We are all recognise the concept of the value of routine exercise for physical fitness. Some people run, others swim, still others go to the gym and workout. Even if you are closer to your couch than you are to 5K today we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.
…we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.
As we entered this pandemic in the Spring of 2020 a thought came to me. I would need to be proactive about my mental health. Here in the UK we are within months of the other side of the pandemic, and am reviewing how well my approach has worked for me. Whilst considering this it came to me that whilst there are many messages about being proactive about keeping physically fit, I’ve heard little said within the mainstream media or from the NHS about being pro-active with our mental health.
…I’ve heard little said…about being pro-active with our mental health.
Chances are that ignoring your physical health will shorten your life more than ignoring your mental health, but in terms of quality life years I’d suggest that the latter is at least as important. So what did I do to keep myself mentally stable during this crazy time?
I acknowledged my needs and weaknesses and worked out how I could address them.
It’s hard to admit things about yourself of which you are not proud. In my case I needed to be honest about the value I get from routine. I might like to present a different face to the world but I needed to admit to myself that the requirement to be ‘at work’ at a specific time each day, and the sometimes routines tasks of work life were something that where important to me.
Also I needed to admit that I am mentally fragile, I’m not the resilient super hero that, as a man, I would like to be or paint myself as. I needed to acknowledge the need to act to preserve my mental and emotional stability.
2. I was purposeful about building the ‘connections’ which are most important to me.
I wrote in an earlier post about the excellent book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. In this he lists key facets of our life such as our connection to nature, connection to friends and four other key connections within our life. I know that for me that my connections to nature, God and friends are all particularly life giving.
The beauty of being purposeful in maintaining these connections is that it’s not like training for a race. It’s not painful or dull exercise which we are motivated to do simply because of the end goal. Maintaining connections is about doing things which we enjoy which have the co-benefit of a positive effect on our mental well-being. In my case I made time to phone my friends to make up for the loss in face to face contact. I made sure that I got out into the countryside regularly, even if that was just an evening stroll in the local park. Finally, I focussed more on the disciplines of my faith. The connections which are most important to you may well be different to those most critical to me.
3. I learned how to recognise and express my emotions in a healthy way.
You may or may not relate to the Christian centred teaching of Chip Dodd. Like many American Evangelicals he says in a chapter what could easily have been covered in a paragraph, but there is gold in them there hills of words! To summarise what he says: (1) Our emotions can be distilled down to a small number of underlying feelings; (2) We can express these feelings in positive or negative ways. Let’s start with the negative/s – we can internalise those feelings leading to a negative expression, or we can transfer those feelings to others which is neither good for us or nice for them. The positive approach is to express them in a helpful way. Let’s look at just one example, which Dodd calls anger (and I prefer to call passion).
Let’s say you come home to a messy kitchen. You could shout at your spouse, but we all know that this would not end well for either of you. You could calmly express that it makes you sad to see the kitchen in a mess after you’d cleaned the house at the weekend, or you could discuss how a kitchen cleaning rota might be arranged. You have a choice of how you express and resolve how you feel. You don’t have to try to make your problem someone else’s problem, instead you could be an agent for change.
A good summary is this – bottled up emotions tend to come to the surface eventually and when they do its rarely in a good way. Transferring your emotions (like anger) to someone else does not resolve the emotion, it simply moves it to someone else with some added bad feeling with it. Recognising and expressing your emotion well leads to good and healthy outcomes.
Perhaps not all the above approaches are ones you can relate to, but for a better and sustained quality of life think about what you can do to actively promote your mental health and start working on it. In my experience it leads to a whole lot of benefit at very low cost.
Rumours abounded that Lancashire was going to become yet further restricted and trips outside the county were not just ‘advised against’ but actually illegal. I’ve no moral qualms going for a wild walk against ‘advice’ a little away from home… …because by design I keep within the spirit of the (wise) guidance as I’m well away from other people – the idea is to be not just ‘socially’ but splendidly isolated! However I’m no law breaker so I wanted to grab the last chance for a micro-adventure before COVID Tier 4 / 5 came into force.
