A Walk in the Dark

I’m walking more than I used to. It’s become a thing. 

I’ve been a car-driver, suburban-dweller and commuter for over 25 years, but my current job has led to a significant decline in the amount of simple movement in my daily life, and now I’m remedying that. Good. 

This means that most days I take a walk. Most days that walk takes place at the end of the day; before or after our evening meal, depending on who’s cooking and what time I get home from work. I walk for between 30 and 90 minutes factoring in how sedentary my day has been. I’ve been doing it for long enough that I know a number of circular routes round my neighbourhood, which take predictable lengths of time to complete. 

Now, as the evenings draw in, I’m more and more often walking in the dark and this has prompted a surprising discovery; I’m afraid when I walk in the dark. More surprising still was how I made this discovery. I only noticed the fear had existed when I realised it wasn’t there. 

I’m not afraid of the dark itself. I can sit in a garden as darkness falls enjoying the bats, or rummage round the house in darkness so as not to waken my sleeping family. Nor am I generally afraid in my neighbourhood. We’ve lived here for over 20 years, occasionally leaving the garage open or the back door unlocked with no ill outcome. The crime rate here is lower than the city where I grew up. But still, when I take the cloak of darkness and my pleasant neighbourhood together, I feel fear when I’m out walking. 

I’m not so afraid that it stops me walking. That’s why I didn’t notice I was afraid at first. I would strike out each evening, determined – perhaps a little grimly determined – to complete my walk and I’d come home flushed and thirsty and declare my steps done. Then my 16yo son got a new longboard and offered to skate along with me as I walked. This is how I came to notice the fear was gone. 

When 16yo skates the road that I’m walking, my pace slows down a fraction. I’m still brisk, but no longer rushing headlong. (This is not an illusion, my walk-mapping app tracks this.) The tension in my throat and the little tickly cough disappears. My arms relax as they swing, hands no longer clenched into fists. I arrive home without a sour taste in my mouth. 

My 16yo is taller than me, but he’s a long skinny thing. I doubt he’s any heavier than I am. I’ve no idea if he’s handy in a fight. But he’s a male person alongside me and it makes a difference; a difference I would almost certainly have denied could be possible, until I actually experienced the physical relief of walking without my stomach tied in knots with fear. 

When I’m walking alone, I’m constantly, unconsciously, assessing the level of risk around me, the single men that come up behind me silent and swift, the cars that pull alongside and then pass, the groups of walkers that loom towards me in the darkness (are they a mixed group, or all men?), the parked vans I have to pass, the vehicles that pass me and then pull up next to where I’ll be walking in a moment or two (do they want something, do they just live there?) 

Since the first time I experienced a walk in the dark without fear, I’ve chosen to make a more conscious assessment of my surroundings. I’ve been doing this for about a fortnight now and in that time I’ve not come across any other woman just walking alone, at least, not without a dog in tow. 

The fear may not be rational; by objective measures, my neighbourhood is safe, and I’m walking at a time which isn’t “late” (in high summer, it would still be light) but the fear is real. I feel it viscerally when I stop to notice, but it’s so very built in and ingrained that most of the time if I’m walking in the dark alone it’s just my normal state of being. 

My 14yo daughter walks with me sometimes instead. Does this bring the same relief? No. Of course, no. In fact my nerves are taughtened. I’m fearful and protective both of her and me. Is this justified? I don’t know. What I do know is that walking in the dark with her, vehicles that approach us from behind honk us and rev their engines at us. “Who is that?” asks my daughter, “What do they want?” And I honestly have no idea. I’ve never been honked or revved at when out walking with 16yo. 

“Maybe,” I say, “they just want to make us afraid.” 

It works. 

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Some thoughts on goal-setting. (It’s that time of year). 

I used to have my Jawbone UP (like a Fitbit) set to the goal of doing 8,000 steps a day. That’s not all that many more steps than I would do just pottering about on a normal day and some days I would walk that many steps without trying. It seemed like an attainable goal without requiring much behaviour change on my part. 

I failed to hit that goal most days of the week. Every week. 


A couple of months ago I made a change, and pushed my goal higher, to the 10,000 steps that is recommended for basic health and fitness. 

The thing is, I would never hit 10,000 steps by accident on a normal day. If I wanted to hit this target I would have to set out specifically to walk 

So that’s what I did.

