Running, skiing and pancakes.

Well dear reader, we are nearly through Lent. Or Forty Days and Forty Nights of Pancakes, as I’m pretty sure it was originally known, before its true meaning got lost in the mists of time, and instead we ended up trying and failing to give up chocolate for the duration.

I am crusading hard for a return to the Pancake Festival approach, mainly by making and eating pancakes as often as I can, but am also considering creating an online petition. I trust I can count on your support.

Here at the seaside, it feels like spring has finally sprung, with some warmth in the sunshine, and more sunshine to feel the warmth in.

It doesn’t feel that long since we had some serious snow here in Edinburgh – in fact it was a touch over five weeks ago that the snow was so good that I packed my skis into the car, somewhat diagonally (it’s not a very long car), and headed to Arthur’s Seat. Not that I was planning to ski some gnarly descent off the Crags… but there was a longish slope that I noticed sledgers making good use of last winter, and made a mental note to myself to do a spot of skiing if we ever had decent snow again.

As expected, the piste was packed out with sledgers, but there were a few fellow skiers, and some boarders sitting around on their backsides, as they are wont to do.

Given the proximity of the slope to one of Edinburgh University’s halls of residence, it was perhaps unsurprising to see a number of slightly taller children improvising on various ‘sledges’. There were actual sledges of course – some plastic and some of the old fashioned wooden variety with runners, but there were also a number of body boards, de-wheeled skateboards, plastic bags, and even some plastic trays that looked like they’d been borrowed from the Pollock Halls cafeteria.

There was also a group of four students attempting to slide down on a sleeping bag. It didn’t work.

The skiing was good fun. Took almost a full minute to get to the bottom, and a slalom course could be fashioned by avoiding the dogs and small children on the way. Once at the bottom, of course, one had to pick up one’s skis and schlep back up to the top, but it was worth it.

On one of the trips back up I saw a man, who was old enough to know better really, sliding down the hill on a borrowed triangular metal road sign, which was working remarkably well, until he was attacked by a spaniel.

It was so much fun that I went back at the weekend, getting there early in the morning, and was joined after lunch by Filipideedoodaa, and possibly another ski friend, which may or may not have pushed us over the two-person limit allowed under the current restrictions, and so, for legal purposes, we bumped into this other friend in a happily coincidental manner. In case anyone’s asking.

Before their arrival, I had wandered into Edinburgh in my ski boots to find some coffee and lunch. With no ‘proper’ skiing allowed this year, it was surreal to experience the familiar sounds in an unfamiliar environment… the tsssht tsssht salopetted walk into town, the squeaky snow, the clump clump of my ski boots as I walked around a supermarket foraging for provisions. And of course, the joy of taking ski boots off at the end of a day’s fun on the slopes. Or slope, in this case.

With the local four-day-long ski season now officially over, I have stepped up the running. I have found a fun route along the beach which involves hurdling, or in some cases climbing over, the wooden groynes (fences) spaced along the beach. The climbing of these doesn’t always go smoothly. On various occasions I have failed in my initial jump and fallen back onto my derrière, much to the amusement of anyone watching. This has frequently happened on the very first fence I approach, whereupon I take some consolation in the fact that I have fallen at the first hurdle. It’s always fun to live out an actual cliché.

On another occasion I attempted to jump straight onto the top of one of the lower fences. I had envisaged a Colin Jackson-esque hurdling leap, placing my right foot firmly on the top of the fence, and kicking off athletically, somewhat like an Olympic long-jumper.

It didn’t turn out quite like this, in the end. My right foot landed perfectly on the fence as per the plan, but then slipped forwards, the bottom of my shoe being somewhat coated in wet sand and not the grippiest, which resulted in my left shin landing on the fence in an unplanned development, and sliding forward until my ankle arrested my forward movement, my momentum spinning me round so I was facing the way I’d come. My right foot then found a ledge halfway down the fence, and I kicked off it, spinning another 180º in the air, and landed and continued running without breaking stride, to the cheers of onlookers.

This is how I like to remember it. I had my earphones in the whole time, so I confess I didn’t hear any actual cheers, but imagine they must have been there.

Running has become an unexpectedly good friend. We didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, and approximately 400 metres into every single run I find myself asking the question

“Why didn’t I take up carpet bowls instead?”

but the combination of the endorphins, the fresh air, the sunshine (sometimes), the sea breezes (always), the sand and the sea itself (sometimes I run barefoot through the shallows), the views over the water to Fife (on the way out) and East Lothian (on the way back) is a winning one.

Plus it creates an appetite. Mmmm, pancakes.

The C-19 Diaries. Essential Shopping and Disco Dancing.

Day 23

My mum turned 80 today. My Sister and I had arranged for a hamper from a nice Edinburgh deli to be delivered. She seemed pleased with the contents. The nice man from the deli had described them to me over the phone. I recognised roughly one word in three, and by this I knew that mum would like it.

I sat in my car outside her house and joined a family Zoom call to sing her Happy Birthday. She also passed some cake out the window to me, which felt borderline illegal, but I took it and ate it while sitting on the wall.

