Have baby, will run (for brunch)

One invaluable lesson I have learned over the past decade or so masquerading as an adult, is that you cannot do this life shit on your own. Finding your tribe is, at different stages of your life, is imperative to staying sane. This goes for moving countries, learning a new skill, or entering motherhood. There are many many ways to skin a cat, and many many people who probably do it just the way you’d like to and can show you how.

There have been a few pivotal periods in my life where this has come to bear, the first when I quit drinking (finding mates that are awake on a Sunday morning is a good place to start), the second when I took up running and found the inimitable Run Dem Crew and the third when I became a Mother. Thankfully there were a few awesome people in both sets of previous tribes that by the time mamadom hit, I had a pretty great collection of babes and their bubs to add to my village.

But as with all good things, you have to keep at it, your priorities and abilities change, you may find yourself in a different place, your kids get bigger, your circumstances change (for better, for worse) and as such the tribe needs to evolve to include more people, maybe a few drop by the wayside, some grow with you some grow out of you (and you them).

I find myself at one of these crossroads, with a three month old son, creaking hips and a desperate need to let off steam. As mentioned, any hitting of any bottles (even tiny ones) is a no-go, there’s only so much Netflix any one mushy brain can take, and the lethal combination of caffeine and sugar, while it got me through the first foggy months, is a sure fire cocktail to whip up my anxiety levels, screw with my sleep and my waistline. So I need something else, and Baby Yoga ain’t going to cut it.

My go-to quick fix for the past 5 years or so has been a run. A quick one, a long one, a run with mates, the solo run, the ‘I’m just taking the dog around the park’ run, the training in the rain run, the run that has random obstacles in it, the ‘why-the-fuck-am-I-doing-this’ run and the ‘thank god I went for a run’ run.

I am no speedster, my race times are not enviable, but that was never the point. I run to keep sane. I have met some of the best people through running, it’s opened doors in other areas of my life creatively – I started writing again,  took up photography – it’s taken me travelling to run in mad cities with mad people, got me fit, made me brave, and ultimately saved my ass on more occasions that I can count. It’s the thing I do on a Sunday morning when I would have been nursing a hangover in bed. It’s built my confidence and shown me the heroic in others. Putting on a pair of running shoes for me was as transformative as alchemy.

But my pregnancy and running didn’t really get on, with the aforementioned creaking hips, and a core that is still recovering from accommodating a baby, I have not run more than 3 miles in the best part of a year.

I’m basically back to being a newbie. No fitness to speak of, and a deep seated fear that I won’t bounce back, given walking a mile has me wishing I was being pushed in the pram.

Now I know that’s unfounded. I will bounce back. In what form is still yet to be seen. But in the spirit of reaching out, if I have any hope of reclaiming my nikes, and my beating my 10K PB, I’ll need help. I’ll need a new tribe. Or a patchwork venn diagram of the tribes that have gone before. Mates that run and happen to have kids. Or freelance mates who don’t run but would like to give it a bash and don’t mind a few babies tagging along

So I have downloaded my trusty Couch to 5K app from days of yore, dug out the lycra and I’ll be hitting the parks of London, building up the all important base line, with pram and changing bag to boot.

Here’s the ask, I’d love company, its motivating and makes schlepping a sleep deprived body and niggly baby around all that much easier to manage.  If you’re new to running, haven’t run for ages and you’re free on a week day morning, or just fancy a (slow) jaunt around some of the best parks in the world, drop me a line here. I don’t bite, I won’t (can’t!) run fast so please don’t be intimidated and it should be a great way of getting out and about, blowing off the cobwebs and seeing more of the brilliant city. Hopefully getting the babies to sleep too.

And nothing beats a banging brunch post run. I need brunch back in my life

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Weeks In

I have begun to string full sentences together again as we approach the end of the fourth trimester. But, last week I forgot the word for ‘sausage’ an interesting item to articulate, so we’re not out of the woods yet. And as I’ve taken to documenting his every waking moment with my camera, I thought it was about time I got some of it down in writing too.  I want to get as much down before it recedes back into the fog which descends frequently and makes me put cutlery in the fridge, forget words for processed meat and, on more than one occasion, my name.

