I’m not dead, I’m just resting

Time for a breather

Time for a breather

Well this is it. This is my final post from my ‘post a day for thirty days’ challenge. I have to say that it doesn’t compare to getting to the last few metres of a half marathon (the longest I have ever run) because I’m not exhausted and I should be able to walk unassisted tomorrow but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am relieved.

The pressure of posting something every day has led to me putting out material that I have been less than happy about on many occasions. I have found that quite stressful. To paraphrase the immortal Eric Morecambe, they might have been all the right words but they weren’t necessarily always in the right order. Whilst it’s good to have learned from the experience I don’t think there would be anything to gain now by continuing with the same commitment every day.

I’m going to keep blogging regularly but I want to write when I feel I really have something to say and to spend more time working on each piece until I feel happy with it. I think there is more chance of improving my writing that way rather than focussing on quantity.

There have been quite a few days this month when I have really struggled to come up with a subject and ended up writing several posts that have all ended up in the digital bin because I really didn’t think they had any value. I’m still trying to find my feet in terms of subject matter and style so I apologise for the crazy randomness of the topics over the last thirty days. Hopefully most readers will have had the common sense not to persevere with the posts that weren’t to their taste. If anybody has any feedback on what style or subject matter they find most entertaining I would love to hear it. You can comment on the blog or send me a message on FB, Twitter or by e-mail. (See the contact page)

Thanks to all of you that have taken the time to read this stuff and for the encouraging feedback you have provided both here on Clockwise Words, on Social Media and privately. I love the process of writing and sometimes I just put something together and then confine it to a dusty folder on the hard drive, but when I do decide it is worth sharing it’s the thought that I might have provided a little bit of entertainment or amusement that makes it so rewarding.

And if there is anybody out there that has actually read all 17,935 January words (plus 452 for today) then I owe you a pint, or a cup of tea. You’ve earned it.

Seven days, seven blogs. What have I started?

If you have been reading the blog again this week then you can skip this post. It’s a bit of a repeat of the first one of the year but I’ve had a change of heart and my confidence is returning, mostly thanks to some of you readers, so here is another attempt at explaining where I am.

I was really disappointed with myself for letting the blog fall by the wayside in 2015 so I thought I would start this year off with a bit of a challenge and try and get back into the swing of it. I decided not to do the #dryjanuary challenge that I did last year but it’s always nice to start things off with a bit of a test so I have promised myself I will try and write every day and actually publish what I write. The hardest part about the challenge by far is thinking up topics to write about and then being brave enough to hit the publish button. For this reason I have kept a bit of a low profile for the first week and only people that have either kept their subscription to the blog or stumbled on it by accident will have been aware of the first seven posts. I am very relieved and incredibly grateful to have received some lovely encouraging comments over the last few days though, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with me now. I’ll try and keep a daily post going throughout January and see if it becomes a habit.

As it happens it’s been quite an eventful week to start the year and I haven’t actually found it too difficult to find things to write about. From the prospect of possibly going blind in one eye to a death in the family and a visit from my sister I have ended up with a kind of pick ‘n mix counter of subject material which has been great. I haven’t even touched on learning to fly a drone yet. Well, when I say fly, it’s more a case of launching the thing into the air and then seeing which piece of furniture or potted plant it will destroy next. (The spider plant is looking very neat at the moment.) It’s great having interesting or amusing subjects to cover but what I would really like to crack is making the writing speak for itself rather than relying on the story. That’s the challenge that really fires me up. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than reading something and realising that it is actually the writing that I am enjoying as much as or even more than the subject matter.

I am conscious of the fact that this blog started life as an account of a cycle adventure and I know lots of people who followed that story have got bored and gone away now but I make no apologies for that. I’m sure I will touch on cycling again once we get back on the bikes but for now this blog is my play thing. It’s a chance to play with words and phrases and to try and be creative. To try to turn jumbled thoughts into understandable ideas, to paint pictures that convey feelings and emotions or just to tell a story in a way that might amuse the reader. I would like to be able to promise that everything I write will be funny, incisive, entertaining and meaningful but it’s very unlikely to be a promise I could keep. What I can promise is that I will enjoy the writing and if a few people enjoy the reading then I’ll be happy.

Here’s a nice picture just to say thanks for sticking with me this far.

You can't beat a rainbow over the sea

You can’t beat a rainbow over the sea

Risk and uncertainty

Well that’s the dry January challenge out of the way. Giving up alcohol for a month definitely felt like it had two sides to it. It was a challenge, no doubt about that and I am enjoying the sense of achievement, but alcohol and its potential for addiction and damage lent a certain gravitas to that particular trial and now I am looking forward to something a little less serious. And maybe easier.

