The once a year post which includes pictures.

So, holiday is done. It’s been a fantastic time, but I’m processing some interesting stuff and seem to be all out of words for a bit. Whilst waiting for my words to return here are my favourite pictures! It was a remarkably sunny fortnight, with remarkably few midgies.

Monk's cell

Monk’s Cell

Crinan Canal Walk

It was a hot, sunny day.

Climbing up


One of several remains of dwellings

Avich Falls

This was very noisy!

John Smith Memorial Plaque

I found this by accident in a corner of a car park.


Another hot sunny day..


Intrepid lunch spot


Some of the many steps we came down… if we’d known, we’d never have climbed the other side of the hill. Or if we’d seen these first. But, maybe we were meant not to know.

First time in too many years

First time in about seven years I’ve been away on a proper holiday. One that’s not staying with friends (though I am with a friend) one that’s in new territory (to me, not friend) and which is longer than a week!

I’m in a bit of Scotland which is almost unknown to me other than names. I resisted singing the two songs which jumped immediately to mind as we drove down to Campbeltown from Loch Awe and contemplated the wisdom on going further into the Mull of Kintyre either that day or another. This really was an exploratory drive to suss out which places and areas we wanted to go back to and which we were happy to have seen, but weren’t bothered if we didn’t get back to.

“You can’t go to Scotland and not climb a mountain.” exclaimed at least one other friend. Um, I can! I am not stupid about what my slightly odd sense of balance, current boots and outdoor clothing can cope with and it’s not mountains. All perfectly adequate for the purposes I do put them to, and for immediate future plans. But I have been walking in hillier terrain than my middle of the country city provides and coping splendidly with it as well as enjoying it. To the point of realising that I would need better and slightly larger boots if I were to start walking in this kind of terrain more regularly which is not impossible from where I live. As I am wearing out my current walking boots, which were relatively cheap but perfectly adequate for the purpose originally intended, I have been plotting new boots. Two pairs of. I was expecting significantly achy legs but seem to have got the routine sorted for averting the worst of the aches. I had a bit of an “Oi, what’s with this up and down hill malarkey?” few minutes as I got going on an uphill to a monument yesterday, but not a full scale “WHAT!! We are NOT doing THAT!!”.

I am startled to realise I am significantly fitter than I realised. OK, so if I went off on a 31 mile walk a week or so ago I must be. (Can the Circular Bus Route be turned into an Olympic Event? I’d only be 55 and younger than Nick Skelton is now. He made me cry yesterday during his medal ceremony!) It’s causing much amusement to friend who I have holidayed with before and our usual routine has been for me to sit in car with book whilst she went off on walks. This time, I asked to get put out of the car a couple of miles from our cottage on the way back as I felt I’d not walked enough that day! I’ve also been faster going up hill though I still hate coming down and am every bit as slow. (Need for boots as noted above.) There was a comment of “That was quick.” as I arrived back.

The weather has been glorious for most of the time so far, and looks set to return to good after a couple of rainy days. I have had an adequate test of the wet weather gear. I’d’ve felt ever so slightly cheated if I’d not had at least one wet walk in Scotland.

And – there’s still another week to go. Beams happily.

The Circular Bus Route Walk

I’ve lived in this city for about eleven years, three different times, and for most of that time this has been a significant bus route. I’ve lived very close to rather than actually on the route itself, commuted by it, gone  to church, taken myself off to parts of the city I wouldn’t think of going to otherwise… and since I no longer live a minute’s walk from the nearest bus stop on The Circular Bus Route (CBR), I’ve kind of missed it.

OK, I have NOT missed the random nature of it, the tendency for the busses to get lonely and travel in twos and threes, (five at once is my personal record after a 45 minute wait – yes, I was late), the conviction that the timetable for this route is a work of fiction. But, I have missed it, nonetheless.