The last 10 weeks have been, without a doubt, the steepest learning curve of my life and we’re still only in the foot hills. Nothing prepares you for caring for a tiny human. Nine months is about enough time to get used to the fact you need someone to help you put on your tights and that you really (really really) should be doing your pelvic floor exercises. And to get your head around what you need to pack in your hospital bag.

Our son entered the world in late January at 9:53am in the birthing pool as per my birth plan, so immediately I thought I had this mothering thing licked. You just write a plan and follow it. Simples.

We were discharged 12 hours later, our son feeding like a champ, with gold stars from the midwives. Clever Us. Just like that we were sent home to be a family. We spent the first few days awe struck by the impossibly beautiful baby we’ve made. Everything is amazing and shiny and new. Thank you Oxytocin.

Three days later the pain killers were running low, and the fact none of us had slept since Saturday was beginning to show.  Blisters from a particularly poor latch meant hourly excruciating pain even when the latch was corrected by week two. Hormones were not my friend and I wept pretty much every day over everything and nothing and what had started in a golden haze of gas and air and adrenalin slowly gave way to relentless reality.

I realised with shattering clarity that this tiny person, while 100% totally reliant on me, was also kicking my ass. But as my team of amazingly supportive friends remind me daily – that was fine, I’m supposed to have my ass kicked. I am reminded constantly that I am not the boss anymore, there is a teeny dictator hollering the shots and resistance is futile. But through the fog of early parenthood there have been a few realisations which are helping even out the odds.

Make Peace with your Crazy

Sleep deprivation makes everything awful. Unbelievably and irrevocably shitty.  Combine that with postnatal hormone comedown and you have a heady cocktail of emotional instability ready to be unleashed on your nearest and dearest. On any given Tuesday I am an irrational crazy person, sobbing into my third bowl of Cheerios while watching endless ads for Sun Life Insurance and reruns of Cold Case.

It’s all good. Cheeios have 15% of my iron RDA and I’m now pretty much qualified to be a detective in LA.

I remind my other half of the Crazy after I have sent him hideous passive aggressive text messages about how much sleep he is getting vs me (I have a tally in my head) and when I lose my shit over the vacuuming. I am just crazy. It’s not forever.

The crazy has really come into its own now our boy is responding to us. Stupid faces, horrendous noises, made up songs, ridiculous nonsense conversations. He LOVES all of it. Crazier the better. Currently he loves hearing me say Mushroom Ragu. Over and over. Who knew?

Embrace the Joy

There have been moments of unadulterated, sheer bolt from the blue, joy.  The really good stuff that makes your heart expand into unchartered territory. Seeing him smile for the first time, I knew there and then that I would do anything to see that smile, and it never gets old. Listening to my husband make up lullabies for him, watching our friends hold him, and seeing each other in his changing features – it’s wonderful, and terrifying and brilliant.

Our son experiences happiness with every fibre of his being. When his Dad walks into the room his whole body starts jiggling about with glee, when he laughs he curls his toes, and waves his arms about as if to literally wind himself up to take off with the sheer brilliance of being here. The same is true when he’s furious. So there’s that.

I am constantly shocked by his very existence. It astounds me that he’s even here, and grabbing my hair and cooing at the dog. This tiny human that was only a few months ago, tucked away inside me, kicking my ribs and giving me reflux. It makes my head spin. And when I’m sobbing into my Cheerios its these moments that make it easier

Become the Early Bird

Pre baby I was not a morning person. Earliest I’d emerge from under the duvet on the weekends was about 11am, only ever seeing 6am if racing or catching a flight. This has obviously changed dramatically. Babies don’t do lie-ins.

Our little guy is beside himself happy when he wakes up. Even if I have had 45 minutes of sleep in a 36 hour period, seeing him light up when he sees me in the morning is magic. Perhaps the novelty will wear off (and I bet you anything now that I have said it out loud I’m probably tempting the sleep gods) but for now, its brought me a new found pleasure in getting up while the world still feels new.

It also means he’s happy to chat to his toys a little longer than usual while I shower/ order shite off Etsy/ stalk mum-crushes on Instagram

Take Nothing for Granted

What once was easy is now hard and, thankfully, the reverse is now true too

Feeding came easily the first 4 weeks and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Having seen many friends really battle with breast feeding I was very anxious about how we’d get on, so when it seemed to be going ok I started to relax with it. But then out of nowhere, the champion feeder started screaming every time he fed, coughing, spluttering and generally having a terrible time.

