Of course, I really should spend some time in the house soon. It's not going to decorate itself after all. We've got a plasterer coming on Tuesday to do a final awkward bit, and I'll do a DIY update after that.
Looking back at my pictures from the last few weeks, it's quite clear I've spent most of the time I've not been at work wandering the countryside. The weather's been good here, and I can't bear to be stuck in this dusty, half decorated house. After work, and at the weekend, I'm just desperate to go outside.
This was a brief stop on the way back from a little market town with a friend. I've driven past here countless times, but never stopped and walked down the path a little way.
A bit of clambering (and a bit of swearing) and we found ourselves quite high up and looking out quite a long way.
Another day, we went to another market town looking for a new house. When we go somewhere new, we like to wander about and see what's close.
I'd happily live near here. It was pretty hilly, mind you.
Next, our trips took a less scenic (but more tasty) turn, with cake and a fair in a park.
One evening after work, as the light faded, we headed out to the peak district. There was no epic sunset, and there were a party of scouts whose shouts echoed around the valley, but it was still peaceful.
Yesterday the sun shone, and when a friend suggested a trip out after tea, we jumped at the chance. We hadn't eaten, so we took slices of pizza and a bit of cake, and found a 'beach' (or as close to a beach as we get round here) by a reservoir.
We skimmed stones and watched as the sun set over the hills.
Sometimes even just going out for an hour can feel like a rest. After work, it feels like a whole other day.
Of course, I really should spend some time in the house soon. It's not going to decorate itself after all. We've got a plasterer coming on Tuesday to do a final awkward bit, and I'll do a DIY update after that.
After my slow start to the year on the reading front, things have picked up over the last couple of months, partly because I've been on holiday, and one of my favourite things to do on holiday is to head straight to a charity shop and pick up a large pile of books. So here goes - what I've been reading in March and April.
Running Free: A Runner's Journey Back to Nature (Richard Askwith)
This book sat on my shelf for a good while as the opening chapter irritated me and I couldn't get past it. I thought it was going to be all 'isn't it terrible that people wear GPS watches', and I quite like my GPS watch, and didn't want to feel told off. However, I'm glad I got past that as the rest of the book was actually quite charmingly enthusiastic about running in fields and listening to the birds. Made me want to run a bit more.
Purple Hibiscus (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
I found this via a friend, who suggested this Ted Talk about the dangers of telling a single story about a place and the people who live there (for example 'Africa = famine'). Do go and listen to it. I took on board what the speaker said, and decided to start with her own first novel, and got her second out of the library at the same time as I know what I'm like for finding an author and reading everything they've ever written. This is an evocative story of a young Nigerian girl who ends up living in her aunt's house, much poorer but free from her abusive father. In places it's quite disturbing, but overall positive. This is the book she refers to in the talk, which someone told her wasn't 'authentically African'.
Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
This is the author's second, much more involved novel, and tells the story of the outbreak of war in Nigeria in the late 1960s. This is a place and period of history I knew nothing about, and I always learn about historical events better through novels and the stories of individual people. This gives a vivid picture of the lives of people both before and during the war and the famine that followed. Highly recommended.
Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters (Laura Thompson)
I don't quite know how I ended up with this book, which is a brief biography of the six upper class Mitford sisters in the 1920s and beyond. Fascinating, disturbing, and rather odd.
The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year (Sue Townsend)
I'm still not sure what I thought of this. Rather daft, although I confess I identified with the desire to just stop doing things and take to my bed at the start. Increasingly sad and disturbing (and quite ridiculous) towards the end.
Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (Maya Angelou)
This is the kind of book you can't really write until you get into your sixties I don't think - full of tales and advice and snippets of wisdom acquired over a long eventful life. I read the first volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography at school, and read the other six volumes since - but I've just discovered all manner of other things I didn't know about her in this wikipedia entry. Incidentally, she was good friends with one of the Mitford sisters.
Fruit of the Lemon (Andrea Levy)
Another holiday charity shop find, and continuing my theme of reading in detail about individual lives, whether real or fictional. This one is fictional, but is about a young woman being sent from London to Jamaica to learn about her family and background.
So a fairly random assortment, as usual. I'm not much of a literary critic... but it's proving interesting to keep track of what I'm reading over the months and it's making me more aware of finding new authors I think, and encouraging me to put aside more time to read, which can only be a good thing.
