Sewing with Gusto – by Sheila

I have always liked sewing, but am going to have to cut back my sewing activities in the next few months, as a sedentary life is hardly compatible with getting fit enough to scale the highest free standing mountain in the world.

When I was a child, it was not considered acceptable to buy presents for adult relatives: I had to make something.  My grandfather got endless spill holders (spills were for lighting his pipe with) and book marks, carefully made from whatever came to hand.  My female relatives got an endless stream of embroidered tray cloths. If anyone was ill in bed – and you did have to stay in bed if you were in any way unwell in these days – then meals would be brought to you in bed on a tray covered with an embroidered cloth.

To get the pattern, you would buy a transfer and iron it on to the cloth.  One then had to embroider over the blue markings produced.  I loved doing this, and must have inflicted dozens on my relations.

However, when I got to secondary school, my sewing career took a dip.  The teacher, the dreaded Mrs Darroch, took against me for some reason.  I expect I was too mouthy – the fate of most females in my family.  I remember her telling me that she was “sorry for the man that got me”! I suppose that was better than what a friend of mine was told by her sewing teacher.  She was told she would “Never get a man”!  You can start to see why it has been such a battle for women to gain equality and to believe they are entitled to be taken seriously during the last half century.

I made quite a lot of clothes for myself and others during my teens and twenties.  It was much cheaper to do so then – garments were relatively much more expensive then.  Nowadays it would probably cost as much to buy a skirt zip as it would cost to buy a ready made skirt in the likes of Primark, but that certainly didn’t use to be the case.

When my sister had children and later I had my own, I quite often made baby and children’s clothes out of cut down adult clothes.  Fabric was still pretty expensive.

I taught Jae to use a sewing machine when she was still in primary school.  We all still remember the “strawberry shortcake” jump suit she so proudly made out of a remnant of cotton for her little sister, Gwen, to wear in a school fair fancy dress parade.  Maybe that’s where Gwen got the love of dressing up she has passed to her children: they often seem to wear exotic costumes.

After that, I didn’t have much time for sewing until the last few years, during which time I have gradually stopped working.  Sewing clothes makes no sense as they have become so cheap.  So I have taken up patchwork and have been taught the necessary skills mainly by brilliant teachers in Canterbury U3A – University of the Third Age.  I have got a bit of a reputation however for being unconventional.  My teachers all favour using new fabric, whereas my greatest satisfaction has come from making quilts out of old clothes.

For many years we have gone on walking holiday with a group of friends.  When the original organisers of the holidays decided not to continue, I asked everyone who had ever been on one of their holidays to give me an old blue or greenish garment.  My friend Mary and I then spent a few days in the caravan at the beach making the old clothes into quilts for the organisers.   We were doing the finishing touches sitting on the beach when Stew rolled up with his camera and a bottle of bubbly.  The smiles on our faces say it all.

Seaside industry!
Seaside industry!
Mary & Sheila display their walking group quilts on the beach
Mary & Sheila display their walking group quilts on the beach

Several times now, I have worked together with another woman to make a quilt from old clothes, which belonged to their late husband or parent.  I love doing this: it is such a privilege to be entrusted with something so precious.  My friend Gerda from the Netherlands was one of the first people I did with this: I think she was very pleased to go off after three days with a fleece-backed quilt to wrap herself in on chilly evenings made out of her late husband’s shirts, waistcoats and ties. Recently she turned seventy and she asked all of her friends to give her a ten inch square of fabric in rich jewel colours.  I look forward to spending another few days with her this year to turn these squares into another quilt – so long as she accepts that I will have to do a bit of marching up and down the beach to improve my fitness between seams!

Sheila's friend Gerda's quilt
Sheila’s friend Gerda’s quilt

Raspberries & Condoms – by Sheila

Jae and I had a wander around the town of Amalfi, when we were on our recent training week (aka “holiday”) – part of our preparation for taking on Kilimanjaro in August.  We looked in shop windows at the lemon soaps, drinks and spices, then Jae thought of sending a postcard back to her colleagues at Exodus Travel.  She was very struck by this rather surprising postcard showing the Amalfi sea front, with what looks like nine little babies sitting on their own in the sand.  She went in and bought it, but somehow we never got round to acquiring a stamp – but it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

Amalfi baby postcard
Amalfi baby postcard (there’s no explanation as to “why?” on the back either!)

One of the things I really loved during the week was earing into other people’s conversations.  I loved walking along listening to people chatter: I needed all my energy just to keep walking.