For the last couple of months I’ve built a daily walk into my day, and other than when extreme events have intervened (not weather events, I walk come rain or shine) I have hit the 10,000 every day. Go me! 

What was it about having a more demanding goal that made it easier to achieve? 

I think it was because it forced me to make a really conscious and deliberate change to my routine, which I have now repeated often enough for it to become a proper habit. Before, when I was often nearly at the goal, I told myself I’d probably make it without much extra effort, and if I missed it by a few hundred steps, it didn’t matter very much. That meant that I didn’t really try very hard and if I failed I already had my get-out clause: “it’s no biggie”. Now I know that if I want to hit the goal, a walk is a must, and if I miss the goal it’s because I made a conscious choice not to try. I don’t want to consciously not try – that would be a rubbish way to go after a goal – so that gives me the extra motivation I need to steer myself away from the comfy sofa and to put my shoes on again to notch up a couple of thousand extra steps. 

I now know a whole range of circular walks that get me from 1,000 to 7,000 steps on the clock, and I’ve walked many of them with my children, who seem happy to come along. (This has been a pleasant surprise). 

It’s caused me to reflect that a more challenging goal may perversely be easier to achieve because it requires a significant, observable change in behaviour, and that can actually be more motivating than going after “marginal gains”. 

Works for me anyway. Happy walking. 

I get knocked down. But I get up again. #nurture1516

  At the beginning of 2015, full of hope, I made myself a Gratitude jar. I expected to fill it through the course of the year with little slips of paper naming the things that had made me glad and grateful each day. The “fragile equilibrium” of 2014 (https://itsmotherswork.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/nurture-1415-fragile-equilibrium/) would surely become the stable baseline of 2015, and the solid foundation on which my year could build? 

And so the year started. 

But, when I came to empty the jar this week, it was only about one third full. 

  
My Gratitude had dried up, sometime around May. And with the exception of a little note from DH in October, which I’d added to the pile, I’d had nothing fresh to file under “gratitude” for seven months. It’s not that there had been nothing to be grateful for in all that time, just – I guess – that I’d stopped making gratitude my attitude. But why? 

I was just so damned tired. Not just physically tired, or mentally tired, but deeply, existentially tired. Tired of making the best of things; tired of finding the happy in things; tired of looking for the good in things; tired of optimism; tired of hope. Tired. 

I was probably already that tired at the end of 2014. I just had the wilful blindness of Wile. E. Coyote, continuing to run long after the cliff edge has disappeared. Nothing particularly awful happened to me in May 2015, it was just the moment at which I metaphorically looked down and realised that I didn’t have the ground underneath my feet any more. That I was falling, and flailing, not flying. Instead of my energy coming back as I’d expected it to when the days lengthened, I found that had to choose to run on empty, or not run at all. 

It turns out that I am quite the phenomenon. That I can run for a very, very long time with a perilously low fuel gauge. That I can think about how to stop, and plan how to stop, and make arrangements to stop, and still not stop. I’d make an excellent end-of-level boss in one of my 10yo’s video games. 

Despite a really low year, I tried hard at my five goals for 2015: 

1) I made it through the dark months, and I stayed kind to myself. (It’s just that the energy didn’t come back).

2) I didn’t maintain the journal. So, I suppose that gives me some clean pages for 2016. 

3) 2015 was about work. And it’s become a battle about the way that I do it. Oh well. It’s the right ground to be fighting on. 

4) Yes. Despite everything, I really do think I’m managing to feed the family better, in every way. 

5) Yes. I did get away. In a planned way. Twice. And I came back again. I think these are the little top ups that stopped me rattling to a halt completely. 

As 2016 looms, I don’t feel strong, and I don’t feel I have an equilibrium, but I do have clarity. I have only one goal this year. To fill my jar. 

Bookinashoe – Reading “The Homecoming of Samuel Lake”

What greater pleasure is there than a good book? Maybe, a good book shared. 

I hadn’t made time to read a work of fiction for more than a year when I picked up “The Homecoming of Samuel Lake” and was amazed by how quickly it gripped me. I loved meeting the Lake and the Moses families. The simple abundance of their lives, the elastic and permeable boundaries of the Moses family home, Samuel Lake’s uncomplicated faith, their stoicism in the face of challenge and even family tragedy; all these qualities draw a reader in. 

But a novel that opens with the line: “John Moses couldn’t have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he’d planned it for a lifetime.” must surely have more darkness in store. And so it unfolds. 