After all my preparations (which by a normal cyclist's standards wouldn't really count as 'training'), my 62 mile bike race was thwarted by tonsillitis. Most vexing, not least because I had my tonsils removed when I was seven, and they appear to have grown back for the sole purpose of causing trouble. Is it just me who thinks that's a bit weird? Well, apparently it can happen, and according to this source (reliability unknown) it can happen, sometimes in people who eat too much cake. Hmm.
Anyway, I was far too poorly to do the race, or even go and watch my sister and her friends, who had a grand old time without me. I was most disappointed (really!)
Still, it hasn't stopped me cycling now I'm feeling better. On Sunday morning it was so gloriously warm and the sun was streaming in through the windows and I just couldn't stand the thought of staying inside for the whole day. One of the things I love about cycling regularly is that the bike is always ready and waiting by the back door, and I don't need to do half an hour of maintenance and faffing before I go out. So off I went, up into the woods again.
This is my extended cycling to work route, just under ten miles, and takes me just under an hour. It's not exactly flat, although most of the uphill bit is in the woods, so the scenery is nicely distracting.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened on Sunday - I went out, cycled through the woods, and was home in time for second breakfast. It feels good to be fit enough to just decide to cycle ten miles on the spur of the moment for no reason other than 'it's sunny'.
And being fit enough to do that means that I'm not daunted by the prospect of cycling ten miles between work venues in a day, as I did today - which saved me a whole lot of time waiting for a bus.
I'm off work in a couple of weeks, and it looks like my time off will be split by a holiday together, and a few days on my own. I'm thinking me and my bicycle might take off for a country road somewhere, possibly Scotland. I've not done that for a good few years, but I think now might be the time...
We're getting to the stage where we could, if necessary, put things in cupboards and throw our house to the mercy of the market in its current state (although we'd rather finish off a few little bits first). It feels nearly there.
We've started to look at new houses again. We never stopped looking on the internet, of course, but after a brief flurry a couple of years ago we hadn't visited any, as we knew we just weren't ready to sell. Now it feels like we could if we found the right house, so our weekends are a mix of DIY and pottering around other people's houses.
We've seen three in the last few weeks - all lovely on paper, but not-quite-right in reality. The first was near here, and had lots of rooms, but they were all smaller than the rooms we have here, and some were very dark. It's the perfect house for someone though and is already sold.
The second we adored. Old and higgledy piggledy and cottagey, with lawns and vegetable beds and outbuildings, and not too far away from work. But again, the rooms were small, and an odd layout, and even I had to duck to go through some of the doorways. We would have made it work - but not for the price the current owners wanted. We've left that information with them and I don't expect to hear back.
Yesterday's house was pretty. We had an inkling it would be too small, and it was, although downstairs was more spacious than we thought. The garden though was lovely - but overlooked by the houses over the road, which hadn't been clear on the pictures. Having lived here, where the street runs right past the garden, I'm fed up of being watched while I potter.
But it's making me ponder on the intangible something we want from a new house, which is so hard to define. We tell estate agents we want somewhere detached, with a decent, non-overlooked garden with room for chickens, and a spare downstairs room to use for music - and those are our main requirements. There are plenty of houses that have those things, but they're just not right, for reasons we're finding hard to explain even to ourselves.
Maybe we don't have to explain. Maybe we'll know it when we feel it. Or maybe not - maybe there are many potential future homes that we would be very happy in, and the trick is just finding one we can afford that's close enough to work. We don't have an endless budget, after all, so we're unlikely to get everything we'd like in one house.
One thing we've decided that we do want, and that is quite hard to explain to estate agents, is hanging out space. We want to be able to have people sitting round the kitchen table, and still have room to make tea. We want to lounge in the living room and not feel like the walls are closing in. I'm thinking we may need something slightly larger than a teensy cottage (however cute).
So the search continues, and we try to turn each trip into a mini adventure, exploring new places (or revisiting old ones). Yesterday we were particularly fortunate as the sun shone, and we ate a chip butty sitting on the steps in a little market town I've not been to for fifteen years.
The scenery on the journey was glorious, but even thirty miles was just too far for a daily commute on those roads. It took forever to get home (I admit it would have been slightly quicker if I hadn't kept stopping to take photographs).