A hungry, cross baby is hugely stressful and very, very loud. After many tears and tantrums (both of us) it turns out I have a fast let down reflex (imagine trying to drink from a hosepipe turned on at full strength – thank you Kelly Mom) and there’s not a huge amount you can do to change it, other than both learn to manage it.

We’re figuring it out. And the plus side is he’s finally sleeping for more than 2 hours. So the cutlery has found its way back to the drawer, and I’m remembering my name more often than not.

For now.

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10 Lunar Months

So here I am. Week 39 of pregnancy. Probably my last post pre-motherhood, and possibly the only one I’ll write on my pregnancy, so it’s a long one!

I’ve avoided writing about my pregnancy for a number of reasons. The main was privacy and I wanted to get my head around how I was feeling about it before sharing that with the world. And now, coming to the end of my journey, I know there are so many blogs on pregnancy, and everyone who is or has a mother has an opinion, and adding to the cacophony of noise seemed redundant.

But there’s the paradox, for all the noise there does still seem to be an unwritten, or at least unofficial veil of silence, before you enter into the hallowed halls of motherhood.

Since embarking on this mad 40 week joy ride, I have encountered a plethora of fantastic blogs, written by women who tell it like it is. But these people were just not on my radar at all pre-project procreation. Its like a treasure trove you discover after the fact. Why?

I have quizzed a few friends on this, why the silence pre-pregnancy? Most said that women experience pregnancy and birth very differently from each other, and you don’t want to skew expectations. You risk giving the ‘wrong’ advice.

I get it. Some love being pregnant, others hated it. My small sample of 10+ includes, surprise pregnancies, IVF conceptions, duplicate pregnancies, home births (some unplanned!), severe pregnancy complications, miscarriages and more. So yes, its very hard to give advice or have a clear narrative about this life stage/ choice prior to the person getting that cross-hairs positive plus.

And then, my God, the chatter doesn’t stop.

Of course, it starts with Google. This is always a mistake. But when you’re newly pregnant its often the only resource you have seeing as you’re actively encouraged to keep schtum about your news. Yes actively. Email subjects from every baby site you have signed up to in a bid to cross check your symptoms against all the other paranoid, hormonal women online, have subject lines like ‘Shhhh, not yet! Only a few more weeks until you can share your precious little secret!‘ (and no, I’m not hamming up the patronising tone).

I felt like a bloated, irritable, hungover grotbag, and could take NO DRUGS. Lucky me! All the books, emails, and websites are draped in soft pastel shades, littered with twee ancedotes and cutesy pseudo-psych mantras. If you are none of these things you feel like you’ve wandered into a nightmare, curated by Cath Kidston on a really really bad trip.

And you are lucky. You know you are. You just don’t want to be bombarded with the wisdom of pastel blue owls.

So, how to navigate the chatter without falling foul of the Baby App Squad and their nauseating push notifications?

And herewith a massive disclaimer. This was my experience, and my first at that. I’ll probably revise this all if we go for round two.

Buckets of salt required for further reading

First Trimester

I found a few friends or family that I was comfortable confiding in, so if the worst happened, we’d have the support. I had the best advice from a GP friend who, while coaching me through a very bad bout of  proper flu where I was convinced I had  contracted TB, said this to me:

‘Look, your baby will not be affected by flu.  If the human foetus could not withstand viral infection we would not have survived as a species. But, if the pregnancy miscarries, repeat after me.. this is not my fault. Its not the flu. Its not the sushi you may have eaten, or the marathon you had started training for, or the box you lifted (or in my case the long haul trip to India I took). It happens, 1 out of 3 times,  it happens, and its usually as the embryo just isn’t viable. 99% of the time it’s NEVER the mother’s fault. So drink your lemon tea and go back to bed, that baby is going to zap your immune system for another week at least’.

Silence is isolating and, ultimately as exhilarating as it is to find out you’re pregnant (especially if it hasn’t happened overnight) its also fucking terrifying. Those first few weeks you probably feel like shit. It helps to speak to someone that isn’t your other half. Who, by the way, is also freaking out and in my case was having to deal with me slobbing around the house, falling asleep in my dinner and smelling vaguely of vomit and mints most of the time.

As tempting as it is, avoid avoid avoid the forums. People tend to post the very worst stories, and if you search hard enough you will confirm you worst fears. Not good for your sanity.

Honestly, I hated this bit. I felt bloated and exhausted – falling asleep on the tube most evenings and breathing carefully so as not to vom on fellow passengers. We took a trip to Hastings for our wedding anniversary and even now, 6 months later,  looking at the pics makes me feel nauseous. I spent most of the weekend shoving salt and vinegar crisps in my face and trying not to belch in R’s face. So romantic.

Second Trimester

The best bit by far. Our 12 wk scan was nerve racking and surreal. For me, it was the first outside confirmation besides my own biological cues that I really was pregnant. Sure, we had done the tests. and they take loads of blood, and I had all the symptoms. But there was a part of me that thought it could all be one huge mistake or coincidence. Maybe I just had really bad stomach flu. And the bloods got mixed up. But no, it’s real – because there he was. Looking like a tiny alien having a snooze. Madness.

Also, I got a bit of my life back. I could still just about fit back into my lycra (I had sworn off running as any movement faster than a crawl made me heave pre 12 wks) and glory be,  I could find some endorphins. I walked everywhere, went back to spin and took up a few ante-natal exercise classes. I could sleep, I had loads of energy and finally had a bump to show off rather than just looking as though I had eaten ALL OF THE PIES (which, to be fair, I had)

But the appearance of the bump also meant I became fair game. People will say stupid things. People who don’t even know you will feel they can comment on your size (too big, too small, too high, too low), how you look, and what you should and should not be doing with your body (are you sure spinning is a good idea? should you be lifting that pencil? oh I wouldn’t take the stairs if were you…). I ran for a bus and had an older woman shout at me, angrily pointing her umbrella at my stomach, which would have done more damage frankly!

Once I had posted something pregnancy related social media, I unwittingly opened the floodgates of unsolicited advice hell. People who I had not spoken to for 20+ years  began crawling out the woodwork, with their advice, thoughts and comments. Ranging from the stating-the-bleeding-obvious, i.e. ‘Your life is going to change! Say goodbye to sleep! Hope you’re ready to say adiós to your bikini forever!’

(I mean, WTF?)

To downright scaremongering,  i.e. ‘Birth the most hideous experience of your life, you’ve never seen so much blood, and then you never see your other half in the same light again’ or ‘Forget about travelling, that part of your life is pretty much done and done’

(I’m not kidding)

And yes. It’s well meaning at best. People want to help. Or be perceived as the bringers of wisdom and experience. But it’s patronising, infuriating and intrusive. I started clearing out my FB friends and put a few really bad offenders on limited profile.

Thankfully, I have a gang of women who have all been there done that who give me honest advice, when I ask for it. And very politely point out when I am being naive and may need to manage my expectations.

At worst, I felt as if my right to privacy had been stripped away. Like I was now a public piece of property that people felt they could touch (I nipped that in the bud), judge and objectify. It seemed everyone was suddenly allowed to have an opinion on me, my reproductive system and my plans on managing procreation. Many were surprised to learn that funnily enough, my uterus is my business. So back the fuck off.

Seek out like minded women. Learn to nod and smile. And pick your battles, but fight them hard

Third Trimester

One word  – eugh.

That first trimester tiredness boomeranged back and hit me smack in the face. Even the big tights start proving problematic, getting into them would leave me sweaty and out of breath. Sleep became a distant memory and I became incredibly grumpy as a result. We did all the classes (NCT and Hypnobirthing- would highly recommend both), read more books, wrote up birth plans, handed over work projects, saw all the movies. Final countdown stuff.

Here, I have to give major kudos to my husband, work colleagues and close friends who laughed at my rudeness and didn’t divorce me, report me to HR, or stop taking my calls. You are all bloody wonderful and I owe you.

Right now, my toes look like fat baby sausages, I can only wear XXL leggings and stretchy tops, and I have developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my hands thanks to the late pregnancy swelling (its a ‘thing’ in pregnancy, like having a constantly blocked nose) and I can manage about 20 mins on my feet before I have to take a 2 hour nap. Such a special time!

But, we are on the final stretch, and right back to feeling exhilarated and terrified. Hospital bag is packed, baby clothes are washed and ready, the house is organised (thank you maternity leave boredom!) and now we wait.

If anything I’m hugely excited. To experience birth, to get to know myself as a mother and my other half as a father.

But mostly to meet our son, to get to know him, and have the incredibly daunting privilege of teaching him how to be a human. Thankfully it takes a village and I have a pretty awesome one at that.

Woooosaaaa kids. It’s been fun. See you on the ‘mother’side

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Office

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March and April went by in a blur of airport lounges, powerpoint presentations, hotel key cards and mini toiletries. I am now back in London for a good two months before the next round of travelling kicks off again and I am still waking up a little disorientated. It’s been a huge learning curve and I’m still reeling from the impact of being whisked across time zones and learning to adjust on the go.

I suspect I was a little naive about the impact the schedule would make on my day to day, Mainly as there is no ‘day to day’ so to speak.  Those that know me well, know that I am a big fan of structure and boundaries and clear routine. It makes me feel secure and confident and grounded. Nothing about the past month has been rooted in these principles. And that is both thrilling and unnerving.

I am a creature of habit. Obsessively, compulsively and to my core this character trait has both served me hugely (focus, tenacity, loyalty) and equally has nearly been my undoing. I have learned over the past 8 years or thereabouts to take this part of myself and channel it positively. Which is how every trait comes to be either positive or negative. It’s all in how its handled, what prism you put up to it.

The first thing to go was my running. I decided not to register for the current season of Run Dem Crew knowing that I was going to be out of the country for more Tuesdays than I was in it, and didn’t want to take up a much in demand space. While I was hoping to jump on a few casual runs and the Monday West sessions, the travel just wasn’t going to allow it. Mostly I miss the people, the amazing positivity and support, which when you don’t have your weekly dose, leaves a huge gap.

To be honest, I had decided to give up racing this year, to accommodate for my schedule, but I have found myself at the other extreme and now I’ve barely run at all. I have laced up a grand total of 4 times. That’s about once a month and I’m back to 10+ minute miles at a push with walking breaks. My confidence is shot too and the additional 10 pounds I have somehow found make lycra very very unappealing.

But if there’s one thing that I have learned in this brave new world of airmiles and conference calls, is that I can and must adjust to being flexible. That I can’t rely on the structure I set myself a year ago being applicable here in 2015. That I need to be softer with my self imposed boundaries and embrace a bit more uncertainty. That I need to learn to switch up faster and get a bit creative about my time when I am out of the country. Like make peace with the Dreadmill in the hotel gym. And take advantage of being jet-lagged and work out pre-breakfast (oh god… it’s unavoidable isn’t it?). And to pack enough socks. This was my big failing my last trip. NOT ENOUGH SOCKS

Now that I am back in London, one of my first priorities (after ALL the sleep) is to get out for a run. Even if it’s 20 minutes. And slow. With a walking break. The second is to get my new bike up and running. I have the quote, she’s in my sights and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of London in the Spring while I can.

After that I just want to soak up all that London has to offer. It’s a crazy old town, but having been away for close to 6 weeks of this year already, I can tell you absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

In the meantime, any tips for travelling and keeping fit gratefully received!

Wheels on Fire: Riding The 2015 Argus

The year did not start well. Having Shingles and suffering a self-imposed quarantine when I was supposed to be training for 3 half marathons, two 10ks, a 100km bike race, seeing all the people in London and prepare for starting a new role was not ideal. I was furious about being ill. I thought I had really been looking after myself, obsessively it would appear, and that’s never any good.

But it was exactly what I needed. A kick up the backside to evaluate what was important – so I gleefully handed out race packs like a belated running Santa, cancelled all my social plans and decided to focus on the cycling and getting my head around a new job.

(Also can we talk about how marvellous it is just to say no? ‘No I can’t come out, because I am sitting in my pants watching Law & Order SVU and eating endless rice cakes. Basically winning’. Saving that for another post)

February saw me hitting Boom Cycle 3-4 times a week to keep up the fitness and also saw the advent of our annual work conference. By the time Feb 26th rolled around I hit Heathrow feeling exhausted and excited. A holiday, a few days catch up with the teams in SA and THE bike race. No biggy.