The air was clear, the amount of sunshine exceeded the forecast and there was a good amount of snow above 300 m so I’ll keep my words brief and allow the pictures to tell the story of the glory of the Yorkshire Dales on a clear winters day.
My route, starting / ending at Kettlewell
Day 1 (Kettlewell to Buckden Pike)
Day 2 (Buckden Pike to Kettlewell)
My Grivel Spider micro-spikes were excellent for these conditions – full review here.
My water reservoir didn’t freeze but the filter did. Must prepare enough water for the following morning next time
I should upgrade my Thermorest for a thicker model for next time My Prolite 3 is good down to single digit temperatures, but if I’m to get the best from my -15 C bag I need a mat to match it.
Grabbing opportunities like this one is well worth the effort.
So here we are – out the other side of Lockdown 2.0 and as a real ale brewer I find myself furloughed for the second time, at this point for six weeks. Even with this period of house arrest at an end here in Lancashire we are back to tier three as is most of our customer base. This time however the schools are open so I was able to look for temporary work and was very fortunate to find some. Not only will this top up the missing 20% of my income, but at least as important, it will also provide the routine and camaraderie which form part of the unspoken skeleton to my well-being. What is better still is that it is part time so I can continue with this even when I get phased back into work at the brewery when our local COVID tier drops and business picks up again.
And here we see my working life come full circle. Back in 1991 between the second and third years of my chemistry degree I found a work experience placement in a water analysis lab. Scroll forwards almost 30 years and my new temporary role is analysing the water released from a local chemical site to demonstrate compliance to their discharge limits. Whilst I’d rather be brewing, I find myself in a friendly team and learning how to run instrumentation beyond the wildest dreams of my colleagues in 1991.
At home I’ve never been so caught up on chores. Take for example our family Christmas letter this is now written and ready to send out. Furthermore, all the presents we look forward to giving, these too have been bought. This is position I have never aimed for before and will be unlikely to achieve again. Also positive is the chance to brew on my home nano-brewery once a week with the aim of optimising two beer recipes ready for Christmas. I am delighted with my raspberry porter recipe which my tasting panel say rivals the famous Titanic Plum Porter. My German Christmas biscuit beer is going to take some more work however, but there is still time. It needs more orange zest… Every brew is a chance to learn. Another positive during Lockdown 2.0 is that I have started studying towards my IBD Diploma in Brewing, a welcome chance to exercise my grey matter and very enlightening to boot.
As I drafted our family Christmas letter I was able to look back at my multi-day walking / wild-camping trips of 2020. Another facet of my sanity skeleton is maintaining a connection to nature (link back). I’ve been fortunate that Mrs W has facilitated me spending at least one night under ‘canvas’ every month from April to October. Weather permitting I hope to get away next weekend to try out my new winter solo tent which was lucky to pick up second hand in ‘as new’ condition
They say the wild camping is cheaper than therapy, but not if you buy Hilleberg… My ‘new’ Soulo will enable me to continue to get out all through the winter and, please please, get to experience life at altitude and in the snow. Bring it on!
Family Weston had planned a week on the Llyn Peninsula during this autumn half term. Walking some of the coast path, building sandcastles on the beaches, enjoying fish and chips with rolling accommodation provided by our wee camper-van. We were all looking forward to this when the Welsh Assembly decided to ‘circuit break’ and repel all boarders. Additionally Lancashire gained Tier 3 COVID status which encouraged us to stay within the county.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in Lancashire with nothing to do!
We decided to divide and conquer the problem. Mrs W and Junior would do fun day trips from home and I would be allowed to run away with my lightweight backpacking gear to a beautiful yet isolated location. Yes it was to be outside the county, but I was still complying with the spirit of the restrictions, I wouldbeisolated. During the original period of ‘house arrest’ in the Spring I’d spent a several days planning some multi-day walking routes as a way to dream of good times post COVID. I must now have enough routes scoped out to last me 3-4 years. Looking at my options and cross checking them with the weather forecast led me to choose to walk the inland section of the Cleveland Way, which runs along a Scarp Edge from Sutton Bank then tracking North and North East to Guisborough. After a link to the coast it follows the sea South again, but my walk was to terminate at Saltburn-by-the-Sea.
