I saw an image/commentary that I on Instagram yesterday (@movetobewell) that stopped and made me think. Firstly, about how much we censor ourselves. Secondly, how much of the insta/Facebook/blog space is censored (self-censored), which is why I have a love-hate relationship with it. Images capture moments, like words, but they are seldom stories, which means that we see only moments, true only in that moment. Thirdly, what on earth was I doing vacuously tracking some posts, threads and images that did not amuse (mostly dogs, mostly black labradors), inspire or motivate? As my therapist recently said:
Don’t let it rule you; you decide
So I deleted some stuff, hid some others. And felt a whole lot better.
What @movetobewell also had me thinking about, was my body. 18 months after lung surgery, and my ribs, I realised, actually don’t hurt. They are not sore, whether it’s lying on them (awkward for a long while) or asking them to work hard. A week or so I decided it’s time to claim back my cardiovascular fitness, because I am not as fit as I want to be. @movetobewell may have had a wobble at her pins (mighty strong and fine as I see them to be), but my ‘sigh’ is my general fitness, and a body heading towards menopause (but that’s a whole other topic). So, I’ve started running again. I ran a lot once upon a time, and entered a few races, enough to earn a jangle of medallions. There is a a network of lanes from the house, that means I can do a ‘tricorn’. Each one of those is about one km. Last week I did two, and today I did three without stopping. I cannot begin to explain how fantastic this makes me feel. I am no hare, but a few up from tortoise, but I will get quicker, as my lung capacity improves.
Keep on running
I know that trends in health and fitness come and go, and that the popular movement today celebrates HIIT. I get that, but if I am to become a better gig rower (my aim), then being able to smash something for a short while isn’t going to test my stamina. So, I’m back outside, on the roads, making my lungs work harder, so that I can be a fitter version of myself. It never made me thin, but it made me strong.
Running also is a great shifter of process. Last week I reconnected with how invaluable it used to be for me when I was a practising therapist. It is also true of walking, but these days, I am watching the puppy too much to let my thoughts wander. Running has always been like meditation (once I’m over the hump of ‘oh this hurts’), and I am looking forward to the day, maybe in a couple of months, when I can settle in to a long run, and really enjoy it. Running always used to be about more than fitness, it was a saviour of my mental health. I am hoping that as me and my running shoes eat up the miles, it will also bring me a better sense of myself. I am still a bit adrift, a bit lost, after the traumatic experience of my left lung breaking.
But onwards and upwards. September is coming, and somehow that’s like a second chance at January. The MA will be starting, and I will be running further and rowing better. And of course, it means that Strictly is on the horizon. Bring on the glitter!
The Scillies. World Pilot Gig Championships. WPGC. This is the biggest event in the gig racing calendar, now in its 28th year. It was my first. Actually, it was my second. Last year I was an on-shore spectator, in my slow recovery from the pneumothorax. For my second I had decided, on a whim, to go anyway for the ‘craic’, little expecting to race. Somewhere towards the end of February, with injuries appearing in our crews, Carolyn (I guess my rowing mentor, having built my confidence as a Cox) persuaded me that I would be fit enough in her own encouraging way… “You’ll be fine,” she said. I subbed in with Ladies C, but as the most experienced rower in the crew, I soon had Stroke’s seat. I wasn’t convinced that I was fit enough, until the end of the first race. Training had been hard, some sessions frustrating in that we never seemed to get it together, and I was worried that we had never completed a practice race. Could we last the distance?
Departing Flushing, I had the added anxiety of leaving Bessie (our 9 month-old puppy) in overnight accommodation – the first time I’d left her. I trusted Sarah (Sarah’s Doggie Daycare) implicitly, but I didn’t trust me not to have a little meltdown. As it was, I was choked when I drove away, but the drive to Land’s End Airport gave me the chance to focus on what lay ahead. I was nervous; excited. Having had a year of shut-down emotions, I knew that the flutter in my belly was a good thing. It mattered. It mattered to me that I would do the best I could and that I wouldn’t let the girls down.