Always, in a story where there’s a sense that something rotten lurks beneath the sunnier, lighter episodes, the greatest sense of foreboding attaches itself to children. Their generally untroubled enjoyment of the world is a clean canvass on which the story-telling can drop blots and splodges, and eventually bloody spatters. When the central character is an 11 year old girl, described as “formidable”, it’s a narrative essential for that formidability to be ruthlessly challenged. 

For a reader with a social work sensibility, this is a book densely packed with signs and signifiers, behaviours to evaluate, hypotheses to explore, archetypes to deconstruct. Faced with the same set of circumstances unfolding in a community we work in, for a family we work with or a child we are focused on, what would our assessment be? What are the family’s strengths? How does the family and community protect its children, and it’s vulnerable adults? How does that same community collude with its villains and conceal its injustices?

Over a few weeks Tweetmates interested in @swbookgroup read and digested “The Homecoming of Samuel Lake” and their tweets as they read suggested they were finding the book as compelling and moving as I had. Then on the evening of 2 September, we held an online book group chat for an hour, using the hashtag #bookinashoe with me tweeting and gently shepherding the chat from the @swbookgroup account. 

In the end I asked just 4 questions to prompt the discussion (and I could probably have got away with asking just one). Those questions were: 

  • Would you describe the Moses / Lake family resilient? Why? 
  • How would you assess the male characters in this book as fathers? 
  • Will Swan (the main character) be all right after her ordeal? How do you know?
  • Was justice done in the end?

There were so many other themes we could have explored. 

  • The women characters were fascinating; they had many strengths. Much of the family resilience was their creation.
  • The role of religion (especially organised religion) and the extent to which the novel critiqued it. Whether miracles do happen? 
  • Childhood idylls – how they are complicated by family tragedy, but may never be completely obliterated. 
  • How families (big extended families especially) do “acceptance” of each other’s foibles and failings. 
  • How people deal with guilt, shame, stigma, especially around bereavement, suicide, domestic abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, infidelity and sexual violence. 
  • How (and whether) traumatised children settle in substitute families. How children respond as “carers”. 
  • What it means to be “honest” (and is that always “the best policy”?)
  • Whether killing can ever be justified, and if not, what does that say about a killer?
  • Social work concepts such as post traumatic growth, whole family / systemic approaches, scapegoating of particular children, use of self as a social worker.
  • Social work practice skills, such as observing the unsaid, using genograms to map family narratives, knowing when talking is or isn’t useful to someone coping with trauma.

As you can see, there was more than enough material in this book for many hours of social work-themed (or non-themed) chat, and great delight in picking it over with so many interesting and interested minds. Even if you missed the chat, don’t miss the book. Whether or not you have a chance to share the experience with other readers, there’s so much in this story to thrill, scare, stun and to enjoy. 

“The Homecoming of Samuel Lake” – @swbookgroup Recommended.


June 2015 – Love Wins! 

June started with this loving gift from DH…   
Apparently, even after all these years, I still press all his buttons.
    

Then there was this reminder from @Jo_Planet, honeymooning with @PlanetCath.
    
I’ve lost track of where this image came from. It was from some kind of family campaign, but i forget which.
    
Then came one of my favourite kind of tweets: “Saw this and thought of you”. We look with different eyes if we’re looking out for ❤️, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than the found hearts that are sent my way.
  
I’ve been sent this one before, but i think it’s so beautiful, I’m sharing it again.
  
Then two from London’s South Bank sent by @TheABB
    
  
I’ve had this one before too…
  
But this one was completely new, via @Sturner1970 from Liverpool’s RiverFest.
  
I’ve lost track of who sent me this hedgerow curving over into a ❤️ above the path. Thank you to whichever Tweetmate sent it, and I’m sorry i didn’t keep better records.
  
This, via @jmcefalas is part of a great collection of hearts from her trip to Denmark.
    
“Love is a heart-shaped storm.” Oh yes.
  

  
This is my 7yo in her self-designed sunglasses.  

I’ve got a feeling this one was either from @kaygeeuk or @A_BoxofRain
  

Then this from @NoReadinginGaol

  

Which was side-by-side in my notifications with a set of “ugly” fruit via @UglyFruitandVeg spotted by @bellaale  

One of @NatashaSmasha’s monkeys had been baking. Brownies. Mmm.  
And one Tweetmate saved their game at this point as the bubbles (?) we’re making a perfect heart.   
  