Day 1 – Sutton Bank to Osmotherley : 13.5 miles / negligible height gain.
I drove across to the NE on the morning of day one, knowing that I should not start walking too late if I wanted to finish the day before I ran out of daylight at around 1700. I found what seemed to (and proved to) be a safe parking spot near the top of Sutton Bank which saved me walking up from Cold Kirby (Plan A) so I was able to make a flying start to the day. It was a little hazy and overcast but the views were still good.
I’d love to go back on a sunny day. I think I will take Junior when I do as this section of the Cleveland Way would make an excellent father and son walk in a year or two’s time. The route traced the edge of the bank making for easily walking but with the benefit of elevated views over the Vale of York. The colour of the autumn trees was a delight.
It had been touch and go as to whether I would be able to do this walk because I had badly strained my neck doing some ‘extreme decorating’ a few days earlier. Prayer and a cocktail of strong painkillers kept me going however. I was most grateful for this outcome. Because of the uncertainty of how I would manage backpacking I opted to end day one in a campsite in Osmotherley, rather than my initial planned stop above the village on Beacon Hill (as an aside, there were at least three good wild camping spots near the top of the hill, albeit that you’d have to carry all your water up with you). To complete this pampered experience I’d booked into the Golden Lion for dinner that night. Both the food and the beer was excellent. Hobgoblin Gold is a surprisingly good and interesting ale to come from a subsidiary of the Marston’s mega-scale brewing group. It uses the NZ hop Nelson Sauvin at a level where it’s flavour is unmistakeable. Very nice, as was the food. I commend this hostelry to my readership!
Day 2 – Osmotherley to Bloworth Crossing : 15 miles / approx 600 m height gain.
I got started at 0800, knowing it would be a challenge to get to my end point (high on the moors) before I lost daylight. It was dry until 0900, but at least I’d topped the climb back to the top of the ‘bank’ before I had to deploy my Goretex. The threatened rain didn’t amount to much but did hide me in cloud from late morning to early afternoon. The heaviest rain was due for lunchtime but I had heard of a cafe at Lord’s Stones designed for walkers along the route. I nipped into this and avoided the only downpour of the day. It was very windy by this point and thus it was good to be indoors for my lunch-stop for once.
Mid-afternoon brought me to the Wainstones…
Then it was on to Clay Bank where the CW coincides with AW’s Coast to Coast. I have fond memories of camping on Clay Bank back in, ahem, 1993 and marvelling at the juxtaposition of views. Moorland heather in one direction, and the Middlesborough petrochemical works in the other. Time was marching on and I hoped I would find water at the pass between Clay Bank and Greenhow Moor. As I write this I’ve checked again, and there is a stream shown on the map just below the tourist view point. Had I been able to find this (I could not) there was a beautiful flat patch of grass within the viewpoint car park which would have made a perfect tent pitch with a grand view. However since I could not find the stream, I reviewing the map again and figured my best option was to walk on to my originally planned end point at Bloworth Crossing. There was now just 15 minutes before sunset (1630) and 7 km / 200 m height gain still to be tackled.
I was glad to be walking solo, so no one could complain that I should have picked up more water at the cafe! Thankfully the path was wide and clear to follow, and for reasons I could not understand it never actually became pitch black. This despite walking in cloud, with no sight of stars or moon. My research had shown me I’d get a good pitch at Bloworth Crossing and that water was available there. As I walked in the increasing darkness I started to enjoy the pleasure of a night hike and noticed my hearing becoming more acute. I didn’t need my head-torch because the track was pale, heather borders dark and the residual light was still oddly present. I kept hearing the burbling of water, and when I knew I was within 30 min of my proposed end point I investigated each embryonic stream with torchlight. Then I found gold, well more like clear whisky coloured water, right next to the path. It was Bloworth Slack.
