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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Impossible Thing : ‘Onederland’

Lost: Seven & a half stone (105 lb)

Amount still to lose: 25 lb (Apparently. That can’t be right.)

Percentage of original weight lost: 34.5%

BMI : 28.5

 

Still making progress with the calorie (yawn!) counting. Managed to resist telling about the previous couple of pounds, lost last week. I love that my friends & followers will like, comment on, congratulate me for every pound lost but #TheImpossibleThing goes on and on and must be a tad boring. I would not be surprised if you all got Impossible Thing Fatigue. So I thought I’d at least wait for another landmark & excuse to blog.

This is not just significant for the ‘and a half’. It puts me under two hundred pounds which in the US is called ‘onederland’ but we call plain old 14 stone 3. Of course this is massive for some but in the realms of the longed for ‘normal’ if you were once 21 stone 10 & are big ‘n’ tall? Er … maybe!

I guess my next landmark is to be ‘in the thirteens’. And I’m still hoping for eight stone off by the middle of June. Damn you, calorie counting!! You’re going to have to stay for now. What it has helped me do this past month is to stay ‘on it’ even at weekends, something I’ve not always been able to do. And I think I’ve finally learnt not to celebrate weight loss success with extra food. Well, not TOO much extra food.

This weekend, however, there will probably be extra calories. I’ll be in Coventry staying with my parents. They have a cupboard full of KitKats and ice creams in the freezer. I’m taking chocolates for my Dad that he will want to share. There will be a meal out for my Dad’s birthday and I plan to bake a half chocolate / half coffee cake (due to different family members liking different cakes) with walnuts, chocolate buttons and real-butter buttercream. And being back in that house reminds me of eating. Not just eating fairly normally with them but secret eating too.

And when I get back here Monday lunchtime, I’m definitely back on Brenda, cycling along the prom to the VVV Health Club for an afternoon of gym ‘n’ swim. Back on it. Eight stone off here I come.

 

The Impossible Thing : Progress! and Swimming a Mile AGAIN.

Lost : 7 stone 4lb (102 lb)

Amount still to lose: 2 stone (28 lb)

Percentage of original weight lost: 33.5%

BMI : 28.8

 

So, I did it. Had to resort to the dreaded – albeit generous – calorie counting but I got to the lowest weight I’ve been since I was about fourteen. You know, when I was getting called all those names at school. See first The ImpossibleThing Blogpost on Previous Blog Cobbled Together from March 2017 when I’d lost 4 stone 4. All my other previous The Impossible Thing posts are there too.

At ukulele group the other day we did Sunny Afternoon. It has the phrase ‘big fat momma’ in. The group leader mentioned someone who’d objected to singing this. I didn’t have a problem with it but it reminded me that the list of names I wrote back in early 2017 isn’t complete. Yeah, I got that one as well. Except I was not a ‘momma’ and I’m not now, forty years later. I wonder if my list is now comprehensive. Who cares!

I’m now 14st 6 (202lbs). According to these scales. I have to say that. Am not quite convinced. My parents’ scales could easily tell me I’m still in the eighteens. When I last met Stella in Cov when I was staying at my parents, her first words to me were ‘You haven’t stood on your parents’ scales, have you?’

Answer : NO. My head doesn’t need messing with that much. Is this what 14.6 looks like? I look different from when I was fourteen … but don’t we all?

I’m not going to bore you with my calorie counting, suffice to say I’m eating half as much spread, a third less cheese, a little more fruit and my portions are more modest. This makes me hungry sometimes but it does the trick. I’m hoping not to have to do this forever but it serves as a good reminder about the amount of food I eat and what I have to do to continue making progress.

I took a pre-Zumba selfie the other day and thought I looked quite ‘normal’.

Zumba Ready 10th April 2019

And I nicked these two Zumba class photos off the instructor’s Facebook.

The first is from last week and the second from July last year. Hmmm … quite ‘normal’.

