Monday, 26 September 2016

Competition: Focus: Achievement: Feel Better.

I grew up competing at the weekends with horses. Not to any great level or a particularly high standard, just local stuff, but it was enough to get the adrenaline pumping and to foster in me a life-long love of taking part in competitions, and all that goes with it.

There is something intrinsically good for you in setting a goal to work towards, in having a focus, in seeing yourself improve, and in learning to dig deep and push yourself on when all you want to do is stop, particularly when sensible people are safely tucked up indoors warm, dry and well fed and you are cold, wet, tired and hungry. Under those circumstances, the regaining of the warmth and the dry and the eating of the food when it comes feels a thousand times better than if you'd never got cold and wet and hungry in the first place.

I stopped riding and competing a few years ago. I've spent the last ten supporting M at various marathons, most of them off road and hard-core, (what he calls lumpy or gnarly). Think the Grizzly in Devon, the Bob Graham Round in the Lakes (less a marathon, more a feat of endurance), a 60 mile race in the South East, the Clarendon here in our own back yard, the Jungfrau in Switzerland, the Exe to the Axe in Devon, The New Forest Marathon. He trains hard, he runs hard, and he achieves.

He tells our boys the story of how, at school, he was the last to be picked for all the sports every time, and so grew up convinced he was rubbish at them. It was only in his twenties that he discovered running, then as a means of getting fit for rowing at Cambridge. The rowing faded over time but the running remained.
His best time for the London marathon is 2:45 hours, and he generally completes the more lumpy gnarly off road marathons in a little over 3 hours. If he isn't in the top 3-20 of the racers I know something has gone wrong.
He is modest about his achievements, but I tell the boys that, were their Dad to race against those lads now who, forty years ago thought he was too rubbish to have in their teams, I suspect the shoe would be very much on the other foot. It's been a very useful tale at various points of our boys' school careers, because neither of them are sporty and if you are a school boy who isn't sporty life can be not a great barrel of laughs at PE time.

Back to now, and every single time we go to one of these events I experience the same pang of regret and envy that it isn't me competing any more. I thought it would fade, but it hasn't.

In the past fortnight three things have happened. 1) I met up with old friends I haven't seen for twenty years and learnt that one of them is currently representing GB in Triathlons (despite having five children and a yard full of goodness knows how many horses to look after). 2) My friend Mrs Ibbot ran in her first 10k (6 mile) race, in memory of her mum. Despite only having started running about six weeks ago she finished in a flying time of 1:01. 3) Yesterday we went to Winchester, where the half marathon was in full flood through the city.

We stopped to cheer the lead runners as they came in, and then those further back as we walked back to the car. I could sense M's attention was fully on the race and knew he was thinking about where he would have come had he been running it. Then as we walked under Kingsgate, one of the runners pulled up declaring he was done in and couldn't run any further.
He was half a mile from the end, he'd run 12.5 miles in a little over two hours. The race marshal commiserated about running out of energy and ushered him over to the pavement where a lady in the crowd gave him a jelly baby. I was about to walk past when I found myself turning back. I'm a runner too, I heard myself telling him. Don't give up now, you're half a mile from the finish,. You can do it! You'll regret it so much if you stop now. You can just walk the last bit if you need to.  Half a mile? he said, looking up, chewing the jelly baby as the lady smiled at us, is that all? And he grinned and trudged wearily off up the road while the crowd clapped and roared him on.

Something woke up in me then. I heard myself saying to M that I thought I'd like to enter the race next year. Really? said M. I'm thrilled! When we get home I'll find you a 10k to run as part of the training and if that goes well, we'll enter the Half together.

When we got home, he duly looked up 10k races as a step up from the 5k Park Runs I've been doing most Saturdays since the start of August, and entered us both for one at the tail end of December. He is way faster than me, but has said he will run the race by my side egging me on (it will be like the hare encouraging the tortoise). He does the same at the Park Runs and it has made a huge difference to my times, which have improved from over 28 mins to a new PB of 25.12. He's also going to work out a training programme for me.

