Thursday 19 February 2015

Clinging to the Wreckage of Memories....

Back then we sailed on sunlit seas of blue, riding the crest of the wave of hope and optimism in the belief that anything was possible. We surged forward, full of zest and energy, forging our path and guiding others in the same direction.

And how I wished that nothing would change. But, of course, it was never going to be. Everything changes. Circumstances. People. Places.

I came back and my 49-year-old self looked with 47-year-old eyes, that squinted in vain hoping to see it as it was, not as it is. The conundrum of LIFE: FILE (under “memories of another time and place”).

A gradual realisation these last few months, but a realisation nevertheless: I am not the man I was. But how to reconcile to this? How to be comfortable with what I've become and what I will be?

Sometimes everything moves on around you and you’re faced with the fact that you’re still clinging to that upturned hull in the midst of a storm.

It was a relatively mild morning, with a threat of drizzle in the air, enough to wear a coat anyway (which proved to be a bad decision). Out of the door, cross the road and head towards the sawmill. As we neared it, we took a sharp left down into the ancient woods.

Sam knew where he was. He recognised the landmarks, his acute senses picked up familiar smells, and memories came flooding back of trotting through here, guided by his dear departed but never forgotten brother.

It’s been a long time since I was able to run. An injury has never before kept me out this long. Nervous at first, understandably, my brain kicked in and I picked my way through the arboreal debris and along the edge of the burn, to emerge on the shinty field.

We crossed the road and headed up through muddy fields, to mount the stile onto a path which, when we’d first arrived here, was no more than a trod and yet now bore the marks of frequent use. Not much running between the stiles, but a trot as we headed up onto the ridgeline, to rest and gaze awhile once we got there, a red kite circling overhead.

Up the path and along to the cairn, to look out at a familiar view - the Ben towering above it all, snow-clad and cloud-topped. But, even from here, much had changed, forested land now denuded in every direction, new wind turbines dominating the view. My heart sank.

We stopped for a nice chat with a local character as we descended towards the kissing gate. He told me tales of post-war tree-planting and recent shenanigans with felling and I could have chatted for much longer. But down we went, to arrive at the point where we used to enter the “secret” path through dense woods around the side of the hill. Only now it was open, a bare hillside, strewn with the wreckage of man’s destruction. It felt different. It felt wrong. It wasn’t, of course. In fact, stop for a moment, and consider that the view is now far-reaching, down to the snowy Cairngorms in the distance, and all before that. But it felt wrong.

The path beyond was muddy, the result of run-off from the eroded slopes, with nothing now to absorb it. I slowed to a walk again, before the path turned to the south and I picked up some pace, feeling my way back into some rhythm.

We dropped all the way down, and almost into the village, before heading back up via the steep path up the “north face”. What a change here, the barren land of two years ago now transformed by saplings over four feet tall. Nothing changes once the gradient steepens though – toil and sweat, a never-ending climb until you turn that final corner to the stile.

Back along the ridge to plunge down the slippy race route, the ankle bizarrely providing no obstacle to this at all (a mental note stored to tell the osteopath this). We got down to the main track and tried to head down to the stone maze, but all paths are seemingly blocked now by trees toppled by the recent storms so, much as I’d liked to have gone there for old time’s sake, it wasn’t to be.

Instead, we headed along the path to drop down the way we came up. We were minutes from “home”, suspecting that Kirsten might be back already…..but then met another local “character” and, I may seem like a antisocial, miserable grump, but I’m a sucker for a good natter and some interesting tales. Thirty minutes later(!), we were still struggling to get away, having been regaled with stories, educated with local knowledge and passed comment and news on a mutual friend.

And so we trotted back through the woods that we’d come to know so well in our 18 months here. A sharp right at the sawmill and we slowed to a walk to return to the cottage and be welcomed in with smiles and warmth.

“How was your run?”

“Aye, it was alright. Sammy enjoyed it”.

Sometimes there’s nothing more to say about it in the moment. Sometimes you need to reflect and gather thoughts. Sometimes you don’t let go of the past easily enough, in order to move forwards. Sometimes you look back through rose-tinted spectacles and forget all of the things that made it so in the first place, forget that they all still exist in abundance.

