Mint Sauce

For those of you who, on reading Day 3 of my John o’Groats to Land’s End page, wondered or asked about my joy on finding a ‘Mint Sauce’ cycling top in the charity shop in Golspie, I have now added an expanatory link:

www.thisiswhy.ip3.co.uk/thisiswhy/about.html

And, hoping they don’t mind, a taster from the site:

“Created by Jo Burt and published monthly in Mountain Biking UK, the long running Mint Sauce cartoon appeals for many reasons. It can be funny, poignant, symbolic, subliminal, spiritual, uplifting, perceptive or just plain weird. One thing it always is, however, is rather beautiful, reflecting the background to mountain biking itself. The strips have evolved from simple black and white panel strips to the multi- coloured works of art they are today. The series is full of symbolic references, long running jokes, drama, poetry, song lyrics, fine landscapes, and some less than top form mountain biking.

The site is there to share some of the sheep’s finer (and perhaps less fine) moments, and to delve back into the rich nineteen year history of the world’s only famous imaginary ex-farmyard mountain-biking cartoon cycling livestock ever to grace the pages of a national monthly cycling magazine.

Our son, Kenny, loved mountain biking as a young lad and subscribed to Mountain Biking UK magazine. He loved the Mint Sauce cartoon strips and we could often hear his chuckle from under the torch-lit bedclothes when he was supposed to be sleeping but was reading instead.

Gus used to take him to various mountain biking events and there was one memorable story Gus relates that I love. He and Kenny had gone mountain biking together up to Glendoll. Gus says the path they were on was narrow and rocky and he kept falling off his bike and rolling down the hill into various bushes, rocks or nettle patches. Eventually, Kenny sighed at his incompetence and instructed him, “If you’re going to fall,  Dad, you have to fall up the way!”

Duh!

 

Reality Check!

 Followers of this blog may have noticed in my post, ‘I look from my window…’, on March 24th, I made the grandiose claim: ‘We’re planning to go to America, California to be precise, but visiting St Louis and New York too. We’ve been to the States before, 2005, nearly eight years ago….

Well…on what parallel planet was I? What was I thinking? ‘…nearly eight years ago…’ may as well be a century. Things have changed: circumstances. My circumstances. I had poor health back then and I managed. We had a great time and were able to do most of what we planned and hoped to do. But in those intervening eight years, my health problems have increased. Don’t worry; I’m not going to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I can no longer contemplate such a trip. It is just not feasible for me.

The reality check came in the form of a week-long bad reaction to one tiny outing to a familiar place where I lost my spatial awareness and had a fall—stopped from being more serious by the corner of a nearby, friendly wall. It was ‘Ouch!’ but not ‘OUCH!’

I cannot be in airports, I cannot endure a long-haul flight, I cannot be in a hot climate—I just cannot. Not without paying a heavy price. Let’s face it, who wants to spend the first week or more of their visit to California in bed, recovering from getting there? And again, in St Louis, and again in New York?

This reality check came as no surprise to my husband.

By the way, slightly off topic, my ‘better half’ is not terribly happy that I have been blogging about his exploits in my ‘John o’Groats to Land’s End’ pages. He feels I’ve placed him in a goldfish bowl, open to the scrutiny of all and sundry, which I have and for which I apologise. However, I have started so he has recognised that I’m bound to finish…

In deference to his sensibility, I thought it might help if I didn’t talk about him by name too often, hence the clichéd ‘other half’ at the beginning of this paragraph. There are lots of ways of referring to him, all of them probably clichés, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I try some of them out from time to time while searching for an original, and deliciously witty, alternative.

As I was saying, this reality check came as no surprise to ‘him indoors’. He had been quietly worrying about the proposed trip, he having a much firmer grasp on reality. If he’s in a goldfish bowl, I am the original goldfish. ‘His nibs’ often tells me so. I have the memory of a goldfish. When I’m well, I don’t believe I’ll ever be ill again. I think I can do all the ‘normal’ things. It always comes as a surprise—a shock, even—when I can’t. My ‘other half’ knew I couldn’t do the trip I was planning, but, with his usual good insight, allowed me to come to that conclusion myself. It’s always the better way: I don’t really like to be ‘told’.

So, reality check—tick!

Dealing with disappointment—working on!