I came across the concept of a thirty day challenge about a year ago when I listened to this TED talk and it has intrigued me ever since. Having set about doing the dry January thing I listened to the talk again and I am fascinated by the potential change it can bring about.  It feels like it might be a voyage of discovery and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you will know I like that kind of journey.

Amongst outdoor types there is a lot of talk and excitement right now about ‘micro adventures’. It was started by adventurer and blogger Alastair Humphreys and seems to have taken on a life of its own. There are Micro Adventure Facebook groups springing up all over the place. People will typically climb a hill and bivouac out under the stars for just one night.

Just the place for a cosy night's sleep

Just the place for a cosy night’s sleep

They try to capture some of the excitement and sense of risk that adventures bring without having to commit to weeks or months away from home. I love the idea but I really don’t think it has to stop at ruffty tuffty outdoor stuff. If you look up ‘adventure’ in the dictionary you get various different definitions but I particularly like this one; “the participation or willingness to participate in things that involve uncertainty and risk”. There is no mention of mountains, freezing temperatures or frostbite. Nothing about physical endurance or working through pain barriers. Which brings me back to this thirty day thing.

The idea is simply to do something different for thirty days and see what the outcome is. When I say different, it might involve giving something up or it might involve doing something you don’t normally do. Either way it will certainly involve uncertainty and it may involve some kind of risk. (Such as discovering that you are an alcoholic after all.) This suggests that by definition it must be an adventure. Or at the very least a micro adventure.

My own thirty day challenge this month is to write something every day. I’ve set a lower limit of three hundred words per day and depending on the outcome I may publish some of them here or I may store them in my overflowing digital waste bin. It isn’t necessarily about writing a blog every day, just the discipline of practising the writing process and honing a skill that gives me a lot of pleasure. There is an element of testing myself which I like. It’s also an adventure.

Writing something every day definitely fits the definition. Goodness knows what kind of drivel might ensue (uncertainty) and publishing could expose me to any amount of ridicule (risk). I’m quite excited by this February challenge. I love a good adventure. Now where do I buy an expedition grade armchair to work from?

Oh, and thanks to my friend Sue for the wonderful hashtag of #writesaidfeb.

Count down to what?

Somebody asked me yesterday if I was now counting down since I am more than half way through giving up alcohol for the month of January. (#Dryjanuary as it has become known.) I think I said that I was, in a way. I have since had time to reflect on the question and I realise that it’s a little ambiguous. The real question should be; “are you counting down to the moment that you can have an alcoholic drink?” and my answer to that question would actually be, “no I’m not”.

As this month has gone on I have begun to understand that what is driving me is not going without a drink each day but the bigger picture of the challenge. The goal is to go for a whole month without a drink and to be able to reflect on that and say that I did it. It really doesn’t matter whether I have a drink on the 1st of February or not. Whether I get plastered on that day or have a civilized couple of glasses of wine with my Sunday roast. Nor does it matter whether I go on to drink every day or just occasionally after the challenge is over. Well yes it does matter, but it’s not part of this challenge.

Dryjanuary for me is like climbing a set of thirty-one steps. At the top of the landing is a whole heap of prizes. There is the right to brag that I did it. A month of sleeping like a baby. A bundle of money that can be spent on other things. A general feeling of well-being and alertness. And the biggest one of all, the satisfaction of knowing that I am more of an habitual drinker than an alcoholic. The steps themselves aren’t important. I don’t see gallons of beer or wine waiting for me at the top. I see a goal. A finishing line at the end of a gruelling race. The peak of a mountain that has taken a massive effort to ascend. It’s all about achievement for me. (For anybody reading this that has had a relapse during this challenge just see it as staying on the same step for a day or two. You are climbing those stairs again the very next day you go without a drink.)

So yes I am counting down, but not to a drink. I’m counting down to a victory. The successful accomplishment of a challenge. A challenge that I have shied away from many times in the past and this will make the victory all the sweeter. As sweet, shall we say, as a glass of red wine with a roast beef dinner.



New year, new adventure

The merry go round that was 2014 is finally slowing down and I feel like it might now be going slowly enough for me to step off. The only problem with that is, I just know that within five minutes of being back on solid ground I will be looking for excitement and change. That’s why I have decided to go on another adventure starting tomorrow, 1st of January 2015.

