A Take on Transport

I used to love driving. I was late to learn, at 25, pootling around Putney in south London all of one cold, dark, snowy winter in the evenings after work, with my British School of Motoring instructor. My steering was unorthodox, he told me and said that I should have some lessons in daylight since I’d only ever driven at night.

I passed my second test, at Teddington-a place I knew no more of than Guildford, where I’d failed 2 weeks before. Then I acquired my little old, faded green Austin A40 with a steering wheel like a bicycle wheel and doors that stuck and had me crawling through the hatchback to enter and exit. But I was ecstatic to be independent at last.

Throughout the early years of motherhood, when there was only one family car, the independence was gone with the vehicle and I was reduced to shank’s pony, pounding the streets with a mewling sprog in a pram and wondering how it had come to this?

In the single-parent-working-full-time years I regained some autonomy with a battered Volvo and could load kids inside and camping gear on the roof rack in the holidays or collect bits and pieces for the ramshackle home I’d purchased and was attempting [on evenings and weekends] to do up. I loved to drive. I enjoyed long journeys-even when it took 9 hours of traffic jams to get to the Kendal home of friends I been invited to for a weekend.

Somewhere along the years to old age however a gradual falling out of love with driving took place; not that I won’t or don’t drive, but I’ve come to appreciate other modes of transport, becoming a fan of buses, especially with the gaining [finally] of my pensioner bus pass. I’m not the only bus-pass-holder to take a child-like pleasure in gaining the front seat on the top deck, either…

Then there’s the train, where a ‘seniors’ railcard gives a worthwhile discount. Of course it isn’t as glamorous as it was when I was a child, when you walked along the corridor and slid open a door to a compartment, but if you are lucky enough to get a seat it’s possible to drift into a reverie and gaze out; or listen to others’ conversations [real or phone]. These days train travel can be a frustrating and tiring business, as we found when, having travelled, 2 weeks ago, 4,000 miles by air through the night on a trans-Atlantic flight to Gatwick, arriving at 5am, all the trains south towards Southampton and beyond had been cancelled ‘due to signal failure’. Lovely. Just what you’d wish for after an 8 hour night flight.

On flights, ferries, trains and buses, where someone else has the responsibility, I think the trick is to sit back and relinquish control. Watch the movie, look at the view, listen to the conversations, read your book. Better to travel hopefully [and also to arrive!].

 

 

Advertisements

When the High Tide of Expectation Drops to a Catastrophic Low

The research took some time. It was tricky finding a suitable date, near enough to the actual big day plus an itinerary that would be acceptable. It had been impossible to find a Rhine cruise that allowed us to drive overland to the embarkation point, so I’d had to select flights then change them [at a cost] because they were at some obscene hour of the morning like 6.30am. A 6.30am flight, as I pointed out to the lady on the phone hardly constituted a birthday treat, especially as airports these days require you to be there two hours before take-off. This would be 4.30am. 4.30am!
Then there was the complimentary taxi to the airport, which would need to collect us at 2.30am. 2.30am! How would anyone manage this? Would you sleep beforehand, retiring at a ridiculous hour then getting up at 1.30? Or would you stay up and be almost comatose for the first couple of days of the trip?
No. I changed the flights. I reserved a room at the Heathrow Hilton. The taxi would take us to Heathrow at a respectable hour of the afternoon, we’d check in to the hotel and enjoy a leisurely meal, get a decent night’s sleep and be at terminal 5 at around 8.30am for a 10.30am flight. Sorted.
Husband had chosen a Rhine cruise as his birthday treat. These days there is precious little ‘stuff’ that he wants or needs, and being a man, if he wants or needs something he gets it. As regular readers know, Husband, that character who features in many posts, had a particular milestone birthday two weeks ago and as a result had an entire post written about him…
I’d been startled by his choice of a cruise, as we are great avoiders of such holidays [this, reader has also been much documented on Anecdotage], but river cruises are as unlike sea cruises as cycling is to motor bikes. The boats are not vast, floating monstrosities and passengers must not endure days and days at sea getting stuffed with gargantuan meals, enduring endless, tedious cabarets, ‘dressing’ for dinners and making small talk with those with whom they are incarcerated. The modest cruise boat makes frequent stops at places you can walk around and the ambience is casual. There would always be something to see, even from the cabin. We’d have begun at Amsterdam and finished at Basle. I was frustrated that we’d had to fly such a short distance [Amsterdam is a city that can be driven to in a day from Dunkirk] but when the detailed itinerary arrived in the post it looked thrilling. We’d be stopping each day at beautiful, historic places and get walking tours, as well as travelling through the beautiful Rhine gorge and seeing the Lorelei rock.

I bought new suitcases [ours hailing from a bygone era], bought shoes, organised, laundered, ironed, primed the neighbours.

‘You should see this’ Husband informed me as I returned from shopping. It was an email from the river cruise holiday company to the effect that they were changing the itinerary to mostly coach travel. This was due to a lack of water in the Rhine. He [and I] never at any point wished to embark on a coach tour. I cancelled.