The beacon still shines. The fire still roars. The rainbow rises over the loch and it’s as clear now, as always, that the crock of gold isn’t at its end, it’s here and it’s now. It’s wherever you choose for it to be but you’ll not see it if you don’t open your eyes.  

Future direction? I’ve no idea right now. Reconciled to this ageing body which won’t respond in ways I want it to anymore? Not a chance! But that’s a good thing, right? “One step at a time keeps you moving forwards”, that’s what I’ve always been told and believed. It seems as good a place as any to start again.

Friday 25 July 2014

And the Monkey In The Corner Wrote the Lesson In His Book....

It was Kirsten’s link that got me thinking;

She’s a social worker so she’s entitled to highlight this particular issue. It’s certainly one I understand, not just from being close to her, but also from working in a social care company for a couple of years and hearing first-hand about the daily difficulties. I had huge respect for the social workers in that company. Most of us, when faced with some of the situations they were almost daily, would react very negatively (perhaps even violently) whereas they showed enormous patience, commitment and care for the young people they looked after. They were exceptional people, true unsung heroes of society, and so often criticised by those with no idea.

I’m divulging no secrets to relate that, some years ago, the owner of that business had taken into his own home several challenging young people because he hated the brutal way they were being treated within the “traditional”system.  His “reward” was for his house to be burnt down by one of them. So he rebuilt it, and took that lad back in, to try and provide him with upbringing, guidance and love that would assist him in the transition into adult life. Such people are often targeted, by the media and the politicians (as he was, with journalists camping out on his doorstep) and yet they are the very foundations without which our society would disintegrate.

And, as I pottered out for a trot up Glen Nevis the other night, it got me thinking, not just about social workers, but about all those positions in society which are either demonised or, perhaps even worse, dismissed as being unimportant.

There were more headlines in the news today about how the economy is booming and back to where it was before “the crash” and yet, at the same time, productivity has fallen and those in power can’t understand why. That says much more about them than about the general workforce.

I’d like to think I’ve always had a grounding and an understanding of the value which anyone and everyone brings to society in the functions that they fulfil. But I was lucky enough, quite a few years ago now, to work in a company where we truly tried to put some of these philosophies into practice.

As one of the “bosses” of the company (ha! I can imagine some people reading this will be more than a little surprised to hear I ever held such a lofty position!), I was very much involved in the setting of pay and conditions, along with two of my fellow directors who were both “working men” who’d started out on the shop floor and worked their way to being part of the board. And yet, unlike so many others, they’d never forgotten their roots and both fought hard for the right conditions and the right incentives for their staff.  And that’s what we did, paying, in the main, decent salaries and offering bonuses, sharing profit etc. And, in the main, what we got back was commitment and productivity.

I had many a run-in, with the Ops Director in particular and I was probably right to do so on a number of occasions. But, in retrospect, I can appreciate what he was trying to do to support those he trusted to do a good job. And, as much as he feathered his own nest, he was also willing to help those under his management do the same. Those are decent principles in the end and those who wonder why productivity has dropped so much these days might do well to look at such examples.

And then, thinking about that company, got me remembering the cleaning lady. She was in her 60s and, truth be told, she wasn’t the best cleaner in the world and we’d quite often have to patch up a few of the areas she hadn’t touched. But, of course, society in general would dismiss cleaners as the lowest of the low and unimportant. Try doing without them!

I used to work late back in those days, and she’d turn up around 6pm every evening to do her rounds. It became routine to stop work and chat to her for 15 minutes, about all sorts of things. And, as I got to know her better, I discovered that this little old lady, dismissed by some as “just” a cleaner (and one who didn’t do her job at that!) had an alcoholic, disabled husband at home, a son in prison for murder, various other family problems, and she was working 2 jobs just to try and hold everything together. And yet here she was, with a smile and the very personification of kindness and friendliness.

I was also reminded of the boss of my very first job in industry. It was only a small company, and Stephen took the time to talk to, and get to know, each and every member of staff (we’re still talking 50+ staff). He’d know about their families, their troubles and their plans. And he wouldn’t forget them. If someone’s daughter had got married at the weekend, he’d have remembered and he’d be down on the shop floor first thing on Monday to ask how it had gone. Likewise, when someone was having troubles outside of work, he’d offer support and he’d make allowances.