I spent a couple of Septembers in the early 1980s doing a job in which I could spend all day every day listening to others enjoying a good blether.  I was employed as a raspberry picker in a local farm.  The rows of canes were as tall as me, so it was possible just to stand in the sunshine quietly picking, while the sound of Kentish women having often quite barmy conversations drifted around me.  It was arguably the best job I have ever done!


However, one of the funniest snippets of conversation I have ever heard was on a much more recent occasion.  A year or two ago, Jae and I were bowling along in my car with her two young sons – Oscar’s brothers – in the back.  They were chattering away about what they had been doing at school during the previous week.  They both attend the same excellent – I suppose I should say “outstanding” – village school.  They started talking about a sex education class they had attended. Yes, it seems to happen in primary school these days. The only sex education I ever had was at age sixteen.  Most of my age group had already left school at fifteen, so why it took place then, I can’t imagine.

Anyway, the little boys had clearly been provided with quite a lot to think about.  They started talking about condoms and their potential uses, which somehow led on to multiple births.  Then they worked out the connection!  If you want to have twins, you need to wear two condoms, and if you want to have quadruplets you have to wear four!!!!  Jae and I, sitting in the front seat, had a real problem keeping our chortles silent.

I haven’t heard the boys’ opinion of the postcard Jae bought in Amalfi: I would love to hear their explanation for the nine babies sitting apparently abandoned on the beach. Two of them do look as if they might be twins, so that could be something to do with it I suppose!

Rutherglen Academy & Beyond – a guest post by Jean Wilson (formerly Wishart)

My grandmother loved Gregory Peck, simply adored him.  As a special treat she took me as a small child to see him in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.  I confess that I didn’t really understand the story and any attempt to get an explanation from Grandma resulted in a loud “Shush”.  But ever since, the very name “Kilimanjaro” has held a certain romance; after all it had been my first grown up film.

So I was really excited when the email from Sheila arrived announcing their Three Generation Expedition.  And I was delighted when Sheila asked me if I would contribute an occasional ‘Guest Blog”; I could write anything as long as it had some connection with the 3G Climb.  Now, Sheila and I have had a very episodic friendship lasting over fifty years – we were at school together. I was in the same class as Stew, her husband to be and Leslie, her older sister.  We were at University together (completely different subjects) when we shared a flat for some of the time.  That sounds grander than it was.  In these days students at Glasgow University had a tough time; sharing a bed-sit was the norm.  That is when I got to know Sheila really well.  Then marriages and careers came along causing us to drift apart – she to Canterbury and me to Edinburgh.  It is only thanks to retirement, e-mail and Facebook that the friendship has been renewed.

Stewart (front left), Leslie (back right) at Rutherglen Academy
Stewart (front left), Leslie (back right) at Rutherglen Academy
Jean wins the Dux Prize at Rutherglen Academy (she and Leslie appear to have cleaned up!)
Jean wins the Dux Prize at Rutherglen Academy (she and Leslie appear to have cleaned up!)

Thinking of Sheila’s character and her planned trip, all I can say is that the group with which she will be travelling is extremely lucky.  Sheila at eighteen was confident, practical and even a little determined.  We both found ourselves at the sharp end of our respective stepmothers’ tongues.  Sheila called time first and came along to my house to drag me off in search of our escape.  This we found in the shape of a double bedsit in a generously sized basement room of what must once have been a rather gracious residence in the west end of Glasgow.  It was not gracious in any way then apart from a rather grand dining table in the bay window, ideally positioned to capture what little light came into the room.  We agreed to take it – it cost us £2 each per week.

Needless to say our announcements were not taken well by either family and our transition was somewhat precipitous by necessity.  Various friends with cars were enlisted to help with the “flit” – the vernacular for removal.  I had packed all my textbooks and notes plus clothes and some bedding. (Thinking back made me realise just how lightly students travelled in the days before computers and portable TVs and coffee makers and microwaves).  Sheila had been much more practical, but only up to a point.  She had packed a set of camping pots, plates and cutlery; she had not brought any food.  Both of us came from households where food arrived in cupboards (via a delivery boy on a huge carrier bicycle) without intervention from us.  Fortunately Sheila’s resourcefulness came into play.  She had sussed out the nearest grocery and we set off.  This was the first self-service grocer’s shop I had been in and I was somewhat daunted.  Sheila somehow knew what to do and what to buy – “It has to be cheap and nutritious”.

We cooked our first meal and sat down round the one bar electric fire to enjoy it.  We eventually admitted that it wasn’t very good and that we were faced with a major problem about eating when our budget was so limited.  I bought a cookery book (I still have it) and we started to learn to cook, an exercise that has stood both of us in good stead.  And this is one reason I said that the people in Sheila’s group were lucky.  They can be assured that if the food porters fail, Sheila will show the same resourcefulness and rustle up a meal.