I hadn’t reckoned on the amount of faff around the racing, although it shouldn’t have surprised me. There is always faff with any boating. The super high tides meant that we couldn’t launch and berth our gigs, Penarrow, Pinnacle, and Zawn on Friday evening. That added a task for Saturday morning. However, an hour passed searching for Pinnacle, the gig for Ladies C, We found her in the town dump, with Porthmellon beach supposedly her home for the weekend. That would have split us from the rest of the FMPGC gang, so that wasn’t going to happen. It meant for an early start on Saturday morning, as Lynn had us meet at 08:00 at Pinnacle to launch her and have a practice row, just to get a feel for the conditions and test out the stretchers. Try and settle the nerves. And for me, row with the G-oars for the first time.
The Long Race is the first race, with a 13:00 start time, but with the preparation for the race, it meant an 11:30 assembly. That’s the equivalent length of time to a normal training session. BEFORE A RACE. That was quite a daunting realisation in itself. We won one thing that day, FMPGC Ladies C were first off the beach! Yay! We did the drill of race preparation out to the startline, a routine that I absolutely love. It’s about getting the mindset for racing, getting the body warmed up, and the blood pumping. Of being race-ready. I was nervous, yes, but I owned my nerves. This mattered, and here I was, a year on from major surgery, fulfilling an ambition. I have a view in my mind of the line up on the long race, but I realise that is from watching from the shore, because in the gig, on the line, I was only really aware of the girls behind me, and our cox. Focus. Tap up one, back up. Hold water. Forward to row… and then GOOOOOOO. Our racing start, building the power to get the inertia out of the gig and send her flying. Pinnacle, the oldest gig in our club purchased from Swanage, and favourite to many members. The conditions were lively, with a strong cross-tide and wind, and we were lucky in the lane-draw that we had. We started well, and settled. We were playing tag with Vault, a purple gig, off the line, and then throughout the race. They edged it when our no. 5 caught a crab, and then we pulled back. They were on the bow side of us, to port, and they were the only other gig I took notice of. Ladies C were racing well, in time, Pinnacle felt like she was moving well, the sound of the pins clunking in unison down the gig, like a heart-beat. I knew in the race that this was the best we’d rowed – not the usual drag on stroke as the crew’s timing falters. Pinnacle was light and responsive. This was fun. A feeling that I wasn’t expecting to have in our first race. St Mary’s sheltered us from the worst of the cross-tide and wind as we raced towards the finish. At Lynn’s marker, she asked us if we were up for the race-finish tactics. We were. The last 60 strokes were epic, as we hardened, upped the rate, hardened, and then powered through the finish line, Vault’s hull disappearing from sight. It was only then I looked up, to see an armada of gigs behind us. Not only had we beaten Vault, but we weren’t anywhere near last. As we paddled on, I was close to tears, words choking in my throat. Ladies B were screaming at us, “where did that come from?”. We were an incredible 90 seconds behind them. We were the best we had been, and we had saved it for this day. I was elated, and so, so proud. The girls later said that they just followed me; calm, clear me. Me rowing my best had helped them all. Someone said, Sarah perhaps, that the race isn’t as hard as anything that happened in training. I wasn’t sure that she wasn’t just being ‘kind’, but adrenaline must be the magic ingredient. It didn’t feel as hard, for sure. The data doesn’t lie, and the stats from my Garmin showed me that I had poured my heart and soul into that race. I could not have given any more. Sarah was being straight.
Every Scillies is known for different themes, but I hadn’t appreciated how different the races would be within the regatta. I should know that, being a sailor, but the contrast between the first and second races were epic. The wind had swung around, a bit, and freshened, as forecast. As we were rowing out to the start, Lynn had said that she wasn’t sure that we had it in us to cope with the forecast conditions for that afternoon, but our performance in the morning had given her confidence – and that in us. The second race, however, was a real test for us. The second race runs from Nut Rock, off Tresco, to St Mary’s harbour, with a lively sea running, and a significant headwind. By significant, I mean a Force6, fully in Beaufort’s strong wind category, running at 26kts. The row out to the start was a test of endurance in itself. We could have flown down, but the preparation is all about pace, and rest. Each time we had an easy, we were rolled side-on to the running sea, rocking us sideways. Our No.3 felt queasy, our No.4’s fear of the sea raised its head, so we kept moving. Flying downwind, and then turning to beat our oars and make progress against the headwind. Lynn marking it so that she knew we could row against the conditions. We could. We were going to race. Unfortunately a couple of gigs on the start line couldn’t. In the run of the heats, the slowest go first, and the ladies in Group K were finding it too much, so two, we think, were towed off. This meant that the safety boats were being used to rescue, with no cover for the races. The start of the races were probably delayed by 30 minutes, maybe more. So we were constantly moving, 130-ish crews, trying to stay out of each other’s way. Lining up was horrendous, with unsympathetic officers on the start-line. Doubtlessly stressed, and fed-up of being on the washing machine of the start. They had six more heats to do after ours.