One of the ways I’m dealing with it is by continuing with the ‘John o’G…’ pages. I know it’s dwelling on the past, but I reckon that’s okay. Isn’t that why we make memories? So that we can remember them, share them, relive them? I have wonderful memories of that adventure. I felt so proud of ‘Big G’—as my granddaughter calls him. And I felt so proud of myself! We achieved something we hardly believed possible for us, which is one of the main reasons we didn’t tell anyone that was our plan before we were well underway with it—and it’s the main reason we didn’t seek sponsorship for one of the very worthy charities we sponsor. Somehow, that would have felt like tempting ‘time and unforeseen occurrence’ to befall.

Today, before adding  ‘Day 4’ of the trip, I want to tell you about ‘Embo’ because, not only is it where we were based for those first three days of the trip, it is also where we have spent time with our family and friends, some years in as many as seven or eight caravans, every year for the past twenty years or so.

 

 

Patience…a dying virtue?

 

Patience is defined in Collins English Dictionary as ‘tolerant and even-tempered perseverance’ or ‘the capacity for calmly enduring pain, trying situations, etc.’

The old saying tells us, ‘Patience is a virtue.’

So, what do you think? Is it a dying virtue?

When you’re standing in a queue, do you find that the people around you wait calmly and tolerantly? What if someone impatiently pushes to the front of the queue? Does the mood of the others change? Do you hear them remarking to one another, ‘Oh, that’s okay, he must be in a hurry.’? Let’s face it, to borrow one of my husband’s astute observations, there will always be those people who can enter a revolving door behind you and come out ahead of you.

Patience is a quality that has to be learned, cultivated, nurtured. This modern, technologically advanced society we live in seems to me not to be nurturing patience, in me or anyone else. I mean, who is there of you out there who has not become frustrated when the internet is slow and your message does not send immediately? We fill those few extra seconds with sighs and finger tapping, perhaps looking around for another task to fill the gaping void of a few seconds, or horror of horrors, a minute! Instant messaging should be instant! What’s wrong with this stupid connection?

We’re increasingly opting for ‘instant messaging’. Emails take too long: there are introductory and concluding greetings usually expected and proper spelling and punctuation.  Top that off with the fact that you have to wait hours, days sometimes to get a reply. As for letter-writing! Well, you can forget that!

They call it ‘Fast Food’, yet here we are, our cars revving, waiting behind someone who can’t decide what delicacy to opt for! Three times she changed her mind! Three times! Then she got in a muddle which window to pay at, from which one to collect her order. Man! We had to hang around there for five minutes!

The few minutes it takes for your computer to boot up, for the traffic lights to change, for a bus or a train to appear…eternity.

Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a Family Psychologist observes that ‘we have become an immediate gratification culture, and we expect things to move quickly, efficiently and in the way we want. When that doesn’t happen, we tend to become increasingly frustrated and irritable.’ She reckons, ‘We’ve lost the art of just slowing down and enjoying the moment.’

Sometimes, the ability to exercise patience is essential. Many years ago, I worked for The Caledonian Steam Packet Company, a part of British Rail at the time. Our office, in which I calculated the salaries for the officers on the steamers ferrying passengers across the River Clyde, was located close to the rail terminal. One day, we became aware of a great deal of fuss going on outside. It transpired that a young girl had thrown open the carriage door and jumped from the train as it pulled into the platform. She was screaming and her clothes were torn and in disarray. ‘He tried to rape me!’ she shouted, collapsing into the arms of the station porter. With great presence of mind, the porter slammed the door of the carriage shut and whistled for assistance, summoning the driver, the guard and other porters to his aid. While one porter ran to the office to phone for the police and send out one of the secretaries to look after the distressed young girl, the guard opened the carriage door and demanded that the man surrender himself into their custody till the police arrived. The gentleman politely declined, declaring he would sit where he was for the moment.

Eventually, to the accompaniment of flashing lights and sirens, a host of police cars screeched to a halt outside our office and policemen aplenty raced to the scene.

Once again, the gentleman was ordered from the carriage. Once again, he declined, graciously but firmly. ‘I will not leave this compartment until the officer in charge agrees to join me inside it,” he said.

