Twin set & walking poles – by Sheila

photo 2

My friend Anne and I were invited to join a regular walking group this week, on a walk from Blean Church, just outside Canterbury, to Whitstable on the coast, so we went along, taking our Nordic walking poles for a bit of exercise.  They were a nice bunch of about eight or nine women, including the organiser’s mother, Nina, whom we were told is 93 years old!  If I am as sprightly as her when I reach anything like her age, I will be thrilled.  We walked along the Crab and Winkle Track, which used to be the route of the train between Canterbury and Whitstable – one of the first railways in the world.  It is now a great cycling and walking route, well away from all traffic.  We walked fairly briskly, and Nina was there with the best of us, when we arrived in Whitstable.

Anne and I decided to go into a pub for a quick lunch, having said goodbye to the rest of the group.  I noticed she was wearing a lovely cashmere sweater. and wondered aloud if I should think about buying one for extra warmth on Kili. Then it suddenly struck me: I already have a cashmere jumper, which belonged to my mother.

My family lived in Hawick, in the Scottish borders, which is famous for quality knitwear, and the men worked for Braemar Knitwear in the local mill.  It produced very fine lambswool and cashmere knitwear which was exported all over the world. I recollect that my paternal grandmother’s claim to fame was that she wore the first ever twinset.  For those born in the last half century, a twinset was a short-sleeved woolen round necked jumper, worn underneath a long-sleeved button up cardigan – an outfit rendered obsolete by the advent of central heating!

My mother died in 1959 at the very young age of 34 – when I was 12 – leaving behind a tallboy (a piece of furniture, which we used to have in the olden days!!) full of beautiful knitwear.  My sister Leslie and I wore these jumpers and cardigans during our teenage years, and wore most of them out.  However, for some reason, I held on to one peach coloured jumper, and it has spent the last 50 years or so, pushed in at the back of my jumper drawer.

So when I got back from the walk I pulled out all my jumpers, sorting out a few for a charity shop while I was about it, and at the back was indeed the vintage Braemar cashmere jumper. It probably dates from the mid 1950s.  It has a few small holes in it and has seen its best days, but is an ideal garment to take up Kili, being extremely thin and light, but warm.

I am really thrilled to be able to take something of my mother up the mountain.  I have already “bagged up” some of my lovely mother-in-law’s ashes to leave on the top – they are currently stored in a pretty cloth bag with lace round the top, which she would have liked – and now something of my own mother can come too.  Great to have something of two much loved women forming a 4th generation along on the trip.

Hawick is a small border town where Sheila grew up
Hawick is a small border town where Sheila grew up

We’re in the “pews naper”! by Jae

We’re in this week’s Kentish Gazette. How exciting!


The journalist who wrote the article was Chris Pragnell, who was in Gwen’s year at school, and whose sister, Charlotte was in my class. When he called her to chat, Ma recognised his name and remembered that his dad had recently had a book published. Despite technically being a city, Canterbury sometimes feels like a very small town!

The headline makes me smile; I can just imagine them in the office trying “Killer-gran-jaro” or worse, “Kill-a-gran-jaro”, before coming up with, “Thriller-gran-jaro”!

It reminds me of my lovely Grandpa – Dad’s dad. His name was Charlie Miller. He smoked a pipe, wore a bunnet (a flat cap in Scotland), and loved his garden. He was a man of few words but his favourite saying was, “silent like the p in swimming”, and he used to spoonerise everything. It was his thing. “Fifes and norks”, “chiskets and bees”, a “cack of pards”, and they even lived at number “torty foo”! If Grandpa knew about our trip I’m sure he’d wish us luck on “Miller-can-jaro”. It feels appropriate. Ma’s a Miller, I used to be, Oscar has Miller blood in him, and I certainly hope we “can”!

+++ Additional note from Sheila: I always enjoyed the “sharley boogers”! He liked going close to the edge! +++

Margaret & Charlie Miller (Sheila's in-laws)
Margaret & Charlie Miller (Sheila’s in-laws)

Inappropriate clothing by Sheila

I am sure you will have heard it said that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Well my friend Mary carries that saying a bit further! She thinks that you can cope in any circumstances, so long as you have the “right underpinnings” on! And I do take a lot of heed of what Mary says. I have known her for more than 40 years and she has done some amazingly diverse things during that time. She has been trained to wield a chain saw, has surf boarded regularly with her children and grandchildren, worked as a film extra, stood guard for a week over an osprey’s nest and has been a catwalk model. So perhaps you can understand my obsession with getting the base layer right for the climb: with the right underpinnings, you can conquer all!