Two stone to go to get into ideal weight range. I don’t quite believe this (two stone is NOTHING) but there’s only one way to find out what 12 stone 6 looks like & that’s to get there. Then maybe lose another ten pounds …

I’m still saying I want to get to eight stone off by the middle of June when I have little holiday booked. A Nick Lowe concert, a day walking around Glasgow (burning calories and eating) and then to Cov for a weekend of parent visiting & the National Flash Fiction Day event. I have a story in the anthology and am hoping to read. In my hometown and with the bestie, Stella there. Stuff of (modest) dreams. Got the urge to buy a new top for the occasion. What a girlie!

***

The most important contributory factor in my success was, and still is, swimming. This is a piece I wrote for something and it was nicely rejected, but with feedback. I finally looked at the feedback this week and it was all positive. She said I ‘have such a positive attitude to everything’ and ‘There is a sense of joy that radiates through all your writing.’ I’ll take a rejection like that any time.

 

The Impossible Thing : Swimming a Mile Again

Length One: One… one… one…

Length Two: Love this costume. Halter neck’s so flattering. Shoulders look slim. Slim for me. Two… two…

Lengths Six to Fifteen: Watching the sky get lighter from the window as I swim. So lucky. What’s on the menu tomorrow? Ah yes, corned beef hash. It’s Sunday. Stop thinking about work.

Length Sixteen: Thin lady from the bus. Morning! Yeah, quiet today.

Lengths Seventeen to Twenty-Two: I’ll get some carrots. Carrot and lentil soup. Travelling Wilburys on. Heating on. Soup on. Washing up done. On, on, on, done.

Lengths Twenty-Three to Twenty-Six: In the Isle of Wight and the beads came off my bracelet and bounced all the way down the bus stairs. Loved that bracelet. Such a good holiday. Was it 2003?

Lengths Twenty-Seven to Twenty-Eight: Just past a quarter of the way. I’ll try on those jeans when I get home.

Lengths Twenty-Nine to Thirty-Six: Want to write a chapter for my weight loss memoir / self-help book about the names I got called at school. Fatty. Tank. Two Ton Tessie. Big Bertha. Hey Fatty Boom Boom.

Length Thirty-Seven: Total eclipse of the sun. Need to get baking powder if I want to make cheese scones.

Length Thirty-Eight: What else? Potatoes. Salad Cream. Wish I could write stuff down in here.

Length Thirty-Nine: MUST mop the kitchen floor. It’s not supposed to be grey.

Length Forty: Half hour on ukulele later. C. F. G7. Dm. Need to learn more chords. See myself playing and singing with ease. Lots of practice before then. Just want it to sound like music.

Length Forty-One: Argh!! Water straight up my nose. Why does it do that?

Length Forty-Two: Answer to life, the universe and everything. Douglas Adams’ grave at Highgate. All those pens.

Length Forty-Three: Had an idea for a really good flash yesterday on the way into work. What was it?

Lengths Forty-Four to Forty Nine: I was wondering … it rained last time I was there. My satchel. Crème Eggs. Just swim, Sal.

Length Fifty-Five: Halfway. I can do this in under an hour. Keep going.

Lengths Fifty-Six to Sixty: Censored.

Lengths Sixty-One to Sixty-Two: Book Wednesday evening Zumba. I LOVE Zumba.

Length Sixty-Three: Who’s that? The man with the tattoos. He’ll go in the steam room not the pool. Yeah, there he goes.

Length Sixty Four: When was my last blogpost? I’ll write one tomorrow if there’s time.

Length Sixty-Five: Sixty-seven… sixty-seven… its sixty-FIVE, Sal and you know it. Don’t cheat.

Length Sixty-Six: Woman being shown round ‘It doesn’t get too busy in here does it, Sal?’ ‘Not often, no.’ Chuffed to be asked. I’m a regular now, more than three & a half years on.

Lengths Sixty-Seven to Sixty-Eight: Singing (in my head) ‘Where Everybody Knows Your Name …’ Love it here.

Lengths Sixty-Nine to Seventy-Four: Trying to imagine being at target. Walking down the road knowing I’m in ideal weight range. What will it feel like? Will I fall over?

Rest. Seventy-Four. Admire legs in water. Watch a man faff with his goggles. Underwater straight away? Yep! Once he reaches the other end I’ll set off again.

Length Seventy-Five: That all important seventy-fifth length. I OWN the pool!

Lengths Seventy-Six to Seventy-Eight: Didn’t get that view in Coventry. Cycling on the prom. Living in Morecambe. My own flat. Weight loss. Can’t believe I’m doing this. I made it happen.