So we're back to the (online) drawing board. In the meantime, today we are most excited to be putting down the landing carpet after treading only on floorboards for over a year. But first it's such a sunshiney day that I'm going to sneak off on my bike for an hour.
I've only done this cycling-in-the-woods-before-work thing twice now but it's already starting to feel like a habit.
The first three miles are on the road - a main road, but most of the traffic is heading into town so I sail past the queues in the opposite direction. After a mile or so downhill it flattens out, and then slowly starts to creep upwards. I admit this bit is quite tedious, but in just twenty minutes I'm faced with this.
This reservoir marks the start of the path into the woods. On Monday I saw a deer here, peeking through the trees.
It also marks the start of the mud.
This was the worst of it actually, and even this wasn't too bad. I don't have a mountain bike, and just have to hold my nerve and hope I don't fall off (while realising that if I do, nothing really bad is going to happen as I'm heading uphill so there's no chance of a high speed topple). There was no wind on Monday morning, and the trees were reflected in the puddles.
The path diverges here. To the left, through a gate, is a rocky stream, which wends its way upwards by a steep path, impossible to cycle up even on a mountain bike (for me, at least). To the right is the old carriage track, which takes a slightly longer, less steep route to the top.
The path is rocky here and not so muddy, which makes it easier to ride on, although it can be a bit tricky navigating round the stones. It feels like a good core workout though.
The path winds through the woods, turning left at the end there and going up the slope to the side.
It feels more dramatic up here, and you get a good view as the bank drops away to the left to join the rocky stream below.
Near the top, rocky outcrops line the path.
These woods are a local nature reserve, and are part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and I feel privileged to be able to wander through them at will on my way (kind of) to work. I really must get up there and walk along the path by the brook again soon.
After two or three miles through the woods I reached the road again. A quiet road for the first mile or two, and mostly downhill, so I stood up on my pedals and sailed along singing to myself as I headed towards the city. Not a bad start to the day at all.
Are you sick of my cycling posts yet? Because I'm nowhere near the end of my enthusiasm so you might have to bear with them for a little while longer I'm afraid.
This weekend's inspired plan was to drive out to somewhere flat, and get in my last (er, and first) long ride before the 62 mile race, which is now in less than three weeks. The day didn't start well when I got lost on the way to the car park, and it took me nearly two hours to drive 45 miles. I paid for four hours of parking, and set off along the trail, only to be faced with a hill - small, but definitely not flat by my reckoning.
Fortunately this was the only major incline, and cyclists were advised to dismount (which I did, of course).
This was an out and back route for me, and I'd one my homework and started at the bottom of the very gentle (but very long) climb, thinking I'd put in the effort on the way out, and coast all the way home.
Fat chance. 'Flat' takes on a different meaning when you're on a bike, and when wind is involved, flat almost becomes irrelevant. I stopped after about six miles to take stock.
It had taken me a good 45 minutes to get to this point, and I confess I was tempted to turn round. But this was meant to be a long ride, which meant it had to be a decent proportion of the 62 miles of the race. Thirteen miles just wasn't going to cut it.
Where to turn round though? After twelve miles there was a signpost advising of a cafe two miles ahead. If I stopped there, that would mean a 28 mile round trip. When I got to the cafe though, there was a picnic spot signed another mile ahead - which would mean a 30 mile round trip. But 30 miles was tantilisingly close to half way through the race, and I decided that psychologically it would feel good to have broken the half way barrier....
At sixteen miles I stopped. Just stopped, in the middle of the path, to the slight bemusement of a family who I'd just overtaken (and would have to overtake again a few moments later). I had a fleeting thought of 'I'll just get to that bridge...' but no, some sense took hold and I turned round to head back to the car, by now wise to the fact that my nice downhill coast home wasn't going to be any such thing.
You see, it was windy. I laughed when I stopped, as the wind was almost imperceptible when I was still, but on the bike I was having to lean sideways to avoid being blown off. Some of the trail is within deep cuttings which are a bit more sheltered, but the open sections are very exposed, and, as I discovered (contrary to the laws of physics) the wind was blowing in both directions.
By this point I was that odd combination of grouchy and enjoying myself that I often get on a long bike ride or run, and amused myself by making a short video, which I'm not even going to show you because it's so dull, and illustrates nothing except how slowly I was going.