Maybe I was just lucky to work for such people, or maybe I was open to learning the ways they managed and looked after staff. Whichever, it has always seemed to me that, if you want people to do a job with commitment and passion, then it’s a two-way process whereby you have to give back to them (and it’s not enough to say “well we pay you don’t we?”). That’s what seems to have gone from business these days – the personal element. People are treated as objects, useful only for their economic contribution and, if that falls below par, get rid. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a social worker, a cleaner, a boss or a banker, first and foremost you’re a human being who should be treated as such and generally, the commitment and understanding you’re shown will be repaid. It’s not a quick process and it requires effort from both sides, but if there really is a desire for a better, more “productive” society for the future, then it’s the only  way forward.

All of which crossed my mind as the sun glared down and I trotted along the rough path up the glen, the striated rocks of Stob Ban towering above me.  It certainly took my mind off the drop down into the gorge on my right, that I couldn’t help but notice. It was good to be out again, despite the heat. The tourists had pretty much gone home now and, apart from one elderly gentleman making his way down after a round of the munros, all was quiet and serene.

It seems a long time ago now, almost a different life, when I was involved in those businesses. I couldn’t return now. I’ve learned those lessons and will keep them with me. But, with a beautiful little girl growing up fast, and a garden that’s starting to take shape as a vegetable production system, there are all sorts of new things to learn, which are just as (if not more) valuable and exciting.

Friday 28 February 2014

It’s Not Who I Am, But Sadly It’s Who I’ve Become……

Human beings are creatures of habit, I think that’s undeniable. That has really positive aspects. Generally, if we get into a “groove”, we maintain it quite easily because it becomes part of our routine. That certainly applies to my running. When I get into a streak, running becomes part of who I am. It’s never a chore to go out, there’s hardly a second thought. It just is.

But, of course, there’s a negative aspect to this human facet as well. We generally have a tendency to lapse into sloppy habits and routines and they also can become the norm. We hardly notice or, if we do, we gloss over it in favour of the status quo.

A few weeks ago, I read a post by Saleby Jogging Centre which got to the very heart of this matter and, as he so often does, he managed to encapsulate my thoughts in his writing. It’s worth a read….

And it made me think. Think about routines and habits I’d “accidentally” fallen into, about whether I was concentrating on things that I “should” be.

So, in deference to Saleby Jogging Centre, I’ve come up with my own “Five Point Plan”, which is now committed in writing for me to check against.

I’d stress that what this is NOT about is specifying the obvious or listing things I’m already doing which I regard as important. This is about what I ought to be doing/not doing but am;

1)      Limit time on the internet, filter what I look at

The internet. It provides everything we could ever want and everything we could never want. It’s the scourge of modern life and the fount of all knowledge. It’s the source of information and the dumping ground for disinformation.

And it’s easy to get hooked.

Five minutes of searching turns into an hour. A quick comment on facebook becomes a novel. The press of a button, a quick tap on the screen of a phone, even on the TV screen. It’s everywhere.

If we choose it to be.

Saleby posted these quite surprising and, I think, disturbing facts – “A 2013 first direct poll found that 30% of the UK's Facebook users are on the site for at least one hour a day. 13% were on for at least 2 hours. It also revealed that 26% of UK women check their pages at least 10 times a day, whilst 18% of men do the same”.

And then you think…….where do I fall in that?

On top of that, there is “general” browsing. We all do it. We read something we may or may not have meant to, and then we launch off on links into cyberspace and eat up the hours. I’m terrible for reading things I don’t like or by people I don’t like. I think I took the saying “keep your friends close, keep your enemies even closer” to heart and I like to know what “they” are thinking and doing.

But, in the end, what good does that do me? Does it make me feel happier? Does it affect my daily life in a positive way? No, of course not. I will rarely make a difference to what anyone else thinks (which also leads to number 5 in this list) and the negativity, the hatred and the lies spouted only serve to darken the mood and dissatisfaction with modern life.

No, I’d rather be the character who wrote the lyrics to Ian Dury’s “You’ll See Glimpses”, content in my own little world and with high hopes for the future.