It's funny how one simple decision like that changes everything. Normally, having run 5k  yesterday I wouldn't run again today, or if I did I'd just do a mile, but today I feel different: I have a competitive focus again, something to aim for. So I took the dogs out this morning on our 5k loop along the lanes and back through the fields. I had my GPS on and produced the best time for that route I've yet done. I felt sick at the end and a bit wobbly, but it soon went.

Six miles doesn't sound like much perhaps, but it's enough of a goal for me for this year. If it goes well I will be doubling it plus an extra mile to do the half marathon. I can already feel the thrill of excitement at the thought of having access to competitions again, and that framework of getting up and out in all weathers, which I (believe it or not) enjoy.

In the end the time of runs isn't as important as doing them, as being able to tell yourself you've done it. That alone is a good enough reason to get out there and start running. By the time you've added in the health benefits, the not needing to watch what you eat, the sweating out of toxins, the relaxation and stress-busting nature of it, the improved strength in your muscles, the camaraderie of being in a race (or Park Run) with others, the feeling of your lungs working properly and the wonderfully clear, clean sensation you get afterwards when you've showered and are warm and dry. Well, there's nothing like it, and even better it's free and only requires a decent pair of running shoes. All you need to do is start, like I did, running for a few minutes and walking for a few, then running again. Before you know it you've run half a mile without stopping, then a mile, then three, and then a Park Run is in your sights and you'll be off.

Have I convinced you yet? :o)

CT x

Friday, 23 September 2016

Ted's Diary: Evidence, should any be needed, that Squirrels Have No Manners

Dear Friends,

Yesterday Poppy and I had a Terrible Shock. There we were, enjoying the Peace and Tranquillity of our garden, when all of a sudden a Suspicious Noise from Over The Fence made us jump. Poppy's favourite plant pot has recently been cleared of old sweet peas, so I asked her to jump up and have a look.....

This is what she saw.....

A Squirrel! Sitting on the fence, as Bold As Brass, right NEXT to our garden! Can you believe it!
When it saw Pop it did this....

Which just goes to show that Squirrels have no manners whatsoever and are the rudest creatures on earth.
It didn't stay like that for long though, soon it turned round to see whether we were still watching.

Yes, squirrel, well may you look a little bit worried. It turns out it was planning a Mushroom Raid....

I didn't know they ate mushrooms. I suppose you've got to admit they are quite brave raiding mushrooms on the ground like that near to two ferocious dogs with Fierce Reputations (although I'm only saying that quietly, you understand, and between us- the brave bit, not the fierce bit, obviously).

Poppy, bless her, tried to cover my eyes so I couldn't see the naughty squirrel....

She also chewed my face, which was less helpful, but we all know what Poppy is like...

The Squirrel held its piece of mushroom in one hand, pointed at us with the other and laughed (which is yet more evidence of their Inherently Bad Manners and is making me reconsider the bit about them being brave)...

In some situations, the only wise thing to do is to make a dignified retreat, so we left the squirrel to its mushroom and took up Guard Duty in the front garden instead.

Hopefully, the weekend will be free from squirrels and full of cheese instead.

I hope you are all well.

Best Regards,


Friday, 16 September 2016

Twelve Things From My Week

1. Globe Artichoke Flower

 2. Common Carder Bees on Stonecrop

 3. Illegal Picnic-Table-Top Encroachment (Ted is appalled and can't bare to look).

4. Grey Wagtail

 5. Harvestmen (as above, so below).

 6. Frayed Painted Lady

 7. Pristine Red Admiral

8. Robin

 9. Brown Hawker

 10. Four-Banded Longhorn Beetle

 11. Wildflower

12. Zinnia

A huge thunder storm passed through here last night. It went on for hours. We lay awake from 2am listening to the rain beat down, seeing the lightening flash through closed eyelids and counting the seconds between light and thunder. In the morning, the rain gauge told the tale most eloquently: 30mm of rain (that's an inch and a half to those of us who prefer old money).

The pig fields told it too. All the pigs were pristine, scrubbed a fresh becoming pale pink by the water sloshing down on them. The soil was washed off the surface of the land too, onto the footpath and into the ditches. We squidged through an ankle-deep morass of silt and sand which had swamped the grass.
During the course of the winter, this sediment will be washed into the river, which will carry it to the sea, where it will be deposited along the coastline, increasing nitrate levels and adversely affecting marine and aquatic life. Rural Diffuse Pollution. It's Not good news.