Length Seventy-Nine: Cool for Cats. Up the Junction. Squeeze. Two number twos in Seventy-Nine.

Lengths Eighty to Eighty-Four: What’s for tea? I want hot Stilton crisps, Cheetos, a Bounty and a Crunchie. Might make vegetable risotto.

Lengths Eighty-Five to Eighty-Nine: Must ask about Dad’s knee. I told them to stop getting older but they didn’t listen.

Lengths Ninety to Ninety-Seven: What was that idea? Something about old photographs. I had a really good last line too.

Length Ninety-Eight: Twelve to go. Need toilet. Swim. Swim.

Lengths Ninety-Nine to One Hundred: Nearly there. Turn.

Lengths One Hundred to One-Hundred-and-Seven: Fast. Fast. Fast.

Lengths One Hundred-and-Eight to One-Hundred-and-Nine: Go… go… go…

Length One Hundred and Ten: Yes. Steps. Out. Shower. Change. Home to eat. Done. For today.

 

On Twitter …

110 #greatlengths A mile. Total for month: 1,040 Booked for Zumba. #againandagainandagainandagain

#TheImpossibleThing

Music and Me

I was reminded of something recently, after a conversation about those strange people who have no interest in music. To me, almost as scary as those rare no-sense-of-humour folk, thankfully very few and far between.

At my first Open University summer school in 1993 – Blimey! Twenty five years ago this year – we had a music tutorial on the first day. The music side of A102, interdisciplinary foundation arts course, included classical, opera and pop music. An introductory mixture. The piece we had to write about in the exam was The Specials’ Ghost Town, which made me very pleased and proud, being from Coventry.

The tutor went round the group, asking what kinds of music we liked listening to and, it sounds unbelievable but I swear its true, every single one of them said something along the lines of ‘Oh, I like a bit of everything really.’ Words to that effect. I listened to each, saw a pattern forming, and decided there was no way I was following suite. I knew what I liked. I liked Squeeze. They were about to have a new single out at that time.

The person before me was speaking. I’d decided. I would not let Squeeze down by copying what this bunch of sheep were saying. It came to my turn. I said I liked Squeeze, had done since the late seventies and had seen them live several times. I also mentioned Elvis Costello, Kirsty MacColl and Nick Lowe. I knew what I liked and it certainly wasn’t ‘anything really.’

I don’t really believe that most of the other dozen or so students were not lovers of some kind of music. They were just a bit pathetic and herd-following. For once, I wasn’t. Maybe they felt that in front of a tutor they should like classical music – high culture – so didn’t like to say what they really liked. There was a woman in the group, who later in the week revealed her love of a Showaddywaddy concert & talked about how great they were. And why not? I wonder if she wished she mentioned them, after I piped up and declared Squeeze.

The next day I heard the new Squeeze single for the first time. Some Fantastic Place. One of my favourites to this day.

Squeeze in concert in Glasgow, 2018. Still going strong

 

In 1971 my Dad explained the music charts to me. Little Jimmy Osmond was Top of the Pops with Long Haired Lover from Liverpool so I liked that and he bought it for me. It wasn’t long – a few years – before I was the proud owner of Eton Rifles by The Jam (the first record I bought for myself).

Another important record for me was the first Kate Bush Album, A Kick Inside, 1978. I have a strong memory of sitting on the battered green armchair in my room, the one my Welsh Bampa used to use to watch cricket, following the mysterious, strange, daring and fabulous lyrics on the album cover very carefully. And oh, how I wanted to sing like her! Saxophone Song. Wuthering Heights. Strange Phenomenon. I did try. So hard. Hurt my throat. Now, I think I’d like to be able to sing like Kirsty MacColl. Still ambitious.

And even though I still love Squeeze, I listen to quite a range of music. Some of my favourites at the moment are Zumba tunes for some reason. And thanks to @zevonesque’s #ClassSongOfTheDay I’m listening to a lot of Frank Turner and The Travelling Wilburys and also the occasional new cover version of a usually-new-to-me song, played and sung by @zevonesque himself pops up from youtube on my phone.

