January Photo a Day Challenge #2

The second part of the January Photo a Day challenge. Some of these were tough. Texture seems like an easy concept but getting something to fit and not be overly bland required a bit of thought. Bright just hit at the right moment. In bed thinking of inspiration, turned my head to one side.

7. Dark
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8. From a low angle
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9. Colourful
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10. Bright
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11. In between
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12. Texture
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Next up are ordinary, close-up, candid, happy, in my home and exercise.

That was my pang… It was my pride

Relationships are very interesting aren’t they? No matter to what level they develop, that you choose to be intimate – to whatever level – with someone, is disarming. It makes you vulnerable to allow someone access to the inner-sanctum of your needs/wants/desires. You may give someone the ability to hurt you. You supply them with ammunition which can lay you low. And you trust them, at least to some extent, not to use what you give them against you.

On Saturday I was at work and I saw an ex. I’m going to call her Sarah because her name is Sarah. It makes more sense that way. Sarah came into my life at a time when I needed someone or something to occupy me. She was exactly what I needed; just what the doctor ordered. I saw her on Saturday night. She saw me. We didn’t speak. She was out with friends, drunk. I was at work, sober. Also, I really don’t know what I would have to say to her given the opportunity.

Sarah chased me for a period of time and I eventually acquiesced and we went out. She massaged my ego massively. She was an attractive girl thirteen years my junior. She was interested in this old fart. Difficult to say no, no?

We went out a few times and it didn’t take long for me to realise that the age gap was more a chasm. A yawning, gaping, all-consuming, unassailable chasm. A void of difference between us. In the end we went our separate ways. She said she wanted to be ‘just friends’ when I raised the issue of us not actually bothering to see much of each other. I consider myself to be a friendly person. I’m kind, generous, engaging, but there was nothing about her which made me want to keep in touch. That difference in age and experience and life was just too much for me to see her as anything other that someone to sleep with. I certainly couldn’t consider myself to be friends with her. No way.

So then when I saw her on Saturday night and when I glimpsed her kissing some random younger guy outside a pub – classy all the way – why did I feel a pang? Actually what did I feel a pang of? Jealousy? Yearning? Regret?

I’m not certain.

The facts are as follows.

I have – with one noticeable exception – always been in control of the beginning, middle, and end of my relationships. And with Sarah she played a part in the decision to call things off. We went our separate ways and she was as happy as I was to do so. I guess I’m used to a certain degree of resistance at the conclusion of my relationships. That never happened. Perhaps the pang was this: I realised this girl walked away from me as easily as I walked away from her. And, in the silliest and most irrelevant way. In the most trivial and redundant fashion, that hurt.

That was my pang… It was my pride.

Yorkshire Three Peaks

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It’s been a couple of years or more since I last tackled the Yorkshire Three Peaks and I’ve just signed up to attempt the challenge once more. It’s hard, it’s grueling. Weather dependent it can be a pretty horrible experience. But, if I look back years gone by, it’s also one of the most rewarding, challenging, experiences I’ve ever completed.

Twenty-four miles, three mountains, and all in under twelve hours (the best I’ve done is nine hours). Starting at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe (where you can sign up for the official challenge – details are at the end of this entry) in the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, the route takes in three tough climbs and throws in an almost-marathon for good measure. From the outset you’re faced with a steep climb up the 691 metre high Pen-y-Ghent. This starts as a long grassy slope before giving way to a rocky summit. It’s typically necessary to navigate your way past other walkers as well as climbing up what seems like roughly hewn high steps to make the top. I’ve never been able to see much from the top of Pen-y-Ghent. Starting so early in the morning and faced with mist, fog and low cloud, anything beyond your nose is usually obscured.

From the summit of Pen-y-Ghent there is a long, long, walk to Whernside across boggy land and fields. Whernside provides some of the most breathtaking scenery it’s ever been my pleasure to see. It sits as a monolithic backdrop to the Ribblehead viaduct. Massive and imposing, the look of it doesn’t do justice to the arduous climb which is required.