It’s 27 miles long. I’d been eyeing it up as a possible 2 day walk recently. After all, I’ve begun regularly walking 14/15 miles. Then, I kind of lost motivation for walking at all last week (solved by getting on with some tasks I’d been having an ostrich attitude about) followed by the realisation that, actually, I’d like to walk round it in one day. Cue dubious looks from friends… Cue heels dug in stubbornness from me…

This week originally was looking not likely as I had no completely clear days in it – and I’d thought I’d postpone it until the October few days off work, but, then Monday became unexpectedly completely free, the weather looked perfect…

8.03 saw me at the CBR bus stop closest to the bus route from home and ready to set off in the anti-clockwise direction. No, I was NOT walking the 3 miles from home as well as the 27… I even remembered the camera and a notebook. I got a bit too statistic-y-fied for the first three hours or so, and concluded this was slowing me up too much so abandoned all but three for the rest of the day.

Firstly, I made a list of all the places of worship. There is a Wikipedia entry for this route and pubs, schools, hospitals all feature but not churches. I’d done the churches/places of worship list before after an idle conversation about the fact all the churches (at that stage) I’d ever gone to regularly were on the CBR. I need the old computer to dig out that list – but it has changed, I’m sure. The West of the Route still has far more place of worships than the East. I walked whole hours on the East without encountering a church, unlike the West, where I had two different hours where it felt like I stopped every 5 minutes.

Secondly, I took a photo of the nearest bus stop every hour. This got me into a Bit of Bother a couple of times. Despite my care, a man was utterly convinced I was stalking him to take photos of him and he ran after me to demand to see what I’d been doing. I’m not at all fond of my photo being taken, especially by a random stranger, so I willingly showed him the pictures to prove he wasn’t on any of them, explained I was purely on a Personal Mission to walk round the bus route, and the photos were just for aide-memoires… at which point he seemed to conclude I was quite, quite mad and not safe to be anywhere near and ran off again…

This activity also aroused the suspicion of an Amey man who was working at the stop at 9.00 a.m.. I just beamed at him as I took the photo of the bus stop sign, muttered about “Method in my Madness” and carried on. He then happened to be at the 10.00 a.m. stop, 2.7 miles down the road. I then had the giggles as he looked at me in sheer disbelief as I took the next photo. “I’m really sorry,” I said, in response to his accusation of following him. “Um, I’m walking the CBR bus route, and taking a photo of which ever stop I’m nearest to every hour.” We concluded he wasn’t likely to see me again that day. So, Mr Amey Man, should you be reading this, I did get round in a day!

Thirdly, I counted buses. Now, I had a few moments off-route for food and essential stops as opportunity presented. I also got ever so slightly misplaced between 11.30 and 12.15. I was on the section of the route I knew least well, had forgotten there were deviations to following the numbered road that 98% of the CBR follows, and possibly should have had a mid-morning snack as well. I had my lunch at Different Number Bus Stop (Where realisation dawned I’d gone wrong) as I consulted the maps and determinedly walked back the mile to the CBR where I’d gone wrong. But, fundamentally, I must have seen almost every bus in both directions for the vast majority of the day. So, why such a significantly higher number in the anti-clockwise direction (85) to the clockwise (58) is a great mystery.

In the “Random Observations” category

  • I also, as a result of being seen with an A-Z in hand, was asked directions several times.
  • I  encountered far fewer dogs being walked. As I pointed out to one dog walker who accused me of being a dog hater when I asked him to get his dog away from sniffing me in inappropriate places, I really don’t hate dogs at all. I’m just wary of unknown ones and prefer them to be under the control of their owner, not sniffing or growling at me.
  • I also encountered far fewer on-pavement cyclists on the non-shared sections of the pavements. Those I did were more aggressive and clear that pedestrians having the temerity to walk on a pavement designated for walking on were a nuisance.
  • I lost count of the number of cars parked in such a way that would’ve forced someone in a wheelchair or with prams/buggies to have to go into the road. I gave up after three hours and I’d got to 35. That was the better quarter of the walk…
  • I enjoyed the statistics, but tried to do too many at once!
  • I misjudged food intake and need to have something every couple of hours when I’m doing a walk longer than that.
  • The impressiveness of the proper walking socks combined with proper walking boots is massive. In former walking days, in standard trainers and socks, I’d regularly get blisters on any walk of more than 4 or 5 miles – no more.

Next time I do this (Yes, there will be a next time, just not today or even this week or month.) I will go clockwise. Logistically, that will probably work better (More available toilets near the end would’ve been good.)

Motivation is strange

At least, my brand of it is most odd.

I’ve had quite some significant time to sort out the cooker. After all, it stopped working the day I moved in here over a year ago. So when does it happen? That’s right – just before the end of my uninterrupted spell of three weeks at home with no other commitments.

Did I go out all prepared and organised with all the information I needed? I did not. I had intended to go for a walk in an area I know really well, but had resolutely avoided the scenic walk in that area for some strange Japes type of logic. I even met some colleagues on my way there and said that was what I off to do. So, why change my mind 7/8s of the way there and detour to the electrical shop instead! No, I’ve no idea  unless it’s the “Japes, on the whole, needs pressure and a deadline to get some things done.” line of thinking. I tend to either get on with a job and am really, really, really on top of it. Or I work to the last minute dead line and there can be some very strange deadlines in my own thinking. No happy medium.

Anyway, I’m back to the shop today with the essential information, with photos to demonstrate the space and with the correct card for paying with.

Then, I might reward myself with lunch out and the amble around the scenic walk I’ve been avoiding. I’ve spent 11 years in this city and 4 of those years living slap bang in the middle of two parts of the walk  – one part to the back of the house, the other part across the road and though a cut-through at the front of the house.

All change

Sometimes trying too hard to get something “right” means you get it wrong! I did think I wanted a room set aside for prayer but it seems I wanted to want it. What I really did want was a room to work in, to be able to shut the work away if I didn’t want to tidy it away,  and not have it take over the sitting room.

So, I have abandoned the idea of a designated prayer room and turned it into a study instead. It means I’ve moved the printer and all the organist related work out of the sitting room, along with the household admin files. Which feels a lot better. I still have the piano I mainly play downstairs, along with the piano music, but all other music related work has gone to the study as well.

I’ve moved the sitting room furniture around a lot today as well. I think everything, except the piano and the piano music bookcase, has been moved at least five times before finally settling on the current variation which seems good! It’s nice to be sitting just getting used to the new arrangements.

This also means a bit of a re-think Under The Stairs! I had a table there, which has now gone to the study. This is both Good and Not So Good. But, I have a plan…

(Whispers – all this means is my prayer books have moved to a new corner of the sitting room, and I no longer feel guilty for not taking myself upstairs to pray…)

The annual Social Media crackdown

Sighs deeply…

It’s become a bit of an annual event, the week after students leave, to have a massive crackdown on my social media accounts. Well, the main one they would think of at any rate. To my fairly certain knowledge few of them have even thought I do Twitter with some honourable exceptions to whom I have outed myself as a Twitter user, as their faces have appeared on my Twitter feed via organisations they are involved with at a national level (I have impressive students!) and I saved copies of the pictures for them, being careful not to do print screens with my Twitter user name.

But, the other one, it’s getting more of a nightmare. This year has seen the first actual requests from students the day they become ex-students. That’s simple to deal with – they were all told I have a 10 year rule (a select handful were cheerfully informed of a 20 year rule!) that IF they remember me in 10 years time and ask again I might, if I remember them, add them. Until such time, if they ask, they are automatically blocked. Nice and simple, clear-cut and fair, those who I have ever so slightly wavered about understand completely and anyway, they have been told it’s fine to contact me via my work e-mail, which I know they are unlikely to do unless there’s something they really want me to know about. They certainly don’t want me seeing all their social media stuff, even if they did show me occasional pictures or statuses when I was working with them. That was under their control and that’s as it should be.

