Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday so it must be time for our weekly trip to beautiful Switzerland. We haven’t been able to go back there recently but it’s still a country which means so much to our family.

As a child I would visit the local library most Saturday mornings. I would spend a couple of hours reading books while sat next to the libraries little goldfish pond. One of my favourite books was an old book on climbing. Lots of pictures of a dreamlike country called Switzerland. It just seemed like a different world to a young lad from a grey and rundown Yorkshire seaside town. I so wanted to go there. Many years later I got my wish. See dreams can come true.

Flying towards Geneva and seeing The Alps for the first time was awe inspiring. Then the next seven days confirmed just how special this country.

It’s that good that photographs just can’t come close to capturing how beautiful and epic it is. Simply breathtaking.

So I will keep dreaming that soon our family can return there. Because dreams can come true.

Lost in the snow

I found this old photo just randomly lying in the bottom of a box of all junk. I don’t know why I kept it. I’m thankful now as it reminds me of a long forgotten memory. I can’t remember which mountain it was. Not sure even which country it is in. Anyway it’s from over 20 years ago. I had been solo climbing . Not a difficult climb but it took a few hours of hard work. Definitely needed ropes and was very definitely vertical. Best described as a 200ft cliff. At the top of the climb it immediately opened up onto the summit top. A large and very gentle dome. As I scrambled over the edge I saw a figure stood in the distance. No idea why but I took a photo. He turned and watched me slowly walk towards him. I must have been a sight. Full winter climbing gear, ropes, ice axes. Completely sodden with all the wet snow. Steam rising off me. I had some blood dripping onto the snow from an encounter with a particularly sharp rock. I felt bad about staining the snow.

Next followed one of those conversations that just stay with you.

********

“Hello, it looks like you have had fun”

It was hard work but fun. It’s very, very steep.

“Your bleeding”

It’s ok, looks worse than it is.

“I’m lost, I’m trying to work out which way it is back down”

Where are you trying to get to.

“I want to get back to my car. Is the way down your way?”

No, no, no, no, no. Most definitely not that way.

“Oh I wonder which way it is then.”

At a guess with the position of the sun, the time and the atmospheric conditions. It’s that way behind you.

“Wow you good, how can you tell from that”.

I really can’t but I can clearly see your footprints in the snow. I’m guessing you just need to follow them all the way down.

*********

And a few seconds later he was off retracing his footprints. Now I could go on about the risks of winter hillwalking when your clearly not properly prepared. But actually how often do we all find ourselves in that position. Rapidly out of our depths, lost, confused, unprepared and probably very tired. Not forgetting how close we are to potentially walking off the cliff edge. I certainly feel that way quite often.

Yes I’m glad I kept that photo.

Running to or from it

A view from one of my old running haunts. A wonderful place. Basically had the tracks to myself. Me, some farm land and nature. I enjoyed the peace.

Isn’t that strange. Looking back I really valued my space. Having some solitude. Yet fast forward to September 2020 and I fear the solitude and isolation becoming a prison. Surrounded by cold, grey walls.

Just can’t make my mind up can I.

But it is a genuine fear of mine. Becoming completely isolated. Cut adrift.

At present I am ok. I’m finding a way through the ever present danger of isolation. I still have dreams of a different life. There are people who care. We can find ways to stay in touch. I have a workable life balance at present. Not great but not too bad. The risk is that I know myself. I know how easily I can lose confidence. How my social skills can desert me. How I can start to overthink. Become too inward looking. That’s the danger zone for me. Then I can easily be sucked into a completely isolated lifestyle. A lifestyle which is not sustainable or healthy for me.

The other worry is that in the modern world it is so easy to be cut adrift. So easy for people to stop calling round. To stop noticing you. Just one unknown face in the crowd. It felt like that for a long time after I lost my partner. People stopped calling. I was just that unseen face in the crowd.

So for me it’s finding a balance. Enjoying more solitude but avoiding complete isolation. I guess it’s like climbing in thick hill fog. You might be relatively close to others, but they can’t see you. You might as well be alone. The solo climbing can be enjoyable but it can also be unnerving. You are never quite sure how close you are to the precipice. How close to falling over the edges do when your alone, no one will be there to stop you.

But the hope is that if it’s like the climbing metaphor. I’ve been caught out in those white out adventures many times. Yes they have been challenging, a little scary at times. But I’ve so far avoided falling off the edge. That represents hope.

Signposts

Sometimes it’s good for me to know my place in life. To get a sense of where I stand. I guess like most people I can be guilty of over playing things. Sometimes under playing them. Misinterpreting or even missing clear signposts. Going down a path which is either wrong or just ultimately a dead end. The path could be a project, a relationship, a friendship, work, a dream, life in general. But every so often something happens that finally helps ground me. Get a better bearing of where I am. Shining a light on the direction I am heading. It could be a conversation, some written words, an action, an event or even an outcome. Doesn’t really matter what the source is, it’s just good to have that moment of clarity.