With this in mind, I made off to Mountain Warehouse again this week, to pick up some skiing underpinnings for Oscar in the sale. I have bought him an identical kit in merino wool to that which I bought for myself last week: base layer top and bottom, plus a mid-layer top. I have become especially attached to my mid-layer top because the sleeves come half-way over my hands with a slot to pass my thumb through. It is such a great way to stop sleeves wrinkling up, when struggling in and out of coats. I always thought it looked really sloppy when I saw youngsters with long sleeves, often with home made holes cut for their thumbs. Well, all is forgiven. It keeps everything so snug. Jumpers I knit in future are all going to have long sleeves with thumb holes. The only drawback is that it makes it impossible to see the time on your watch, but as you will already know from previous blogs, my watch is not coming up Kili, so that won’t cause me a problem there.

Mum with her thumb in a hole

High Altitude Farts – by Sheila

imageWhen Jae’s three sons were a bit younger, I remember overhearing a conversation between them when they said it was strange, that the only woman who seemed to find farts funny was their aunt, Gwen. They, and I regret to say most of their sex, seem to think farting is hysterically hilarious.

Well, Gwen is missing a trick! Does she know about HAFE? That is: “High Altitude Flatus Expulsion, which involves the spontaneous passage of increased quantities of rectal gasses at high altitudes. The phenomenon is based on the differential in atmospheric pressure. As the external pressure decreases, the difference in pressure between the gas within the body and the atmosphere outside is higher, and the urge to expel gas to relieve the pressure is greater”

So it looks like Oscar might have lots of laughs up Kili. I am not so sure than Jae and I will, if we are all in one tent. Perhaps Oscar should be doing this climb with Gwen: they could fall about farting and laughing together!

Naked on the Mountain – by Sheila

Jae, Oscar and I went to a talk with Apples, the lovely guy from Exodus, during the recent half term week. He mentioned during his talk that he assumed that we three would all be sharing a tent. I said that I thought there were two person tents – optimistically imagining I might get a tent to myself. Well it seems that he had a word with Jae afterwards and told her that as Oscar is so thin – taller than I am, but as thin as a pencil – it might be best if we had a three person tent and we slept with Oscar in the middle to keep him warm. Cosy indeed!

I looked on the internet about the risks of being cold and found this gem about hypothermia on Kilimanjaro:

“Treatment for hypothermia involves thoroughly warming the patient quickly. Find shelter as soon as possible. Put the patient, without their clothes, into a sleeping-bag with hot water bottles (use your water bottles). Someone else should take their clothes off too and get into the sleeping bag with the patient. There is nothing like bodily warmth to hasten recovery”.

Did I really sign up for this? Am I going to end up naked in a sleeping bag with someone else? My grandson???!!! Some stranger? Is this for real?


Lovely Litlun made us a logo – by Jae

Jae & Gwen
Sisters – Jae (L) & Gwen (R)

We got a fab surprise this weekend. My little sister, Gwen, made us our very own logo!

Litlun is a real life Wonderwoman. As well as looking a little like Lynda Carter (!), in the last eight years she’s got married, moved to Australia, had two children, run 5 half marathons, set up her own design agency (Boxer & Co), and written and published a book. If the phrase, “If you need something doing ask a busy person” was made about anyone, it was made about Gwen. She can also whip up a delicious meal for 14 with no fuss in very little time – taking vegetarians, and gluten-free folk into consideration!

It hadn’t occurred to me to add to her “to do” list but, without even mentioning it, she just sent through the logo.

I love it almost as much as I love her. Hope you like it too!

Have you heard the one about the nun and the atheist? by Sheila

Sheila & Paula create nourishing home-cooked meals with lots of veggies. This day it was salmon en croute.
Sheila, Paula & others create nourishing home-cooked meals with lots of veggies. This day it was salmon en croute.

I noticed recently on the VirginMoneyGiving site, where charity sponsorship money linked to our walk is raised, that my friend Paula has made quite a big donation to the charities we are supporting in Tanzania and Canterbury.

