Defying belief!

Most people will be familiar with the phrase “Never work with children or animals” coined by W.C. Fields all those years ago. However, I’m willing to bet that (following an extended period of COVID driven home schooling) an even greater proportion of adults now have a better understanding of the potential pitfalls of even trying to achieve something useful whilst the ‘ankle biters’ are around!

As a mum of boys, I discovered quite early on that my children needed ‘exercising’ in almost the same way as a dog. Any fleeting thoughts of spending a ‘lazy day at home’ were usually swiftly dispersed upon realising that there would almost certainly be ‘pay back’ – in one form or another. If we were lucky, it might simply be under the guise of incessant bickering and the joyful refrain of “it’s not fair!” being emphatically chorused on auto repeat. On a bad day though, the afore mentioned arguments and protests would gradually escalate into the damaging of toys, furniture, or (much to my husband’s annoyance) the paintwork. And so, a genuine love of the great outdoors developed (amongst their parents at least) and with it, tangible improvements to behaviour, sleep quality – and (I’ll admit it) home décor!

Having moved to Derbyshire in 2014 we have been fortunate enough to have acquired an enormous natural playground, right on our doorstep. Many a Sunday is spent happily exploring the astonishing beauty of the rugged terrain and majestic rocky outcrops of the awe-inspiring Peak District. Bracing climbs and spectacular views do wonders for one’s physical and mental wellbeing and only the most appalling weather conditions can generally dissuade us from heading out there.

Shortly after Christmas then, ever mindful of the usual post-turkey resolutions, we took the decision to brave the snow and head out to the Peaks. We had chosen a circular walk from ‘The Fox House’ in Longshaw and (at just over 4 miles and supposedly well within our capabilities) headed confidently in the direction of Higger Tor.

All went well to begin with, both boys happily running ahead and delighting in trying to shatter some large sheets of ice that were dotted about at the edge of the trail. In no time at all we had reached the first proper ascent, stopping only to watch a handful of intrepid motorists do battle with some horribly icy country lanes. As we picked our way carefully amongst the rocks, my husband became aware that his phone battery was almost flat and that since this was our only means of navigation (coupled with the fact that an ominous mist was threatening to obscure the landscape altogether) there might be genuine cause for concern. Without a feasible alternative though, there was no real choice but to carry on – and besides, our youngest was making short shrift of the rocky ascent, emulating only the most experienced of mountain goats!

Eventually, (and after an undignified fall on my part that ironically followed a plea to ‘be careful’ to my two infinitely more agile children!) we reached the summit and discussed the quickest route down. The snow had fallen more heavily on that side of the tor and so it was quite difficult to gauge (with any certainty) what lay below. The mist was closing in more rapidly now too and so we promptly chose our ‘path’ and began our descent.

Having negotiated countless twists and turns (largely of my ankle joints) and numerous precarious screes, we stood at the bottom, peering into the distance. We knew the general direction of our car’s whereabouts but a veritable minefield of boggy land and grassy tussocks (blanketed in snow for additional challenge) lay between us and welcome refuge.

And that’s when it happened.

My husband (very much pack leader on such occasions) literally disappeared into the marshland letting out a cry of anguish as he began to sink deeper into the quagmire. I, of course, was expected to leap to his aid but, having now been utterly paralysed with laughter, could do nothing but crumple in a heap and giggle inanely from afar. Fortunately for him, our eldest (upon realising that his father was not in the least bit amused by his wife’s shameful behaviour) swiftly regained his composure and rushed to my husband’s assistance.

Just as we were taking stock of the collateral damage to both my husband’s clothing, and his dignity, we heard a mighty splash nearby. All three of us whipped around to see what on earth had happened now. There, only a matter of yards from where my husband’s ‘rescue’ had recently taken place, was our youngest – up to his waist in bog and waving his arms frantically above his head as a means of attracting our attention. This time (mercifully) the maternal instinct kicked in and (instead of giving in to helpless laughter) we all rushed to hoist him out. The fact that there was a sort of tide mark just above his nipples was a clear indication of just how deep the marsh had become now that the thawing process had begun in earnest.

But before you devote too much sympathy to our ‘little man’, I feel that I should tell you that he later confessed to having in fact ‘chosen’ to launch himself into the bog… Apparently, the reasoning behind his actions was that because he knew that he was considerably lighter than his father, he “thought (he) would just skid along the surface of the ice and not sink in at all”!

Nice one, kiddo!     

Temet nosce

‘Temet nosce’ (or ‘know thyself’) might be the briefest of phrases, and yet these two small words convey such an important message.