In the garden, life continues much as it has done all summer long, with a few variations. Lots of solitary bees; a Southern Hawker patrolling; a fragile-looking Painted Lady who nevertheless put up a Staunch Defence of her flower when a passing Peacock took a fancy to it.

The Globe Artichoke is an example of what happens when you don't pick food at prime human consumption time. Isn't it pretty? The bees like it. And the Grey Wagtail is the newest member of the garden clan. You may remember the Sparrowhawk making a meal of the last one, so I am mightily relieved to see this chap who turned up at the pigeon's water table this week. In fact, he alighted first on the top of the open patio door where he sat for some minutes contemplating me working and apparently mulling over coming in. As the dogs were snoozing on their beds beside me at the time I was Quite Relieved when he opted for the pigeon's water instead.
The BTO recently moved the Grey Wagtail off its Amber list and onto Red, which is bad news because it means numbers are dropping.

The Brown Hawker has been popping in for a chat every now and then over the past fortnight. He sits on his bamboo cane and snaps at passing flies. He has fine ruby veins on his wings that glint copper in the light.

The Four-Banded Longhorn has been around all summer, on and off. I have a soft spot for Longhorns. There are 68 species listed for the UK, although several are now extinct. They are beetles of ancient woodlands, because the larvae need several years of feeding in dead wood to mature, and dead wood has become scarce due to over-zealous tidying up of parks and gardens. The message is a simple one- if you want Longhorns, leave piles of wood rotting in your garden.

Ted would like me to tell you all that he had to endure FOURTEEN people in his house last weekend, not the SEVEN that he was told about, and one of those was a five-year-old boy who was Rather Vigorous with his ears and failed to show Teddy due deference. Needless to say, after the ear-pulling episode he only came out from beneath the table once, and that was to stare pointedly at the back door until I opened it. He took refuge in the greenhouse, which is his go-to place when he wants to be left alone, and wants to make a point of wanting to be left alone. Fortunately, a small amount of cheese by way of an apology later on saved the day.
I suspect this breaking of promises about people numbers was to the forefront of his mind yesterday though, when he rolled in the wettest, stinkiest badger poo you've ever seen. It went everywhere and was GRIM, believe me. I keep catching whiffs off it, despite shampooing him and washing every bed/ towel/ lead/ collar/ blanket in the place.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Friday, 9 September 2016

Ted's Diary

Greetings friends. As you can see, it's been non-stop go, go, go here the past few weeks. On the whole, Pop and I have had a lovely summer (apart from one episode of Wet Eczema and a Jab at the V.E.T.). However, this came to a rather abrupt end yesterday when we found ourselves being weighed in public.

This is not something that I feel should be done to a dog of a certain age. It doesn't matter for Poppy because she's not yet three. But I am seven and us seven year olds prefer to keep the delicate matter of our weight private.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. We stood in the middle of the V.E.T.s packed waiting room while my weight was read out loud to the receptionist.

Ted is 11.10 kg, Mum said, in a firm voice as if she didn't quite believe it but was forcing herself to by saying it out loud.

The receptionist looked at her screen and then she raised an eloquent eyebrow.
He was 9.86 last time, she said, in what I thought was an unnecessarily loud and accusatory voice.

9.86?!* said Mum, with all the exclamation marks added. I thought he was getting heavy.

Yes, said the receptionist, he's put on a bit, hasn't he?

They both looked down at me. I sucked my tummy in and tried not to breath too much while I smiled, nervously. 

It got worse when Mum read out Poppy's new weight and the receptionist informed her she'd lost a few pounds. I risked a quick glance around the waiting room while they were distracted and was relieved to see the other occupants were an arthritic lab who was so ancient he was bound to have a hearing problem and therefore hopefully had not heard my weight being discussed, a dog wearing a cone of shame which covered his ears, more or less, and funnelled sounds strangely so he probably hadn't heard either with any luck, and a chubby spaniel who was in no position to judge. There were also a couple of cats in baskets, but I discounted them because cats, as we all know, are hardly more than squirrels with different shaped tails, and we all know how silly (and rude) squirrels are.