If you had said to me a couple of years ago that I would have a friend, who was a Roman Catholic nun, who was supporting me in climbing up the highest free-standing mountain in the world, I would have said that you were fantasizing! Every part of that sentence would have seemed quite bizarre – but it is the reality.

When I stopped working as a solicitor at the end of October 2013, the next day I started as a volunteer at Catching Lives, the local charity which works with the homeless in Canterbury. I had looked at their website, and really liked that their aim is to work with people to get them back into work and accommodation – not just to put on a sticking plaster by giving them food and somewhere to sleep for a night. I also thought it was great that they suggest that all volunteers should spend three months working in the kitchen before moving into any other volunteering roles with the charity, so that both the volunteer and the charity can be sure they are comfortable with each other. Their centre is only ten minutes walk from home, so I went round to have a look. I said that I could be free every Wednesday to come in. I was told there was a “nun of about 80” in charge of the kitchen on Wednesdays (not quite true!!!) and that it might be better if I came in on Thursdays, when there were a lively bunch of recent retirees in the kitchen. However, Wednesday was the only day I could be sure of having free – no Pilates, patchwork, nor U3A classes – and it wouldn’t interfere with any weekend plans!

I remember nuns living round the corner, when I was a child in Hawick. They were very forbidding people, dressed in black, very like those in “The Sound of Music”. I was quite terrified of them. However, my experience in the kitchen has been so different from anything I might have expected – and 15 months on, I am still there every Wednesday, because I love it. There are four of us regulars, who come every Wednesday, and we always find something to laugh about. Sometimes there are also students and other volunteers.

Paula turns out to be a highly intelligent right-minded, (although left wing) feminist – who will not be 80 for a few years yet! We have had discussions in the kitchen about everything under the sun, including Aids, divorce, and even frequency of sexual intercourse, and Paula has participated in a matter of fact way without showing any signs of embarrassment or shock. She welcomes me in the kitchen with a hug and I am proud to count her as my friend. She knows I am an atheist. I know she believes there is a God. We have respect for each other.

Do old brains have more holes? by Sheila (and Jae)

I got an email from Ma about an experiment done in the Himalaya a couple of decades ago. The attached article is pretty long but Ma sums it up in her email so you’ll get the drift even if you don’t have the inclination to read the medical report! Here it is:

Hello Jae,

Stew’s cousin Eleanor phoned me today, having read of our proposed jaunt. As you know she specialised in nursing people with brain injuries and illness at Frenchay hospital in Bristol. She said she knew of this research into Intracranial Pressure (ICP) that had been done and written up in the attached article. It really is the most bizarre thing! These guys had operations to put ICP monitors put into their heads and then went up mountains to study the effect! Apparently the main guy – Mr Cummins – didn’t think it worth having another op to remove the monitor from his head afterwards and just left it in, and died with it still in. The article says that this research would never be allowed today for ethical reasons. Too right.

To summarise the article, it seems that younger people have tight brains without much space. Old people have a few holes here and there. This means that when a brain swells at high altitude because of lack of oxygen, it is more likely to cause altitude sickness in a young person than in an older one, who is likely to have a few gaps to allow for expansion! I knew there had to be something positive about not being able to remember anything – I have loads of empty space, I reckon. Eleanor was a bit concerned about Oscar’s brain, but I told her that Exodus are really careful, and whip anyone back down the mountain, if they seem to be losing the plot.

I actually laughed while reading the article: one of the highlights includes a replacement of someone’s piles digitally! That’s one reason why it is me, not your father, going up the mountain!!!

Love Ma x

Medical article: AJ 2009 189-198 Cunmmins Intracranial

Who weighs what? By Sheila

I read Jae’s blog of 14th February, which detailed her height and weight, and thought, blinking heck, I have to lose some weight, if I am going to get up this mountain! I know that Oscar is almost exactly as tall as me – well, I am 5’7″ and he is a tad more -and asked Jae to let me know what he weighed. It was half term, so had to wait quite a while for an answer, but eventually about mid-day, she managed to lever him out of bed on to the scales. I was horrified to discover that at 7 stone 2 pounds, he is nearly 4 stone lighter than me! So it seems like I will have to work 50% harder than him to move myself up Kili, unless I lose a chunk of me. I thought I would work out all of our BMIs on the NHS site – and was surprised and pleased to discover that all 3 of us come within the “normal” category. Jae is just below the middle of “normal”, Oscar is at the low end of it, and I, of course, am at the top end of it. So the diet starts here! If I could get to 10 stone, I would be bang in the middle of normal for my sex, age and weight, so that seems what I should aim for. I did get below that in 2006 in preparation for Gwen’s wedding – well I had to be a glam mother of the bride – but the weight did seem to come off my boobs and face. I hope I can get it off my thighs and bum this time!