Now, what you have to remember is, this was the age of the steam train. The old-fashioned carriages comprised a number of self-contained compartments, with no interconnecting doors, no corridors running the length of the train. The only way in or out of the compartment was one of the doors on either side of it; one looking out over the tracks and one leading down to the station platform. The girl had thus been ‘imprisoned’ with the man until the train stopped at Gourock Station, the terminus.

It was noted by the growing crowd of on-lookers that the man sat very still and displayed remarkable patience with all the commotion going on around him. The girl was sobbing hysterically and repeating her allegations to each newcomer on the scene. The gentleman made no attempt to escape or explain.

The police officer in charge entered the compartment. The gentleman requested that he not be touched or disturbed until he made his defence. The police officer ordered a constable to take down notes of the ‘confession’. Everyone waited in hushed silence, shushing the girl so they could hear the clearer.

‘Dear Sir,’ the gentleman began. ‘I’d be obliged if you would describe to your constable what you observe about my demeanour.’

‘Well…you’re well-dressed, clean-shaven, of neat and gentlemanly appearance. You’re sitting quietly and patiently, one leg across the other. Your shoes are polished.’

‘And in my hand,’ the gentleman prompted.

‘And in your hand, you have a cigar,’ the police officer said. ‘Ah! I see now why you sat here with such patience.’ He turned to the other policemen and ordered them to arrest the young woman and charge her with wasting police time. ‘There is no way this man could have attacked or molested this woman. Could you stand now, Sir,’ he asked the man.

As soon as the man made the slightest movement, two long, delicate inches of cigar ash fell from his cigar, the accumulation of many, many minutes of quiet burning. And the fact that they were there to fall, in front of witnesses, the reward of calm endurance under trying circumstances, tolerant and even-tempered perseverance…the reward of patience…and quick thinking.

Writers may not be patient people in every situation, but I believe they are in their writer-lives. They have to be. To be able to endure the months and years of waiting to see the results of their labours in print, to be able to tease out the best word to describe the perfection of a flower, the vastness of a panorama, the feelings of a reticent character, a writer has to learn patience, to cultivate it, to nourish it.

I recently read an excellent paragraph in Kirsten Lamb’s most interesting blog:

‘Being a successful writer is a lot like being a successful anything. One must, of course, at least possess some talent. But, talent alone isn’t enough. Talent is like a vein of gold buried deep in a mountain of granite. Unless someone works really hard, the gold is worthless. Someone needs to put in the sweat equity to mine that gold, refine it, and transform it into something the world finds valuable.’

Now, in this age of instant messaging, fast food, immediate gratification, is that not an excellent example of the need for patience? The need to slow down and look around, to take your time as you turn over apposite phrases, delightful words that you may find the precious ones.

Yes, for any aspiring writer, patience surely is a virtue and one that we need not to allow to die.

 

 

 

John o’Groats to Land’s End

 

In May 2008 I started writing a blog for my children. It chronicled the cycling trip my husband made from John o’Groats in the North of Scotland to Land’s End in the South of England.

It was an epic trip and we enjoyed it so much I thought perhaps you might too.

It’s quite a privilege to play a part in someone else’s dream.

Since taking up cycling eighteen months or so before, Gus had been setting himself bigger and better goals. It’s the way he works.

If something’s worth doing… 

Gradually, the dream evolved. First, it was to cycle ‘The Two Bridges’, across The Forth Road Bridge along the coast to Kincardine Bridge, across that and back along the opposite side of the river. This, Gus soon achieved, both alone and with our son, Andy, on another occasion.

Then, to cycle to Greenock and back the following day, 75 miles each way, having stayed the night with his Mum.

Longest run in one day: Muthill and back, to visit Elizabeth, our daughter, a run of 86 miles!!! That may not sound much to some of you who’ve cycled all over France, but a lot to those of us who can barely manage to the end of the road!

2007,  the dream was to cycle all the way up to Embo for the family holiday, a trip of some 200 miles or so, in four days. Keeping in mind that we were both over sixty when we did this trip and Gus had not long taken up cycling, we reckoned an average of fifty miles a day was realistic. Again, this was accomplished in style (If you don’t happen to know where Embo is, it’s near Dornoch. Not sure where Dornoch is?  You could always ask Madonna… or find Inverness on the map and keep your finger going north for another 50 miles or thereabout.)  The dream was realised and many lessons were learned by ‘Team Campbell’: things like the need to have a properly waterproofed jacket… and the need to keep closely in touch, especially when the weather is freezing cold and soaking wet.

