didn’t pan out as I hoped (does it ever?) I did have a lovely trip to Glasgow and an outdoor swim in Nantwich and of course there’s all the ukulele stuff, which is ace and taking me over and I think that’s a good thing though I still may give up on that completely.

When you’ve lost as much as I have but not lost all you set out to and got into ideal weight you feel sort of in limbo, wondering how long you’ll be in that limbo. Forever perhaps? But then I felt like that before, with a vague feeling that even though I was getting on with living my life, that one day I would do it and everything would, in some unspecified way, be better.

And it IS better. In subtle but exciting ways. I could always walk about & work, I never had any specific illnesses that are now suddenly cured & I’ve never experienced ‘my feet are killing me’, an expression which makes me laugh, but here’s my list of the ways losing over a hundred pounds & keeping it off has improved my life …

 

  • Easier walking uphill and being able to run a short distance, for a bus or crossing a road or even on an early morning walk-run without feeling like my heart and lungs are about to explode. I could, if it came to it, if I was being chased by a dog, attempt to run away. I’m not scared, I’m allergic to dogs. All dogs, except FlashDogs.
  • Less worrying about taking up space in buses and trains or worrying about flimsy chairs or toilet seats, not that I ever broke any but there’s always the paranoia.
  • Clothes. In many ways I wish I’d just carried on wearing the same clothes I had from the start. But no, that was never going to happen. I have a small flimsy, purple and sequinned and denim and pineapple-adorned reason to carry on trying to get to target. The don’t-fit-yet clothes shrine in the guest room. If they’re all still hanging there in a couple of years’ time I will not be impressed with myself. But it’s wonderful to have clothes several sizes smaller that fit and to know they will fit next season. That said, I should probably have a clear out, especially of the suitcase of size 26s. Not going back there and getting rid of them will not make me put on weight. Irrational, Sal, irrational.
  • Knowing I’m not the biggest. I have to confess to feeling slightly superior to anyone fatter than me, whether it’s someone I work with or someone I see on the street, while also understanding how they feel and thinking I’m a bit mean to feel like this and how I want to tell them they can do it but of course you can’t do that. It’s just that I always was the biggest and it’s a refreshing change not to be.
  • Don’t get so hot and sweaty when I move about. This gradually dawned on me and is amazing. And my hands sometimes used to swell if I walked around a lot, especially in hot weather. I’ve only just realised that doesn’t happen.
  • I love summer now. This is a combination of the above and not minding wearing cut off leggings, dresses, knee length skirts and sleeveless tops. When you’re fat you try to cover up more and this doesn’t help with getting hot and sweaty. Okay, my legs and arms may not be the greatest but smaller and more toned and I don’t care anyway. The feeling of freedom of cycling on the prom in a sleeveless top or walking around without an extra unnecessary layer is fantastic.
  • Lots of extra energy. On a day to day basis this is probably the best thing because it impacts every part of your life. I do so much more in the day now, which obviously includes exercise. Even though I still like an afternoon nap if I can fit one in.
  • Confidence. I’ve had occasions over the past couple of years where I had to go somewhere new and have noticed how much easier it is, how much less nervous I feel. And I’ve done stuff recently I would not have attempted before weight loss.
  • Just feeling like I’m normal.
  • There was something else I thought of the other night as I fell asleep. I’ll remember that, I told myself. Wonder what it was …

 

Recently I’ve been watching the YouTube channel of a young American woman called Amberlynn Reid. She started her ‘weight loss journey’ almost six years ago and has managed to put on 200 pounds in that time. Yes, you read that right. If it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable. In her ‘weight gain journey’ she’s put on about the weight of me!

Amberlynn is sweet and funny, is bipolar and has a severe binge eating disorder but she is a trier. The thousands of comments on her vlogs I’ve dipped into (and regretted it) show a lot of pick-pick-picky, superior, holier-than-thou people who clearly love being part of the gang of meanness towards her. Seems like bullying to me. Whatever she says or does is wrong. They say she’s a liar but who doesn’t contradict themselves at times? In many ways she’s a troubled and very vulnerable person with zero confidence but a bit of arrogance to cover it up, which is perfectly normal. Aren’t we all a bit like that?

I wish I could help her. She’s well over 500 pounds. I put a comment on, I doubt she saw it, but part of it was saying ‘It is possible to suddenly find yourself losing weight despite failing to do so for decades’. If only she could disappear from YouTube, finally do what she’s been trying & failing at, then return a changed woman. Trouble is, YouTube is now her job. 137k subscribers watching the car crash and I’m one of them. What strange times we live in and where will it end?

I must crack on with #TheImpossibleThing and accompanying book. I have a dream of helping other people, or even just one person to start with. If you’re inspired by my story and want to discuss it further, let me know. I can be messaged on Twitter or Facebook. Or just read all my posts on this blog and the previous one. You could ask/tell me anything.  I really want to help others who think they can’t ever lose weight. I KNOW you can do it.