So what was our first meal of freedom?  It was a tin of Irish Stew with instant potato. Sheila, I thought I should send you a tin to take with you – but then decided a photograph would be enough to sustain you.

Princes Irish Stew
Princes Irish Stew

How Many Years at The Tap End? – by Sheila

A Kilimanjaro porter with "washy washy" bowls
A Kilimanjaro porter with “washy washy” bowls

Exodus supports a charity in Tanzania which trains guides and porters to work on Kili – part of the money we raise will go to this.  Great emphasis is put on learning about health and safety: it is very important that no-one becomes ill on the trip!  No-one wants…


…on a mountainside! (In the olden days we used to spend a lot of time at school learning such mnemonic phrases as an aid to spelling: I dare say SpellCheck has put paid to that!).

The guides and porters are taught about food and water safety – really important as they have to carry enough for more than a week – and also about the importance of hand washing.

However, I suspect that apart from washing ones hands, face and possibly feet using the small bowl of water one is provided with twice daily on the mountain, very little washing of bodies or clothes goes on.

I have a few friends who have expressed horror at the idea of not being able to wash their hair every day – but they couldn’t possibly carry up enough water for that as well as for drinking and hand washing.  However, I doubt the lack of such facilities will overly distress me.

As a child, my sister, brother and I all had a bath every Sunday evening.  My sister Leslie would always sit at the tap end: she was responsible, unlike me!  I had to sit right up the other end, to keep me from causing mischief with the taps or plug.  Brother Robbie was in the middle. Weekly bathing was considered fairly normal as houses did not have central heating nor constant hot water.  I think we had our hair washed in the weekly bath too, but others did not.  When we discussed this in the kitchen at Catching Lives recently, Christine said her hair was washed on alternate Sunday nights, as it was considered that too frequent washing would damage the hair.

I discovered a few years ago that my sister has spent her life sitting in baths with her head between the taps.  That’s where she was put as a child and it had never occurred to her that it might be more comfortable facing the other way.  I must find out if she has changed direction since I flagged that up.

So I think I should be able to revert to the 1950s standards of hygiene without too much difficulty on Kili!  We spend one night in a lodge both before and after our seven nights on the mountain and it has showers and even a swimming pool.  I imagine that there will be an almighty rush for both these facilities, when we make it down again.

Creative Caravaning – by Sheila

Paper weight stones
Paper weight stones

One of the things I like doing best is making something out of nothing, or at least nothing much.  I like collecting things on the beach and working out what can be made of them.  The beach near my caravan is well endowed with stones with holes right through them.  It is very satisfying to collect a few such stones and some bits of fishing net and tie them all together to make paper weights, for use on the garden table when reading newspapers.

Sea glass art (and a gnome and chives!)
Sea glass art (and a gnome and chives!)

I have also collected sea glass on the beach.  Sea glass is glass that has spent years – I think – in the sea getting buffeted about, so that all the sharp edges have been rubbed away, and you are left with a coloured nicely smooth edged stone-like object.  I have made necklaces and ear rings with sea glass and distributed them to everyone who will have them!

Beach picture
Beach art by Sheila

Last summer, my friend Mary and I got the idea of making pictures from found objects on the beach.  We had fun with that, and when my sister arrived to stay with her eleven year old twin grandsons a few weeks later, the boys embraced the idea, making a great three dimensional representation of a wrecked yacht, which they entitled “Seen Better Days”.

Seen Better Days by Sheila's great nephews
Seen Better Days by Sheila’s great nephews

Whilst they were still in the caravan, Jae, Oscar and his brothers also arrived to stay.  Happily my friend Caroline agreed to lend us her caravan too for the weekend, as eight people in one caravan doesn’t work too well.  The five boys had the best of times, and we grownups had a great fun too.  My sister had got the idea of making decorated lanterns out of jam jars, and the boys had great, creative ideas for interesting designs.   It is a real joy to get children involved in anything of that sort.  I have a happy memory of sitting outside on a couple of warm evenings, lit up by homemade lanterns, chatting with my sister and Jae and others passing by, while the five boys were in the caravan, which Jae had ingeniously turned into a cinema for the evening.  She put all the cushions together to make a big bank of them for the boys to lie on, while they watched the latest DVD release and munched on popcorn.