I think I’ve had one of those moments of clarity over the last few days. Still trying to process it. But it feels like I’ve been potentially heading down a wrong path. Definitely time to think and assess.

I remember climbing in Scotland when I was in my early thirties. I was climbing alone and trying a route which was just about within my capabilities. I was sticking to what I thought was a promising route to the top. I missed (or chose to miss) so many signs clearly indicating I was heading the wrong way. After hours of hard work I came to a dead end. Light was starting to fade and I had no choice but to abandon and go down. Never did go back to re-climb that rock face. Such a waste of beautiful climbing conditions. Still kick myself for ignoring the clear signals that day. Less stubborn, more aware and I would have easily made it to the top. That was probably my one and only shot at that climb. But what was ironic was that at the same time I was in a job that seemed promising. But again I missed the signposts. A few months later I suddenly realised that I was at a dead end. The dream job was a bit of a disaster. It felt like months of effort had been wasted.

One day I might start to open my eyes to the signposts. They are there if I just take the time to look.

J

Lists

Some of the plants are already starting to show some Autumnal colours. It’s only August….

It’s 131 days to Christmas. In normal times 131 days sounds like ages. I suspect this year it may not seem such a generous amount of time for many people, including parents. Pandemic rules, shopping restrictions, reduced product availability, money just that bit tighter, many still isolating. Plus remember last year – one of Hawklads presents was ordered in November and finally arrived in March. Yep this might be a challenge. I think I need to write a list. Yes I am good at doing lists. Unfortunately I am not so good at following list. And as for trying to find those lists after a few days – I’m a complete disaster. I need a list to help find the lists.

Occasionally I do stumble across long forgotten lists. I found one recently dating back 15 years. It was a list of mountains I had set myself a goal of climbing. 60 bucket list climbs. 15 years and I had ticked three as climbed. Another one had been attempted but I had to turn round near the top as I came across someone who had hurt their knee. So ended up helping her back down. So that’s 4. In my book just attempting a climb and coming back in one piece counts as ticking it off. Basically been stuck on 56 to go for years now. That’s another one of my great lists just basically gathering dust. Maybe I can change the wording on that list. How about 56 bucket list climbs that I will never complete. Change the wording and suddenly the list is completed. I can then bin it.

But no. The original list went back into the cupboard. A bit of paper soon to be lost again. This time I took a photo of the 56 climbs still to be attempted. Actually added a couple of Himalayan mountains to the list – might as well make it more sexy. The list is on my iPad now. So it won’t be lost and actually it might be a rare useful Gary list. It’s a great reminder that I’ve STILL got stuff to do and achieve in my life. It might seem like that I have not yet ticked off many things from my life lists but from today that CAN start to change.

With one hand

August 2018

It’s been too long since I stood by the sea. Far too long. For someone born in a small north eastern seaside town, that’s tough. Genuinely don’t know when it will happen again. My gut feel is not in 2020. Our Government of Fools has now start reversing it’s rushed reopening plans. Yesterday it was perfectly safe to visit cinemas without a mask. Today you MUST wear a mask for your favourite movie. Yet kids and teachers are still expected to go mask free in classrooms. Last Friday we were being told to support the holiday industry and travel as it was safe. Just days later that all changed and more countries are being urgently added to the quarantine list with thousands of tourists now already out there. Even though those countries have much lower rates of deaths and infections than the UK.

Tougher lockdown regimes are being reintroduced into some areas with significantly rising infection rates . One such area is uncomfortable close to us. That is doing nothing for Hawklads anxiety levels. And now his garden consultation with his new health worker is in doubt. Such visits are now under review again. Somedays it feels like it’s one step forward and then one back. That’s at a time when his obsessive hand washing and fear of touching surfaces continues to mount.

But there is always hope and is it really one step forward, one step back…

When I first started climbing I hated having to retrace steps. One step forward, one step back seemed such a waste. A failure. Something to be avoided at all costs. But over time I learnt wiser ways. Things like climbing in things like pink compression tops and tight blue leggings is really not cool at all. Things like collecting rain water from rocky pools to drink might be a life saver but it doesn’t taste as nice as a can of coke stuffed into my climbing pack. Things like it’s not a great team building idea to lead a pitch when you have spilt asunder your tight blue leggings. I also learned that retracing steps is often a good thing. The times a few moments of retreat and sideways steps actually leads to a much easier and safe climbing way forward.

So yes things are tough and that garden visit would be useful but…..

The word BUT sounds to negative, maybe however is better.

