Baby it’s cold outside

The coldest week of the year has seen temperatures here drop to around -12°C overnight. It has given us a good excuse to stoke up the swood burning stove and watch Christmas movies, including Die Hard 1 & 2. Both class as top Xmas movies in my book.

My back garden on Wednesday

My favourite film this week was the new full length version of Muppets Christmas Carol on Disney+. This includes a lost song “When love is gone” which was supposedly removed from the film when it was first digitised because early DVDs had limited capacity. It is easy to forget in these days where we keep photos and videos on our phones and in the cloud that it is not so long ago that most images and films would often be gone forever.

Perhaps because my Dad died this year, I have been listening to a podcast called “Griefcast” where comedians are interviewed about people they have lost and how they have coped. It is hosted by Cariad Lloyd and she talks about how just a few years ago, when someone died , their friends and relatives would be left with just a few mementos – maybe a few printed photographs, occasionally a clip of their voice from a cassette. But these days, especially for young people, there are endless pictures, videos and voice clips. Neither grief is easier, but they are different – constant reminders, or very few.

I am glad when something new is rediscovered from the past. Regular followers will know that I love doing family history research, and earlier this year I found a newspaper article about the death of my wife’s grandfather. Family lore said that he had been knocked off his pushbike returning in the dark, drunk from the pub. The truth was that he had been working in the pub, was sober and had saved the life of his companion by pushing her out of the way of the oncoming car. A memory well worth recovering.

I look forward to someone rediscovering the missing song and dance section from Die Hard. Yippee-ki-yay!

Getting my eyes tested

It is over three years since I last got my eyes tested, so this week I popped over for a test to my friendly optician – Robert Callendar in Linlithgow. The good news is that my eyes remain healthy and my prescription is unchanged. I was happy because I thought I could keep my existing glasses, but Robert was in sales mode and persuaded me otherwise.

I was born short sighted and wore glasses till I was about 40, when I had my eyes lasered to get 20-20 vision. I loved not having to wear specs, and I still would rather not. But a few years ago I realised that I could not read small print, and got some reading glasses. Then, when I had my last test, I found my distance vision was also deteriorating, so I got some glasses for driving and watching TV. Now I have the two pairs, but most of the time I do not wear any.

The optician suggested I get some varifocals, so that I could wear them all the time, without worrying about where they are, but I am holding onto my identity as someone who does not wear glasses. If my prescription had changed I would have been persuaded, but I did not want to spend money. This is where my salesman optician got smart. Rather than continuing to argue for varifocals he just asked whether I had been wearing sunglasses on the narrowboat this year. Apparently not wearing them at my age on sunny days can lead to cataracts. That did make some sense and when I mentioned we were hoping to go skiing this year his eyes lit up.

So I have ended up ordering some fancy Bolle prescription sunglasses, with rose-blue lenses which apparently are best for bringing out contrast on the piste.

I do feel as if Robert has stolen my wallet, but I am pleased my eyes have not deteriorated these past few years, and I am looking forward to testing out my new sunglasses. As Huey Lewis said, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”.

Learning to ski – again

My wife, Mandy, and I did not learn to ski till we were in our forties. It was at a time in my life when every year I would try something new. I learnt to fly a plane, to scuba dive, to do long distance walks, and to ski. The last two hobbies have stuck with me, but we have not been skiing since January 2020. Just as the pandemic was beginning we found ourselves in Morzine, France. We had great sunny days on the piste, and nervous evenings in crowded bars. Since then, lockdowns have prevented us having a ski holiday. More importantly, Mandy has had both her knees replaced, so has been very unsure about whether she will be able to ski. But we have missed it, so this week we took a trip to the “snow factor” artificial slope in Braehead, near Glasgow.

The very good news is that we both can still ski. Mandy remains a little scared that an accident could damage her new knees, but we have done the research and the risk is not really any more than with natural knees. She plans to stick with the easiest pistes (green and blue), but that is fine. Neither of us are into scaring ourselves on the slopes. Rather, we love the scenery, and the fresh air in the mountains.

So my next job is to find somewhere to go, with nice easy skiing for us both, and a few more tricky intermediate runs for me. Probably France – perhaps La Plagne, Les Deux Alpes, Morzine or Courchevel. Any thoughts from my ski savvy readers?

What day is it?

When you see a doctor in a British film checking on mental capacity, the two questions they always ask are “Who is the Prime-minister?” and “What day is it?”. I have struggled with the second of these questions this week. Indeed, for the first time in 20 months, I nearly missed getting my Friday blog out, because I thought it was earlier in the week. Does this mean I am getting forgetful in my old age? Or is it just that days are much like each other when retired?