This race was gruelling. A slog into the wind, but our No.3 and No.4 were in trouble. Bex, in three, screamed in pain during the race. She’d put her hip out, and therefore couldn’t pull any weight. The sea conditions had worked their way into our No.4, sapping her of her confidence and therefore her technique. She later said that she was terrified of losing her oar, of it being swallowed by the sea. Once fear sets in, it is hard to rationalise it away. We didn’t really race that race, just marking technique, but we held our group, coming in 10th. We had done enough, but we were all deflated, with one in pain, and one struggling to manage her anxieties.
The weather was forecast to close in on the Saturday night, with rain and strong winds forecast. With the high spring tides, we weren’t sure whether we would need to get Pinnacle back on her trailer, but thankfully, the shared consensus was that the gigs could be left on the beach. I’m not sure I would have had the strength to heave and haul at boat moving. A hot bath and a decent meal was all that I was after. Four of us had supper that night, at the Star Castle, all of us swaying at the table. Faces a-glow from the sun and wind. I can’t tell you what we ate, as I had a slight trance-like feeling. Partly from a body still trying to adjust to a dinner table, but also dazed from the day. Bruised from the second race, and still giddy from the first. Sleep didn’t come easily, and I could hear the rain beating on the window, the wind whistling in the trees. I was a couple of hundred metres from the campsite, feeling grateful that camping wasn’t part of my Scillies experience.
I woke stiff, still slightly numb, like this was happening to someone else, not me. I’m not sure why that was, and I had to fight my way through my own fog, back into ‘owning’ my experience. I stood on the decking, overlooking St Mary’s Sound, talking myself back into my flip-flops. The storm had cleared through, and it was a bright morning. The winds had abated, but were forecast to build again in the afternoon. We had two more races to go.
To be honest, a month on, I can’t really separate these two in my mind. The winds were at odds to the tide, so the sea was choppy, familiar conditions to any seasoned Scillies racer. Familiar enough to us training in The Carrick Roads. There was nothing we couldn’t handle. Only our performance dwindled. We lacked stamina, hardly surprising after our first full race-pace race being the previous day. Bex, our No.3 had been taped up, and had drugged herself up, and was heroic. “I won’t let you down,” she said. Our No.4, after a soggy night in a tent, unrested, continued to battle with her fear, each lick of a wave eroding more and more of her confidence. Our collective hearts went out to her as she struggled. Another not to let us down. I am so proud of her for staying with her crew. Our Cox realised that we had reached our combined limits, with her job to get us to the start and then through to the finish line. For each of the two races, I pulled and pulled, trying to give the girls the same clear signals, roaring a couple of times, but Pinnacle wasn’t moving well, the clunk of the oars on the pins was more rapid gunfire than booming heart-beat. It was dispiriting for all of us when we cleared the line, last in both heats.
The wait between races felt longer than the previous day, as we wandered about, seeking shelter from the chill wind and willing the clouds to part so that we could have ‘lizard time’ and get some warmth into our stiffening muscles. We talked about the race, and what we needed to do to try and get the rhythm back into our rowing. We came up with ‘reach for the gin,’ to extend the reach of the catch, but we needed a longer word to pace the return. Sip – too short. Slug – still too short. Savour – perfect. Reach for the gin, and saaaaaavvvvoouuurrr. Unfortunately it didn’t work, the girls were definitely slugging. It was later that week that our Cox said she’d run out of things to say to motivate us. She couldn’t work out how to get our now frozen No.4 mentally back in the gig. The tactics for the last race. Different – we were just rowing home from a picnic, and there just happened to be other boats around us. We started well, so Ladies B told us, and in the warm conditions that now blessed us, we couldn’t get it together. We crossed the line shattered, physically and emotionally. I would have said that it wasn’t much of a party for us, rafted up, waiting for the Ladies finalists to come through. I felt disappointed inside, not because we had more to give, because I genuinely believe that we gave our all, and our best. We peaked too soon, and the giddy high of the first, long race was something that I wanted to feel right at the end. The camera doesn’t lie, and when I look at the photo of us rafted up, those are beaming smiles, to a person, and not the faces of a dejected crew. We had exceeded our expectations. We had smashed it in one race, and finished 96th overall. We broke 100, when I didn’t expect to do anything other than finish in the last heat. We deserved to drink deeply on the Prosecco in the gig, and enjoy the celebrations together. Each of us, I know, had done the others proud.