So here, for a moment, is Glimpse Number 1 of my plan:

-          I’ll restrict looking at facebook to a maximum half hour each day, as I munch my breakfast
-          I’ll restrict other (personal) internet time to a maximum half hour each day, once I’ve finished work
-          I’ll only read inspiring, exciting sites (about hills, running, Scotland, growing veg, music etc) and forget the dross

2)      Listen to more music, watch less sport

I love music.

I love sport.

I’ve gone through long spells of watching little television and, to be frank, finding little I’d want to watch on television. But sport, now that’s a different matter. I love most sports, anything which has a competitive nature. Of course I like some more than others, but even watching something like the biathlon at the winter Olympics is fascinating to me. I love the intricacies of sport. I love the “unseen” tactics and psychologies of it.

I took a subscription to Eurosport Player last year so I could watch the cycling. The added bonus was plenty of winter sports. And then, when we moved house, we got BT Sport as part of the broadband package and a whole host of sports including college football and baseball as well as football from around Europe.

And I have to admit it. During these dark winter months, it’s become my default position to flop into the chair after tea and watch sport. There’s always something “worth” watching. I’m really not fussed about watching anything else (and Kirsten has been marvellously accommodating in letting me indulge).

But it has been at the expense of other things and, probably most of all, I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. And yet I love music. We set the record player up in the lounge and I don’t think I’ve put one record on yet.

I’ve also ended up putting Radio 5 (with all of its faux concern about contemporary issues) on instead of music in the kitchen, listening in disbelief to the pent-up anger of the Home Counties about issues which only affect those more affluent areas of southern England.

Well no more.

Glimpse Number 2 ino my plan is as follows;

-          I will only watch sport on TV if there is something I specifically want to watch
-          I will turn the radio OFF
-          I will listen to more music

Added to which, is number 3 in my plan.

3)      Play the piano

I’ve loved playing the piano since I was a boy. I had a gap in my teenage years, when it didn’t seem “cool” but once I rediscovered it in my late teens, there’s nothing I like more than to sit down and play a tune.

It’s frustrating at the same time, because I don’t feel naturally gifted in this respect. And that’s strange really. My Dad is and my son is. That would suggest I am and perhaps I just need to “let go” and it will happen.

Even so, there is also no doubt that practice makes perfect and, not having even turned my keyboard on in the last 6 months, I can hardly expect to sit down and play fluently.

I keep promising myself that I’ll get down to it but never seem to find the time. I’m also acutely aware that we want Ishbel to grow up in a musical environment and part of that will be to have instruments around which she can listen to me play and dabble with herself as she gets older.

So now is the time to start. 

Glimpse Number 3 is to make sure I find time every week to play the piano.

4)      Put the news down and read more inspiring things

I don’t buy newspapers. Well I do, I buy the Oban Times some weeks. It’s full of stories about whose shed has been broken into, which road needs repairing, how the local shinty teams are getting on and proper news like that.

But I don’t buy “mainstream” newspapers. They peddle mainstream views which never really depart from the safe norm. They read like little more than press releases from government departments or multinational PR departments.

But I do have an Achilles heel in that I invariably spend time each day reading the BBC news. And I tend to read it with disbelief at the attitudes of the outside world and the general direction we’re headed in. As a population-brainwashing experiment, I feel that successive governments have done a remarkable job.

As with some of the negative things I read on the internet, it doesn’t really do me any good in the end to spend time reading these stories. In my little corner of Lochaber, I’m not going to change things (and I have no desire to move beyond these realms and try and do so) so couldn’t my time be more usefully spent? Why, definitely.

I love reading, I love books. I’ve got a fair few which have either been part-read or not even started. I always used to make time last thing at night to read a chapter or two (or nine or ten if I got hooked!). I’ve stopped doing that, I’ve got out of the habit. Now I’m more likely to check the news and try to sleep with those stories on my mind.

So, Glimpse Number 4 is an easy one, and one which I will happily embrace;

-          I will read my book each evening rather than reading the news.

5)      Stop trying to change the world

Now I know this one will be the hardest to adapt to. It’s deeply ingrained in my soul. I think some people are happy to sit back, kick off the shoes and watch the car crash, in an almost voyeuristic way. I don’t think I’ve ever been like that. If I see something that seems wrong, I have to say, it gets under my skin. I do try to live my life by the motto “if you’re worried about something, decide if you can change it. If you can, do so. If you can’t, why worry about what you can’t influence”. But I lapse.