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By the time you reach Whernside you’ve walked ten or so miles over difficult terrain. The approach to the path leading up this 728 metre high peak takes you parallel to the crest of the mountain. It’s a long if easy approach. The keen-eyed will be able to see walkers who have gone before you navigating the spine of Whernside. Each step taken brings you closer to a climb which, whilst gentler that Pen-y-Ghent, is tough and feels like it goes on forever. The top of Whernside is the highest point attained and affords stunning views of the viaduct and surrounding countryside.

I’ve always found the descent from Whernside to be the toughest part of the walk. The first time I did this, four years ago, I almost quit after the climb down from Whernside. Every step seemed to sap more and more energy. I’m pleased I had the resolve to continue, because now four or more times through it’s one of the best physical experiences I’ve had.

After getting over Whernside it’s another long hike to the start of Ingleborough (summit: 723 metres). The climb up Ingleborough is the steepest section of the walk. Knowing it’s the last climb you’ll have to complete is incredibly valuable in seeing it through. From the top of Ingleborough you can look west and see the Irish Sea on a clear day. The peak is marked with a cairn and it’s traditional to add a stone to this when you’ve completed the final ascent.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the hardest part was over, but the final section – down Ingleborough and back to the village – is marred by some of the toughest terrain of the entire route. Rocky, jagged, sometimes water-logged, sometimes treacherously slippery, the final journey back to the village is arduous. But from here though you have little choice but to proceed.

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After the rocks the path gets easier. There are markers counting down the last two miles, and then one mile, to the village – those are some of the longest miles imaginable. Finally, the land opens up and you can see the village just up ahead. Feelings of elation at nearly being finished help with the pain in toes and soles and shins. There’s a final trudge over farmers fields before crossing the railway and then a brief walk through the village itself to your final destination.

If you’ve checked in at the start of the walk at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe you can return there (if you’ve completed in under twelve hours) and join the ‘Three Peaks of Yorkshire Club’. Or, if the promise of a pint has seen you through the last few miles, you can head to The Crown Hotel for a well earned beer.

Difficult, challenging, breathtaking, stunning, painful, exhilarating. The Yorkshire Three Peaks is all these things and more. I’ll be completing this (hopefully) once more in April this year. I think I better make a start on improving my fitness!

Attack on Charlie Hebdo kills eleven

Link: Gun attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo kills 11

I’d never heard of Charlie Hebdo until this morning when I saw the news of an attack killing eleven and wounding ten more. The magazine was firebombed in 2011 after naming the Prophet Muhammad as its “editor-in-chief” for its next issue. It seems the modern way of dealing with satire and debate is to kill and maim. Is this what the world has come to?

As soon as I saw the breaking news headline flash up on my phone my immediate thought was “Islamic militants” – I worry about when we can expect an attack in the UK. Soon? Imminently? Last month there was talk of a valid and serious threat to kidnap and murder a West Midlands Police Officer. In May 2013 two Islamists, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby. There have been attacks in Sydney, and recently in Saudi Arabia. Every day the news seems to be filled with reports of more and more attacks by groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda.

What of the solution? We still – as a society – appear to be anti-war whilst the enemy plans and plots to bring war to our streets. At what point do we say, “enough is enough” and take a stand against those groups who wish to cause us harm? Our society is fragile in it’s multi-cultural make up. We live together, black and white, Muslim and Christian, theist and atheist, Labour and Tory. We are all different yet the same. We have a nation built on tolerance and those who preach intolerance plan to do us harm. How many more innocents need to die before we stand up for ourselves? I hope the answer is ‘none’.

January Photo a Day Challenge #1

I did this last January and enjoyed the results. Sometimes you gotta think hard about what you’re going to post to fit with the prompt. Here are the first six from 2015:

1. New
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2. Change
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3. Organise
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4. Black & white
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5. Clean
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6. Outside
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Next up are dark, from a low angle, colorful, bright, in between and texture.