We are back on our narrowboat and off on our travels. The next month or so will see us travel the Staffordshire & Worcester and Shropshire Union canals, hopefully making it to Ellesmere Port before returning to a marina near Chester for the winter. We do have a couple of days off each week, but because we are not working, there is no reason for these to be at the weekend, and we both lose track of days.

I have some coping techniques. I have an alarm on my phone on a Thursday afternoon to remind me to write a blog. When it is Grand Prix season, I am always reminded when it is a Sunday – race day. But still, during the week, the freedom to do what we want each day, can mean that any day is like any other. As Pooh says in the picture above – today is my favourite day.

Oh by the way, I think the Prime-minister is Boris Johnson, but based on his permanent holidays, I may well be wrong.

Have a great weekend!

Should I get my moles checked?

About 15 years ago I had a skin cancer taken off the back of my hand. I have a lot of moles on my skin and one of them had gone a bit itchy. When tested it turned out to be a malignant melanoma. Fortunately it was early stage and I had no other issues after the removal. Despite the skin cancer, I rarely use suntan cream when on the boat, but this week it has been so hot and sunny I felt I needed to. As I was putting cream on the back of my arm I found a small raised mole, and when I photographed it, it turned out I had two red moles not looking exactly normal.

As you can imagine, after my previous experience I felt a little nervous but it is hard to see a GP when on the boat. Our GP is in Scotland and will not speak to me when I am in England – apparently the two health services are separate. But seeing a GP in England is difficult because our address is in Scotland. It is one of the many challenges about not having a fixed address. But fortunately I have access to a video consultation through some insurance, so I spoke to an online GP who looked at the photo and said it was probably benign and not an issue, but I should see a private dermatologist. This was all sounding quite expensive, so I waited till Wednesday, when I was back up in Scotland for the day, preparing for my wife’s 60th birthday party. I called my own GP who kindly saw me that same day.

He gave me a thorough examination and said that these two red spots are entirely normal – some kind of blood blemish – and nothing to worry about. He did find three black moles on my back that he said we should keep an eye on, but all in all, a great result.

So I wonder, was I wasting my time and that of the NHS getting these small moles checked? Should I have bothered? The doctor said I was doing exactly the right thing, especially given my medical history. Unnecessary stress maybe. But much better than not getting them checked and finding out too late that I had a problem.

Moving on

I needed to blow some cobwebs away this week, after the funeral of my Dad. We had a thanksgiving service in Salisbury Cathedral, which was quite a joyous event, as lots of people celebrated his life. But it is still a stressful time and I was glad to get back to Scotland. My son, Tin, and I took the dogs for a walk up Arthur’s Seat. This is a famous hill right in the middle of Edinburgh.

It was a crisp, cold morning and the fresh breeze on top certainly helped clear the mind. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that walking is one of my things. There is something in the combination of physical exertion and the wonderful views that really energises me and gives me perspective.

It will no doubt take some time to grieve for my father, but life moves on, and next week I should be able to get back to our narrowboat. Within a few weeks, Mandy and I will be off on our next big retirement adventure – six months travelling through the canals in the South of England. Mandy says that in my head I am already there. I am certainly getting very excited by the thought.

I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

Why is great food bad for you?

I have indigestion. Last night I had a delicious meal that my son cooked – spicy chicken and chorizo wraps. I really enjoyed the food, and devoured three filled wraps while watching an episode of “Lewis”, a British detective series. This morning I am feeling the after effects of so much chilli. Why is it that the best food and drink is not good for me?

I love spicy food, but my guts disagree. I love heavy red wines, but they give me a headache. I love bowls of rich ice cream and plates of cakes, but they make me fat.

Of course I have seen all those virtuous people on social media, extolling the benefits of living on fruit juice, celery and tofu. And I can enjoy a salad as much as the next man. But when it is a cold miserable evening in the middle of February, I want comforting food that makes me feel good in the moment.

I understand the science. Two things are working against me. The first is that thousands of years of evolution have taught us humans that fat, sugar and intoxicants are rare commodities to be enjoyed when you can find them. The second is that during 57 years of life I have been bombarded with messages from adverts, parents and friends, extolling how such food is a reward and makes you feel great.

I even understand how theoretically I can change my view. Because my mind has been programmed to like bad food, it can be reprogrammed to avoid them, and seek out the healthy.

But I guess the problem is the same as an addict coming off cigarettes or stronger drugs. It will never happen until they really want to make the change. And I really do love the bad stuff. So while I have a sore tummy this morning, I would very happily have a curry and a beer tonight.

It is all about choices. I choose to love my exercise. But I also choose to love eating bad stuff.

Am I stupid?