Options for this particular trip are severely limited by a lack of money, the need to find a job and the desire not to actually travel anywhere far from home. I’m quite surprised by how much I have enjoyed making a home again after so much constant movement and I have no desire to spend January on the road. So, to sum up; I need something challenging to do that will take me somewhere I haven’t been before, or at least not since my early twenties, something that will stretch me and something that might teach me something about myself. It needs to be compatible with job hunting and enjoying our new home and I think I have got it.

You see I can’t remember the last time that I went more than a few days without a glass of wine, a pint of beer or some form of alcoholic drink so I thought it might be interesting to see what a month of abstinence feels like. That’s right I am going tea-total for the whole month just to see if I can.

I’m trying desperately hard to avoid phrase like that actually. “just to see if I can”, I mean. I’ve spent the last few days muttering, “give it a go”, “see if I can” and “I’m going to try….”. Now it’s time to stick my neck out with the much more committed; “I’m going tea-total in January just because I can”. Phew, sounds a bit scary put like that but having decided to go public with this there is little point in it unless I’m 100% determined to go through with it.

I am now well and truly set up to fall flat on my face. So be it, bring it on. It’s only pride.

If anything interesting comes out of the experiment I’ll write about it here. I’ll try to see the funny side and resist boring you with endless self pity (from the bottom of a pint glass) or patronising self-righteousness. If nothing else it will be an interesting personal record to look back on over a glass or two of red in February.

So, seven hours to go. Time to make a dent on what is left of the Christmas booze and put what ever is left at midnight somewhere out of temptations way. Mind you, with a great pub just fifty yards from our new home it’s going to take more than kidding myself to succeed in this little venture. I’ve tried hard to come up with a catchy little phrase for a dry January but with “Cranberry in January” being the best I have managed I’m open to wittier and more poetic suggestions.

If anybody fancies coming along for the ride you will be most welcome to join in via the comments sections at the end of each post. No cheating though.



Simple Pleasures

As I begin to type we are just over four days away from the start of our big adventure. I have had lots of conversations with friends about how I will manage on the road without life’s perceived creature comforts.

Of course this trip is going to bring new challenges. The most we have done is 17 days, so from day 18 it is all unknown territory. We have a budget and in order to stick to this we need to eat at the tent most of the time, so I am going to have to become acquainted with our Trangia stove. On holiday we only boil water for tea on it and Tony has always done that. I’m sure I won’t get away with not cooking for the whole of the six months, and anyway I’m not sure I want to do all the washing up.

Instead of the myriad items contained in the bathroom I will have shampoo and shower gel, (at least at the beginning of the trip) moisturiser, deodorant and toothpaste (which more seasoned touring friends will think is more than enough!). I have worked hard to need less and have even considered giving up shampoo all together and joining the “no-poo” brigade. I had a foray into this a couple of weeks ago, managed about five days and realised that I can’t even consider this until I am on the road when most of the time my hair will be under a cycle helmet or tied back (and no-one knows me!). I’m not even sure I will be able to give it up completely but am willing to try. It will only reduce my load slightly but would be one less thing to restock.

The absence of bathroom accessories doesn’t reduce the immense pleasure of a hot shower after a day on the bike, and dressing for dinner is a simple affair when you only have a selection of two outfits and one is in the wash!

Life in a tent is very much connected to the daylight hours. We find ourselves getting up earlier and going to bed earlier as a tour goes on. Going to bed is bliss, I love my down sleeping bag. It’s so snuggly I never want to get out once I’m in.

Snug as a bug

Good night everyone

The truth is that life becomes simpler and the things that bring pleasure are more basic.


Not the kind that flutter gracefully around the flowers, but the kind that flutter excitedly in my stomach when I think about what we’re soon to be embarking on. I have been asked if I’m scared or nervous, I must be a bit or I wouldn’t get butterflies!

Fluttering in my stomach

Fluttering in my stomach

It is a very big adventure for us and I appreciate how lucky we are to have the opportunity, time and means to do this. I want to do it justice and bring home some very happy memories and great stories – a lot of which I expect might be situated around days that don’t feel so good at the time – like the Dent day (which served to show me that no matter how bad it is, it does eventually end, and makes for endless story telling).

There are many reminders of how close it is.

On Monday it will be one month exactly until I finish work, I gave them six months notice and I can’t believe how quickly it has gone.

Next weekend we’re off to visit the Gloucester family for the last time before we depart. The next time we see them should be when we cycle up the West coast following the course of the river Severn to make our way into Wales.