However, it’s not the actual students who are the problem this year, it’s other colleagues who accept them as friends then engage with them on something I’ve engaged with. That’s how I’ve been tracked down this year by those who have sent the requests, despite my careful settings.

So, lists have been created, people have been un-friended or un-followed. We’ve had long conversations about it amongst my immediate colleagues for this year and we were all of one mind about it, especially after I blandly stated I’d be immediately  un-friending anyone who accepted requests from the students on whom I’d imposed my 20 year rule. And, especially after I’d worked out that a previous option of setting friends requests privacy levels to  “no-one” had vanished. What I’d done in previous years was set that around this time of year, and cautiously change it back to “friends of friends” as the new academic year got going around November time.

As I’ve been told when I’ve complained out loud to those who do it, technically it’s OK as they are no longer students. However, I work in a small, close-knit world of education, all our ex-students have friends amongst the current students, they are likely to remain friends, both on social media and in real life, for a long time. Out of the less than twenty I worked with closely this year, half have left, half of those remaining were in deep mourning for the loss of their friendship group and were struggling with that a lot the last week of term. I know those returners will be fine and that those friendships will be sustained outside of college, and I will get news that way for the next two years. We don’t do “year groups” but “subject groups” so final year students can be working with first year students, but they are all working at their own levels. (So, less than ten students in a group had three different levels of work, and two of those levels had different units going on as they were at different stages of completion.)

I could, of course, not use social media. However, I want to, I maintain contact with a wide number of friends (yes, 99% of my friends are just that and the 1% are people I engaged with for a long time via blogs or Twitter before cautiously taking up or suggesting a FB request), I enjoy the word games I play with friends, games I wouldn’t get to play otherwise (I am a life long reasonably good Scrabble player!) and would rather do so responsibly than cut off from it.

I also think I model reasonable on-line behaviour. I’m involved with blogging and have been for almost ten years now. I’ve been kicking around two different forums, one for more than ten years and another for the last year. I’ve made my mistakes and hopefully learnt from them! I’ve been part of and watched the ebbs and flows of blogging and forum life, the evolving of on-line etiquette, the developing of it all as mainstream interaction. I continue to do so relatively anonymously, but I do use the same username or a variation of it across all platforms, with my relatively unusual first name as well where appropriate. My original reason for that is receding rapidly, but is still a minor consideration. My other reason for retaining a certain amount of anonymity is still valid and whilst that is the case Japes I remain in the blogging/on-line forum world.


That was quite a year…

I’d said that about 2015 in general, which seems a long time ago now, but I am now saying it about the 2015/16 academic year plus the completed Year One of Changing Health!

The academic year is not quite finished yet, but despite my misgivings at the beginning of the year I have really enjoyed the changes in the work I did this year. More academic support, far less behaviour support. Or maybe it’s that I’ve developed so many behaviour support strategies over the years it seems like less work but actually I’ve done more! I’ve got the hang of the main course I’ve been supporting, plus a good grasp of all the levels. Which has been needed as I’ve had to jump around between three levels a lot. I’ve had moments of returning to last year’s work in moments of crisis for them, and it’s been pleasing to slot in easily. (Even if new, smaller overalls will be needed for next year! Again!)

So – (consults the statistics) – I am 51lbs (or 24 kgs) smaller than this time last year. A grand total of 116 lbs (or 52 kgs) from the worst ever recorded, and I have an ominous feeling it may have been slightly more, but no matter. There is a very clear recollection of that number and it’s what I’ve worked with in recording these statistics. I am currently 10 lbs off the target I set myself, and 5 lbs away from the lightest I ever remember noting as an adult. Which was the first time I lost weight after my student days. I think there may be a suggestion of another 7 or so lbs after that, but I will see how it looks and feels when i get to my target.