For this trip I’d bought myself a Sawyer ultra-filter with the hope of a range of benefits. I’ve covered this in another post, but suffice to say I was really pleased at how it took out the peaty taste which is ubiquitous to such streams. I was soon at the crossing and found my patch of grass (not so common on heather moorland) and started looking for the best spot on which to pitch. Part of my method was to judge the volume of squelch I heard when I stepped on the area in question. I was tired and this was a guessed method but turned out to be inspired. In the morning the ‘slightly squelchy’ areas I had located had morphed into a stream.
The potential for this would have been obvious in daylight, but that was a luxury I didn’t have. In the end my pitch was more level and less muddy than the pukka campsite of night one.
Day 3 – Bloworth Crossing to Highcliffe Nab : 12 miles / approx 400 m height gain
Although I was only at 390 m, I awoke amidst the cloud. My day started, however, with the delight of being able to taste the subtle flavour of bergamot in my tea unalloyed by the taste of the water.
People who haven’t seen or used 21st century backpacking gear think I’m having a rough hard existence when I go on walks like this. Little could be further from the truth when I can make a brew without leaving my down sleeping bag, comfortable on a self inflating Thermorest, , sheltering within a 1.2 kg highly robust Swedish tent having sated my previous days appetite with excellent food (my favourites thus far being from Mountain Trails or Activeat ) which is light and just needs re-hydrating, creating no washing up.
But back to the story. I was on the trail by 0800 and soon the combination of a subtle drop in altitude and a raising cloud base meant I was again afforded excellent views.
I opted to simply enjoy the view I had of Roseberry Topping and not climb it this time with the aim to having a day guaranteed to end with daylight to spare. My weather app warned me to expect the wind to gust to 50-60 mph by the early hours of the next day. I needed to be sure to find a good sheltered spot. My planned stopping point next to a crag face sounded promising so I yomped on. Highcliffe Nab is both in itself very attractive and affords fabulous views all along the coast from Sunderland to Staithes.
Rather than pitch for the view, I used the hollow at the West end of the crag which would protect me from the forthcoming southerly winds and any variation in their direction +/- 45 degree’s that might occur. It was a great wild camping spot which I’d recommend outside of peak summer when the popularity of the spot with local youth might detract from the experience as they may then yield the wrong kind of wildness!
Day 3 – Highcliffe Nab to Saltburn-by-the-Sea : 12 miles / approx. 100 m heigh gain.
The morning did yield the promised high winds, but I was my sheltered spot was scarcely affected. I had been asleep by 8pm the night before, so rose early and was on the trail again by 0730. The woods above Guisborough were a riot of colour.
The section from the A171 to Skelton was mundane and muddy, and I prayed that the day would end well so as not to make this as the lasting memory of the day. It did! Once out of Skelton the path enters a linear park running the full length of Saltburn and only disgorging you in the town some 200 m from the sea.
It was a delight to see the sea, a fitting end to many a walking or cycling tour and the promise of excellent fish and chips to celebrate. Reviews suggested that the Seaview Restaurant served the best in town, and having now been there I have no reason to disagree. The only rain of the day came as I was having my early lunch with a beautiful view of the sea and the cliffs of the second, coastal, half of the Cleveland Way. This would be a walk for another day. It had been a superb four days, with only half a day of light rain to contend with. The cloud hid some of the views, but not enough to spoil the walk. It proved an example of a walk at height with very little actual height gain, so I hope to come again for an adventure with the rest of the family when Junior is a little older. It has a high reward to effort ratio which I know should work well for them.
As soon as my management team heard that Lancashire was on the brink of becoming a Tier 3 COVID zone they acted. Most of the team were put onto full time furlough, but two brewers and a dray-man put onto a two day week. Thankfully for my sanity I am one of those working part time*.