Our race had finished somewhere around 14:00, we were certainly rafted up and drinking Prosecco shortly after. After the carnage of 146 bevvied up crews heading to the beach, we had the task of getting Pinnacle and Penarrow back onto their trailers. Pinnacle had to go back to the dump. Our work wasn’t done, and it’s surprising how quickly the bubbles dissipate, and you sober up. It was 5 o’clock when we got back to the Hotel, and we hadn’t strayed anywhere to get another drink! Time enough for that.
The legendary Sunday night revelry was immense, and as crazy as folk had described. There is a ‘what happens on Scilly, stays on Scilly’, but nothing I saw was remotely worthy of that as a condition of taking part. Just high-spirited, glorying in the achievement and kind of cohesion of the event. Cohesion in crews, in our club with friendships formed during the long winter training. We drank, danced on the tables, and were a ragged accompaniment to the Cadgwith crew who lead the shanty singing into the early hours of Monday morning. I passed up on shots, jagerbombers, and dancing in The Mermaid. I was beginning to ache through to my bones, and all I wanted was to fall into the arms of sleep, knowing that I would be relatively clear-headed on waking.
Monday was as an important day as the rest of the weekend. We took ‘Tim’s tours’ to Old Town, via the spectacle of the coastal path, ending up in the Old Town Inn for lunch. Most left on the Scillonian at 17:00, running a little late because of the high seas. The ebbing sound of shanties left with them, as the town settled down to its more customary pace, most of the gig-rowers displaced back to the mainland during the day. I had one more night, and one restorative lazy morning, where I went to see for myself a sorry casualty of the weekend’s weather. It would take the next spring-tide to recover her.
Finally, I checked out of Scilly, a gig-sized hole in my heart, but not before securing the same room-with-a-view for 2018. Never say never…
I think I’ll have to begin at the end of this chapter. 2017 hasn’t lived up to its promise. The photo shows my father-in-law and mother-in-law taken at Pete and my wedding (2005). My lovely in-laws have both recently died, within 7 weeks of each other. We are immensely sad, but in many ways it is sweet because they couldn’t bear the thought of living without the other. 63 years married. That’s the end of this chapter.
Somewhere in the middle of the chapter, my dear friend’s dad died. He was my Daddy2 when we were running around the Cotswolds as teenagers looking for fossils.
Death then seems to have held the pen for this chapter. Has rather faltered with it, since it’s felt that we’ve lived with its shadow since the beginning of the year.
Shortly after my father’s death, Alice Thompson published a commentary in The Times, “we all need to learn to talk about death”. It made me think of my therapy training, and the art of talking about dying. The Victorians were masters of it. There was so much of it during the World Wars. Then what happened? Thompson makes a glorious observation that our younger generation, with their public outpouring on social media may be able to teach us a thing or two about how to express ourselves. They are direct. I can’t bear the reference to “loss”. Keys you lose. People die – they are gone. But you can’t say “I am sorry for your gone”, so we say “loss”. Better just to put your hand on someone’s arm and say, “I am sorry”. Why is death so awkward?
My Daddy2’s funeral he had planned. It was clear for my friend. My in-laws left no guidance, so the family struggled to work out what might be right for them all. Read Alice Thompson (if you can find it, as The Times is not helpful when it comes to sharing articles). Talk about it. My instructions, to be clear, are in the folder marked “Births, Deaths, Marriages and Divorces” paperwork that includes my will.