I must admit to feeling slightly nauseous [yes, yes I realise it is a ‘first world’ issue].

We packed our camper van and drove off to the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, 30 miles away from our home and parked in the sunshine overlooking the hillside at Corfe Castle. We strode out over the hills and enjoyed the breath-taking views of our lovely Dorset coast. I stopped feeling bereaved.

Out in the van, we are never disappointed. Yes, there are sometimes challenges or difficulties. Yes, we must make the odd meal, wash up, empty various tanks. But we are not dependent on flights, hotels, plans others have made.

P1060375   P1060383  P1060386

 

Next week Fiction Month begins! Check in to Anecdotage for fresh, new fiction…

Do What You Like

I am amused by a news article declaring that the latest cohort to come under attack from the health police is the middle aged. Apparently this is due to their unhealthy life styles. They work long hours, spend hours on their commutes and then mitigate the ensuing stresses of their days by glugging down copious glasses of wine and lolling on sofas watching box-sets whilst dipping into bags of Pringles or pressing pause only to order a takeaway pizza. Shame on them!

Lucky me, then that I am past middle age. In fact, as I recall I became my most active and healthy during those years, despite having a busy, stressful job and being a single parent etc. I’d have to hold my hands up regarding the wine consumption, which was not modest-but on the exercise front I’d have won a lot of points. Not only was I undertaking DIY on the hovel I’d purchased but also attending exercise classes, following a slavish regime of aerobics videos and running each and every day. I was a virtuous paragon and the only pity was that there was no Facebook or Instagram or whatever to enable me to ‘Map My Run’ and brag about my achievements.

If that exercise regime gave me anything it was an ingrained awareness that regular physical activity is a necessary component of a comfortable life-even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. The difference now though is that the activity must be dictated by what is physically possible. In other words, running and leaping around in an aerobics class are no longer options due to failures of joints and general decrepitude. Instead I indulge in pursuits that a] I am able to do and b] I enjoy.

Exercise crazes come and go with the wind. Once upon a time I threw myself into aerobics, embracing the entire Jane Fonda/leggings and leotard package. The next big thing was Step-Aerobics. Again I became snared in the allure of leaping around and up and down, attending  3 classes each week, unaware of the damage I was doing to my hips, knees and feet but thrilling to the appeal of the ‘horseshoe turn’ and its accompanying, fancy moves.

My aversion to tepid water has been blogged in a previous post, hence swimming is ‘out’. [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/when-you-know-you-are-out-of-your-depth/]. But I can still treat myself to a twice weekly dose of dance with the ever-popular Zumba and have learned to love walking, whether accompanied or not, although I am in a constant search for the Holy Grail of all walking shoes; a pair that eliminates all vestige of arthritis, plantar fasciitis, corns, bunions and the rest. How unglamorous bodies become in older age! I’ve documented my late entry into the world of Yoga [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/sensual-slow-and-unsupple/] and recommend it for anyone hoping to stay fit and mobile for as long as possible.

I eat vegetables √ I’ve replaced a lot of meat meals with fish √ I’ve cut out sugar √ I’ve all but cut out alcohol √

So now, reader, I fully expect to become immortal. I’ll keep you posted.

Hard Work, Dedication and not a small Amount of Luck

                Nadeem Badshah, the world’s oldest runner, who is 102 years old, has retired from marathon running. Oh not from running, you understand-he is continuing to run, though not competitively. Nadeem only started running in his eighties, but has still managed to clock up an impressive number of jogging years. A fall whilst competing in a 10k race in Hong Kong in February has led him to retire from competition, though he still runs, jogs and walks every day. Little wonder that Nadeem has become a celebrity, a superstar of the world of running. Last weekend he officiated at the start of our own town’s marathon festival, an event that attracted 9,000 entrants.

                Elsewhere, in the football world, a relative youngster at 87, Harry Hardy was awarded a medal for his services to the sport. The footage showed Harry, resplendent in his ref’s shorts, shirt and whistle, galloping up and down the pitch with the lads, for all the world like a man half his age.

                What are we to make of these feisty, fit old fellows? First of all, both of them are whip thin, with not a milligram of excess fat on them. They both love what they do. They are dedicated. They work hard at their chosen activities. You have to admire them for their dogged determination and stamina. But more than anything I’d say they’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be able to pursue active sports into great old age.

                Ten years ago I was running with a local [all women] club and beginning to compete in the odd race. I ran distances of ten or twelve miles at weekends. I was never a ‘talented’ runner-more a plodder, but still I knew what it was to have run so much it was a joy [just as Nadeem explains]. Then injuries began to crop up. “Run through it!” advised an enthusiastic running friend. I did continue to run and ignore the injuries, long after I should have stopped and listened to my protesting limbs. Eventually I hung up my running shoes and pursued alternative exercise.

                During our recent stay in the South of France I attempted to resurrect my jogging with a couple of feeble turns around the local lanes. The result of these attempts has been that now I am crippled and unable to do any Zumba or to walk anywhere and fitness is confined to cycling or Pilates.