I’ve often dreamed of being a professional hill walker, well thanks to Rishi and his furlough scheme, I spent two days this week in the Lakeland Fells on 80% pay.** My route took me from Mosedale over Blencathra and Skiddaw, and then back via the more minor Northern Fells that sit behind these two 900 m peaks. Minor in size and notoriety, but not in the pleasure of the views they afforded as I was to find out.
Day One took me over Blencathra and onto the col between Jenkin Hill and Little Man, some 700m up the 931 m of Skiddaw.
Day Two started in low cloud which persisted until I was part way down the further side of Skiddaw, but then lifted to afford great views.
The route worked out well, with 10.5 miles and most of the height gain on Day One, and 13 miles on Day Two. If I did it again I would tweak the route a little. My route and the changes I’d make to the end of each day are shown below:
Click on the links to download the .gpx files for my actual route and improved endings for days one and two.
*Mentally there is a world of difference between a two day week and not working at all. It’s easier to think positively about working shorter hours than not at all. OK, I’m only one week into this new regime, but it feels much more like something I could make the best of than it felt during the full ‘house arrest’ of earlier in the year.
** Joking aside, it’s really important that people who are furloughed keep themselves ‘fit’ for a return to work. Brewing is a very physical job, so it’s good to remain physically fit. Mental health is vital for everyone so reconstructing purpose and routine into these novel and prolonged periods away from work is also key. Backpacking / wild camping in Fell Country fulfils both these goals for me
It occurred to me last week that it’s August and that we’ve been under the cloud of COVID for five months . It feels like the thick end of a year has passed and I’ve missed it. For us, a few significant steps have been taken towards regular life again in past few weeks. I was called off of furlough in week 21.
Two weeks after that Mrs W’s work rota returned to it’s pre-lockdown pattern again, meaning she is back on call for the first time in five months. She says she prefers working the odd all-nighter to extra time in the day. I fully understand her point of view, but it wouldn’t work so well for me.
The purpose of this diary is to ensure that I don’t forget how this period has been and so that in years to come I can look back to what happened and how I felt about it at the time. As I said, I’ve now been back at work for just over three weeks after four months away. It’s the longest intra-job hiatus I’ve ever experienced and whilst initially it was odd to be back in the brewery, the big thing that has hit me is tiredness. Sometime in the four months I’ve been away, someone seems to have worked out how to get more that 9 gallons of beer in a firkin! Surely that must be why they are a lot harder to lift now that they were in March? Jesting aside, brewing is a very physical job and whilst I’ve been lucky to be able to do lots of good hill walking and keep fit, my ability to heft 50 kg casks about has clearly rather reduced due to lack of practice.
Another shock to the system this week was to find that the brewery is cutting back of staffing and four of my colleagues will very sadly be leaving us. I’ve been spared, so it looks like hard work and enthusiasm has carried me through again. In a small close-knit team whoever doesn’t make it through the process will be missed. In this role it’s the quality of the company of my colleagues rather that the technical challenge which is a key pleasures of the role.
At home all the DIY jobs, even those I’ve been putting off for 10 years have been completed and I’ve even added a new alpine crevice garden to the front of the house to hide an ugly manhole cover out front.
Childcare is another oddity. Clearly it is more difficult, but it looks like Junior’s school are using this opportunity to work reduced hours for reasons which are impossible to link back to COVID itself. So whilst I’m back at work, I’m on short hours. This does help me easy back in however, so there is a silver lining. How the new term, in three weeks, turns out is something we are watching with interest. The gap between the best and poorest performing children will only have widened, with committed parents having covered all of the planned syllabus andmore, with those at the other end of the spectrum having done nothing at all. We wait and see if those at the top are left to get bored whilst the focus goes on those who need to catch up, the reverse or a healthy balance.
It seems that at this time people are finding themselves in one of two categories. Mown out (uber-busy) or bored. For those of you wishing there was a 25th hour in the day, perhaps you could delegate something to me, for I now find myself in the latter category. Lancashire have back peddled on allowing primary age children back to school. This prompted Mrs W and I to investigate the status of key workers wrt schooling a little more closely. We knew that as an (emergency) vet that she had been upgraded to key worker status, but closer inspection showed that only one parent needed to be a key worker for a child to be allowed school provision.