And, additionally, I still want to say something and change “the world” even when I know I might as well bang my head against a brick wall for all anyone listens. I know I’m out of step with modern life and modern attitudes. I’m comfortable with that but I reckon it’s about time I got comfortable with the idea that others don’t think that way.

Too much time wasted, too much energy wasted on issues both big and small which, as I say, most people don’t care about. More important to know when the next glass of wine is due or who’s winning the reality TV show this week. If other people want to follow their own paths, be they to heaven or hell, then I should let them.

So Glimpse Number 5 in my plan;

-          Quit worrying about other people, just be concerned with the self (although, obviously, I’m not including family and close friends in this, just the wider world!)
-          Use that time to follow more important pursuits

That looks like a plan to me. A plan to put me back on the straight and narrow and maximise my own enjoyment of life. What a strange breed we humans are – I know adopting these five steps would make for a better life for me, and yet it doesn’t come easily. But come it will, since we are creatures of habit.

There is, indeed, a Glimpse Number 6 but it’s one I already practice on a regular basis. And that is – whatever stresses and strains I may feel under, whatever challenges life may bring, take a look around me and appreciate everything I do have.

And I do. A wonderful life here in Lochaber. A beautiful house that looks out across a sea loch and across to the mountains. A big hill in our back garden. A beautiful family of humans and animals here, including an incredible new daughter, who brings me joy every moment. A fantastic son, who’s a credit to me but, more importantly, a credit to himself. A Dad who’s inspired me through every step of my life and given me the appreciation and the vision to want to live in such a beautiful place. And a select band of people who care for me unconditionally.

What more could I ask for really? And I never should (or will) forget that. Glimpse Number 6 in my plan.

All the room in the world……..

“They take me for a mug because I smile.
They think I'm too out of tune to mind being patronised.
All in all, it's been another phase in my chosen career,
And when my secrets are out, they'll bite their silly tongues.
All I want for my birthday is another birthday.
When skies are blue, we all feel the benefit.”

Sunday 12 January 2014

To Uncertain Futures, We Usher Them Into The Light....

I hold your gaze, captivated by your searching, sparkling eyes, which reach deep into my soul, seeking out truths, trying to make some sense of this bright, new world.

I cuddle your tiny body and a bond is formed that will remain forever unbroken. All defences are down, raw emotions unfettered and overwhelming love consumes me.

What will the future hold? How will you change and adapt in this cruel modern world? How can I keep you safe and what can I ever say that will hold true?

She is born and I am reborn, new life flowing through us, each learning new ways to appreciate the wonders of the world with wide, curious eyes.

“Imprint the knowledge, pass the message on
You know I have to let you go
One day I have to say goodbye
You know that I will have to leave and give up to the light”

Tuesday 12 November 2013

I'm Running Free, Yeah, I'm Running Free....

I've just picked up a copy of Boff Whalley's "Run Wild" (about time you may say, and you'd be correct) and have waltzed through the first 10 chapters in no time at all, buoyed to be reading sentiments which closely follow mine.

It's not so much that he sneers at the Big City Marathon and road running, it's that he recognises (quite rightly, in my opinion) that the phenomenon of that section of our sport has very little to do with the joy of running and re-connection with health and nature, and everything to do with the modern consumerist society and the cult of "experience".Three figure entry fees. five figure total entries, dancing girls, blaring bands and blue-chip sponsors have nothing at all to do with the pure joy of putting one foot in front of the other!

Which is not to say that I, in any way, condemn those who choose to pursue such activities. If you enjoy it, do it. But recognise what you're doing, understand that you're just part of the circus.

But, surely, the real joy of running is to be out in the wild, breathing in clean air, without the need to dodge traffic, enjoying the expansive views and the ever-changing face of nature, relishing the need to connect, both physically and mentally, with the ground beneath your feet, reading its contours and allowing the subconscious mind to adjust your footfall. On good days, you enter an almost trance-like state where it all happens without effort, and those are the moments which make it all worthwhile.