Somewhere near the beginning of the chapter, I applied for an MA Professional Writing at Falmouth University (hoping to find my writing mojo, which is still missing-in-action from 2016’s bumpy ride). I was offered a place. I have just accepted. Life is too short, my husband said. His parents were 88 and 86 when they died – a good innings you might say. They would probably say not to put off to tomorrow what you really want to do today.
PS. I’ve played around a few times with this draft. It doesn’t say what I want to say, quite. But it just has to be said. Death rides alongside us. If we have the chance to live our dreams, we must take them. Stay in the glitter.
You’ve had quite a haul. There’s a post sitting in draft that is too sad, too negative, but perhaps that’s what you need to hear. Or I need to get off my chest.
You took my music hero very early on. David Bowie. It still catches in my throat when I realise he’s dead; no more new genius. Others you took too. Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Prince, Victoria Wood, Caroline Ahern, Ronnie Corbett, Terry Wogan, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, and recently, Andrew Sachs.
You messed up the political landscape. Made a path for hate and intolerance. Cost Jo Cox her life.
Donald Trump; can’t even go there.
You stole my health for a good chunk of the year. My ribs still ache. My lung is tight.
You put holes in my mother-in-law’s memory; ones that she is falling in to. Her husband, her rock, in hospital. My husband is now away more than he is home caring for them. Our family.
The father of my godson, the husband of one of my oldest, dearest friends, you have handed terminal cancer. He is 48. Today I heard of another that you have your grip around. Motor Neuron Disease taking over a body previously dedicated to yoga, and fun.
You shut me down, 2016. I became less. Did less. Achieved less. Felt less.
But do you know what. 2017 is coming, and may be it won’t take as much. But hear this. I’m not taking any more.
They say that you can’t change others, or anything, but you can change how you respond.
Hear that 2017?
2016, you will soon be history. Just to let you know, I intend to put up a good fight when your successor rolls in.
There is indeed an ugly mood at the moment. Information comes fast in thick torrents of bubbling, chattering, and endless streams. Oh what a world we live in. There is no chance to breathe, at times, and you feel like you’re drowning. We are exposed to more and more extremes, and these filter down into our consciousness, and into our collective behaviour. In one week we lament the death of the inspirational Muhammad Ali; the next it seems we have forgotten anything he ever said.
Oh what a world we live in. We are collectively shocked by the execution, on one of our streets, of Jo Cox, in a brutal attack by a man fuelled by hatred. Yet hatred has become currency for a xenophobic outbreak not seen in many years. It troubles me as much as it shames me. No one is surprised that English fans are again at the centre of violence in France. Neither is anyone shocked. No, we are ashamed. We are ashamed of their taunts, their idiocy.
They are not my Britain.
My Britain is neither those that preach hate and intolerance of others, and incite it in others. UKIP’s latest poster for the Brexit campaign is utterly deplorable. It is about time UKIP’s leader is called for his behaviour, rather than being dismissed as a comic buffoon. That said, there has been a lack of dignity that has run through both campaigns in the EU Referendum. I watched one debate – no one appealed to me. No wonder people in this plebiscite are confused. Has it really taken the murder of Jo Cox to stop them all in their tracks? The media that stokes them included.
The pathways of tolerance, acceptance, of kindness even seem to be lost to us. It is up to us to clear the way. Oh what a world we live in. No wonder the internet is filled with pictures of kittens.
I’m reminded of Rufus Wainwright’s beautiful song, the running line through my thoughts. Lest we forget.
I’ve learned a lot from this experience. Initially it was patience – thanks to the unnamed Doctor in Treliske who told me I needed to learn to be patient; it stopped me being frustrated and angry. I also think there’s a simple appreciation that comes from surviving and recovering. 100 years ago, I would have been in the most excruciating, ongoing pain, which would have driven me insane, if the trauma hadn’t killed me in the first place. The cold I had a few weeks ago would have surely infected the lung, and who knows what would have happened. Modern medicine, our NHS is incredible. I am incredibly grateful for both – even if it was, initially at least, so frustrating.
Drug-fog dulled my mind for a goodly while. However, long after I stopped taking the pain relief, I felt very ‘shut down’. Everything slowed – my body, my mind, my expectations. I became a fan of the afternoon nap! I spent a lot of time staring in to space, sometimes knitting, mostly with Radio 6Music for company. I didn’t read as much as I thought I might; I simply didn’t have the space for it. Although goodness knows what was in that head space. Brain fog. As for writing. I wasn’t interested; too much effort to join thoughts up.