These are posted on my Instagram first.

Money

I’m terrible with money. I have used this excuse for as long as I can remember to justify being, well, terrible with money. But that has to stop. I’m 37 now and it’s about time I grew up and realised that this excuse is actually no excuse. I posted a few days ago about taking a year to “Stand still. Take stock. Make no sudden moves. Think things through.” I said that 2015 would be the year that I “look back and say, I’m further forward than I was 365 days ago.”

I make a fair wage doing a decent job. I have enough to get by. But I am frivolous. I spend. It’s the old adage of money burning a hole in one’s pocket. In order to assist me in this I am going to start saving using the 50p 52 week money challenge:

Starting with 50p and adding another 50p to the total each week I will have saved £689 by the end of 2015. That will be £689 more than I have saved before in my life. Additionally I intend to remove my overdraft, payback my debt to my Mum (who, God bless her, is always too happy to help her Son out(!)) and still have a reasonably active social life. A big ask, but if you don’t have goals you’ll never meet goals.

Wish me luck, and if I’m ever struggling, don’t be too tight when I ask you for 50p.

2015 – the obligatory new year post

Goodbye, 2014, you absolute rotter. Hello 2015, a year which promises to be significantly better.

I started 2014 with high hopes. I had a woman who I loved completely, a nice home in the countryside, a week in Sharm el Sheikh to look forward to, and a job I’d been wanting to do for several years and was now doing. All was going well. I was happy. H-A-P-P-Y.

But then things changed.

Egypt came and went and I gathered memories which I have sealed inside my heart. We returned to England and because of external forces, internal forces, my own bloody-minded selfishness, Clare and I went our separate ways. I still loved her. I still wanted her. But I made the mistake of putting my pride before this magnificent woman who had sacrificed so much for me. It’s my one huge regret of 2014. My one huge regret of life. I have made mistakes before. We all have. “To err is human”. I have yet to sit and post-mortem that time in my life. I don’t want to. I fear that what I uncover will be too much for me to handle just yet. Better to bury those times deep inside me – in a locked box somewhere – and forget where I put the key.

I left Clare and I moved to my little flat in Darlington – and for the briefest of times I was happy. I met a new lady. She turned out to be batshit insane, but we had fun. Work continued to teach me things about myself and other people I didn’t previously understand.

Then in August 2014 Clare came back into my life like a breath of fresh-air. How mad had I been to allow her to get away from me? How had I not fought with every fibre of my being and every resource available to me to keep her by my side? How did I let her go? I made a commitment to her then – it was unspoken; I never got the chance to tell her before she passed away. But I still read the words from time to time and I know that for the briefest of moments I was true to myself and true to her.

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In September 2014 Clare Sandford died. And she took with her a part of me. I know I’ll never get it back. I know I will never be the same again. When she died a part of me died too. I feel her loss as keenly now as I did then. It’s a terrible, terrible thing. It gets easier. I knew it would. But not a day goes by when I don’t think of her in some way.

Since then there have been other women in my life but none of them come close to Clare. None of them match her. They stopped me feeling so profoundly alone in the world, but her memory eclipses all.

Onto 2015. A new year, a new start? Perhaps not. This is a year when I have to stand still. I have to take stock. I need to reapply a degree of stability to my life. I make no resolutions. I do not promise to eat healthy or exercise. I only want to make it through to 2016 in a better place than I am right now. Financially, emotionally, personally, I want 2015 to be the year when I can look back and say, I’m further forward than I was 365 days ago.

So I guess I will have to wait another 364 days before I can do that. Stand still. Take stock. Make no sudden moves. Think things through. Do only that which matters and is positive. Leave negativity behind.

It’s important to look after myself and look after Tom. It’s important I work hard and be frugal not frivolous. I’ll leave now with a little mantra I gleaned from the twitter: “Don’t let things which don’t matter much matter much”.

Have a safe and successful 2015. I’ll see you on the otherside.