We got back in the car and I was very much afraid the word diet would be mentioned, but Mum just drove to the woods where we had a nice scamper about while she stopped to talk to some National Trust volunteers she'd never met before in her whole life about Dormice and some rare Roesel's Bush Crickets she'd found in the wood. When you live with our mother, you get used to this sort of thing because it happens fairly often and I've found it's best on the whole not to worry too much about it.

I thought I'd got away with the whole weight conversation, but should have known it would resurface when Dad got home. He is running back from work at the moment because he's training for another marathon, so he was sweaty when he arrived and Poppy likes to lick him when he's like that, so she did a fairly good job of distracting Mum for a while with ewws and ugh, Poppy, that's disgustings. But then the dreaded words were uttered: Ted's put on over a kilo.

Has he? said dad, grinning. Oh well Teddy, it's a pity I'm not a butcher, eh? And he ruffled my head.
Pop and I exchanged puzzled glances.
The long run home in the heat after a full day at work must have affected him, Poppy whispered from the corner of her mouth.
Mum must've noticed our confusion because she grinned and explained that Fitter than a Butcher's Dog is a human expression (which tells you all you need to know about humans in one handy sentence, I think).
Yes (said Dad, still grinning), you're a lean, mean fighting machine, aren't you, Ted? And he ruffled my head again. This was kind of him, and it made me feel better until I heard Poppy sniggering into her paw a moment later. This was not only unnecessary but made me doubt the sincerity of the compliment. I glared at her and she hastily turned the snigger into a paw-chew instead.

The upshot is, I am not required to go on a diet because the extra kilo is due to muscle! It has come from all the running I've been doing on top of my walks! Result! (mum says exactly the same thing has happened with a favourite dress of hers that no longer fits. Definitely from extra muscle from running and not chocolate choux bun consumption).

We went out last night for a run with mum, and I ran really fast just to underline the point that no reduction of food is needed or would in fact be remotely beneficial, only I had to stop half way round to do a poo, which slowed down our overall time and made Mum grumpy because she's trying to beat her Park Run PB, and also because a man shook his head at us as we resumed our run because the poo was left in situ, mum having no bags to scoop it up with. She went back to collect it later with Poppy, in case you were worried.

So that's more or less it from here. All dietary concerns have vanished and my extra weight is in fact, something to be proud of!

We have a Very Busy Weekend ahead with a house full of people. All three of Pop and my human children are home because it's our Grandparent's Golden Wedding and they're all off to a party in a marquee in the vicarage garden next door to the church. The garden has a yew tree in it that's over 2000 years old and Jane Austen's niece once drew it (whoever she is).
Mum is having a last-minute panic because her heels will sink into the grass and the dress she was going to wear is very cream and floaty long and rain is forecast tomorrow and she thinks it'll get a) wet and b) grass-stained, and she's not sure what to wear instead. I keep telling her it would be much more sensible just to grow fur and get it trimmed once in a while but she doesn't listen.

After the party we've got two nieces staying the night with us until they all go off for a pub lunch. I shall be spending most of the time underneath the table until they have gone, while Poppy will doubtless be zooming about the house, jumping on every available lap and licking everyone to death. The only good thing about this mass-invasion of my home is that Mum has bought loads of cheese to feed everyone with and has already promised me some. Let's just hope no-one mentions the words cholesterol and Cheese in the same sentence. Think of me, please.

I'll leave you with a classic example of the difference between me and Poppy.

Photo 1: Clear infringement of sofa-related rules with an Illegal Sofa Occupation taking place in BROAD DAYLIGHT.

Photo 2: Totally legal dog-bed-occupation:

I ask you!
All the best,

Ted x

Friday, 2 September 2016

Walking Among The Fields

There was a cool wind blowing when the dogs and I went across the fields this morning. All week we've been up and out early to beat the heat, but this morning the heat had gone and the wind was agitated in its place, whispering of a change in the weather as September ushers itself in.

The pigs had been wallowing, displaying the evidence in the crumbled patchwork of old mud dried on their flanks. Poppy likes to stand on her back legs and watch them. She isn't so keen when they come rattling up to her looking for food and scampers off in search of things less intimidating. I like the pigs: they are friendly, boisterous, bumbling creatures who gaze at you from intelligent eyes, noses working as they take your smell in for analysis.