After 19 miles I arrived back at the cafe, and managed to get my fingers working enough to buy a Double Decker and drink some more of my (tepid) flask of tea. My grouchiness increased when I came across this sign - my car was in Ashbourne...
Still, if you've done 19 miles you can do another 13, right? Right. I admit the trail was getting rather repetitive by this point, and as it was getting close to lunchtime I was having to slow down to navigate around an increasing number of amblers, children and excitable dogs.
And, as I mentioned, I seemed to be going uphill again.
However, there is a perverse pleasure in discomfort brought on by exercise. Yes, I was getting tired, but look! I'd cycled 20 miles, 21, 22, and I was still going! Think of where I'd have got to if I'd set out from home and gone in a straight line! (Doncaster, probably, which is why I didn't). I started doing odd mental arithmetic, trying to work out how long the race would take me if I kept up my current speed ('all day' was the answer).
Eventually I did feel a slight downward slant in the trail, although I never got to the stage of freewheeling once in 32 miles, as the surface was too rough and the wind too strong. I passed my initial picnic spot (only six miles to go) then eventually reached the 'steep slope - cyclists dismount' sign again.
Yay - snacks, just 200 yards ahead! An excellent sign (although I wasn't in the market for an ice cream). My legs weren't too impressed at having to push up the other side of that hill mind you. But I was extremely glad of that kiosk, and inhaled yet another chocolate bar before performing a comedy manoeuvre trying to lift my utterly filthy (and slippery) bike into a car with a broken hydraulic arm which means I have to hold the back door open with my head.
Oddly enough nobody offered to help, and I'm far too stubborn to ask.
With six minutes left of my four hour parking ticket, I finally made it out of the car park. Thirty two miles, bike caked in grime, and one pair of worryingly muddy hand-knitted socks (whose idea was it to wear those??)
Two days later I'm not feeling it at all, which I'm taking as a good sign. I cycled to work today and neither my backside nor my knees objected once. Maybe all this cycling is actually making me a little fitter?
Talk to me about that again in three weeks...
It's been a here-and-there few weeks. Decorating, of course, and an unexpected trip to a permaculture gathering which made me think differently about a lot of things. And I've been cycling, in preparation for a 62 mile bike ride that's sneaking up on me faster than seems fair.
I've been trying to fit more cycling into my life without taking up too much time at the weekends. Cycling to work and back is good, but the round trip is less than three miles. I've been cycling to other places too, but haven't done more than six miles in a day for months now. I keep intending to take a detour on the way home from work, but it's dark and cold, and I'm usually tired and well in need of my tea (I know, excuses!)
This week I had a brilliant idea - why not take a detour on the way to work? I don't know why it didn't occur to me before. I've been trying to limit the amount of time I spend wading through social media posts in bed in the morning, and a happy outcome of that is that I get up and about earlier - and what better to fill that time with than cycling!
By happy chance I've stumbled on the perfect route - one I often run when I'm training for a longer race, but usually in the opposite direction. And so bright and early (well, early anyway) on Monday morning, I wrapped up and set off, whizzing down and then up along the road for the first three miles, then turning into this local Site of Special Scientific Interest.
I love it in here. It's a valley, so the path winds upwards, but I was cycling along an old carriage track so it's relatively flat (it made up for it with mud and cobbles though). There's a steep drop to the side of the track, which looks down on a small stream running over boulders with a steep rocky path alongside it, lovely to walk but for braver cyclists than me.
I reached the top eventually (as usual, it would have been quicker if I hadn't kept stopping to take pictures) and whizzed the final few miles downhill to work.
Nearly ten miles done before half 9, and it was glorious to be out in the sunshine and feel I'd done something weekendy before work. It's amazing what a difference it makes when you feel like the day isn't just work and dark. I'd not do it on a day I had an early meeting, but I'm normally pretty flexible about what time I start, and I was at my desk and ready by 9.30 which is no worse than usual.
This is definitely going to be a regular feature of my week, even when the ludicrous bike race is a distant memory...
I went back to work this week after a fortnight off, and while I'm enjoying the work itself, I'm not enjoying being shut in an office (even a light and airy one) for most of my daylight hours. Flicking back through my camera, my photos from the last couple of weeks are of outside (although I admit the sunrise above was taken through the bedroom window).