Now, to be honest, I was under-trained. My fitness levels were good, but I am nervous as all hell. I just hadn’t logged the long miles. But I also knew that the nerves could be a good thing, that additional hit of adrenalin that carries you through and drives you over the tough hills. I know these nerves well. I get them before every running race (even the fun ones), every time I get up on stage to present even though I have been doing it for well over 10 years, and every time I have to have those difficult, but essential conversations. Where there is risk I feel it. Every single time.

There is a school of thought that maintains the body can’t tell the difference between anxiety and excitement on a biological level (you science nerd please feel free to refute this!). Apparently, you release the same chemicals, the same heightened awareness, same surge of energy. It’s how your mind then interprets the feeling that makes it positive or negative. Hit of fear plus rush of endorphins is a pretty powerful cocktail. I have learned that pushing through the fear is essential to making life more open, interesting, full. Without it it’s small and claustrophobic and dull.

But I have also learned I need support to just go ahead and do it. On my own I’m no good. My mind is very frequently not my friend. It’s risk adverse, and lazy and prone to catastrophic thinking. I need people to point out the mad, destructive nonsense I tell myself and remind me its all good. And that if it goes wrong, that’s OK too.

Then this popped up in an article I was reading enroute to Cape Town. Pussy Riot hits the nail on the head. Given this is in relation to being arrested for political activism, and my cycling is hardly revolutionary, but the sentiment is bang on.

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So its a good job I don’t listen to my head. Because a week after I find myself in South Africa, Mother Nature decides to set fire to the entire Southern Peninsula, and that is no exaggeration. My catastrophic thinking is having a field day. Headlines like, ‘Hellfire Rages in the Cape’ adorn every lamppost in Jo’burg while I’m psyching myself up for my first ever bike race. People are being evacuated, dams are near empty, rock falls are a serious risk given the plant life helps stabilise the mountain side and is now no longer existent. Thankfully the Cape fire volunteers and fire servicemen and women put on the most heroic defence and curbed the blaze in 3 days.

So the race is still on. I am now officially bricking it. However, the Argus distance is cut from 109km to 47km. It’s just not safe to release 35,000 cyclists onto the route that will then cut off all of the southern suburbs in the wake of the most devastating fires in recent memory. Of course I’m gutted, but also ever so slightly relieved, in this scenario I get to test my riding legs on shorter distance. Until I remember it’s with exactly the same amount of people. 35,000 cyclists.

And the panic sets in.

The major difference I have found between cycling and running for me is the logistics. You can’t just chuck your shoes in your bag and head out on the road wherever you are. There’s the BIKE. There’s the helmet, the shoes, the kit you need for the bike for punctures and general maintenance. For this race I rented a bike in CT. Already breaking my cardinal rule of racing – GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW. And crucially I don’t know this bike. I also don’t know if the bike is even going to show up, as the correspondence I’ve had with the company renting it to me has been patchy. Everyone is more laid back in the Cape. They aren’t all obsessively checking emails every 3 minutes. And swearing about lack of wifi.

Thankfully I get to tell my head to pipe down as the bike does show up and discover it’s ever so slightly too big. I panic again. So much so this time that I draw a complete blank and forget how to get on the damn thing. It takes a good 10minutes for me to get over this sheer terror, but once I do the bike is fine. It’s in hand. I haven’t forgotten how to ride. But how on earth am I going to do this with 35,000 other people?

My head creates these visions on a loop for my viewing pleasure, while trying to sleep: Causing a huge crash because I can’t stop quickly enough, the brakes failing, the wind blowing me off the road and into the sea, the wind blows me into other riders, etc etc and they escalate and get more horrific the less sleep I get. You don’t worry about this stuff when you run. You just stop. You don’t crash. You very rarely get blown off your feet. This whole endeavour begins to feel like a huge mistake that I am wholly unprepared for.

Until my dad, a seasoned veteran of the race and elite cyclist, decides he’s going to give up his elite start time, seeing as the shortened distance won’t count towards his seeding. He’ll cycle with me instead. It will be fun. He says. I think he could see just how panicked I was. ‘Just stick to the left, don’t look behind you and raise your hand high if you need to pull over’ he says when explaining cycle race etiquette. ‘Hold your line, and if someone clips your back wheel just keep going, he’ll fall but you probably won’t’. This talk of wheel clipping is terrifying when you’re in your holding pen with little more than elbow room with other cyclists, all looking like they ride professionally, with jerseys from Dubai and Hong Kong and Italy. And me with my flat pedals, no clips and ashen face, a big ZERO on my race number where is shows completed tours.