However, as much as I'm loving the book so far, one thought kept entering my head as I read it. Now, admittedly, I'm only at chapter 11 and so there's plenty of time for Mr Whalley to expand on his views but what kept crossing my mind was this;

If he rejects the idea of city marathons and road running because it is, effectively, artificial then surely, extending that logic, in the end you have to reject racing of all sorts, wherever it takes place, since the philosophy of running wild and running free is to be able to do just that, without constraints (of time, of route etc) and for pure enjoyment.

The freedom I'm enjoying in my running right now has re-ignited my love of being out on the hills and, having initially fought against this change in focus, I'm now entirely comfortable with it. In the past, runs always had a focus. That's what all the training bibles say - you MUST have a purpose for every run, otherwise it is "wasted".

Of course, the people who write such books do completely believe in what they are saying and, within the narrow context of ever-improving times and race targets, they're almost certainly correct.

But it concerns me that we can get into a mindset where running is only worthwhile when we have these targets and when we follow regimented training plans. That pressure can be felt by any runner, at any stage, but even more so, I suspect, by people who are new to the sport. These days, I've got a lot more respect for those runners who head along to JogScotland twice a week for a social trot and have no pretensions beyond that and no intention of getting sucked into the industry that is modern day running.

As for me, I've not raced in a good while now, not been down to running club but have been heading out onto the hill behind the house, exploring all sorts of nooks and crannies, sometimes making big efforts, sometimes walking, sometimes heading straight up the hill track, sometimes fumbling my way down off-path through the tussocks and bogs of these north-facing slopes. And I love it!

There's a balance in my life right now, which wasn't there in the past. I love my runs, I look forward to them, I enjoy them in the moment (because, if I'm not feeling on top form, I can just take it easy), I love the views, I love the fact that I see nobody up on those quiet hills.

But I also love the fact that I'm generally up and down and back home within a couple of hours. Plenty of time to pursue other interests, time to spend with Kirsten, time to prepare the house for our imminent arrival. In the past, running almost bordered on an obsession (almost bordered? Who am I trying to kid!). The truth is, and I still see this with plenty of other people now, it fills a hole, it plugs a gap, which could otherwise be filled with something more negative. It's no coincidence that the fellrunning world (the long distance one in particular) is full of people with histories of depression, addiction and, generally negative behaviours, who have found salvation amongst the hills.

Whether it be age, experience, circumstances, state of mind or something else, the fact is I have no need to plug the gaps any more. Funnily enough, there don't seem to be any gaps, and that's before our little lass comes along and fills our every waking thought and deed (and fills every cloth nappy!)

I'm not sure if or when I will race again. I may do so, but it will be on my terms and because I want to. I missed another chance this weekend - the start of the Lochaber Winter League and the 4 mile canal bank race. It really didn't appeal. We did go and marshall though, and I thoroughly enjoyed directing everyone back up onto the canal bank as they headed for home, offering what support I could and taking pleasure in the smiles on their faces.

And, on Sunday, we headed up to Inverness, where I'd been asked to present an award at the Inverness Blitz Awards Evening and we had a wonderful time, marveling at the commitment and dedication of both the young people who picked up their awards, but also the people at the club who make it all happen and provide their time and energies to make a difference to the lives of all those young people.

I'd already been thinking it was about time I gave some more back and tried to help make a difference. I did the LiRF some time ago and I always thought about doing the CiRF. Perhaps it's time to do something about it, help out with the next generation of runners and see if, just maybe, I can incorporate my philosophy in respect of the joy of running into the inevitable rigidity of modern day coaching.

I'm running free........

Friday 9 August 2013

It's The Beginning of a New Love Inside.......

“Everything keeps changing, nothing ever stays the same” as some wise old lyricist once said. Couldn’t have put it better myself. The older I get, the more I realise just how true that is. Nothing is ever the same, from moment to moment, let alone over longer spans of time.

We may think our home environment stays the same, but it’s the very changing of that environment which makes it so exciting for us. The changing seasons, the changing wildlife, the changing weather, the changing human habitation, they all make for variation and change, however subtle.

The woods where we walk the dogs in the morning may, initially, be regarded as “the same” but it only takes a moment to consider all the variables which transform them. Only a couple of weeks ago, the ground was parched, the burn had dried up completely and the foliage had started to wither in the heat. This morning, it was a damp picture, droplets hanging from every leaf, moisture oozing from every crevice and the ferns, mosses, brackens and bushes glowing with vibrant colour, nourished by the rain.