Pretty homemade lanterns
Pretty homemade lanterns

It is possible to eat off the beach too.  Jae’s husband, David, has collected mussels with the boys at low tide and he and the two younger boys – Oscar is a veggie like Jae – have eaten them without any ill effects.  In April and May a form of green broccoli can be collected, which is quite delicious after a quick boil with a dash of butter  and sea kale, which is very like spinach, can be collected during three or four months in spring/summer.

I generally collect bits and pieces – most often stones – wherever I go.  I have some beautiful white stones garnered off a Spanish beach, fossils from the beach near Lyme Regis, pieces of stone which seem to be made of shells collected on a hillside above Agadir and, of course, the bit of lava picked up on Vesuvius in 1972.  I wonder what I might find on Kilimanjaro.  The mountain is a National Park, so it may be that it is an offence to remove anything: no doubt I will find out.  I will be on the look out for anything interesting and particularly anything that can be fashioned into something useful or decorative, if it is allowed.

A Life of Bikes – by Sheila

I plan to do a bit of cycling in preparation for going up Kili.  I used to jog, but doubt I could manage it now, so cycling might provide me with a bit of aerobic exercise during the next few months.

I have always wanted to have a bike, and can remember how jealous I was of my sister Leslie, when she was given a shiny new blue tricycle – not me!  I was probably about two years old at the time and Leslie seventeen months older.  The adults were concerned about Leslie’s physical co-ordination, and thought riding the trike would improve this.  So my aim in life became to get on her trike when no-one was looking.  I would jump on and ride off – or show off on it, whenever I got a chance. Although it was always referred to as Leslie’s bike, I think I probably got more use from it, until we both got too big for it and it was handed down to our little brother.

Sheila showing off on Leslie's trike
Sheila showing off on Leslie’s trike

When I was four, I had a boyfriend who lived down the road called Peter.  Peter had a trike and he was willing to let me stand on the back of his trike with my hands on his shoulders, while he sat in the saddle madly pedalling.  He could get up quite a speed on the pavement and we had a whale of a time racing round like this together.  In these days there was very little traffic around and it was considered safe enough to let children play in the street without supervision.

All went well until he took a corner too fast and I went flying off, resulting in a broken left arm for me. His family emigrated to Australia shortly afterwards – I assume this was not connected to my accident!

For my seventh birthday, I finally got my own bike.  It was a small second hand one and I was thrilled. I remember learning to ride this two wheeler in the back garden, regularly tumbling over into the hedge of roses, which separated our garden from our neighbours.  Within a few months I was proficient and was allowed out to ride with my friends up the park and around country lanes.  So long as we turned up at mealtimes this was considered fine.

By the time I was ten, I had outgrown that bike, and I got my eye on a bike called a “Pink Witch” which was for sale for £23 in the window of the local bike shop.  I had saved up a few pounds: my grandparents used to give me a pound every Christmas and birthday and my great aunt would give me ten shillings. I wanted my parents to make up the difference as my eleventh birthday present.

Well I did get a new bike – but not the Pink Witch!  A pink bike was considered far too gaudy, so I got a tasteful dark blue one instead – I remember it cost £21.  I was happy – I had my freedom – I was off!

Sheila on the bike she got for her 11th birthday
Sheila on the bike she got for her 11th birthday

I have always had bikes since then. I have never been a spectacular cyclist, but I love the feeling of movement and of the wind whistling past.  I cycled to work most of my working life: what a joy.  I have always thought I was so lucky in this respect compared to people stuck in tube trains and buses

And now I have a lovely pale blue bike – not very tasteful, but who cares?  I was upset when my previous bike was nicked from outside a friend’s house in November, but am delighted to have a replacement now.  A bit of riding around might help in getting me as fit as I can get for the Kili Climb.

Sheila on her beautiful new bike
Sheila on her beautiful new bike


Sheila and her bikes - then and now

School News Practice Video – guest post by Samson

Samson’s first day at school earlier this year. He lives in Sydney, Australia

Some of you may already have seen a video of Sheila’s grandson Samson practicing for “news time” at school, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, click here to watch it – we just had to share! And here’s a lovely close up of the picture he drew to go with it:

Samson's drawing of the climb
Samson’s drawing of the climb

Apparently the real thing went very well – he even replaced the word “Dedda” with “Grandma” in order to sound more professional! (Oscar has called Sheila “Dedda” since he was tiny, and all the other grandchildren have followed suit).

Thanks for the fab post Samson! S, J & O xxx

And talking of news, we got a tweet back from CNN news anchor Brooke Baldwin this week. She wrote a lovely article about her recent Kili climb which you can read here.