Day 30

Many of my friends seem to be succumbing to the current fad of cultivating their own sourdough cultures with the aim of ultimately making bread.

I don’t quite know how to break it to them that someone seems to have got there first. It’s actually quite easy to just walk into a supermarket and buy a loaf of sourdough bread. I just did – at Morrison’s. I feel they will crushed to discover this, so haven’t had the courage to bring it up.

Day 39

Nicola and Disco Dave organised an actual disco over Zoom tonight. I became somewhat reluctantly involved as the technical director, which then by default meant I became the DJ. As a result I had to download a considerable number of tunes onto my laptop which would – under normal circumstances – never have been considered for inclusion into my music library. I am still actively seeking software which cleanses microchips from the corruption they have been exposed to.

One of the tunes on the playlist was Tragedy. I assumed they were looking for the Bee Gees’ version. It turns out that it had to be Steps. I was apoplectic about this, but my hands were tied by my contractual agreement. Steps it was, alongside S-Club and various other non-bands. Not even an Atomic Kitten track in sight.

Day 43

Mum coerced me to do some shopping for her. She “needed” some items from Waitrose. On pointing out to her that this might not be considered “essential shopping”, she quite deliberately played the “vulnerable persons” card. What could I do?

I consoled myself with the knowledge that I might find myself in a better class of queue outside. The sort of people that the Rector’s Administrator would associate with.

As it turned out, when one enters this particular Waitrose via the lifts from the car park, one bypasses the queue and the Supermarket Bouncers completely. Who knew? I proceeded guiltily into the fruit and veg section, and duly found myself in aisles stacked with products with unfamiliar-sounding names. Like “tomatoes” and “flour”. Except there was no flour. Seems like everyone’s baking these days.

Later, I went for a run again. Achtung Baby is the album spinning on my turntables – both real and virtual – this week. It brings back a hazy memory whirl of sixth form schooldays, my friend Raymond, who became obsessed with U2 around this time, and the excitement of newly-possible drives up to Belfast to buy records and books. The sound of Achtung Baby was such a departure compared to U2’s previous two releases – the inordinately successful Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum, which has always felt like a non-album stopgap to me.

Anyway.

As I labour, gasping for breath, up the cruel gradient of Holyrood Park, I have Achtung Baby in my ears.

“Is it getting better?” asks Bono, gently.

No, Bono, it’s really not.

“Or do you feel the same?”

Yes, Bono, I do. I still feel out of shape and desperately unfit.

And I miss people.

The C-19 Diaries. The Haircut and the Run.

Day 15

The day finally arrived. I was so scared that I unearthed the instructions and read them cover to cover. They look like they’ve been Google-translated direct from the original Korean.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of guidance on offer beyond a basic suggestion that one applies the clippers to the hair, (once one has determined the length of hair of the pet in question), and chosen an appropriate guard.

That’s about it. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I decide not to shave my face. That way, by this evening, there’s a chance that at least some of my head will have some evenly-distributed hair growth.

As it turns out, the results are more impressive than I dared hope for. I hope you’re not all too disappointed. Disco Dave has warned me that I would definitely miss bits, and would become suddenly aware of some tufty patches in the days ahead. I can feel no such tuftiness. I feel flushed with my success.

I actually considered doing some press-ups and sit-ups today, but just as I was about to spring into action – in the nick of time, one might say – my back began to hurt, so I cancelled the home workout, to be on the safe side.

Instead, I went for a run.

Looking back, the logic of this decision continues to elude me. I haven’t been for a run for approximately three years.

Around 20 minutes into the “run”, just as I was transitioning gently out of the walking-warm-up phase, a lady, with what I can only describe as a slow and somewhat ungainly running style, ran past me. I felt confident of reeling her in without too much trouble before long. Not that it’s a race, you understand.

Minutes later, after swerving several times to maintain the requisite 2m of airspace between myself and oncoming pedestrians, I noticed that she was, actually, quite far off in the distance. Almost out of sight, in fact.

Then she stopped to take some photos. Ha. As she took the time to snap some pics of the bright yellow gorse, even taking some close-ups, I sped past, in my quite athletic running style.

Moments later, she shot past me again. I began to revise my judgement of her running style, and speed.

Made it home in one piece.

My flatmate goes for a run every day. After today’s experience I think I’ll settle for one run per nationwide lockdown.

Hair Update: Shorn. Evenly and beautifully.

Day 16 – Day 21

Too tired to blog. See Day 15.

Day 22

Went for a run again.

If anything, this time it felt even harder. There was a breeze blowing, which I am confident was a lot to do with it. But really, isn’t this supposed to get easier with practice?

It feels like I’ve been shot in the calves. Both of them, but from particularly close range in the left.

I am somewhat chagrined to report that I have noticed undeniable tuftiness on my head. Just to the left and slightly rear of the crown. Perhaps in other places too, I couldn’t possibly say.

Oh, well. Maybe home-haircutting improves with practice too.

Tonight, for dinner, I am going to have that Northern Irish classic dish: lasagne con potatoes. 

Molto bene, so it is.

Stay safe everyone.

Hair Update: Tufty.