While the dogs watched the pigs I watched the hedgerows, finding the fruits of Guelder Rose well along now, all red and plump and heavy, hanging low from the bough.

The badgers, who have three front doors along the track between the fields have been making good use of the straw left over from the wheat harvest. Even the most novice of detectives could not fail to notice the golden blades dragged through the hedge and strewn untidily about the holes. There will be some comfy badgers sleeping down there this winter. 

Ted considered investigating inside the hole but was fortunately distracted by a small rabbit who inadvisedly poked his head through the hedge at that moment to see what all the fuss was about.

While the dogs took off in pursuit of the rabbit who had a good head start and was in no real danger, I stood by the hedge and watched a flock of starlings murmuring. Fifty or so swung through the sky, moving like a giant wave that rolled first one way then another before falling suddenly to settle along the electricity wires. I could hear them chattering from half a mile away. The swallows are massing in ever-greater numbers too. It won't be long before they leave now, and I will miss them until Spring brings their return.

Down in the fields dissected by the eight hundred year-old hedge, the ditch was white with the feathery baubles of Lesser Water Parsnip. The plant may look dainty but it is poisonous, as so many of the wild Carrot family are.

The dogs, who had acknowledged defeat about the rabbit by then, caught me up and together we crossed the field back up to where the badgers have a latrine beneath the hedge, me enjoying the peace of the morning, them busy exploring the exciting smells left by the wild ones who'd wandered that way in the night...

As we went I noted the striking yellow of fleabane growing in clutches at the base of the hedge; the tall lilac spires of purple loosestrife spearing out of the ditch; the blue of blackberries smudging the hedges; the groink of a raven flying over and behind it the high keening mewl of a buzzard. Hazel nuts opened by squirrels lay on the ground and the dried stalks of hogweed and sorrel stood like desiccated sentries beneath the oak trees.

The sheep, grazing in a field thick with ragwort as we neared the car, thought we might mean food. Poppy, who considers herself a proper sheep dog (even though she only comes up to their knees), was outraged at the very thought...

September in the UK can produce balmy Indian Summers that often give our main summer a run for its money, but today it feels like the sunshine and the warmth of the past month has gone. Oddly, this has not troubled my Common Darter Dragonfly, who has been coming into the garden every day to settle on a bamboo cane for a chat and a sunbathe- I've just seen him whizz past the window. Some wild creatures accept our presence with barely a flicker, and this dragon is one. He lets me get so close I can hear the snap of his jaws as he flicks his head to catch passing insects. He has a handsome auburn tail and fine threads the colour of rubies on his wings. They glow like burnished bronze when the sun touches them. He is perhaps a harbinger for a season typified by reds and yellows and bronzes.

Hope all is well with all of you.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Closing Of Summer

There is still heat in the air but the days are turning now. The wind is blowing, buffeting the leaves, reminding them that ahead lies the tumbling time, when they turn golden and drift down from the bough.

Yesterday, I went out searching for Dormice. Of the fifty boxes checked, not a single one yielded a Dormouse. Apparently, numbers are down this year so far. Perhaps due to a long wet cold Spring. It is a worry. We did find a Pygmy Shrew though (see pic above). Relatively rare, I have never seen one, so it was a joy to find him, scurrying about inside one of the boxes. They are smaller than regular shrews with longer, more triangular snouts. Shrews have to eat their bodyweight in a 24 hour period to stay alive. They are busy, busy, busy.

We found a couple of Dormice nests in the boxes. These are told apart from those constructed by Woodmice by the addition of green hazel leaves among the brown. Nature leaves so many clues to help us understand things, if only we take the time to listen and to learn the language.

The Cinnabar caterpillar was a pleasure to find. I have been searching Ragwort and not found any until this solitary chap appeared.

The Pheasant is by middle son F. A gift for his grandparents who, this September, celebrate fifty years of happy marriage. My ma in law is an artist and my pa in law spent his working life on the land, so they will both feel the specialness of the gift.