Tweet from Brooke Baldwin

Toenails and Foam – by Sheila

Toenail & paperclip

The mountain sounds like a fairly filthy place, without much opportunity to get very clean.  I know we get provided with water – “washy, washy” twice a day, and there are bowls for hand washing when the camp is set up, but it seems despite this, sand and dirt gets everywhere.

Some people advise not to take contact lenses, as almost certainly, it will be impossible to put them in hygienically.

I saw a recommendation by a female mountaineer that women should varnish their finger nails with a dark colour before setting off.  The result of that is that when the filth gets under your fingernails on the climb, you won’t get upset by it, as you won’t be able to see it!

When we met with Apples from Exodus, he warned us of yet another nail issue.  He advised us to bring some foam rubber to put in the toes of our boots during the downhill climb.  We come down very quickly in just a day and a half, after having taken just over six days going up.  We will never before have walked continuously downhill from such a height so speedily.  The result of this, according to Apples, is that inevitably, your toes will press down in your boots.  It is common for people to end up with septic blisters on their toes, which are extremely painful.

Apples told us that at the bottom of the mountain, there are locals ready to deal with this.  They break a paperclip in two, and hold a lighter under the broken clip until it is red hot.  They then quickly plunge the clip into the nail of the infected toe, which makes a hole right through it, through which pus can escape!

I will be taking some bits of foam along, I can assure you.

Walk This Way (or that way!) – by Sheila

Our recent week’s walking has made me realise I really need to start a proper training regime, if I am going to make it up Kili.  I did manage to keep up with the rest of the group – some of whom are probably half my age – but only just!  It was lovely that everyone managed to do all of the walks, but I did realise that those of us who are not as lean as we might be, found it harder than the others.  I have already lost over half a stone, but have to keep going to build up muscle and lose more fat.  I managed to resist the attractions of some fabulous Italian ice cream: it looked really yummy.  I felt quite virtuous!

Jae scoffing delicious Italian ice cream (while Sheila abstains!)
Jae scoffing delicious Italian ice cream (while Sheila abstains!)

I am not good at doing indoor exercise: the gym does not attract me.  I am an outdoor person – I love being in the fresh air with a blue sky above, birds in the sky, and trees and plants around me.  I can cope with a Pilates class once or twice a week, but other than that, it has to be walking, cycling or sea swimming.  I will have to make a point of doing one of these every day now, to keep up the level of fitness I reached after what was, for me, a strenuous week of walking.

In addition, I have another couple of weeks of walking lined up during the next few months.  In May I will be going to Charmouth in a group of twenty friends for a one week walking holiday.  We have rented various houses – mostly in the West Country – for a week every year for about twenty years now.  It is amazing what wonderful houses can be rented if there are enough of you to share the cost: we normally self-cater and have a whale of a time and walk every day.

And in June there is the prospect of participating in a replay of the Canterbury Tales!  I am really looking forward to that. There is going to be a nine day walk from Dover to Crawley along the Pilgrims’ Way.  Every evening after that day’s walk, a tale will be told by a famous poet or author in a nearby village hall.  The theme of the walks will be refugees and detainees, so there will be a lorry driver’s tale, a detainee’s tale, an interpreter’s tale, a solicitor’s tale etc.  I should be able to do the first four or five days of the walk and get to and from home by public transport every day.  You can read about it here. Come and join in, if you can – it might be fun!

The Wednesday team cooking in the Catching Lives kitchen
The Wednesday team cooking in the Catching Lives kitchen

I have a U3A walk from Seasalter to Faversham lined up for this week, as well as a three hour walk with Nordic Walking East Kent.  On Wednesday, as usual, I will be cooking at Catching Lives, which involves five hours on my feet – much of it walking, although a fair bit of chopping and dish washing too.  We work hard, and make some fab food – I’m sure that counts as exercise!

Add in a couple of Pilates classes: if I cycle there and back, I might be doing just about enough.  Fingers crossed!  But can I keep it up for another five months?  Who knows?

Sun, Sky, Sea and my Static – by Sheila

We had an absolutely gorgeous day this week, with blue sky and sun shine and the temperature just about made it into double figures: not bad for March.  I decided spring had sprung and that I was going to open up our caravan again, after the winter.

It is a static caravan in Seasalter, near Whitstable in Kent.  We first went to the site about nine years ago, when my dear friend Caroline told me that she had bought a caravan and invited us to see it.  As soon as I saw hers I fell in love with the idea of having one there too.  The site is a thin strip with the sea on one side and open countryside on the other.  It is only about seven miles away from home, and it is possible to get there by walking, cycling, bussing or driving, or a combination of these.  We were very lucky that a few months later, one came up for sale which was only a year old.  Statics are like cars: they lose value very quickly, so we got it for about two thirds of the price of a new one.  It has a living room/kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom with the smallest imaginable bath under the shower: great for children’s sandy bottoms!

