Back to it

Following on from my article last week on the subject of essentially losing sight of my passion and purpose, this week, I can gladly say, is about getting it back again.

The weekend started well; a meal out with some of my best friends, where the subject turned to running…and running fast. One of the guys runs the weekly ParkRun event that I also run. The other three don’t run at all. Anyway, he’s been getting much quicker in the last few weeks and is doing well, whereas I have been stalling in the same pit for probably three months now. I understand it to be a hangover from the two ultra marathons I did in May and June respectively. I didn’t realise that it would take so long for my legs to recover, but it has. Around six weeks ago, I began to do the unthinkable – I started to work recovery runs into my training, and you know, I think it’s paying off. It’s definitely given my training a lot more structure. For the first time in years I’m figuring out a plan for each individual run. For the past two years I’ve just ran five times a week, and that’s it. Just lacing up my trainers and going out, sometimes having a distance in mind, other times not. And that was it, quantity over quality. That’s not cutting it anymore. So every run is like a science experiment. It’s fun! Anyway, after a couple of beers, I was talking about trying to run much faster on Saturday morning, and talking about why I used to be so much quicker (four years ago). Turns out, I used to get up in time, have breakfast, a coffee, get down to the park and, deep breath, warm up. I do none of that these days. Get up, turn up, run, struggle, go home.

So in prep terms, I turned back the clock four years and was sensible about it and I finished in 7th place with a time only 24 seconds off my time from when I was 32. I’m going to try again on Saturday. A stronger coffee may be needed though…

Sunday started with a training run over the half marathon distance, and went according to plan, although it made mincemeat out of my legs. Sunday afternoon however was spent walking around a local open space in the wonderful autumn sunshine.

Not too far away are some hills, crisscrossed by paths that pass through grassland, woodland and valleys. It’s an area I’ve visited a few times but I’m not overly familiar with it and its hidden charms and peculiarities. With map in hand, I tried to make sense of where I was going. It’s difficult in places like that because there are official paths marked on the map, yet on the ground there are double that in unofficial paths made by locals and tourists alike over the years. This is mainly because the area is open access giving people the right to roam wherever they please. This generally has been respected I feel, although I have seen examples where it has not. So the map went away, the camera came out and not long after, a pub was found. A quick half pint, then back out to explore. Seeing the leaves coming down in the sunshine was worth the trip, as well as glimpsing the open countryside away to the south through the occasional gap in the trees. In contrast, away to the north revealed tower blocks and minimal greenery. It reminded me of two things. Firstly, my art teacher at middle school who drew a picture to demonstrate perspective. The picture showed a straight road ahead, banked by trees on either side and away over the hill, office blocks and church steeples. It was, he said, an illustration of his drive to home from work from the countryside to urban. The second thing that I thought of was my own predicament at the moment, straddled between the countryside and the city, juggling how and where I spend my spare time.

Autumn is becoming one of my favourite seasons. From going from dreading it up to about ten years ago, to not dreading it now has been the result of one thing really – just getting out and immersing myself in it. Whatever the activity. Sunny autumnal days are probably more beautiful than summer days. Not sure if they can top spring though, that’s my number one still.

Losing my touch

The other morning, I was in the kitchen and I heard a familiar, yet somehow, strange sound. I knew that I knew it, but couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was. It eventually dawned on me that it was a Nuthatch singing. It was one of those moments where you feel both happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it’s such a lovely bird, and in spring this year, I learned that the very sound I could hear most days was indeed the Nuthatch, and then sad because it became apparent that I had very nearly forgotten what the sound was. A likely reason for this is that it is autumn and for a few weeks, the dawn chorus returns as birds mark their territories out for winter. Its not as profound and intense as spring, but it’s still a spectacle all the same. Another reason, which is the main one for feeling sad, is that perhaps I am not in touch with nature as much as I used to be. I live in a town these days, not far from a busy, noisy road, and on most of my training runs, I rarely manage to get out of suburbia. Even somewhere semi-rural, you can be amongst quiet lanes and busy fields and meadows within minutes. To obtain that, I need to drive 15 minutes. Some mornings, dark and dreary ones in the mire of winter, a robin can be heard singing easily and hour before dawn usually because his proximity to an unnecessarily bright street light.

Now, I am a self-confessed outdoor and nature junky. In case you hadn’t guessed. And this revelation this week to me is a warning sign. Living in a town and commuting to a city every day is killing my outdoor hunger. I’m enjoying my job at the moment, and I’m not in a position to move house either, so it means one thing; making a concerted effort to get out more. Obviously, autumn is here, winter is around the corner also so daylight is becoming scarce. It’s this time of year that the struggle against the elements becomes more commonplace. I saw a good quote / meme the other day that basically said something like:

It’s forecast rain for the weekend?

Then we hike in the rain!