PS By Jae – Here’s a photo of Mum looking completely gorgeous at my little sis Gwen’s wedding.


Wakey, wakey by Sheila

Oscar, Jae and I recently went to a talk/slide show, given by a gorgeous big bear of a man from Exodus, who has the unusual name of Apples. He is one of their experts on Kilimanjaro: he seems to have been up and down the mountain about as many times as I have been to the cinema! In fact, he told us that once he had led a group up Kilimanjaro and when he came down, he discovered that the guy who was supposed to lead the next group up had been taken ill. So he simply turned round and went up again, leading that group!

Apples told us a bit about what happens. Apparently every morning, we will be woken by a porter knocking on our tent door (?) saying “Wakey, wakey” with a cup of “bed tea” in his/her hand. Just as well there will be someone else to take over Stew’s usual job of bringing me tea in bed! Twenty minutes later, the porter will reappear with a bowl of warm water, saying “Washy, washy”. It seems like the day continues like that: there will even be someone there to remind me to wash my hands when I appear out of the toilet tent.

In a sense, it is almost like returning to childhood: someone else is in charge, and I will only have to do as I am told. I could just live in the moment as children do, not having to think about what comes next, until I am told to do so.

That’s a bit different from what my working life has been. As a legal aid solicitor, my time was divided into six minute units: I had to do “time recording”, accounting for what work I was doing for whom, during each unit of time. I have always had to keep my eye on the clock and lead a very structured working life. I pretty much always know the time, day or night, within a few minutes. Could I hand over to others for the duration of the trip? Leave my watch behind (my phone definitely isn’t coming due to lack of charging facilities up Kili) and just live in the moment? No thinking about how long I have been walking or have still to walk – just drift along putting one foot in front of the other, eating when told, sleeping when told, waking when told and washing when told! It could be an even more amazing experience if I can manage it!

PS From Jae: Check out free talks with Apples and other Exodus experts here:


A hot Bovril camel? by Sheila

camel picture

I joined the Nordic Walking East Kent group again at the weekend, as I want to be sure my technique is up to scratch.  There are so many different things to remember – how to walk (using your whole foot), how to hold the poles (like ice cream cones) how to use your arms (straight) etc, etc. The conversation got around to camels.  See blog for 13th February: a camel is the water container you have in your day pack, and you can sip from it through a straw as you walk.  I had wondered if it was possible, when it was freezing weather, to put hot water in, if it was made from rubber, or similar material.  Anne, always a fount of good common sense, said of course it must be: hot water bottles are made of rubber and you put near boiling water into them.  Someone else in the Nordic Walking Group suggested that maybe you could put hot tea into your camel.  Anne had the idea of adding a bit of gin to the tea, to avoid the risk of it freezing.  However it was generally considered that this might not be a great aid to hydration!  I then remembered that we put salt on our garden path to stop it freezing – so would hot Bovril be the answer?

Take-your-family-to-work day by Jae

imageI took Oscar to work today. He’s so grown up he put a novel in his bag, packed his phone charger, a spare jumper etc – just like an adult would do. The moments when I see my boys growing up never cease to amaze me. It always comes in leaps – never gradually like I’d have expected. He was coming with me as its half term and Ma was coming to my work too to pick up a new bike to replace her old one. She bought a new one in April saying it would “see her out” (!!!) and it was nicked at Christmas. Whoever nicked it left their crappy bike in its stead, which she proceeded to cycle to the Xmas dinner she was going to, before cycling on to the Police Station to report it. Anyway, she was very glad to get a new one.

I thought we’d take advantage of the situation and get the three of us together for a photo. You may have noticed that there have been none of all three generations together on the blog before now. We have plenty of photos the three of us are in, but there are loads of other family members in all of them, so I thoughts it would be good to get just we three.