All good lessons to have learnt before expanding the dream:

John o’Groats to Land’s End, the whole length of Scotland and England. 

But, before all that…

It started as a means to get fitter and healthier after very pointed comment from me as to the need to. (Sorry, pal. Think I was a bit personal… and a bit blunt!) It became an adventure, and, with typical generosity, Gus forgave my frankness and invited me to share it.

Since all our family had been so supportive, we decided to let them share too… by means of this blog, by popular demand, as well as the various ways they’d already found to be involved.

Unfortunately for you, it’s mostly going to be written from my perspective, which is not necessarily the most interesting one!

Gus hopes to add a bit here and there to tell you how it was for him and, hopefully, the photos’ll help you get the sense of the whole thing. So…. If you can bear with me… here we go…

I shall post the day by day account under ‘Cycling’  on the menu bar, one day at a time, with photographs and more or less as I wrote it.

I hope you enjoy the trip.

 

 

 

WriteWhereYouAre

 

You possibly won’t have noticed, but I have changed my banner to read ‘WriteWhereYouAre’.

The reason is simple. I’ve remembered.

There was a time when I wrote almost constantly, wherever I was, whatever I was doing. I’d have a notebook and pen beside the ironing board, another in the kitchen, yet another beside my bed. I’d write on trains, on buses, in waiting rooms, in cafes, in bed, in the bathroom. Literally, wherever I was, if the muse took me, I wrote. I wrote in notebooks, on my laptop, on the back of the cheques in my cheque book, on scraps of paper, even on my arm or my underskirt if nothing more suitable came to hand. If all else failed, I wrote in my head, storing stories for the first opportunity to transfer them onto something more likely to last than my hopeless memory.

So, when did I forget? When did I start thinking I needed laptop or paper and pen on a well-lit desk, a comfy seat, time set aside? When did I start flexing my fingers and expecting inspiration to come at my bidding, stifling creativity till suitably seated and equipped? I had all but stopped making progress with my next novel, staring at the blank screen, the empty page waiting for someone else to fill it.

We had ‘annus horribilis’ and I couldn’t get past it: first my mother was seriously ill and died, then my mother-in-law. My creative flow dried up. Writing seemed an impossibility.

But it’s in my blood, I’m sure it is. I’ve always written. It’s who I am: one of the things that makes me ‘me’.

I began to feel like the hardy little snowdrops that flower in our garden. Every year, no matter how hard a winter, they push their shoots up through the frost-hardened, snow-covered ground. Their shoots grow firm and strong. Fragile, slender stems appear, new buds swelling, gently bulging on the thinnest of stalks. It seems impossible they can survive yet another blast of icy wind, yet another snowfall. But they do. And those buds open slowly, oh so slowly, to reveal perfection in all its glory.

Now, I know my writing is not perfection. Let’s not get carried away with the illustration. But I also know that somehow, I have weathered the winter of this past year and, though the stem of my creativity is still a little fragile, it’s beginning to bear blossom again.

So, if you see me scribbling in the snow, if it looks like I’m studying the freckles on my arm, or I’m leaning back, eyes closed, unable to hear you…don’t assume I’m ‘losing it’.

No! I’ve found it again! That love of writing…anywhere…

Have you written in odd places? Or on unusual items? I’d love to hear from you, if you’d care to leave a comment telling me how you WriteWhereYouAre.

Look forward to hearing from you, snowdrops,

Christine x

 

Are all writers poets at heart?

Certainly, all Poets are writers. They write poetry. Now, I’m a Writer. I don’t think of myself as a Poet, but, over the years, I’ve been unable to resist a try at it and I’ve decided to expose myself to your censure, ridicule or praise if you can muster some. Under the Poetry heading , you’ll find some long-ago-written poems of mine. If you like them well enough, who knows, I might be induced to dig out some more…or even write some new ones! I’ll be glad of your comments…whatever they are. But, remember, I don’t aspire to be a Poet, merely a Writer with poetry in my heart.

Welcome!

It’s good you could visit.

I’m new to blogging, so I do hope you’ll bear with me while I learn.

My aim is to fill the pages with interesting things about writing, reading, crafting, people and life…but it’ll take a while, so do look back from time to time to see how I’m doing.