The real aim of getting my blood sugars back into control is the true on-going and now life long battle. Which for now is working. I am under no illusions this could change. I can currently have an occasional meal out, a small slice of cake, a few chips or maybe a little chocolate without ill-effects. I know if it all goes wrong what level of strictness to apply again. I don’t eat bread, pasta or rice any more. (The very occasional re-test has not proved good – it’s less the immediate effect, more the fact it takes ages to get back to a good place again afterwards, though that was faster after the recent pita bread test!) The official blood tests are pleasing, but could be better. The official verdict is “Keep doing whatever you are doing because it is working.”

The surprising results are

  • I am mostly enjoying the extra walking – the competitions with myself are fun. 700 miles in just under 6 months. I am faster too. This year’s walking challenge will include trying to get faster on exercise physical activity walks rather than commute walks. (I am happy ambling on those.)
  • I seem to be enjoying gardening now I’ve decided it’s Good Physical Activity! Just as well, as there’s more grass to cut, hedges/bushes to trim, and paving slabs to kill off weeds in between in Current Abode.
  • I do have loads more stamina, and I had a pretty considerable amount before. I maintained I could do anything at my pace and just keep going. My pace has upped and my just keep going has really taken off to hours before a break…
  • I am considering showering to save water as I need more water to fill the bath.
  • Clothes are not only smaller, but take up less space on the drying racks. Jeans especially.
  • Dress wearing will take place this week. Eek!
  • Chocolate has been in my house and not eaten. I have thrown out one opened and two unopened boxes I had completely forgot about as being over six months past their “Best before date”. This is the most significant change of all. It is not hard to say “No” to these things any more, though it is hard to convince friends that what I am eating works and makes sense when much of it is counter to all advice given for “healthy eating” over the last thirty years or so. However, all I do now is shrug my shoulders, point out the results they can see, state I have neither high blood pressure nor high cholesterol and make of that what you will.

I do kind of feel this year has been “me” focused in a way I’ve not necessarily found comfortable. There’s a-whole-nother post in that – but not today, maybe.

Sorting various situations out again

Apart from a few old fleeces. a couple of pairs of jeans which fit with the aid of a belt and ancient t-shirts which come in handy when attending to the activities known to the rest of the world as housework, gardening and painting but to me as essential physical activities, the remains of the clothing I have owned for more than a year are bagged up for taking to new homes. Oh, and I’ve kept one pair of every size of jeans I’ve meandered through over the last eighteen months or so. (7 pairs…) There’s going to be a photograph at some point, then they too will be re-homed.

Today, I took myself off to the nearest branch of a particular clothing store where larger sizes are the norm, where I wanted to test if I could fit in their smallest available size. I did, but was aware the jeans were slightly loose around the waist. The shirt style blouse was also slightly loose. Now, I do like looser rather than tighter clothing. But, I am highly likely to lose a little more weight over the coming months before declaring “No more!” and then tackling the new battle of maintaining  that weight whilst keeping good blood sugar levels and control.

Tempting as it was, I did not go on a massive replenishing my wardrobe spree… I did buy a few smaller t-shirts, a couple of better fitting shirt style blouses, and then just had a try on of all kinds of clothes across a range of shops to see if I could work out what now suits me and what fits! (Mindful that sizes range wildly across different shops and depend on all kinds of factors, but I was cheerfully noting I was pretty consistently fitting into a size I don’t ever recall fitting into from the time I shifted into adult size clothing. Though, I also reminded myself Sizes Have Changed.)

It’s been quite an experience being at the receiving end of the wide range of comments people I scarcely know and who do not know my health situation have felt free to make. I seriously considered asking for an “All Staff” e-mail to go out (at work) or putting a notice on the pew-sheet (at church) asking people to stop commenting on and judging both my weight and what I now choose to eat or not eat. I also seriously considered handing out a leaflet explaining the basics of Type 2 Diabetes as they apply to me and asking people to refrain from offering unsolicited advice just because they know someone who doesn’t tackle it the way I do. Anyway, as my doctor and specialist nurse both happily said after my last set of appointments “There’s still work to do, but keep doing whatever it is you are doing because it is working!!”