It's too cold to linger outside for long, but a brief spell always reminds me that this season isn't only sticks and drizzle. We stayed with some friends in Wales for new year, and I would happily have stared at their view for weeks on end.
It reminded me how important a nice view is in our house search. Right now we can see the houses on the other side of the street. There's more of a view from the attic, of course, but that's not where we spend most of our time. And that sunrise, while beautiful, was taken while standing on the bed, leaning out of the skylight - not the most relaxing place to have a cup of tea.
I think I'd be happy even if all I could see was my own garden. Just a bit of greenery to gaze on.
In the absence of such delightful views from my own living room, a friend and I found ourselves in the cafe at Idle Valley nature reserve last week. Their cafe overlooks a lake, and I could sit and stare at it all day.
As it happens we did stay for a good while, as it was rather chilly outside, and a nice elderly man in a tweed hat was regaling us with tales of his decades living abroad. But eventually he went back to his wife and, deciding we couldn't spend the entire day in the cafe (it is Uber Frugal January, after all), we wrapped up and walked around the lake.
The scenery isn't spectacular there, but it still looks good in the winter light with no leaves on the trees.
Closer to home, the local botanical gardens are looking rather more sculptural than usual.
I walked across town to meet a friend (in another cafe, oh dear - I will confess all at the end of the month). For once I was early, so I meandered through the gardens instead of taking the shorter route.
I often meet friends there in the summer, but never think to walk through in the winter.
Inside is cosy and warm, and it's far too easy to doze off under a blanket, but being outside makes me feel awake. And it reminds me that yes, it's cold, but spring will come soon enough.
Have you been outside this week? What's it like where you live?
We had a frost overnight, and this morning when I popped out for milk the grass was sparkling in the sunshine.
I spent a lot of time faffing about in the house, but eventually in the afternoon I managed to get outside.
I love this route. Down the hill, then up through the woods, up and up and up, round the top, and then back down the hill again. There wasn't much light in the woods.
Eventually I emerged at the top of the hill (with much huffing and puffing, I might add). It was cold, and the sky was turning pink.
It wasn't quite as dark as these pictures make it look, and I did stop for a quick hot chocolate (laced with mixed spice and almond extract - my new favourite thing). Then it was time to whizz back down the hill, grateful for my windproof jacket and thermal gloves, and wishing I had slightly less worn brake pads (I ordered new ones the minute I got home).
I've enjoyed these last couple of days of exercise and fresh air. We're visiting family again tomorrow so it'll likely be a day of indulgence and sitting around, but I've reawakened my enthusiasm for being outside so I hope there'll be much more of this in the new year.
A couple of days of sitting around is all I can manage it seems, and as the sun was shining this morning, I pulled on my boots and went for a walk.
I didn't take the car, just walked out of the front door and up the road. We're fortunate that we can be out in the countryside in about fifteen minutes here, and it wasn't long before I felt really quite far away.
You can just about see the city there in the middle of that picture above, about 3 miles and a whole world away.
After about four miles I was getting a bit peckish. Fortunately I'd packed a picnic.
Nothing fancy, just a bit of leftover pasta and a flask of hot chocolate (with a sprinkling of mixed spice and a dash of almond extract which made it feel ever-so-luxurious).
Oh, and a couple of biscuits, because you can't have a picnic without biscuits.
I love how food always tastes so much better when you're hungry and in the fresh air.
After my dinner (which didn't last long, as it was too chilly to be sitting down) I was revived and carried on with a spring in my step. A lot of my wanderings were on roads, but they were quiet back roads, and I barely saw anyone all afternoon.
Out in the middle of nowhere, I came across several sculptures in the woods.
At first I thought it was someone's garden, but it turned out to be the home of stoneface creative, a couple of local stone artists. Someone was hauling wood by the stream, and gave me a cheery wave. Most unexpected, and most cheerful.
I walked just over nine miles in the end, and it was so lovely to be out in the sunshine and the fresh air. It's been quite warm today - at one point I even considered taking my jumper off - but now I'm home I'm curled up under a blanket and very grateful for my hot water bottle.
I'm toying with making *move* my word of the year for 2017. Move house, yes, but also move me. I remembered today how much I love a nice long walk, and I plan to do a whole lot more of them next year. In between finishing the half marathon and starting the 62 mile bike ride I seem to have signed up for in March, that is...