Dodging the storms

This week has seen the birthday of one of our sons – Tin (Martin). So we have been away for a few days in a lodge (fancy static caravan) near Newton Stewart, on the Scottish Borders. There is some fine walking around here which we have been enjoying with the dogs, but we have also been trying to dodge the big storms, bringing torrential rain and very strong winds.

Galloway Forest, looking down on Murray’s Monument

Tin says I am lazy because I am not keen on walking in rain. I have also been told by innumerable hikers that “there is no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothing”. Personally I think this is hogwash. For me it is just not fun to be out in a hooley, with the rain lashing, or worse still, hail battering my face. When we were in Orkney before Christmas, there were at least three occasions when I came back from a walk utterly soaked. No fun.

There is however, something primitive and very satisfying about being inside in the warm during a storm. Perhaps it goes back to cave dwellers, huddled around an open fire, cooking whatever they had just hunted. I am hoping that in the next few days there will be snow, because I really love to see it falling when I am inside in the warm.

So that is what we are doing. Playing cards. Watching films. Cooking comfort food. Drinking whisky.

Not a bad life.

Don’t I care about losing my Dad?

My father passed away this week. I have written before about him. He has had advanced Alzheimer’s for several years and in recent times has been a shell of what he was. He knew no-one, could not communicate, could not understand, was incontinent and immobile. It made me deeply sad and angry. I still expected however, that when he passed I would be upset. And yet this week I have been very matter of fact, getting on with the logistics. I am definitely more relieved than grieving. So am I kidding myself? Will this come and hit me later? Or did I do my grieving as he deteriorated and I lost the father and man he once was?

Rev. Brian James Coleman 1936-2022

He was a traditional father. I don’t remember him ever hugging me. There were four of us children and as we grew up he was always there for us, but in a quite hands-off way. If we had an intellectual argument he became engaged and was fascinated. He was less good with emotions. This is a little odd because he was a parish priest, and empathy with people in tough situations was part of the job. I think it was just that underneath the image of the vicar, he was always a shy man. I think he was proud of me. I was certainly proud of him.

I do have very happy memories of him. We were lucky to have a stable and safe family environment. There was never much money around, but he kept us clothed and fed. I would add “warm” but we grew up in cold, draughty vicarages where you would wake up to ice patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. But I am not complaining. That was normal in our generation and we were happy. And we were free. He and our Mum always encouraged our independence. I could leave the house first thing and not return till dusk. From an early age I would go to cub camps, or music weekends by myself. I learnt to be self reliant, in terms of my physical and emotional needs. It made me who I am.

This week I have loved reading the many “With Sympathy” cards that my Mum has received. Dad was involved in many clubs and activities and was held in great respect. What I have loved the most is that these memories are all of how he was before the awful disease took him away. It has helped me remember that man. I loved him.

Bye Dad x

Are long walks any different to short walks?

This week I have been continuing to walk sections of the Southern Upland Way. This is a 212 mile long distance walk from coast to coast across Scotland. It has been a somewhat nostalgic experience for me because I used to do a lot of long distance walks in the UK, and I had forgotten how different they are.

I have walked the Pennine Way, the Cleveland Way, the Ridgeway, the Wainwright Coast to Coast, the Cotswold Way, Offa’s Dyke, Hadrian’s Wall and bits of the Thames Path, South West Coast Path and the West Highland Way. Each of these has a different character but one thing connects them all – they are largely remote. Because I have dogs I am lucky enough to walk most days, but often the routes are well known to me, quite busy with other walkers, and certainly close to civilisation. The long distance trails on the other hand go through some of the quietest parts of the UK. During this trip I have walked maybe 50 miles and I think I have met single figures of fellow ramblers.

Now OK I accept that January is an unusual time to be walking. The weather has been a bit grey, the hours of daylight are relatively short, the ground in places is very wet, and non-retired people are at work. If I was walking in the summer no doubt I would meet many more. However, the principle of remoteness still applies. I am lucky enough to be met at either end of each section by my wife with a car, so I do not carry a tent. But I still need safety provisions in case of emergency – a good compass and map, food, drink, one of those foil blankets to keep me warm. If I did need to stop somewhere, I would be miles from contact, quite possibly without phone coverage.

But I think that is what I like most about the long distance walks. There is just me, the dogs and my iPhone for podcasts or music. I am walking where I have never been before and seeing views I have never seen before. This week, red kites have flown just a couple of metres above me on the top of a hill. I have come across a huge “striding arch” art installation miles from civilisation, I have searched for a secret “cist” of coins that I had heard had been hidden near the path (sadly I missed it). From a mental health perspective there are few things better I think. Exercise, peace and revelation.

You should try it.

I know I have readers outside the UK. Do you have equivalent long distance walks?

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