Boys jumping at the caravan park
Boys jumping at the caravan park

This summer will be the our ninth caravan summer and in that time I estimate that well over a hundred different people have slept there – I wish I had kept a list.  Some of these people would not have had a holiday at all, had we not had the caravan.  I have spent loads of time there: I love being outside and being aware of the changes in the sea, the sky and the weather.  I potter about walking along the coast and spend lots of time sewing: the light is perfect for that.  The site and the caravan are not scenic – but everything around is.  Beach huts are much more beautiful and are in much greater demand. People pay sky high prices for them – but you can’t sleep in them and, more importantly, they don’t have bathroom facilities.

Sheila's sister Leslie and a trendy beach hut
Sheila’s sister Leslie and a trendy beach hut

I love the fact that the site is in a fairly isolated area and there is not much to do.  There is another site half a mile down the road, which has a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor play areas and a club house.  Our site has none of that – just a field and a couple of swings.  Most of the caravans are owned by old people with dogs – but children love coming to visit.  They need to use their imagination to entertain themselves, whether on the beach or in the field and they can have more freedom there, than many of them normally have when at home.

Ivor & Milo on the caravan beach
Ivor & Milo on the caravan beach

The site closes up for the winter at the beginning of November and reopens in March.  I spent the day this week scrubbing every surface – it gets damp and mouldy in the winter – and putting the curtains back up and furniture to rights.  I had the door wide open with the sun streaming in and felt truly happy.  I look forward to some great days again there this summer. I had a lovely summer last year with lots of visiting family and friends: I hope they all come again and more.

Sheila with her great nephews at the caravan beach
Sheila with her great nephews at the caravan beach

However, there will have to be less of the sewing this year and a bit more strenuous exercise, if I am to be fit for Kili.  I have already agreed to co-ordinate sea swimming for Canterbury U3A, so hopefully I will have a few other oldies with me to brave the waters. I am not great at going in by myself, but I will have to push myself to do so.  A friend gave me her old bike and I keep it there, so I will take myself off along the country lanes on that.  The bike is great in the autumn, as I can use it for scrumping.  Last year, as well as the usual wild plums, apples, sloes and pears, I found a walnut tree by the side of the road and helped myself to a lovely crop of nuts.  I will certainly be visiting that tree again this year – if I have survived the Kili climb!

Sheila dries off after some sea swimming
Sheila dries off after some sea swimming

Are My Buns Fishy? by Sheila

I woke up in the night recently wondering whether I was being a total prat by thinking I can walk up a mountain for seven days!  It is so easy to get things totally wrong it seems these days – or do I just feel that as I am getting older?  It seems no effort at all to innocently do things that are open to misinterpretation, or perhaps in the case of me thinking I can get up Kili, just plain daft!

At Catching Lives, the charity for Canterbury homeless people, where I cook with three other lovely people every Wednesday, it seems easy for us to do things in innocence, which are open to misinterpretation.  For example recently, Paula made some really delicious home made fish cakes.  She decided once she had fashioned them and put them out in trays that they looked a bit dull, so brightened each of them up with a blob of tinned tomato in the centre.  When the rest of us stopped what we were doing and turned to look at the fish cakes, we all had a good chuckle together!  They reminded me of the iced buns, which Celia Imrie held aloft in Calendar Girls.

Calendar Girl buns
Calendar Girl buns

There are other things that can go wrong as we get older, with more potential for disaster.  Stew and I were out for a meal with my friend Susie and some others recently.  There were a total of seven of us round the table, all into our seventh decade at least. Susie told us about the new car that she had ordered.  She was really looking forward to picking it up soon.  She told her son exactly what she had ordered – a lovely new silvery Honda Jazz from a garage in Peebles, which had been super helpful to her. It was when she told her son that the registration number was to be SK15 VJJ that she started to realise she might have got something wrong.  He gently suggested to her that she might ask for a different registration number.  None of us round the table could see anything untoward with the number, but I put VJJ into Google on my phone, and immediately saw what her son meant!  We clearly have not been keeping up with our reading – though I don’t know whether “Fifty Shades of Grey” is exactly my thing.  Happily Susie has managed to arrange for a different number for her car: when she approached the garage to indicate why she wanted a change, they were very quick to withdraw that number.

So I am depending on those younger than me to keep me on the straight and narrow in respect of the trip up Kili.  If the time comes when I appear to have lost the plot entirely PLEASE TELL ME!