I love the sentiment! Getting out no matter what. Most of my outdoor time is spent training, not really immersing. It’s so easy to take things like slow walks with my camera for granted, but it’s these slower, quieter outdoor experiences that allow us to see more, hear more and appreciate more. I couldn’t live in a city, however, walking through them, it’s hard not to be inspired by them in some way. I think I will never be a city man though. Too fast, and usually for nothing real. I much rather enjoy exploring towns and cities, with a camera or notebook.

As soon as I publish this post, I’ll be planning my weekend walk.

Progress – part 2

In my last post, I covered different aspects of what constitutes progress. I should probably say that I believe that humanity as a whole is regressing not progressing. I see progress in the form of its definition:

“development towards an improved or more advanced condition.”

Call me old fashioned but I feel that compromising the environment is in no way progress for us at all. After all, how do you measure progress? Inevitably it will be facts and figures, numbers and profits, not general human state. If you could capture that, I think it would be a different story.

I do admit that the planet is becoming overcrowded and we all need somewhere to call home. That can’t be disputed, but the manner in which it’s tackled is generally deplorable. For example, a few hundred acres of prime agricultural land is given up for housing. That for me would be more easy to accept if it was to have 500 suitable, sustainable family homes built on it. However, more often than not, the majority of houses are 3, 4 or 5 bedroom houses that don’t accurately fit in with the needs of that community’s housing needs. It is clearly down to the greed of developers and local authorities.

I have always been critical of HS2 here in the UK (a high speed rail link, that is cutting through the countryside including irreplaceable ancient woodland and wildlife corridors). It is wreaking all this destruction for what? So business users can get to the north for something ridiculous like 30 minutes quicker than they are now. Again, I ask, what for? Well it’s money and that word again, progress.

I was amused a long time ago by post I saw on social media. It hit the nail on the head for me about the general human state vs the environment. It said this:

“Imagine if trees gave off a WiFi signal. We’d be planting trees all over the place and we’d probably save the planet too.

Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe”.

The crying shame is, it’s true. If only we had the same attitude towards environment and nature as we have towards high speed broadband, high speed rail links, high speed everything.

Our human state is ultimately unhappy, and probably will continue on this path, but at least we can get there quicker.

Progress – part one

Despite my rugged, muscular, ‘man of the mountains’ aura (sic) that I possess, I do have a sensitive side. A few years back, I felt sensitive enough to put my feelings down on paper in poetry form of how I was feeling about some proposed housing developments on designated green belt land near the town where I live. I was quite pleased with the result, not because it was good (it wasn’t) but for the fact that for the first time, I had actually hit the nail on the head with what I wanted to say without being vague and dancing around the subject. The title of this as-yet-to-be-published ditty was Progress.

I called it so in a ironic, sarcastic way as in my view, carving up the green belt was far from progress. After all, how can sacrificing greenery and its own delicate ecosystems in favour of bricks, mortar, cars and concrete be a sign of progress? Councils have the habit of removing green belt status from any previous green belt land as and when they see fit. In my view it makes a mockery of all the systems and policies in place. If green belt can be reassigned, what about conservation areas, SSSIs, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or even National Parks? Is it just something to revoke when the call is made?

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Apart from having nice spaces to look at, humans need them. More importantly, so does the planet. The planet seems to be the biggest loser among all of this ‘progress’, having to contend with our materialistic existence and demands to move quicker at whatever costs. Green spaces, clean air and generally exercising outdoors have been proven to promote healthy bodies and minds. With diabetes, obesity and mental illness on the rise, could there be a link between lack of open space, natural beauty and increased urbanisation and these human conditions? Maybe. A huge part of the problem though is down to increased industrialisation and automation making the human race and labour redundant. With nothing for us to fill the void left by an honest day’s work, we have to look towards other things that ultimately make us unhappy – the never-ending vacuum of material want.

All of this is bringing me more questions than ideas, and not wanting to ramble, this is the end – for now. Which is why it is called Part One!

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, ideas, or experiences from your lives, cultures and environments too.

Perpetual winter and learning

This winter seems to be never-ending. Slowly, the mornings are getting lighter as well as the evenings. Pretty soon, the clocks change and everything accelerates further. Those are the best days yet often taken for granted. Whilst I no longer hate winter I still prefer spring and summer. Spring is unbeatable for the feeling of hope, warmth and the buzz of nature at work.

Whilst the bad weather and extreme temperatures can be devastating to our wildlife, it can bring rarely seen species into our neighbourhoods and gardens. Just the other day I saw a Redwing in extremely close proximity. These are winter visitors to our countryside and are usually seen from afar in flocks. This one seemed to be very tame and alone. ‘Tame’ in that situation is more likely to be representative of desperation. All the same it was great to admire one so close – the red on the wing, the Thrush-like feathering, and the distinctive flash of colour above the eye.

Snow in gardens reveals its secret story. Look at the tracks making their way across the lawn, follow them. See where garden visitors enter and exit your patch. The power and accessibility of the Internet and its wealth of information means you can look up track marks to help identify animals and birds.