I listen to music on my ipod on the way to work and while cycling, on my phone at work, on my laptop while writing – but not editing – and on a CD player with headphones – nice and loud for drowning out noise from downstairs and getting the washing up done – in my own kitchen. That’s quite a large amount of the day when I think about it.

Around five years ago I bought a ukulele, the plan being I could learn to play. Of course! Maybe have lessons at some stage. I tried but, I’m ashamed to say, I gave up. Every time I came back to it, I had to relearn what I’d learnt, or thought I’d learnt, the time before.

But recently I’ve dusted it off, removed the spider’s webs and, in a week, got slightly further than I did last time. Thanks to encouragement from the aforementioned @zevonesque I’m determined to give that ukulele at least half an hour of my attention most days, even though it might be #TheImpossibleUkulele. How I love attempting impossible things.

Watch this space.

Finally … Music : from the truly sublime to the fairly ridiculous. Enjoy!

Kite by Kate Bush, a song I wanted to live inside when was around fourteen

 

My recent attempt at singing Glenn Tilbrook’s By the Light of the Cash Machine

 

Long Way From Home

Last Friday, due to a use-it-or-lose-it day off I decided on a day trip to Chester. Three trains, a place I’d not been to before (other than aged twelve, of which I’ve very little memory) and a little online research revealed the existence of Chester City Baths. Built in 1901, looking like an interesting building and with a pair of open swimming pools.

I enjoyed the journey there, mainly because of my phone, the 4G and Twitter. Going on a solo trip is not what it was, there’s always someone to talk to, someone liking your photos or saying ‘Have a great day!’ Thanks Andy, Stella, Ewan, Frances, Dom and Wendy.

I did walk most of the walls in the rain, I went in a café for a cup of tea and a pair of real-buttered crumpets just because I wanted to use their toilet. It was ‘dog friendly’ (the café not the toilet) but not that welcoming to a person. A man came in with a dog. It was welcomed and fussed over. It sat under a table nearby and gave off its doggie-fumes. I’m allergic to all dogs except FlashDogs so I left.

I walked on until I found the pool. Having a map of the world right down to every street corner in the palm of your hand is the best. It was still only half eleven. I’m such an early bird. I went inside and there was man mopping the floor. He told me the Atlantic didn’t open till twelve and that was lane swimming but the Pacific was open now. These pools sound massive! I paid my four pounds (it was seven-fifty in Ilkley so that seemed like a bargain) and was shown the way.

There were a fair few swimmers already in and a row of changing cubicles each side.

‘Just leave your stuff in the cubicle, it’s perfectly safe.’

Of course it was. I changed quickly and got in.

Swimming in a strange town what seems like a long way from home is weird. Then, once in the water you feel like you’re even further. Instead of keeping your rucksack, with everything in it, in sight, phone in pocket, etc … suddenly, you leave everything behind. Purse, train ticket, phone, flat keys, all your clothes, the lot.

I think I have security issues. It’s the thought of being stranded in a strange town in nothing but a damp swim dress. Why would this happen? One of those times you have to give yourself a talking to.

As I swam I was trying to work out how many lengths of a 19m pool I need to swim to equal a hundred in a 15m one. I needed my phone or at least pen and paper for that kind of calculation. In the end I did 73 lengths, which is 91 in my VVV pool. All swimming. No opportunity for walking the pool as the deep end was 6ft 4.

It was busy but I felt okay about taking my place among the regulars. They all waved to each other as they came in. The ‘over heards’ were great. I remembered some for Twitter later …

 

Two men pottering up & down the pool talking about scurvy, Liverpool and ‘Have you heard from Mackenzie about the post office? He still thinks it won’t happen.’

‘If it’s a monkey it’s Tony and if it’s a baboon it’s Bob.’

A woman who thought it was a good thing to leave your costume on a hot radiator so it went all baggy and you thought you’d lost weight. Nowt like a baggy costume, is there?

‘All my whisky’s been hidden.’

And some I can’t remember.

At the end of this four day weekend I realised I’d swum 332 lengths, done Zumba and Aqua Fit classes, cycled six miles and walked about five. Sounds such a lot. I find exercise so easy these days, I have so much energy that it didn’t feel like I did much at all. Amazing! #TheImpossibleThing