You Know the Drill – by Sheila


I had the most expensive morning I have had in a long time, on the Monday morning after our return from Walking on the Amalfi Coast.  I spent £278 at the dentist before 10am!  I was vaguely aware when I was at the airport about to get on the plane at the beginning of the week, that something was not quite right in my mouth: the feeling did not go away.  However, I was taking strong painkillers all week for my arthritic toe, so the drugs seem to have done a doubling up job on my teeth too – the pain was never terrible.  I suspected I might have an abscess, but have never had one before, so didn’t know what one feels like.  I was very comforted by the knowledge that two of the group of sixteen were young women GPs, who I am sure would have sorted me out with some antibiotics, if push had come to shove.  Half way through the week I emailed my dentist, who very obligingly emailed me back saying he had fitted me in for first thing in the morning on the Monday after my return: that’s what I call a result!  Of course, I felt hardly felt anything after that – Sod’s Law – but thought I had better keep the appointment in any event.  After the first Xray – two more followed – the abscess was diagnosed and the drilling commenced!  He said he had to follow the root for an inch to get to the end of it!!  So now I know I have exceptionally long roots in my teeth – not the most useful information – and have also discovered what root canal treatment is.

It got me thinking about dental treatment for generations before and after mine.  It seems that the generations after mostly have wonderful teeth – perhaps due to the presence of fluoride.  However, previous generations had nightmare times with teeth.  We visited Beamish Museum in the North East of England with the children when they were small, where there is a dental surgery with some pretty scary looking implements.  We were told there that it was common practice for young women to have all their teeth removed before their marriage, as a sort of dowry from the woman’s family to the new husband.  It meant that he would never have to shell out any money for any dentistry for her!

Scots have historically always had bad teeth – perhaps due to their liking for sweeties and particularly tablet, which is a Scottish delicacy which guarantees instant tooth rot!  My parents in law didn’t have a tooth between them, when I first met them, and they were only in their fifties then.  That was not considered very unusual then, particularly among the less well off.

I am very pleased my abscess has occurred now, and not when I am doing the real thing up Kili!  Maybe I will pop into the dentist for an X-ray however, just before the trip, just to make sure there is no repetition!

Fortunately Sheila's dentist is a little more modern than this!
Fortunately Sheila’s dentist is a little more modern than this!

Subsidised Scuba – by Sheila

Twenty years ago, or so, a group of female friends and relations would take ourselves off for a warm week in the early part of the year.  We called them “Girls’ Holidays” – although the ages of the “girls” varied between about 20 and 80!  I often had at least one daughter along, and also my Auntie Elsie came a few times.  Other friends brought family members too.  I think on one occasion, there were as many as twelve of us, all staying in a cheap hotel on an all inclusive basis.

One of the first of these holiday was to Eilat on the Red Sea.  Eilat is in Israel and is tightly sandwiched between Egypt and Jordan: both countries are almost within walking distance.  The sea was warm and the weather was beautiful.  We spent quite a lot of time swimming.  Jae was with us and also her cousin Louise and they decided to acquire a couple of masks and snorkels – or maybe they brought them with them.  They were very excited to be able to see coral and told us that it was teaming with fish of all sorts of exotic colours and patterns.  One day, they decided that some of us oldies should go snorkeling too.  They put their gear on to us and pushed us into the sea.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!  The coral was amazing, the fish and other sea life were like nothing I had seen before – and I loved the absolute silence and stillness under the waves.  We were so pleased that we had a younger generation along: we would never have discovered the other world under the sea without them.

Red Sea coral and fish
Red Sea coral and fish

When we got back home, we discovered that there was a Scuba diving course available, which was actually government sponsored!  It seems very strange to think now, with education like all public services being pared to the bone, that there was a government initiative to offer NVQ courses to adults at very reduced prices – and that Scuba diving came under this umbrella!  Having loved the snorkeling, we thought Scuba diving was a natural progression.  I signed up, as did Jae, her sister Gwen and my friend Mary.  We had five full days training over several weekends, which included both classroom study and practical diving in various bodies of water.

I recently dug out the paperwork from the course, which I have to admit has stayed in a cupboard untouched for nearly twenty years.  I did this because I have this memory of being taught by two young boys – well, I suppose they might have been about 20 – and that we students behaved like children, falling about laughing by some of the terms used.  The one thing I remember we laughed about was the continual reference to “sandy bottoms”, but couldn’t remember what else we had found so funny.  Well I now see that there were frequent mentions of backrushes, trapped air, reverse blocks, bottom compositions and water movement, which I dare say provided fodder for a few jokes.