It is in the last few weeks, with the onset of Physio and being able to do more that things have shifted again. One of the unexpected benefits of this pneumothorax recovery, is that Pete and I have been ‘forced’ to remain at home. We’d usually be off at this time of year, sailing. However, being at home has been a delight. Cornwall is glorious this time of year. People flock into Cornwall at this time of year (and will do for the next three months) because it is gorgeous, The sun is warm, the gardens at their best – even the hedgerows are a sight to behold. The photo above is our garden! Pete has taken part in a couple of sailing events that he wouldn’t have done ordinarily. We have made new friends, and joined in with social activities more. It has caused me to question why we flee at this time of year, when being here is such a treat. Are we entering a new chapter? What does that mean for our Whinchat? Our sailing adventures. I’m allowed to sail now, but not in anything lively – and it’s untested. I ironed six shirts the other day, and that aggravated my recovering shoulder muscles. Ironing, however, is easy to avoid!
We’re about to set off on a different adventure, because we’re not away sailing. We’re travelling through France (fingers crossed there’s fuel, and that we avoid anything to do with football), in the car that Pete built. Time sitting alongside each other will provide ample opportunity for rambling discussions. Who knows where this trip will take us, but it feels so positive and exciting to be going.
Since the last post (whoops, meant to be a bit more consistent on this one), I have shaken the feeling of being trapped by my body, by time, and by circumstance.
The watershed came at about six weeks post-surgery, when I had the follow-up appointment with Mr Arwan. Freedom came in the ability to drive my new car (delivered when I was unable to drive, how cruel!), as this brought about independence. I could do exciting things like drive to the supermarket (not that I could lift very much). I also started Physio, with the rather brilliant Oliver Hughes. He has been the one to give me more permission to try things, therefore feeding my confidence. He has also worked on the damage caused by the surgery to my poor old shoulder blades – and back… and shoulder… parts of my body that are compensating for the lack of stability in the shoulder. Don’t get me wrong, it has been excruciating (none more so than the manipulation of number one rib…). I have gradually been able to add the things I do. Nordic walking is back on, although I am not at the speeds that I was (that’s a lung capacity issue, as I can’t quite get the oxygen I need into my blood to drive the muscles, but that will come). Sailing, I can probably try in a week or so. Gig rowing. Ollie said that this was the worst possible in terms of the damage in my body – probably not until the autumn. You can’t have it all.
As to the pain. I read on some forums that people recovering from lung surgery are living with pain. I can’t say that’s true for me. My ribs are sore at times, not kicked by a horse sore, not even kicked by a large dog sore, but over-used sore. Ollie put that in context – you can’t rest your ribs or lungs like you can a damaged knee… if they’re resting, you’re dead. I don’t bother with pain killers, just ease up a little bit. Pick up my book instead of driving myself too hard. I still can’t lie on my left side at night, but I sleep well now. The rib pain is likely to last another 10-12 months. Mr Arwan apologised to that – apparently they had to bend and stretch a few things to get to the torn lung. Nice.
I like having exercises to do – and I’m disciplined in doing them. Pilates based to strengthen my core. I can’t do anything more than very basic movements, as the pain is intense sort of “under” my left rib-cage. Could be intercostal muscles, could be the transverse abs. I can’t plank any more (and I could in January, for well over a minute). I can’t support my legs raised off the ground (like a supine leg lift), so it’s all with one foot on the floor. I’m back working with Kate, my lovely PT, who is supporting (and challenging) me. I’ve even picked up a kettle bell again. It’s amazed her in the last couple of weeks the progress I’ve made. There is a hill behind the house that we use for cardio work. Two weeks ago, due to the limitations of the lung, I could only get my heart rate up to 140bpm. In-between sessions I pounded the hill a few times. Yesterday we attacked it again, and I could push my body harder. 158bpm. You can improve when you invest in yourself.
That’s the body. All on a very positive path to recovery. My mind? Well, that’s another story. A positive one. In the interests of good blogging etiquette (word count!), I won’t waffle on now, but save that for another day…