I have been sewing steadily through the summer and my sewing area has evolved along with my ability to tackle more complex projects. I like to stand and admire all the fabrics in their boxes. So many colours and patterns. It inspires and encourages and draws out creative energy. I am far happier giving vent to this than trying to fit life into rational squares. I am writing too, the book I metioned at the start of the year. It comes, slowly, but well I think and I am enjoying doing it.

I've picked what look like the last of the Sweet Peas today. They have given me huge pleasure this summer; their scent, shape and colours. I feel quite sad that the bush is now curling into dry, crisp, brown leaves and the blooms are fading, even though it is timely and right.

Two weeks left here of school holidays before I turn my face properly towards Autumn.  Swallows are lining up along the telegraph wires and all the birds have fallen silent, apart from the Robin who began to sing again a handful of days ago, a sure sign, if any were needed, that the Wild knows the season is turning. However blissful the long relaxed days of summer are, I am always glad of the change into cooler days. It feels like a reaffirmation of life; the changing Earth energy opens up fresh beginnings and new opportunities, and that is Good.

Hope all are well?

CT x

Monday, 15 August 2016


I wandered out onto the lane this afternoon to photograph the Light, which is bright and hot and vibrating today.

Our lane winds down through trees that were once, long ago, part of an ancient forest. As far as they are concerned, they still are. Owls live among them, badgers tunnel beneath them and the wind sighs through them in the same way they did before the trees at their backs were cut down.

The lane is a mile and a half long, with a handful of houses scattered along it, and it has its own entry in Domesday Book, which records it in 1086 as being 'once worth 10s but now waste'. Traces of the ancient forest remain in the trees that line the tarmac, in the botany that grows along the verges and in the old forest boundary ditch that can be traced through gardens about half way along the lane.

I know the plants that grow here well, having spent many happy hours in their company, but as is only right and proper, they still have the capacity to surprise me. Witness the Star of Bethlehem which opens briefly before 5pm and is invisible at all other times, giving it its country name of 'Betty Go To Bed At Noon'. That one was a surprise when I saw it earlier in the summer as I walked up the lane after checking on the badgers. I took M back to find it an hour later and it had disappeared. I haven't seen it since.

The plants that grow along the lane are all woodland plants, dark green and leafy, for the most-part close-coupled to the earth with the exception of a few willowy beings, and faithful to their forest past. I suspect, if we were to stop managing what grows in our garden, the forest fauna would reassert itself there too in a year or so. It holds to the edges where I am very happy to see it, and where it draws like-minded souls to its company.

Gardens are our homage to The Wild. A way of keeping faith with our past, an expression of an unconscious need to have the reassurance of The Wild nearby, even if we no longer live quite so cheek-by-jowl with it. We are, after all, only a thousand or so years away from living very cheek-by-jowl with it indeed. It's not long, in the great scheme of things. Not long enough to erode the need away at least.

To sit in a garden is to know Peace and Comfort and Joy, but to walk out in The Wild is to commune with Earth Magic and to feel through it, Alive, to have your wits sharpened and perhaps, sometimes, to feel just a tiny bit Afraid and a little less certain of the rightness of our dominion over the world we live in.

Wandering down the lane time did that thing it always does to me in Woods, where it ceases to operate normally and instead holds you in a sort-of spell that remains unbroken until you leave the fringe of the trees.

I felt irritation with the cars that drove past, as if they were intruding and didn't belong there. I became completely absorbed in the world of trees and plants and dappled light coming through leaves. I was mesmerised by the bright green of the Hazel leaves; by the small blonde circles of paired nuts on the boughs, their elfin green hats perched jauntily on their heads; by two Speckled Wood butterflies twirling around one another as if joined in a permanent Catherine Wheel dance; by the ancient trickle of water as the brook tumbled down the lane; by the took! took! took! alarm call of the Thrush in the bank warning of a fox or a weasel unperceived by my dulled human senses; by the thousand small rustlings of tiny things making their way through the vegetation.

I emerged some time later and came back through our gate slightly mystified as to where the time had gone and to how little I had registered its passing. It does the soul good to escape modern life once in a while and to become submerged in places that still heed the call of The Wild and haven't lost touch with it. We need it more than we realise.