Looking at Oscar on the train with his novel, but regularly checking his (my old) iPhone, made me think of the story Ma often tells of the first time she saw a television. I think she was about 10 and she sat down with her back to it looking at the opposite wall. She had assumed it was like a projector and would put its picture on the other side of the room. How extraordinary is that? In our world of so, so many screens its hard to imagine that my modern, tech-savvy, socially-connected mum didn’t even understand the concept of the first screen she saw – a decade into her life.

I also got a lovely “good luck” email today from Andy at Baraka Community (one of the charities we are raising funds for), he commented that his mother is in her 70s and his daughter is 15 months, so the chances of him ever doing a three generation climb are pretty slim. It made me realise just how fortunate I am to have this moment in time when it’s possible for the generation above me, and the one below me, to have “fighting fit and up for a challenge” in common, despite the massive differences in their pasts. Lucky me!

A red sheep and a liberty bodice

Stew and I went to a champagne tasting the other night at the local offy, Mouton Rouge. Six different champers to try, so we were happy to help out. We chatted there to a fellow lawyer, S, whom I used to meet regularly in the local courts, and her partner. It turns out that they are very keen skiers, and the conversation, as you might expect, got round to appropriate underwear for such an activity. S said that she always wears a base layer of merino wool, when skiing. I said that would be like wearing a hair shirt – there is no way I could wear wool next to my skin. I did as a child – my vest and liberty bodice were both made of lambswool – but wool has always felt impossibly itchy since. S said that she couldn’t normally wear wool, but that merino wool is completely different: it isn’t scratchy and is super warm. I am anxious about keeping warm on Kili, and know that a local outdoors shop has a sale of ski wear on, so I went back to look at the merino base and mid layers. And do you know what? S is just about right! I have been wearing a merino wool long sleeved Tshirt and long Johns all day today, and I have survived. Not only that, but I have rarely felt cosier. I know that it is still more than 6 months till the climb, but the shops will not be selling ski-wear reduced by 75% nearer the time, and nor will I want to be wearing it at home in August for a trial run.image

But guess what we’re climbing Mummy! by Jae

Kili v Eiffel

I got home from work one day last week to be greeted at the front door by my six year old. He had the look of a little boy with exciting news that he couldn’t wait to get out:

Me: “Hello Baby, have you have a good day?”
Him: “Yes Mummy, but I have to tell you something!”
Me: “What’s that?”
Him: “We’ve decided that when you and Osc are climbing Kilimanjaro, Papa, Milo and I are going to go to France. And…”

<pause with a big proud smile>

“We’re going to climb the Eiffel Tower!”

So I’ve looked it up and created the attached pic – Kili is about the same height as 19 Eiffel Towers with a London Eye on the top. It actually makes it feel a little more manageable, so thanks for that Baby!

Sleeping in running gear by Jae


It’s 00:20 on St V’s Day and I’m lying in bed in my running gear. I’ve always thought it would be a good way of making me run in the morning but I’ve never actually done it before. Funny moment to start but hey ho! I need to do more exercise to get the fitness levels up before August.

I currently walk just over a km from the station to work , and the same back each working day – not enough to impact fitness at all, even if I jog it. I was jogging every Saturday and Sunday before Xmas but I haven’t done since. I’ll do 5k when I wake up. Probably!

I’ve been reading mum’s blog posts and I’m ever so glad her doctor hasn’t told her she’s mad. Interestingly she says he’s ‘lean’ in her description. I’m sure being fit is essential but being too skinny can’t be an advantage on a freezing mountainside surely! I’m about 10 stone 10 lbs at the moment (and 5’11” tall) and I don’t think I want to lose any of that before we go. I’m a bit body dysmorphic and can usually only see a chunky person in the mirror (it’s very peculiar when I spot myself in a mirror in a shop and for a few seconds don’t realise it’s me – I see myself how other people must for a moment!). But I’m sensible enough to know that this weight is about right for my frame. I tried for years to get pregnant at around 10 stone and only managed when I put on half a stone (as suggested by a doc) which is a very useful way of learning what’s healthy for me! So lots of working on strength and fitness should mean I can eat more cheese – yey!

Right. Happy St V’s all – must get some sleeping done!

PS Pic is of the St V’s biscuits I made for my colleagues at Exodus, and the small boys’ school St V’s bake sale – they all went down pretty well!