Maybe I don’t want the winter to end after all.

Plastic drastic – the 1000 year problem

I’m usually anti anything that’s trending as it’s usually something irrelevant to me and my lifestyle, ‘celebrity’ antics for example or getting the Royal look for your summer wardrobe so you’ll look nothing like a Royal when you’re sat on your arse watching the Royal wedding.

What is trending now though, significantly, is the problem of plastic. It baffles me it’s taken this long for the majority of superpowers to start taking action. Maybe it’s thanks to several TV documentaries on the subject, bringing it to the attention of the (voting) majority. It affects us all.

I have a deep personal regard for the environment in which I live and recreate. To me, recycling and renewable energy are the two most important and achievable changes we can make in the world now. My previous blog covered the subject of littering. There are several crossovers here. The majority of litter I see is recyclable. Plastic left sitting in the town, countryside and ocean does just that – sits. It doesn’t break down. It’s a massive problem.

Let’s look at the facts.

  • 90% of all trash floating in our oceans is plastic.
  • That is roughly 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
  • 1 million seabirds, and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually as a result of plastic pollution.

So that’s the current damage that’s happening now. What about the long term future? Let’s see. Some plastics take 1000 years to decompose. Meaning that every single piece of plastic ever produced is still around somewhere.

Between 2004 and 2014, more plastic was produced than in the entire 20th century! And what happens to the plastic we throw away? 50% of it is only used once, and that’s it. Currently we recover a paltry 5% of the plastic we produce. But if it’s in the ground or bobbing around in the sea, it’s not causing us harm is it? Well it is. It gets into our food chain too, among other things. 93% of Americans tested, showed up positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).

Despite the bleak facts, we can do something to help and there are organisations already trying to do their bit. In the UK, Surfers Against Sewage are making great strides to fight the tide of plastic (bad pun). You can also sign up for beach clean ups, or just clean up where you live or where you walk. Recycle as much as you can, both at home and what you pick up. You can turn your back on plastic packaging altogether or just single use plastics. If you find a single use plastics in your home, be creative and think of another use for it before tossing it away. I’m considering using unrecycleable plastic food trays as seedling trays at my allotment.

I generally hate huge corporations. I also hate huge corporations that sell unhealthy food and drink. But I was impressed with Coca-Cola’s plan recently to recover all of their plastic bottles. I’m not quite sure how they will achieve it, but credit where credit’s due, it’s a bloody good start.

The bottom line is it may not be all of us to blame but all of us can make a difference.

The war on litter

I read this week that Her Royal Highness Liz has declared war on single use plastics on the royal estates, effectively banning their use. Good on her, I say. More should follow her lead (unless it’s attached to a corgi).

It has been a gripe if mine for a while seeing how much litter lies around, not only in towns and cities but also in our countryside too. Our beauty spots, areas of refuge and escape, blighted by litter and debris. I’ve spoken personally about carrying out litter picking trips in my neighbourhood recently but as yet haven’t managed to do it. It’s something I feel is very helpful for both the community and ourselves. How many of us hate seeing litter? I can say hand on heart that I have never deliberately dropped litter, yet I feel compelled to pick other people’s up.

I know of walking groups that take bags on hikes with them and pick up any litter they find, actively enjoying and improving areas they love.

I sometimes find my day job very frustrating. Amongst other things day-to-day, I find myself dissatisfied. I imagine it is to do with the nature of the industry I work in, and not being able to see results. The fruits of your labour if you like. One night I was walking to my allotment and I saw rubbish everywhere I looked, so I started picking it up. Within a few strides I had picked up an armful of fast food wrappers, plastic bottles, all sorts. I saw instant results.  The pathway was clear. I felt satisfied. That was it I thought. The reward for putting in the effort. The benefits for myself, the community (who probably dropped the litter to begin with, he says, sceptically), as well as the environment outweighed the ‘inconvenience’. Mental health organisations call it ‘ecotherapy’. I’ll cover this further in another post.

For many, we think we shouldn’t have to pick it up. I didn’t drop it, I’m not picking it up. Like we’re idiots for working for free. What if everybody thought that? Granted, it’s not our job, but the fact is, local authorities do not care. That’s the sad part. It’s too expensive to do it, so leave it. A study in the UK showed that areas where littering and dog fouling were tolerated had higher levels of crime. The general feeling is the majority will drop litter if they see litter. If a neighbourhood looks neglected, it attracts further neglect.

I bet if there was a reward scheme for litter picking (financial), we would see a shift in visible litter. In the mean time, volunteers do it for the most part. The people who really make a difference to where they live and other areas too, and I’m going to join them. Look at your own area if you can and get out and make some changes, see how you and your area change along the way. It could be really good!

If you’re in the UK, use the link below to find litter pickers in your area.

https://www.litteraction.org.uk/

Stay tidy!