Only a couple of days ago, we’d noticed a wee mushroom growing out of tree roots in the middle of the path, a delicate fungi battling for survival. This morning, it was transformed, several times the size in only a few days.

And so it is with all things in life.

If ever we find ourselves in a happy situation, satisfied with all that life is offering us, we often find ourselves thinking “I hope everything stays just as it is now”. And yet the one thing we can be sure about is that it won’t.

All of which can lead to only one conclusion....if we seek constant happiness in our lives, then we must be able to adapt to change, embrace the positive aspects and roll with the punches. And this, to my mind, suggests that we should never take an entrenched position on anything, because the circumstances which lead us to have a certain opinion will surely change and that may mean our opinion has to change.

And why is all this relevant? Well, purely and simply because it applies to everything in my life right now. It’s very much a period of change. I struggle sometimes when I’m not in control of a situation and that’s certainly the case right now.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always enjoyed solo running? I feel in control of my own destiny and I can take things at my own pace, follow my own route and do what I wish. The essential compromise of being part of a group has never really appealed to me.

And, at this moment, that’s very much where my running is at. I’ve not been to club for a good while, I’ve managed to duck out of races I’d entered and I’ve headed off on solo jaunts (or rather, I’ve headed off with Sam the Dog) when I’ve felt like it (or when Sammy rolls those puppy-dog eyes at me!) with no set agenda, sometimes putting in big efforts, sometimes walking more than running.

And the truth is, I feel happier about my running than I have for a good while. I’ll always love the feeling of moving fast over rough terrain and, on those days when it all comes together and feels natural, I’ll continue to do that. Otherwise, I can now feel no pressure on days when I don’t feel so good. In the past, I may have “forced” the run, head down, missing all the glorious views and nature around me, all for the sake of “training”. Now, I’ll just as happily walk for a while and have a lovely time, knowing I’ll run another day.

And will I race again? At the moment, the answer is probably no. I’ve got so much to explore here and I love this quiet area of the Highlands so much, why would I spend all my time travelling off to far-flung places to follow a couple of hundred other people around busy hills? I’ll plan to do the local club winter league races, because they’re small, local and good bit of fun. But who knows if that will change?

At this time, I’m also enjoying my cycling every bit as much as my running. Getting the road bike has been a revelation (thanks Dad!!). From the moment I sat on it and felt the acceleration as I headed up the road, I’ve been hooked. This is NOT a mountain bike!

I’d never ridden a road bike before and it’s certainly taken some getting used to. I’ve never been that confident on a bike, so even simple things like taking a drink while riding have had to be worked on. Perhaps that’s part of the attraction, it’s something new and exciting, with plenty to learn.

But I know it is more than that. As with when I started fellrunning, I’m loving the distances that can be covered in relatively short spaces of time. Whereas a 90 minute run may cover 9 or 10 miles (depending on terrain), I can happily cover 25 miles on the single-track coast road down to Corran, taking in all the wonderful sights along the way.

For a wee while, I thought I might be getting hooked into being competitive on the bike. There’s a regular time trial held by West Highland Wheelers, and I’ve contemplated going. I may still, for the novelty. But, again, at this time, I’m enjoying the freedom of going out and listening to my body and mind in determining how hard I want to push myself on any given day.

The other factor is whether to go out and ride with a group. It seems everyone does it, and I am partly attracted to it, if nothing else, for the opportunity to learn from people with experience and knowledge. But, at the same time, I’ve read a few accounts of group rides, which seem to consist of doing nothing but focussing on the back tyre in front of you, responding to shouts of “pothole” etc and trying not to break ranks. That sounds about as appealing as plodding up a hill in an endless line of runners, only able to see the back of the shorts of the person in front. Why would you?

So what else is changing? (Why, everything, of course!). What has me contemplating and navel-gazing on the nature of life?

Well quite a lot really, much to make me contemplative.

Firstly, after over 20 years of owning my house in Shropshire, it’s now getting pretty close to being at an end. The sale has dragged on and on, but finally I have a completion date and a buyer who’s really keen to get in there.