We shuffle our bikes forward and hug the left, they start counting down the minutes to start and I find myself feeling a mixture of gratitude that I have made it this far, and fear that I may vomit on the French woman in front of me, ruining her 13th tour. According to the bib. But I am here, in Cape Town, riding the (mini) Argus with my Dad. Something that has been on my bucket list for years. Something I thought would probably stay firmly inked on a list and not manifest itself like this. Me, terrified on a bike that’s too big, surrounded by cyclists and my Dad, having a laugh at my expense, but also there just like he was when he took off the training wheels some 30 years ago.

Of course it we have a total blast. I manage to get on the damn thing for a start. I don’t crash into anyone, no one crashes into me. I hit the hills, test the gears and find myself over taking people. There is some power in the legs after all. We hit the downhills and I slowly relax and take my fingers off the brakes. It really is pretty close to flying. I find some speed on the flats. The wind does not blow me off, in fact it blows me home once we turn around and head back for the finish line. And just like that it’s over.

We finish in 2 hours and 12 minutes, and I feel pretty confident we could have done it in just over 2 if I’d relaxed on the down hills more. I have no idea how that tallies, but gives me a rough idea that I could probably do a sub 4:30 Argus with loads more training and a bike that I am comfortable with. So that’s the next goal (nowhere near my Dad’s best of 2:58… but there’s still time).

I have been well and truly bitten by the biking bug, and with Spring just around the corner back in London, I really have no excuse to get back on the bike there too. Out of my comfort zone. Where all the good stuff happens.

Getting Snap Happy

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About 18 months ago I was given a very fancy pants camera for my birthday. I had been going on about wanting to take up photography more seriously for about 100 years, but could never bring myself to part with the serious money required to up my game and get some decent kit. So Rory called my bluff and delivered the real thing all wrapped up with a ribbon saying ‘you better bloody well get on with it now’.

The Beast really is a thing of beauty. A zoomy lens, a swish case, things that clip on and off, and a whole host of buttons and functions that made me feel really rather stupid. I poured over the manual, trying to take in all the instructions, and deduced that it may as well be in Japanese. There was a video or three that followed a very beautiful woman taking pictures of her family, showcasing the various functions, and her perfect hair. Life was too short to trawl YouTube, so I flicked the function to AUTO and took it out for a spin and took pretty great pictures. Plus, with a bit of TLC in the form of cropping and filters, pretty awesome pictures. Job done.

And that was 18 months ago, But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was somehow…. cheating? Or perhaps not cheating, exactly, but I certainly had no idea what was going on in my camera. I was relying on continuous shooing and dumb luck. The truth is, I was intimated by the tech and by the people who seemed to understand the tech. Chat of ISOs and Aperture and Shutter Speed made my head spin.  I messed around with white balance once and almost had to take my camera back to the shop because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I call that my ‘Blue’ period. Stella pulls it off rather well.

Having a snazzy camera comes with a certain presumption that you know what you’re doing, so I just kept schtum and hoped no one noticed my scarlet letter ‘A’ for Auto when peering over my shoulder.

For 18 months, ‘A’ was was OK, I was mainly using my camera on holiday and at events. I had got to grips with composition a bit and figured out a little more about interesting angles. I stopped cutting people’s feet off in the frame, and started messing about with more abstract ideas rather than straight up ‘Pics of my Holiday’ shots. And this is where I started getting frustrated. ‘A’ wasn’t getting me the effects I wanted. I saw vivid contrast, and got bland uniformity, I wanted to evoke speed, I got perfect stillness. It was time to bite the bullet and learn how to use The Beast  (aka Canon EOS 600D). But where to start? There are literally 100’s of courses out there.

Lucky for me I happen to spend my weeks running around London with a bunch of very creative people, and there I had met Matilda, who mentioned she was running Beginner’s Photography workshops and I should check them out.

So I did. It was awesome.

We met on the South Bank on a very cold Saturday morning, and spent the next 4 hours learning about our cameras, deciphering all the tech and lingo, and then getting to grips shooting live models (the gorgeous Tilly herself, as well as a few bemused cyclists)

I got to ask all my stupid questions, muck about with all the settings and started to understand why some shots worked and others didn’t. We’re incredibly lucky living in London as there are so many amazing opportunities to get creative, and Tilly gave us a few genius pointers to start thinking about photography differently.