The practical diving took place in three locations, that I can remember.  One was a local public pool, where I was horrified to see the amount of debris lying on the bottom.  When you are above the water in a pool, it looks so lovely and clear: not so below, I can assure you.  One dive took place in a pool in the back garden of one of the instructors.  The pool clearly had a bit of a problem: it was like swimming in semolina.  Well actually, that wasn’t actually the word we used to describe the consistency of the water, but the word starts off much the same.  This blog is intended for family reading!   The third location was a gravel pit near Maidstone.  It was cold, forbidding and dark – a far cry from the wonderful blue sea or rather Red Sea, which had initially inspired this venture.  The only wrecks we were able to see there were old cars, which had been dumped in the water – no romantic ship wrecks for us.  One of the most important things we were required to do was read the dials on the SPG – the submersible pressure gauge. (No – I didn’t really remember the name of it – I looked it up in the handbook!)  Mary was starting to get long sighted then, and needed to hold the gauge at arms length to be able to read the dials.  However, the water was so muddy that when she held the SPG away from her, it disappeared into the filth! The young lads teaching us just couldn’t understand this problem, nor did  they realise how horrified we were at having to swim in this cold dark dirty water.

Neither Mary nor I have been Scuba diving since that day in the gravel pits, but I have been snorkeling and loved it.  I also have jumped off the deck of quite a big boat into the sea and generally felt more confident in water, since completing the course.

How lucky am I to have had the opportunity to share such experiences with my family?  In August, I am going to go off again with two generations – I am the old generation this time, not the middle one, as I was on the “Girls’ holidays”. I consider myself privileged to have this chance to do something so exciting with my daughter and grandson.  You could say I have been to the depths of the ocean with my family – well the gravel pits at least – and now I am to attempt to scale the highest freestanding mountain in the world again with my family to hand.  I would and will go to the ends of the earth for them if that was what they wanted.

Sheila's Diving Licence
Sheila’s Diving Licence


Steps & Blisters – by Sheila

I have been offered lots of advice from all sorts of people when I have told them about the plan to climb Kili. Everyone seems to want to put in their tuppence worth – even the taxi driver on the way home from the airport after the recent trip to the Amalfi coast had advice to give me. He admitted that he had been sitting behind the wheel of a car for the last ten years and had rarely even walked a few yards. However, his doctor has told him to lose weight and he now runs up and down the stairs in the airport car park, while waiting for people to arrive from their planes. I hope that doesn’t result in a heart attack: his pot belly is monumental! He recommended stairs to me, as did my friend Maureen at Catching Lives: she has offered to let me into the very tall block of flats where she lives, so I can run up and down her stairs – but after Amalfi, I feel I have seen enough steps to last me quite a while. One of the other people on the holiday said their next trip would be to the Netherlands: it is all pretty much level there!

Sheila on the steps at Amalfi's cathedral
Sheila on the steps at Amalfi’s cathedral

Maureen’s other suggestion was that I should always stand during adverts, titles and credits, while watching TV. Standing seems to be a highly recommended activity at present, with people ordering standing desks for their offices and studies. However, I am usually on my laptop and/or iPhone or knitting, sewing or crocheting while watching TV – sometimes two or three of these together, so the resulting tangle of cables and yarn might be fatal, if I keep getting up and down. Actually Stew and I did try it one evening, and ended up bopping about and giggling at the same time, which can’t be at all bad.

I have been told that standing on one leg is good for me: it is supposed to strengthen bones and improve balance. I usually try to practice that at bus stops, if I have a while to wait – along with a few pelvic floor exercises, which yoga and Pilates teachers always seem to recommend for bus stop waits. I try to keep my facial contortions within normal bounds on such occasions!

One of the staff at Catching Lives has actually been up Kili, and his recommendation was to try to put your foot down flat when climbing up, rather than heel first and rolling the foot. His philosophy is that this technique lulls the mind and body into thinking you are in fact walking on the flat – not up a mountain. Hmm – the jury is out on that one, but I will try anything!

I developed blisters during the recent training exercise (aka holiday) on the underside of both my big toes. One of the best moments of the week was having Paul, our leader, tenderly apply patches and bandages to my toes to enable me to keep going. I have been offered lots of advice from others as to how to stop this happening again, including having Footbalance insoles made – a very clever machine views your feet and how you walk from every angle and purpose builds them for you – to encasing each toe in a tube to protect it. I feel a need for a lot of shopping coming on!

So thanks, everyone, for all your advice. I am thoroughly enjoying every bit of it and I know some of it will be useful: keep it coming, please.

Walking blisters