Here we are in the final days of 2020, at last!
I hope you all got to relax and enjoy Christmas, or your winter festival of choice, and didn’t miss your normal too much.
D and I pretty much spent the whole day eating delicious things and Zooming with various relatives. Because we’re so far away from everyone we never have a traditional family Christmas, something it took me some time to adjust to when we got together, so the only thing that was different for us was being here, in Moffat. We usually go away to stay in a cottage that someone else has cleaned and decorated, so I had to clean our house, and we both put up trees and fairly lights in different rooms. Above is a photo of the small tree in my workroom; I like it so much I’m tempted to keep it there till all its needles fall off!
So, 2020 is on its way out. I’m pretty sure most of you will be glad to see the back of it, and while things haven’t been too different for me, I generally spend my time alone in my room, there’s no denying this has been an odd year in many ways. And for me, that oddness began with the bells.
We always celebrate Hogmanay in the same way every year: Dave plays in the Annandale Arms with his cohorts, and I take my place as a member of the audience. At about ten to midnight we all decamp to the town square (as the locals hate people calling it: ‘it’s the High Street!’ they shout) to take our places for New Year hugs and to watch the fireworks. I tend to stay home till about eleven because, although I love to hear Dave play and love to see all our friends, I’m not entirely comfortable in crowds and I don’t want to drink too much too early. I can’t remember what absorbed my attention on the last night of 2019, but I ended up rushing out of the house with about a minute to spare, and then couldn’t find Dave. Thus, I spent the first few minutes of 2020 frantically searching the crowd like a two-year old separated from her mother. Little did I know that this was a foreshadowing of things to come. I did find him, of course, and I did kiss him, and we went on to have a good night, but I was somewhat thrown out of kilter: a feeling that has only been exacerbated by the year’s events. Normal activity sputtered and died, but between the farts new, possibly better, activities grew.
The Daily Walk
I live in a valley surrounded by hills with a river running right through it. I’m even part of a team who manages the hill closest to the town, which is less than five minutes on foot from my front door. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that I already got out into the countryside regularly, but I didn’t. My favourite places to walk are cities and the coast; I love trees, but I’ve never been much of a fan of apparently all green spaces. But, for whatever reason, when the daily walk became a thing I embraced it like a long lost sister. Dave and I explored most of the surrounding hills, some of which were bloody hard work, and on days he didn’t join me I wandered my hill, getting to know its every turn; the river; or the nature reserve (of which I am now Chair!) before breakfast. I began to notice other colours amongst the greens, how varied the greens were and, for, probably, the first time in my life I became fully conscious of the zillion nuances of seasonal change: the arrival of the warblers; when the gorse was at its best; the rise and fall of the sun.
As walking became a constant the value of devices made itself felt. At some point I started to take notice of my step count, thanks to my phone’s pedometer, and decided to make sure I did ten thousand steps every day. This proved quite difficult at first. Although the hills are steep and exhausting they’re not huge, we could be out all day and find we’d only managed eight thousand steps! However, as time went on, Dave got bored of walking for the sake of it (he doesn’t like going over the same ground and we ran out of new), so I was left to wander alone. Luckily, he’d given me a set of wireless headphones for my birthday, which proved seminal. Left to my own devices, but with every musician I’ve ever loved at my disposal, I began to go out at dawn and listen to music as I walked. And I enjoyed this so much that without really thinking about it I got more elaborate with my routes, so by the time winter came, with its wind, rain, and too dark mornings, I was regularly racking up over twenty-thousand steps a day. When winter took hold, wanting neither to undo the good of regular exercise nor to go out in the dark and wet (I don’t have proper waterproofs) I dragged my mini-trampoline out of purdah in an attempt to keep my step-count up: instead of walking the hills I would use the trampoline as a makeshift treadmill and run on the spot for as long as it took to achieve twenty thousand steps. But I hit a snag: the pedometer on my phone struggled to count ‘bounces’ as steps. It was also rather awkward trying to hold onto it with increasingly sweaty hands for a hundred minutes.
So I searched for an affordable alternative and found a thirty-quid ‘smart watch.’ This worked really well for about a month. Then one of the notches that held the strap in place snapped off, rendering it useless. Luckily, I’d been talking to my son about my phone gripping struggle and he’d already offered to send me his wife’s old Fitbit (Alta HR, now discontinued). She’d got a new one with more features, he’d said, and the old one was just gathering dust in a drawer. This was a lucky escape because I’d been eyeing up Apple watches which, if I’d succumbed and bought one, would have left me with bugger all money (like many freelance artists, I’ve had very little paid work this year), but knowing the Fitbit was on its way I fought the urge to empty my bank account. I could now write a whole essay on what the Fitbit has done for me, but suffice to say it has been more than useful, if, being on the old side, somewhat erratic. The main thing it’s done is motivate me, some might say bully me, to keep moving: as well as showing me my step count it buzzes every hour to insist I get up and do two-hundred and fifty steps. I’m not sure why it works, why missing an hour pains me, why seeing a number on my wrist is such a powerful motivator (after all I now know twenty five minutes on the trampoline equals five-thousand steps) but it is. As soon as it buzzes to let me know I have only ten minutes to get another two-hundred and fifty steps I jump up and run on the spot till the goal is reached!
As you might imagine, all this has had a very positive impact on my fitness: recently we cut a load of Norway Spruce to sell as Christmas trees, as we do every year; last year I could manage two or three before feeling exhausted and having to take a break (I found it particularly hard on my upper right arm), this year I was able to keep going for hours. My arms didn’t hurt; my shoulders didn’t hurt; and neither did squatting on the ground make my thighs and knees ache. Again, I have no idea how that works: how does walking strengthen my arms and shoulders? But, however it works I’m glad it does and, needless to say, I plan to keep it up and return to actual walking as soon as spring brings lighter mornings and dryer days. And thanks to a very generous husband I now have my dream device. Yes, reader, he got me an Apple watch for Christmas! I feel like an eight-year old who got a new bike and, as it measures much more than merely steps, I’m desperate to road test it in every imaginable scenario.
As well as walking I, like just about everyone, also did a lot more baking, including sourdough, and took up embroidery, both of which I’m still fully engaged in. But as this post is quite long enough I’ll save that for another day. Meanwhile, I hope you are all safe and well, and can wait out the last few days of 2020 without too much ado.