Here are a few of my practise shots.

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Attempting panning and mucking about with shutter speed

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Much happier with this one, the cab in particular

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Vertical lines galore. Shadows, fences, arches

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Understanding depth of field. Slowly

Most importantly I walked away confident enough to leave my days of auto function behind me, and curious enough to try another workshop (or 5) with the big kids.

Any other snap happy bloggers out there with a few pointers to share?

To Accept the Things I Cannot Change

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To Accept The Things I Cannot Change, The Courage to Change the Things I Can

And The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Ah. A platitude. Add in this text over an instagram filtered sunset and (hey presto!) you have a mantra all ready to be uploaded and liked and favourited and reblogged, retweeted and shared. . Eugh. Bored already.

This here control freak finds this accepting things ‘that cannot be changed’ particularly hard. Being this way has its advantages. I am organised, and tenacious. I can be ruthlessly efficient and its certainly helped me out in many areas of my life. My project management can be militant and this extends from work life (huge positive) to home life (problematic).  I am manageable, I open my post immediately, I pay my bills on time without fail, I return missed calls, I clear emails. I am dependable, loyal and consistent. I aim to do my best. At all times. Why I do all of this is material for another post, but for now let’s just say I’m comfortable with clear structure and order. The alternative didn’t work out so well.

But if I fall short of these rather exacting expectations I can be unrealistically hard on myself, and I also expect similar behaviour from others. So this leaves me… well, disappointed, guilt-ridden and exhausted. Really really exhausted.

In my really (really) tightly ordered fantasy world, all things are measurable and therefore controllable. You can predict an outcome given certain behaviour and circumstances. Basic if x then y. So when faced with something that defies my master calculations (or manipulations), this is not acceptable. It comes up a lot (funny that). But, bear with me. I’m not completely nuts. I am learning to make like Elsa and let it go. I am trying to be more flexible, spontaneous, forgiving. But sometimes I find myself raging against the sheer injustice of reality not playing ball with my grand plans. I mean, I CHECKED EVERYTHING THREE TIMES (and the numbers work!)

Today the thing I cannot change is my health. GP has me signed off and I am PISSED. I have been exercising regularly, in fact I’ve been really diligent, with the running in particular. Plus eating (mostly) well. Making sure I get a decent dose of vitamin D and ‘fresh air’. I have avoided the office lurgy. I have had plenty of sleep.

But instead of holding up it’s end of the bargain having been given everything it needed, my immune systems fails spectacularly and pole jumps the standard cold/flu combo and delivers me an all singing all dancing, requires-bed-rest-and- proper-medication-illness. FFS. This was not supposed to happen.

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Stella showing me how bed rest is done. The Master at Work

I am also a drama queen. This added to my controlling tendencies and I am having one hell of a diva strop about this.I had some pretty awesome plans for my 10 days off work. Including but not limited to; running to clear the cobwebs, general mooching around town picking up sales bargains, seeing mates, and eating cake. Then maybe some cycling and yoga and general getting in a good, clear frame of mind for 2015. Sure, loads of sleeping was in the carefully planned schedule. But now that its pretty much been prescribed, I’m already adding cabin fever to my list of ailments. I say again, GAH.

Plus there is still too much panettone in the house. This is too much temptation.

But as I write this from my sofa I’m forced to admit, while I may be great at organising everything (and everyone) else, I am not very good at looking after myself. Sure I get loads of exercise, and while my diet has been ok most of the time, I pretty much dropped the ball for most of November and December. And yes I get a lot of sleep at the weekend, but not during the week. So its all a bit patchy. So here is my flaw. When it comes to looking after myself I am not consistent. I let myself down.

As a result I’ll be seeing in the New Year binge watching Die Hard and a few other festive classics, and eating the leftover panettone. In bed. While I reboot the immune system, and resolve to add berocca to my daily routine I am reminding myself it could be worse, I could use the time out and NYE is rubbish anyway

The rest of you have no such excuses, go out and celebrate the year that was in the best way you know how, clock those miles, spend that dosh and dance your freaking socks off into 2015.

As John McClane would say Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*ckers

Now pass that panettone and the ibprofen

Happy 2015!

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