                So it’s ‘Bravo’ to Harry and Nadeem, but tempered with a touch of envy, because they have both been very, very fortunate.

The Metamorphosis from Hare to Tortoise, and other stories.

                If you consider the multitude of myriad, divers physical activities that can be pursued, from mountain biking to beach volleyball; from skiing to scuba diving, walking does not come across as a very sexy way to get exercise. Although I’ve listened to a riveting radio programme extolling the virtues of a ‘taught’ walking course somewhere in Yorkshire I admit I succumbed to a certain scepticism-after all, it isn’t a very difficult skill to master. Most of us manage it in the first year or two of life.

                Ten years ago I was still in thrall to running, a concept that seems as unlikely to me now as tightrope walking the Grand Canyon, but I did really come to love pounding the pavements, even though I was one of those cross country runners at school who hid behind a bush, waited until the pack returned and tagged along at the back.

                Once I’d got the hang of jogging and could stumble around the block without fainting I began to enjoy the meditative sensation I got. Husband, however pointed out that this did not lead to much progress in the way of faster speed. Apparently you are supposed to concentrate, do a mysterious thing called ‘interval training’ and various other improving activities. I was unconcerned. What I became was a long[ish], slow runner.

                I was not aware of my dependence on loping along in a trance in the evenings and at weekends until increasing decrepitude forced me to hang up my running shoes. It was a blow. I realise that during this transitional period I was about as amenable as a premenstrual rattlesnake, but eventually I came to terms and replaced running with…walking. Of course, it burns fewer calories, it is slow; it is not impressive to one’s friends. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a ‘walk-keeper’ that you can pop  posts on to Facebook with-‘Grace Lessageing has just completed a 5k walk with Walk-keeper’ doesn’t sound like a remarkable achievement.

                But walking does have its own, modest advantages. Other than a pair of comfortable shoes and a water bottle there is little equipment needed. It can be a means to an end or the purpose itself. Weather is of no consequence. A stop for shopping, tea and cake or beer can be incorporated. A solo walk can now induce that same period of meditation that used to be brought about by a run and is perfect for sparking off loads of little ideas for stories, or working out a difficult chapter of novel, or coming up with another load of drivel for this blog.

                Walking these days is a popular activity, although most walkers are accompanied, either by other walkers or a dog, or both. I enjoy company on a walk but don’t find it indispensable, and much as I like other peoples’ dogs [sometimes] I really don’t want one of my own. So two or three times a week I stride out for the good of mind and body [even if, just once in a while. I do come home on the bus].

Keep up! A parable for the third age.

                When I was in my early thirties and my youngest child was two I got a terrible shock. I was coming down the stairs one day and caught sight of a frumpy, fat, grey woman in a shapeless, elasticated-waist skirt I did not recognise. Who was it? It was me. For once I’d looked up into a mirror attached to the wall just where the stairs ended-the first look at myself full length for some time. I’d been preoccupied with matters of childcare-to the extent that I’d quite lost any sense of myself at all.

                Overall, that shock was a good thing. I was never a sporty type. I was born into a sedentary family. My parents invented the potato couch. My mother’s preferred activity was to sit in front of the TV and knit-preferably next to a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. My two brothers did not pursue any type of sport, or display any interest in sports activities. Aside from gardening, my father was alone among us in enjoying watching cricket. That was it.

                Despite this we were not fat children, and we played outside in all weathers as well as eating a somewhat conservative, but healthy diet.

                So having been jolted into undertaking an uncomfortable appraisal of my state, I took myself to an exercise class in a local church hall. This was the eighties; an era of leotards, tights and leg-warmers, an ensemble that most of my fellow exercisers had taken to with gusto and in a plethora of pastel colours [predominantly pink]. Swathed in a camouflage of baggy, jersey jogging pants [that had seen action as decorating and gardening gear] and shapeless tee shirt, I cringed somewhere near the back with little hope of blending in.

                But I loved it. I loved the cheesy music and the chance to almost dance, and I loved the way I felt afterwards, tired, aching and jubilant. I loved meeting my fellow aerobic-ers and being part of the shared ethic. Soon I progressed to a proper gym and even acquired some acceptable and appropriate clothing [not pink and not leg warmers]. Over time my shape became more conventional, but best of all I felt fit. I started running a bit-only half a mile at first, but slowly building up until I could do about 5 miles without too much discomfort.

                I probably reached a ‘peak’ of fitness [for me] at around 40-45. After that the joints began to complain, I slowed and had to start modifying what I did. I went to the GP with a condition called plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes under your feet. The doctor asked me why I couldn’t just go for a nice walk. It was a growing trend, he said, for the middle aged to present themselves with exercise-related injuries.

                Nowadays, being as fond of dance exercise as ever, I’ve taken to the ever popular Zumba, coupled with, as my doctor suggested, a good deal of walking [with a bit of cycling thrown in during nice weather]. During the day the gym is packed full of sprightly ladies [and a few gents] of more mature years all strutting their stuff. It is a wonderful and uplifting sight. I just wonder what my mother would make of it all if she were around and were to look up from her knitting and to see it!