However we do at least have access to the service still. That’s a huge bonus. The garden visit would bring stress currently, so if it doesn’t happen then it’s one less thing for Hawklad to worry about. It also encourages us both to try new things, see if we can find our own way through this maze. There will be things we haven’t tried. Maybe potential help has been there all the time and we just haven’t looked hard enough for it. Too much relying on someone else to find it for us. Maybe the only solution for Hawklad is to bunker down for a few more months until those clever vaccine people find something that works. So maybe retracing some steps is the best way forward.

There is always hope and yes I still have a pair of tight blue leggings…..

Groundhog Night

Three hours sleep in two days. All of that came the night before. Surely I should be more tired. Yes a little sleepy. Bags under my eyes – that could be Soya poisoning. Much yawning but still functioning. One of those long nights. Watched happy videos to bring smiles. But eventually the iPad ran out of juice and had to be pipped some of that electricity to bring it back to life. If only we had that option.

Can’t face watching night time TV. Please no QVC or car makeovers. Sleep refusing to come so then it was reading time. A book about a failed climbing expedition. Not happy reading. Loss of precious life, loss of fingers and toes. Was that final reckless push for the top really worth it. Only those climbers will know. My view of success in the mountains was always a little different. Success was seen as returning to camp in one piece with new experiences banked – the summit was just a bonus.

The read and the slow passing night did nothing for my spirit. The clock hands refusing to push forward quick enough. The hours dragging. Mood slowly sinking as fast as my chances of getting any sleep. That feeling of being alone. The iPad still drinking in electricity so no happy videos to lift me up.

Finally the dawn breaks and I’m out in the cool, damp morning air. Probably pushed myself too hard on the exercise. My body didn’t need that but for some reason my mind decided that was what was needed.

Now the day is here. Staggeringly I am not feeling tired. The iPad is back in business again. Quick video, look at some photos. Then a hot drink sat watching the moody Yorkshire skies. My mood lifted. Hawklad will soon be up. Not feeling alone. Almost time to rumble. The day beckons.

Let’s hope it’s not Groundhog Night.

Bleak

It’s another bleak old day. Definitely a two jumper day. July 4th was the day when many places like pubs reopened in the England. Well in some parts, rather briefly. A local attraction here opened at 10am and closed a couple of hours later due to the bad weather and high winds. Definitely a two jumper (sweater) day.

Definitely a day for no house work. Disney Plus movies, warm drinks and giving son the attention he needs.

This photograph reminded me of old times. Pre parenting days. When I went through tough periods. When I went through challenging times. Times when I seemed to stumble and constantly lose my way. I would need to reset my inner self. Take a breather. Back then I would book a climbing or walking trip. A weekend in the wilderness. The bleaker the better. That’s what I needed to do my personal reset. Yes I would be tired on my late Sunday drive back but normally I was in a much better mind set. Ready to rumble again.

Fast forward to 2020. Those climbing and walking trips are no more. Single parenting means no timeouts. No weekend long resets. Just keep going. Any internal resets have to be done on the hoof. So with some uplifting words from a friend swirling around my mind, I find myself outside. Sat on the garden fence with a hot drink. Taking a few minutes to breathe. Imagining walking through the bleak landscapes and starting a reset. Yes definitely time to go again.

A trip many moons ago

I stumbled across a few old photos. From a time before parenting. Even before my first ever digital camera… A time when my body was still young and I could run up mountains. A time when the wind would still blow my thick long black hair across my face.

A trip to the West Side of Northern England. To the Lake District and to one of Englands most famous mountains. The Old Man of Coniston. It’s not a huge mountain standing at just over 2600ft. But it’s steeped in history. It’s positioned next to the beautiful Coniston Water. The walk to the top takes you through old copper mine workings. Alongside a couple of stunning little tarns. Then finally onto a summit with sweeping views.

Hopefully one day I will return to the summit. A summit climb with considerably less hair. Which will take much longer this time and feature many sandwich stops..

Needs work

Another moody Yorkshire summer afternoon. Everyday it’s such a blessing to wake to this view. No wonder my partner fell in love with this house within seconds. And as ever she was on the right side of the conversation. The ‘needs work’ line was a little weak. Actually it still needs work but that view is still here. Tell me what’s more important.

Looking back my line about ‘needs work’ was more about avoiding change. Sticking with what we had. Avoiding that leap of faith. That’s been a theme of my life story so far. I always think my past climbing hobby is a perfect reflection of life. Many goals set but never attempted. It was easier to avoid them, find excuses. Too much caution climbing routes. Using fear and self doubt as an excuse to avoid those more challenging climbs. Backing away from leaps of faith. Yes I had fun but what could have been.

Now the life safety net has been removed. Single parenting and being without that person who held my hand on those big steps. Life has changed but so am I. It’s a slow process but it’s happening. Now is the time to face some of those fears which have held me back. Time to start ditching those constraints that have grounded me. Time to re-evaluate myself. Only by doing that can I be that parent our son truly deserves. Yes the one who protects him but the one who also encourages him to truly flourish. To be that person who he truly wants to be. To live his life.