How to light a campfire, a great way to also teach the fire triangle and an introduction to combustion chemistry.
I really enjoyed the home schooling, but I reckon I had covered more than all his syllabus for Year 1 and that what he was needed more now was social interactions with his peers. Further I could feel the dark fingers of depression starting to claw and my ankles. It was time to be proactive for both our sakes. He is now coming to the end of his first week back at school which he is loving. I have applied for temporary work in the brewing sector with breweries I expect to be busy brewing for the bottle and can market. So far two great conversations with brewers who didn’t need another pair of hands and no further replies. Next week I’ll spread my net a little wider if I need to.
With important household repairs and upgrades behind me I was still in need of a project. So I set about ridding the lawn of moss and dandelions. And that sound you can hear… …that’s the sound of the bottle of a barrel being scraped! Anyway, we have a lush, almost weed free lawn as a result. However, for those who would seek to criticise my reduction in biodiversity I would point them to our herb garden which seems a veritable Mecca to local honey bees.
In week 9 Mrs W had a dry cough for 24 hours so went to the local COVID drive through centre for a test. Thankfully this came back negative.
I’ve stepped up my brewing at home in the last two weeks which has been good. On Saturday my second attempt at Hibiscus and Grapefruit Ale will have conditioned enough to try. This is an exciting project because whilst version one did not hit my ‘design spec.’ both myself, my tasting panel and the neighbours all liked it very much. And the colour was to die for, or should that be ‘to dye for?’
Right now some session “Isolation Pale Ale” is just finishing its primary fermentation.
More interesting still has been a commission from a friend / former colleague to brew a beer for their wedding. They liked my idea of combining aspects of their character, background and tastes to produce something which should reflect something of both of them. It could be fruitful if I could think of a way of making such projects commercially viable rather than just fun because then I could make some income from something very creatively enjoyable. For now, in this season of house arrest I am delighted to have a fun challenge to work on. Design one is ready on paper, awaiting some speciality malt to arrive in the next couple of days, then ready to brew next week. I hope it does not seek combine too many flavours and become confused. If it does I know the first thing I’d drop, so I have a plan B. This is what I always enjoyed about developing chemical processes, that ideas beget ideas.
So as we wait for the pubs to open, and with it the opportunity for me to return to my missed routine of work and banter with the other brewers / dray-men if you have a beer design commission in mind, drop me a line and I can give you a quote.
Everyone on the Weston Front has remained well so far, we are blessed by the sunshine and home school seems to be going well. I did spend the whole years school resources budget on one topic though. An introduction to coding, by way of Bob the (Lego) robot.
The whole concept is very well thought out and seems ideal for 6-9 year olds. We’ve learned about variables, triggers, flags and sub-routines in a really fun way. To get a better insight into what’s possible take a look at the video’s of Bob’s antics on my Flickr Feed.
I would not want to do a ‘Facebook Front‘ post and suggest that everything is rosy. I am finding motivation hard when I’m not home schooling and it is frustrating to remain in limbo as to whether we will get away on holiday this year. It’s true we have not got a foreign trip planned where we will lose deposits etc, but we really did (and still do) hope to go to Shetland at some point during the sunnier part of the year. Nathan is missing interacting with his friends too. Video calls are good, but no still no substitute for the real thing.
What I want to leave you with this week is the best advise I’ve yet seen on surviving ‘house arrest’ which comes in the form of a allegorical video from James Veitch. But note that really it should come with a ’16’ certificate!
A friend showed this article to me and I thought it made some excellent points from the alternative medical perspective of the veterinary profession. It’s well worth a read. So good I forwarded a copy to my local MP and to Matt Hancock. There’s a low chance it will ever reach them, physically, less so intellectually but you’ve got to try. I’ve included below as a pair of .jpg files. You could also download as a pdf from here.