The house is in uproar, there are boxes everywhere. We have a space marked out in the back bedroom the same size as the storage space we have booked, so that we can work out if everything we intend to keep will fit in. Watch this space, there may be more for Ebay, Freecycle or the tip!

It’s going to be strange to cycle away from our lives, home and friends but there’s lots to look forward to. Tony is compiling a map with markers to show where we have been offered accommodation (not all of them family or friends). People are incredibly kind and we have had offers of accommodation from readers of various blogs and forums that Tony has been posting on.

There’s another potential source of butterflies, accepting hospitality from complete strangers. One of my work colleagues is worried that we might meet an axe murderer! I’m pretty sure it will be OK, as Hannah Engelkamp found out when she walked the circumference of Wales with Chico the donkey. You can read about her adventures here – Seaside Donkey.

I can’t wait to start the adventure. Most of the family we don’t see before we go are en route or going to travel to see us. We have friends planning to join us for bits of it. There’s 5,500 miles of coastline to explore and six months of pleasing ourselves with no bigger plan than to head North and keep the sea on the left.

To quote Susie Burns “happy days”.



Am I really like my Dad?

For reasons best known only to the inner workings of my brain I found myself lying awake last night pondering why we are doing this trip and somehow linking it to the anniversary of my Dad’s death. He died thirteen years ago on November 11th. Maybe there was a logical explanation to link these two things or maybe it was just random synapses making connections. Either way, my thoughts turned to what is driving this desire to take off on an adventure and how it might be tenuously connected to how much like my Dad I am.

At his funeral all those years ago several distant relatives that I hadn’t seen for ages came up to me and declared with gaping mouths how I was the spitting image of him. I don’t see the likeness myself but I do recognise that I have many of his mannerisms and habits. I suppose it follows that I might also ape him in my thought processes and in what makes me hungry for this adventure of ours.

When people ask the all too obvious question of why are we doing this trip I find myself rattling off a whole gamut of reasons. I use words and phrases such as; adventure, life changing, challenging and memorable. I also want something special to look back on when I get older and I am taking stock of what I have done with my allotted time. I want something that stands out amongst the routine experiences of life. Something different, exciting and, well, memorable.

Sometimes I think it’s because I never did anything out of the ordinary when I was younger. Lots of friends did something special during a gap year in between school and university, travelling and working abroad but I didn’t do this. I wasted my first year at A levels doing the wrong subjects and then left school and went to college to start two more years of study before going to Polytechnic. (For anybody under thirty that’s a bit like a University)  I’ve always regretted this and felt that I missed out, unlike my Dad.

Nobody can argue that he didn’t do anything special when he was younger.

Dad at the end of the war

Poona 1945

You see he had the ultimate gap year(s). At the age of just nineteen he was called up to do his bit to defend his country. He joined the Border Regiment and after some basic training found himself on a ship travelling to the Far East to fight the much feared Japanese army in the jungles of Burma.

As a child I would have loved to have heard his stories of battles and guns but he never ever talked about it. Later, when I was much older, he directed me to a couple of books about the campaigns he was involved in. I have read both but one of them really hit a nerve in me.

Quartered Safe Out Here” by George MacDonald Fraser (he of the Flashman novels) is a soldiers recollection of the last great land campaign of World War II. Like my Dad, he was just nineteen years old and a member of the Border Regiment and found himself in the very same jungles in 1943. It’s a story of courage, camaraderie, hardship, laughter, shocking suffering and gruesome horror. Once I had read it I understood why he would never talk about his time out there, including contracting typhoid and nearly dying in hospital before recovering and re-joining his colleagues to fight another day, as they say.

Happy families

I’m the one on the left

He came back to marry my Mum, produce his perfect family of one daughter and one son and live a wholly unremarkable life being nothing more nor less than a good, honest and reliable man. He brought back with him, honourable principles, a devout Catholic faith and a life-long hatred of curry. He certainly had an adventure to reflect upon in his later life, though one that might have made for uneasy contemplation. I suspect he had enough adventure to last a life time, quite literally.

His was an extreme way of experiencing life on the edge and while I am not comparing what he went through with our little jaunt I like to think he would have approved of our plans. I think, unlike so many of those who ask ‘why’, he would have just ‘got it’. We are so lucky that we can manufacture our adventure to our tastes.


No further adventure required

His was totally out of his control. What they have in common though, is stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. We know a lot about what to expect on our journey but there is also a lot we don’t know, which is the whole point. I like to think of our trip as our chicken korma to his beef vindaloo.