 

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This photo is from July astounded me.
Is this what I look like now or was Stella performing some witchcraft as she took it?

 

The Impossible Thing : Big Shock, Big Change

On the 9th June at 8pm, the health club I’d been a member of for just over three and half years ceased trading, as it was put in the letter posted on Facebook. First I heard. First any of us heard. A big shock. I don’t mind admitting it put me in a panic, made me cry and say out loud to myself several times ‘This can’t be happening!’ and ‘What am I going to do’ And within a minute I had to message Stella. Thanks for talking me down, Stella! And thanks for all the kind comments from Twitter & Facebook friends too.

There were hundreds of messages conveying shock, sadness and support for the owner on the Facebook post. The reason is, of course, financial. A small family run business trying to compete with chains. The place had been going since 1997 and was having to pay more insurance since the tidal surge of 2013.

The staff were friendly – I was amazed how many knew my name among 3k members – but never pestered me to do stuff I didn’t want to do when I started. They allowed me to creep in, swim and creep out again for the first two years. By then I got my bike, added Zumba and a gym programme and tried different classes.

Yes, the building was a bit shabby (who cares) but the main thing for me was the location, a 25 minute walk or, after the first nine months, a 12 minute bike ride from home. And swimming in a sea view pool was beyond my wildest imaginings. The times I thought ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ & ‘Do I really deserve this?’ I swum with a view of the bay on dull days with no sight of the other side, snow, blue skies, sun rises and sun sets. And once, a rainbow. Shame there’s no pocket for your phone in a swimming costume. Would love to have taken a photo.

As I’m one for ‘doing the maths’, I’ve worked out I swum 38,632 lengths there. Wish I’d had the chance to round that up to a neater figure. As if it matters.

38, 632. Over a hundred pounds lost. Totally worth it. Totally life changing.

And the initial panic was because what if all that was over? What if I can’t finish #TheImpossibleThing somewhere else? Or even maintain my loss so far?

I had barely two hours sleep that night but the next morning, seeing the Zumba instructor on Facebook advertising her class in nearby Torrisholme I commented that I would be there. And it turned out she’d found out on Facebook with the rest of us. It was so nice still doing Zumba – even though I was knackered – and there were five other shocked VVV refugees there.

Then I went on holiday and had a great time in Glasgow and Coventry. That was good timing. Thanks to Nick Lowe and National Flash Fiction Day.

Within two days of my return I headed for the 3-1-5 Health Club, Lancaster. I had paid up front for an annual membership which still had ten months on I and we had basically been sold there, at least this is how I think of it. They told me I had £373 credit, which they would ‘honour’, had to sign up for a year and an extra £12 would give me ‘off-peak weekends’. So that’s what I did. And then I swam, once I’d found the changing rooms. It would’ve been nice to be pointed in the general direction but that didn’t happen.

The pool’s nice and not busy on the first use so should be okay for afternoons. I met an old swimming buddy from the VVV and we had a bit of a moan. The pool’s 25m as opposed to the previous 15m. Bigger pool means less lengths. So 60 lengths is 100 in the … but it’s time to forget all that and aim for 600 lengths in 10 swims per month. That’ll do me.

The 3-1-5 has a fabulous hydrotherapy pool. It’s really just a very large bath but with Jacuzzi area and jets and bubbles that appear to go through a cycle of on and off. Well, I have no problem relaxing up to my neck in deliciously warm water and maybe it burns calories in the way a sauna does, I dunno. There’s one of them too though I probably won’t bother now I’ve discovered hydrotherapy. While in there I wonder if anyone has ever poured in a whole bottle of bubble bath. I’ll ask. Birthday treat?

I’ll be checking out the gym soon too, she said confidently.

But … big but … it’s the location. That’s the sticking point. My short cycle along the prom at any time has been replaced with 2 buses and a journey of nearly an hour from work or longer from home. The 3-1-5 is in a business park off a busy main road, it’s one bus an hour and it ain’t Morecambe promenade.

So … as I’ve been forced into this new state of affairs for the next year at least, a radical overhaul of my fitness regime is called for. Rather than doing my two main exercise sessions at the weekend, it makes more sense for me to do two or three afternoons at the 3-1-5, which basically means Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. This is due to Tuesday and Friday being tied up – very happily – with important ukulele business.

And weekends are for cycling of course, if the weather’s good. Brenda needs her exercise. Don’t care how many times I cycle to Heysham or on the canal path to Carnforth.

How on earth did I get to be so busy? Ah yes …. Exercise and weight loss = lots more energy.

Thank you, VVV. Great times. 😢

Onwards!! I will get you, The Impossible Thing.

Ukulele’ing

So I’ve been learning the ukulele for fourteen weeks. Had thirteen lessons so far and been to the Friday group in the pub nine times.

I’ve had this ukulele for about five years. Most of that time it’s been in the corner of my living room, gathering dust and cobwebs. And laughing at me. I tried using the book that came with it. Every time I went back to it I seemed to have to relearn what I learnt the time before, which wasn’t much. I tried YouTube tutorials, where someone tells you ‘Well done. You’re ready to move on to day two!’ … but it’s been three weeks and you’re shouting at the screen, ‘I haven’t got it at all’. And it seems some folk have taught themselves but I needed more help.

I know I could not have got anywhere without the lessons. After half an hour my brain’s melting. I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated on anything so much. Neither have I been watched and listened to so closely. Well, perhaps when I was a baby. But it’s good ‘cos what you do wrong – and right – gets noticed. And whether you do it wrong – or right – you have to play it again and again and I repeat this when I practice between lessons. The group is a good experience; I’ve picked up new chords mid-song & practiced fast chord changes. We play a mix of different songs, some I like and some I’m not so keen on. But the whole thing is most entertaining. Lovely people. I even like the pub.

Apparently I’m improving. I can’t really hear this though changing and remembering chords is becoming a little easier. SO many chords and they can be done in different ways. Reckon I know well over twenty now. Until I forget them, that is. I’m even getting slightly better at ‘the dreaded E minor’, as I call it. Last week the addition of a plectrum made my playing louder & somehow better. I was most surprised. Good news for him-downstairs. Several people have said he’s getting a taste of his own medicine. He was at my door the other Sunday, telling me about all the ukuleles he’s seen in Promenade Music and how one of them is two grand. I would like to upgrade but I won’t be going that far.

Because I have framed Squeeze singles on my wall, a copy of Elvis Costello’s autobiography on my shelf & my teacher does lessons in your home, I very quickly ended up with four Squeeze songs and one Costello one. These are harder to play than the easier three/four chord songs for beginners I’ve also been learning and playing.

And singing.

In my first few lessons I was just concentrating on playing a few limited easy chords and trying to take everything in. My teacher was singing though. I kept thinking ‘I can’t sing. I can’t sing. I won’t be able to sing’. Then I found myself doing the ‘sha la la la’s in Dream Baby and, I think it was the fourth week, sang the whole of Labelled with Love, while doing my best to keep up with my playing. Been listening to that song for forty years so I should know how to sing it. So pleased Squeeze songs aren’t simple and basic. I now have an even greater respect for Glenn Tilbrook than I had before. For writing and performing and making it look and sound effortless and fun. What a guy! How does he do it? And why did he put that random Eb chord in Up the Junction?

I’m also working away at Elvis Costello’s – written by another big favourite of mine, Nick Lowe – (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding … as proved by this video I accidentally made. Didn’t realise I was filming. Thought I had my phone set up, ready to film. So, this is me talking to myself, and touching the screen a couple of times to stop the camera closing (should probably change the setting for that) even though I didn’t need to as I was already filming.

You may have to turn the volume up. Not for the playing but for what I say.

Ukulele Practice #tragic

I still absolutely love this song. Has to be in my top ten. Even this level of frustration doesn’t put me off. I will persevere. I can laugh at myself. Who is this woman in a purple cardigan messing up the same few notes over and over again? Why is she whispering when she’s been making a right racket in other ways? She’s got it! No, it’s gone. She’s a tryer, I’ll say that for her.

So despite my limited progress so far, I’m actually delighted that I can (sort of) play an instrument. Beyond my wildest dreams! Cos I thought it was all over with my failure to get anywhere with the recorder in primary school.

I might have even got over my want-to-give-up-I’m-wasting-my-time-its-impossible phase. The thing is … my ambition far outstrips by abilities at this stage, or my abilities at any stage in the future I suspect. I want to sing/play solo at an event, something I’ve done many times before but only with reading flash & short stories. Flash slams, open mics, anthology launches, events connected to a competition in which I’ve been shortlisted, placed or even, on a couple of glorious occasions in Halifax & Finchley, won. But the ukulele playing AND singing is a whole other level. Maybe someday.

I’m also working on some songs of my own. Lyrics only for now of course. I can do the words part. They’re sort of comedy songs. Yes, I know … #cringecringe. I’d like to be Victoria Wood but with a ukulele instead of a piano.

But Sal, she was a comedy genius. She had talent. Words, music, performance, the lot.

Yeah. True. But I still want to try. One more Impossible Thing? Yeah! Bring it on.

There I go … talking to myself again.

***

My ukulele teacher is Mike Gradwell. Look no further. Unless you live miles away from Morecambe. In which case, poor you.