So, yes, I have lost a lot of weight and I am adjusting to that. It is odd having choice in stores about clothes. It’s odd realising I take up less space than I used to. I still look at gaps and think “I can’t fit through that!” Then to realise, actually, I can and with room to spare. It’s odd not just being able to eat what I want without thinking of the consequences or if I have that, I certainly can’t have that. (But, it’s kind of nice on days when the numbers on the meter say “Yep, you can have something else!”) I’m much, much more planned and organised about food and meals. One of this summer’s tasks is to get another freezer and get lots of single portions of meals I’ve cooked frozen to make some evenings just a bit easier.

I cannot say this often enough to those who want to know “how I’ve done it”.. I’ve really and truly not been trying to lose weight deliberately, I have been engaged in the far, far more important work of getting my blood sugar levels well controlled. This is just a rather splendid result.

It’s also important to acknowledge massive numbers of people have been fantastic! As one of my colleagues newly returned from maternity leave remarked. “It wasn’t my business to ask. But, of course, I’d noticed!”

Weaving strands together

Generally, when I’m in the middle of a Big Think, weaving is a theme which recurs.

This past academic year has been one I’ll remember for so many reasons, not least what I’ve learnt from my students. A previous strong strand of my life which had been well and truly wound up and packed away in the “May be useful one day” bag in the corner of my mind has been the talking of God-stuff to young adults – at their instigation. I cannot emphasis how strongly I’ve always felt about that bit in italics. I’ve always been open and honest with those I’ve worked with both colleagues and students that church is an important part of my life. I’ve always been willing to talk with those who want to talk more or who ask the questions. This year has seen a lot of those seemingly random conversations with young adults who I’ve worked with pretty closely at all kinds of levels.. from the students of various faiths asking me to pray “Because we know you will” to those struggling with sexuality and God and church, to those just interested.

Then there has been the strong suggestion I return to doing some preaching. I have always regarded the preaching I had done in the past in the “Can do it because I’ve got to, don’t really feel it’s my calling” category. I still do, if I’m honest, but I am aware I can do it, we’re not getting nourishing preaching at the moment and what little we are getting will be stopping in a few months. I’m not as yet convinced my motives are good…

Having had a few months where the prayer room chez moi wasn’t really working, I’ve moved it around again and solved the physical issues. Not a lot I can do about the starlings nesting in the eaves and panicking me into thinking there are mice around, but once I’d realised that was part of the problem and it will be seasonal, then it was OK to return!

Then, the health issues all seem to be settling down. I await the latest test results and to see where things are from there. Early indications are excellent and initial medical professional reactions were good. The  various new routines are embedded into my life and are automatic ones now. Next week’s visit to Cadbury’s World will be a real test of many things! (I am mindful that the Easter Chocolate made me feel quite ill, so am interested in a re-test of a small amount. Purely for scientific and medical research purposes for my students’ sake… we’ve all been fascinated at the effect on my blood sugar of my one milky coffee a week.)

So, much as I would love to defer this idiotic idea that I do, in fact, have a call to preach and possibly Reader ministry, I have a massively sinking feeling I cannot put it off.

Having a Big Think

Meh. It seems to be my most over-used word this week…

My peace of mind has been well and truly shattered. Just when you think all is well and contented on Planet Japes, work is good, church life is, well, what it is for now and, all in all, things is pretty well settled. Then, God decides it’s time to get people to Say What They Think I Should Be Doing Again, and given the random combination of the people concerned, I do have to take what they are all saying quite seriously indeed.

Mind you, the FB straw poll I decided casually to throw open to those I interact with there, came up with the same answer as my original three out-spoken friends – yes, I should.

I can think of so many reasons why I shouldn’t!

Back to the Big Think.