However, before I go on, I feel duty bound to set the record straight. I am not (by any stretch of the imagination) a Latin scholar, and the irony of having chosen a Latin phrase as the heading for my latest blog will not have been lost on those who remember me from my school days…

As a nervous pupil starting Year 7 at secondary school, being placed in the top set meant that the (rather dubious) honour of learning Latin had been ‘bestowed’ (or rather thrust) upon me. And so, my (not so) illustrious relationship with the language of the Roman Empire began.

It ended just 12 months later when the teacher gratefully washed her hands of me, noting on my end of year report that I had “spent a good deal less time inside the classroom, than out in the corridor” – a fitting punishment for my “poor application and lack of reverence” apparently!

Anyway, in spite of all of this, I am often fascinated by the extent to which Latin words still dominate our language. After all, the notion of working on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, perhaps for a ‘bona fide’ company, in an attempt to ‘carpe diem’, makes a good deal of sense when trying to take control of one’s own destiny.

‘Temet nosce’ then, will possibly resonate with many of us, as we strive to overcome the many challenges associated with living through a global pandemic. Bereavement, loss of income, a sense of isolation and the sheer anxiety of trying to juggle work with home schooling / childcare are factors that have put untold strain on people. However, there have been countless stories of human resilience too, and so it strikes me that to ‘know oneself’ is probably currently more important than ever. Because, in understanding our own psyche (and dare I say it, ‘limitations’) we are enabling ourselves to set realistic targets (through tailor-made strategies) that will propel us forwards – hopefully with our mental health intact!

Time to embrace the decline?

Words (whether written or spoken) can be incredibly powerful. Carefully chosen, they can serve to motivate or embolden. Sensitively proffered, they can provide immense comfort at times of great sorrow.  Imaginatively crafted, they can provoke an emotional reflex that leaves a profound impression upon the reader or listener. But when they are delivered in anger, haste or simply without thought, they can wound and belittle. Indeed, the notion that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ has real resonance here, because it is quite extraordinary how a perfectly innocent throw away comment can engrain itself in your subconscious and then continue to torment you, many months later.

Today’s reminiscence though, is not one of deep resentment (or offence bitterly taken) but of genuine gratitude that someone (albeit unwittingly) gave me the wake-up call that I so desperately needed!

We had set out for a lovely walk in the Peak District, taking in the stepping-stones at Dovedale. Our boys were still very young at the time and so we were not looking for anything particularly energetic, but we felt fairly confident that meandering streams (complete with large boulders for scrambling over) would be an instant hit. We weren’t wrong. In fact, the outing had all the ingredients for success – fresh air, exercise, and great company.

We had arranged to meet up with another family whose two little girls were the same age as our own children. Inevitably though, our two didn’t want to adopt the same pace as their counterparts (preferring instead to examine every conceivable rock in minute detail, whilst also relishing the possibility that their brother might yet end up in the water!) so Hubby ended up bringing up the rear, whilst I (rather predictably) chatted happily with the other adults in our party.

It was during one such conversation that I became aware that I was really quite out of breath, and that I was making decidedly ungainly progress up the various screes. In my (somewhat futile) attempt to divert attention from my woeful lack of fitness, I asked my friend if she was limping. After all, by showing interest in someone else’s apparent discomfort, I was buying myself valuable minutes to re-group, right?!

I was quickly informed that ‘yes’, it was the result of a sporting injury. Not quite the ‘get out of jail’ card that I was hoping for – Sport? What was that?  I needed to look back at my school days in order to find a genuine example of vigorous exercise

Perhaps the bewilderment of my facial expression (coupled with disturbingly crimson cheeks and ridiculously laboured breathing) led to the statement in question. Whatever the catalyst, it really hit home!

I listened dutifully to a terribly painful sounding account of how a cycling accident in central London (during the early morning commute) had caused temporary damage to her Achilles and Patella tendons. This, of course, led me on to evince surprise that she was cycling regularly into work, when previously the number 56 had more than sufficed… She fixed me with a steely gaze and said (without any discernible emotion) that she had reached the conclusion that she should “either do something about her general level of fitness or embrace the decline”. Well, at just two years younger (and easily about 3 stone heavier) I felt suitably chastened!

Indeed, many weeks later, I found myself pondering those words again.

As an older parent, (of two incredibly energetic boys) I realised that my (hitherto) largely sedentary lifestyle probably wasn’t going to ‘cut it’ long term. I didn’t want to be the type of parent who is always ‘too tired’ to play, or who looks for the (superficially) ‘easy’ option of a ‘quiet afternoon in’.

And so, a heartfelt ‘Thank you, dear friend’ is in order here, for nudging me in the right direction. Having chosen not to ’embrace the decline’ just yet, we have effectively opened up a wealth of opportunities. Some of our most cherished paternal memories now originate from our encounters with the great outdoors, and of family sporting activities that we would previously have dismissed as being ‘out of our reach’.