This one, sent by @kaygeeuk became my avi for quite a while.   
  

This one is from @kaygeeuk too.  
  

Thank you to JiniMae for this stunning fern.   
  

And to @ajjolley for these ferrets, which I have seen before but again, why not share as they are so very cute.

  
  

From Edinburgh via @FurcoatNaeNicks

  
  

And from @ArdPad. (Reminds me of Richard Long.)  
  

@A_BoxOfRaij went marching on 20 June. Amid the justifiable rage there was also plenty of ❤️. I think that’s where the rage comes from. Fuck the fucking fuckers indeed.   
    
    
  

And this “map of the introvert’s heart” continues to do the rounds. The artist @gemmacorrell is on Twitter. She makes me smile.

  

@Bonklesoul sent me healthy eating reminders. 

    
  

And for reasons I can’t fathom this turned up on the hashtag #livetweetyourperiod   

I found this image while googling about looking for rainbow hearts on the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalised equal marriage. Twitter was alive with the #LoveWins hashtag (and little rainbow hearts attached to the tag).

  

Even UN HCR (tweeting as @RefugeesCR) had ❤️ to share.   
  

Love isn’t winning everywhere. But it remains all around. In Argentina, the response to another femicide brought women onto the streets.  
  

Meanwhile, there’s beautiful jewellery to find (thanks @julessn)  
  

And amazing mugs.

  
  

And the earliest signs of autumn (noooooooooooo!)  
  

But not too autumnal for a barbecue.

  
  

Then this lovely one from @ImogenDempsey39 at Southwold  

And the @MYSADCAT account even got in on the act. 

    

I loved this one from @Andy_s_64 

    

@betsysalt knows how much I love cheese, and found this. #totheendsoftheearthforcheese 

  

Meanwhile @jaxrafferty found this at one of my childhood haunts, Boldrewood arboretum.  
  

I loved this set of three images from @woodcarver_t 

  
    
  

I’ve tweeted his work before, and another trawl through his timeline showed there were many more lovely ❤️ to be found.   
  

He’d also tweeted this image, which seems a perfect one to end the month on. June. Love Won.  

Feelin’ the Love. May 2015

So, a world full of Tweetmates is sending me hearts. It’s the loveliest thing. Here’s the May crop. I’ve started including the tweets they’re sent in, so senders get credit, and you can see snippets of the conversation. 

Such a lovely, gentle way to focus attention, and then to share a “find”. 

   
  

  Teeny tiny confetti.

Followed by a lovely collection of hearts from my friend @jmcefalas travelling in Denmark.

  
      Turned out it was on a teeny tiny baby shoe.

            

And then I made pie.       

I check out the hearts in new followers’ avis.              

And while @jmcefalas was in Denmark, @kaygeeuk was in Ukraine.   

And @bonklesoul in…well…Bonkle.

           

And then @kaygeeuk came back.        

So there is!       

This one was from @A_BoxOfRain, reprising an earlier picture.      

And Judith, who knows my propensity for throwing stuff, skimmed me a heartstone all the way from New Zealand.      

You can’t tell that this is one for me until you click on the picture…

    And then there it is!

  

At some point in May, I had a birthday.

  

And Nurses had their own special day.          

They are everywhere. And it’s the loveliest thing that people keep finding them and sending them to me.     

Or I sometimes stumble upon them myself. 

              

This lonely confetti (confetto?) is one of my favourites.       

And this teenier, tinier, weenie at heart on a grubby hand!     

These Amber hearts are glorious, but, not as dear to me as this metalwork heart made by my own 12yo.            

Well gloss over the night I spent on the Prosecco.                         

Awww. This spaghetti heart is very cute. The more so that an 8yo found it.   

And this heart is almost too subtle to spot straight away.  

These are pot toppers, bought by my 7yo at the garden centre. They look magical. Or like sweets.    

This is fantastic! Yes, I do collect hearts. Also, what’s not to love about cake!?            

Always special to meet Tweetmates in real life. Thank you Jayne. x   

And to end with…a little bit of politics.   

Look after your heart and it will look after you. 

 

March of the Hearts

Tweetmates have been sending me hearts via Twitter for a long time. I started blogging them with little stories this January, and the the wheels kind of fell off in my life around the middle of February and I couldn’t keep up. However, the hearts kept coming, and the collection is marvellous and…well…heart-warming. 

So here they are: