Yesterday I finished my third nightshift at 7:45, and was in the forest, running through puddles, at 8 o'clock. By 9:30 I was home, breakfasted, showered and in bed, deeply asleep. I'm trying a new thing: cross country running.
I loved all the road races I did with my running club, Eton Manor AC, during the summer season, and when I saw that the winter fixture list was largely cross country races I knew I wanted to join in. It's less than a month until my first race and until yesterday I had never run off-road. I'd bought some trail shoes in the late summer sale and was just waiting for the ground to be damp enough to use them.
Yesterday was perfect. It had rained all night and the forest was soaked. I was exhausted and just wanted some fresh air and exercise to clear my head. I ran only for 4km, but it was so much fun. Running through puddles rather than avoiding them, ducking as I ran amongst the trees, feeling the mud and rain splashing around my ankles – I hadn't expected cross country running to be so different from road running, but it is. I have to concentrate more on how I am running, and where I am placing my feet, and at the same time there's more beautiful scenery to distract me.
My new shoes were a delight, and have dried out well, stuffed with newspaper and left in a warm place. I just need to buy the occasional Sunday newspaper now – the freebie Council paper that we get every couple of weeks is not big enough to cope with the amount of cross country running I shall be doing this winter.
Whenever she saw one of their boat-shaped collection boxes, my Granny always donated whatever small change she could find in her handbag to the RNLI. When I was little she and my Grandfather lived on the Suffolk coast, so there were RNLI collection boxes in every village shop and street corner. She always impressed on my little brother and me how important an institution the RNLI was, and how courageous the lifeboat men and women were: volunteers going out in the very worst conditions to rescue people at sea.
My Granny was a sailor. She came to this activity late in life via the enthusiasms of my Grandfather, who discovered the joys of sailing when he retired. They sailed across the North Sea when they were in their sixties and seventies many times – and were even in The Netherlands with their boat when I was born. My earliest memories of my Granny are of her in a boat, cleaning a boat, packing for a trip on a boat, or taking me for walks around the harbours of Suffolk to look at the boats. She always liked looking at the boats' quirky names – something I enjoy now – and she would point out her favourites to me as we strolled. My Granny was a very ladylike person, and the only time she wore trousers (which she called slacks) was when she was on a boat. She seemed to greet my Grandfather's desire for nautical adventures with the equanimity that was characteristic of everything she did. She just got on with it, and then found pleasure in it.
I went to the seaside today, on a whim, and the first thing I saw when I arrived at the harbour was the RNLI lifeboat station, with its flag flying smartly in the breeze. I went into their shop to see if I could buy a tea towel (my Granny's charitable nature meant that she acquired what must surely have been one of the largest RNLI tea-towel collections in East Anglia). I think she would have understood my desire for little adventures on my days off – and I know she would have loved to stroll with me around the harbour today, looking at all the boats and eating ice cream.
I thought of her when I put some change into the boat-shaped collection tin, and I could her her voice in my head reminding me once again of why the RNLI is so important and how courageous its crews are.
I find that when it’s tipping with rain outside, and you’ve got to wait in for a delivery, and you’re shattered from a very demanding thirteen hour shift the day before, and everyone else is at work or school, one of the nicest things to do is to spend the morning pottering around the kitchen cooking and baking.
This morning I made yogurt, two loaves of bread, a cake, sweetcorn fritters (for the freezer), tomato pasta sauce (also for the freezer), and bolognese sauce.
I had a pot of coffee in one corner of the kitchen, the radio in another corner, and the back door open so that I could hear the chickens grumbling about the rain out in the garden. Radio 4 had some very interesting programmes this morning: the bishop of Gloucester guest editing Woman’s Hour (I particularly loved the piece by the seamstress who designed and made the new bishop’s cope and mitre), Stella Rimmington doing some detective work about the World War One nurse Edith Cavell’s links with espionage, and then a sweetly old-fashioned dramatised Miss Marple story.
After lunch, I retired to the sofa with a slice of new bread and jam to watch a film (Amélie) and do some knitting. Fresh brown bread and jam is one of the nicest things to eat, don’t you think?
I’m just coming to the end of three days off, and I’ve spent spent most of my time out of doors. On Monday when I came off nights I HAD to have a few hours sleep before I could do anything. As it was sunny and crisp, I slept on the sofa with the window wide open next to me (and a quilt on top of me so that I was still cosy enough to sleep). It was blissful.
Later that day Olivia and I went to a yoga lesson in our local park. This class is put on by Our Parks – an amazing scheme which offers free outdoor exercise classes to local residents in parks across London (you can see which boroughs are a part of Our Parks here). Yoga with my girl was just what I needed after a run of nightshifts. We stretched and bent ourselves into unexpected shapes as the sun set across the park, and I let go of everything that had been difficult and challenging at work over the weekend.
Then yesterday I went for a massive thirteen mile walk along the canals of East London – with a delightful lunch date in Broadway Market in Hackney to break things up halfway through. Canal walks are always a joy – so much to see: boats, houses, bridges, locks, ducks, swans, factories and street art.
Today I went out to Epping Forest to see if I could find any signs of autumn. I am eager for autumn: it’s by far my favourite time of year. I had a joyous walk, even though autumn has barely begun to make itself known here and it’s still very mild and green.
After all this fresh air and exercise I don’t mind going back into the ITU for a few days – and maybe when I go back to Epping Forest at the end of next week, there will be a few more signs of autumn.