So, a couple of weekends ago, I headed down to clear the house and help my lad move into his new place. Both were events which had me in reflective mood. Moving your “child” into his first place of his own is one of those events which drives home the message that they’re growing up and the ties that bind you need to be loosened a little bit more. It seems like only yesterday that he was a wee lad needing my every care and attention. The years have flown by, in merely the blink of an eye, and now I find myself proud of a lad who has taken on the task of finding himself somewhere with great enthusiasm and responsibility. Another milestone on the way through both of our lives.

As for clearing the old place, it was strange to be back there now, spending a couple of nights on my own in a near-empty shell. Memories can’t help but bombard you, both good and bad, times of happiness, times of stress and difficulty. Some of those memories have perhaps been buried over time, but naturally re-surface at such a time. There’s nowt wrong with that. Life moves on, everything changes, and they can perhaps be looked at in a different light and laid to rest.

Despite the memories, I felt nothing for the house any more. It’s tired and lifeless, and I’m probably more excited by the fact that someone is coming in who plans to breathe new life into it. It’s not where I choose to be any longer, but it was a major part of my life and, in particular, where I brought up my lad. It’s nice to think someone new may get to forge similar memories.

I also spent a fair bit of time up in the loft, reaching into far flung corners to retrieve boxes, some of which hadn’t been opened for 20 years, since the move to the house. That was perhaps even more bizarre, partly unsettling but ultimately life-affirming – a glimpse back into who I was in my mid-20s, a very different person to who I am now, leading a very different life.

Sometimes, you perhaps need to come face to face with your previous self, to allow you to recognise those factors which might have held you back then, but which shouldn’t be allowed to hold you back as you move forward. Back in those days, my true wishes and desires for life were suppressed in favour of the “norm”, a cosy little life which was always destined to failure – you can only keep your true self hidden for so long. Lessons were learned, threats noted, skeletons placed firmly back in closets, upturned stones replaced and, several trips to the tip later, goodbyes to an old life were waved.

Next up will be another house move! We’ve moved a few times these past few years. We’re masters at it! But I don’t think either of us relishes the prospect of boxing up our lives again, although we’re both excited by the move.

As soon as we came to this place, we fell in love with it. It’s quiet, beautiful and the addition of the sea loch to beautiful mountains in every direction has really entranced us. We’d only been here a couple of months before we started to talk about staying. The more we settled in, the more we loved it and we talked about buying the current place off our landlady.

And then a house came up for sale 2 miles down the road. Perched up on the hill well above the road, with views down to Loch Eil and across to Gulvain through Fassfern at the front, and views from the back straight up “our” path onto Stob Choire a Chearcaill, we fell in love with it at once. A cheeky offer was submitted....and refused! But a bit of negotiation has secured us the place at a more than reasonable price, for what and where it is. The plan is this will be our last house move (but, as we know, everything can change!). We can’t wait to be in and should be by the end of September. More change, but very positive!

All of which leads to perhaps the biggest change – both in terms of our lives and in terms of changing my mind on something I once held a fixed position on. 

This is a wonderful place to live, almost a step back in time. People over here are not concerned with celebrity lifestyles, shops and consumerism. They’re far too busy enjoying the simple things in life, be that walking by the water and on the hills, sailing on the loch, tending to gardens and crofts, keeping chickens, chopping wood for their fires and just generally dealing with the true necessities of life.

It’s a wonderful place for a youngster to grow up. A place where playing could still involve the innocence of tree houses and discovering plants, shells, birds and animals in the undergrowth. A place where it’s safe to be out and you know that someone in the community will be looking out for them, where the neighbour might encourage them to come and help collect the eggs from the chickens, the mobile library might bring new treasures each week and the non-stop march of technology may just be held enough at bay for now. A place where a child can be a child, something sadly missing these days.

Life will change enormously and, certainly, a year or so ago, I would never have planned it. But I’ve changed too (of course!). I’m looking forward to the ups, the downs, the pleasure, the worry and the knowledge that, in my more “mature” years, I’ll be able to enjoy it even more, adapting to those changes.

I’m not the person I was and I’m not the person I will be, but the person I am right now is very happy and is thoroughly looking forward to the future.