Life through a social media lense

I’m as guilty as anyone of living my life through social media. It seems like every single major or minor event is shared with friends and strangers alike.

But one thing which has recently occurred to me is how much we miss when viewing life through a social media lense. It seems that we are so wrapped up in capturing life’s moments on a 6inch screen in 8-megapixels that we are missing the bigger picture, the real picture.
On Thursday I took Tom to see the Christmas Lights switched on. People around us held their phones aloft recording events on the stage. It seems even minor celebs are worthy of capturing on our tiny screens. I picked up Tom so he could see and held him tight to me. Head to head. After the countdown and the lights went on the fireworks started. We stood together. Heads above the surrounding crowd and watched the fireworks. I shared in his pure innocent awe at the colours and explosions and sound above the crowd. We shared that moment. We captured that moment. Not on a tiny screen on a tiny device, but in our hearts and minds and memories.

Standing there with my boy’s arms around my neck just watching the display I realised that this is what is important. It’s not about what we can commit to electronic memory to be forgotten as soon as it’s happened, it’s about what we can feel and remember. What we can share with those people who matter to us.

So next time you experience something. Next time there is an event. Put away your phone. Hold those who matter to you close, and simply enjoy the sensation of sharing a time and place. You’ll get more from that act of intimacy than you ever will from your Instagram picture or your tweet.

Contains bitterness and resentment

History.

Last night I found an old blog back up and conjured up some trickery to make it all readable again. It’s been merged into this blog now. My history from 2005 until 2011. That’s a lot of time. I’ve been spending time reviewing my life. Almost ten years worth.
Reading back and seeing the person I used to be has been an eye opener. Someone said on The Twitter, “I bet you’ve changed loads”. More than I can express in mere words. I’m more positive, tolerant, happy. Things might be tough now but things are nowhere near as bad as they used to be. Reading back into my past I was a deeply troubled negative person for a long time. I hated my job. I hated my relationship. I hated me.

I suppose that history has taught be that things have a way of improving if you just stick. So I’m sticking. Holding. Standing in place. With a bit of luck as times passes my lot will improve just as it did in the past. All it takes is time, right?

The tagline for the old blog was “Contains bitterness and resentment”, and I’ve left that in place as a reminder. Because that was me. Bitter. Resentful. But I made it. I improved. I developed a positive outlook. I may have taken one step backwards recently, but I’m committed to making two steps forwards soon.

Things will work themselves out. Of that I have no doubt.

Tough times don’t last….

….tough people do.

I’ve been feeling a little bit lost and a little bit alone recently. Struggling to come to terms with life and all it’s ugly truths. Just over two months ago I was looking forward to a future with a woman who meant the world to me. We had to keep things under wraps and had made plans for a great unveiling. We knew people would not agree with our decision to work things out. We knew they would disapprove. But that didn’t matter. For reasons I am ashamed of our relationship faltered in the early part of this year. We went our separate ways. But I knew that it wasn’t over. I knew that there would be another chapter written. I just didn’t know how painfully short that chapter would be.

In August 2014 Clare and I were in contact and we both realised that we were meant to be. Despite everything that had happened between us, despite five months apart, we made a decision to be together again. Our togetherness lasted for the briefest of times. She was taken from me cruelly in late September. We had a glorious month together. In that month I realised that this was a woman who’s passion for life invigorated my own. She allowed me to shine. She encouraged me to be.

And now she’s gone. Her light has left the world and with it, my own. Each day I wake and I go to work and I feel like it is all for nothing. I feel like I am counting down the days until my own departure from this world. I feel like my life is empty.

It is not. I know that. I know it. But that doesn’t stop the feelings of lonely isolation. I feel alone, so desperately alone, even when I am in company. And the sad thing is I don’t know how to get out of this situation. I don’t even know if there is a way out. Do I just have to keep going?

I do. I have to have faith in myself. Tough times don’t last but tough people do. All it takes is time. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.