Monday, 30 September 2013

Can we stop for a corner?

The first time I had the joy of going to the Isle of Lewis and Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, I was fifteen. This story happened on this first visit (the first of four so far, but believe me, I'll be back again. And then probably again after that).

We were on a youth residential, and there were about 15 or so of us young people doing all sorts of wonderful outdoor activities over two weeks on the island. On this particular day, we went on a 'hill walk' - I seem to remember the walk was about three miles long: half a mile on the flat, one mile down a gorge to a beach cove, one mile up the other side of the gorge, then another half a mile's walk on the flat to where the mini-buses were going to pick us up. In the bottom of the gorge was a scrummy and isolated little beach, where we sat and had lunch, skimmed stones, and enjoyed the wondrousness of being in the Outer Hebrides.
The view before the descent down to the beach
I went on the trip with my best friend, Mica, and we made friends with two guys from another local youth group. We were quickly an inseparable four (I'm sure you can't imagine why), and on this walk we stuck together for pretty much the whole way. 

The first half of the journey was great - full of beans, fresh feet, and just the slightly awkward feeling of a scrabbly descent. Do you know what I mean? When you're using your knees and the muscles in the front of your legs in a way you never normally do. Your footing is a bit uncertain, but gravity helps the excursion and you make it down to the bottom roughly in one piece.

Sian at the beach at the bottom
The ascent, however, was a different story. Because of how steep the gradient was, the path zig-zagged up the side of the gorge, meaning you had to walk at least twice as far as the actual distance to the top. And even with the zig-zagged path, the incline was still pretty vicious. About half way up the side, we ran out of breath - almost all of the others had marched on ahead. When we reached the corner of one of the zig-zags we all paused for a few moments to recover before we tackled the next zig (or zag, I can't remember which one we were on...). I think as we carried on we got further and further behind. We were determined to get there, but every so often one of us would cave again: 'can we stop at the next corner?!' we'd desperately ask...

Having arrived at the top on the other side
Eventually, we made it through all the zig-zags to the top of the gorge, where all the others were waiting for us, before the last stretch of the walk. Then came the awful moment: everyone's been waiting for us, sat there having a break and regaining their strength, and you huff and puff and haul your way up to the last bit of the incline towards them. 'Well done, you're here! Right, let's carry on, last bit!' And off we went for the last bit, with only a moment's pause.

Yeah. It was one of those moments when you're bringing up the rear, you arrive, everyone else is rested, and you just have to carry on for that last stretch without stopping. Subsequently, as we carried on for the last half mile or so at the top of the gorge, we were still absolutely shattered. After about ten minutes of walking along a gently meandering path (without a zig or zag to be seen), one of us caved again. 'OK, I know we're on a straight path, but can we stop for a 'corner'?' We all agreed that was a great idea - and the phrase stuck: for all other activities we did that fortnight it mattered not if there was a physical corner to be seen. The request to 'stop for a corner' became synonymous with needing to slow the pace.

Forgive the quality of these - they are WAY pre-DSLR. In fact, they're film, printed, and scanned into the computer. Do you even *remember* that level of old-school-ness?!
I was reminded of this story recently when I realised that all of the school kids were going back to school at the start of September, and I hadn't finished my Masters course, having worked straight through the summer. And then again, when I realised that we were preparing for the uni students to come back to start their new terms...and I still hadn't finished my Masters course. It was like everyone had reached the top of the gorge, and was resting, a long time before me and I still was nowhere near the top. In fact, towards the end of the course I hit such a point that I genuinely had to 'stop for a corner', as my doctor signed me off for a couple of weeks with exhaustion. I think if it had been a mile's walk up a gorge I probably could have managed it, but it seemed the relentless work placement was too much for me to take. 

The whole course felt analogous to the hill walk, in reality: six months of something that was for the main part hugely enjoyable, but made you ache because you were using unusual muscles (the 'commuting' and 'being a post-grad' muscles); followed by a brief but beautiful break (aka 'Christmas week'); then a long old uphill slog that was satisfying to get done and very worthwhile, but blooming exhausting, and requiring more breaks than were technically on offer (aka, 'six solid months on placement').

I finished my Masters exactly a fortnight ago - mid September - just as Brookes students were starting to arrive in Oxford. At the beginning I had that awful feeling of having to start again straight away, without a break. It was just like arriving at the top of the gorge and everyone saying 'Well done, you're here! Right, let's carry on, last bit!' again. How could I crack on with everything that a new term brings (even if I'm not studying any more) when I hadn't even finished my term, let alone had chance to recover? If I didn't get a chance to catch my breath, wouldn't I just spend the next stretch of the journey (which just happens to be starting a new job) searching for a corner even though we were on a straight path?

Thankfully, life doesn't always hold to analogy. I have had a few weeks to recover, but they weren't all down time - I had a conference to prepare for which needed me to create a presentation on whether Evolution disproves God; as well as chasing estate agents for money and doing all sorts of life admin I'd put on hold while I was studying. But, despite being quite a busy bee, rest has come. I feel rested. I am not *not tired*, but I am now excited to start my new job which is invigorating just of itself. I'm pretty sure I won't be begging to stop for a corner once I get going, because new good things have a way of making time fly.

I'm excited by the next step, with or without corners, but I'm glad I'm not walking uphill. I'm really excited about engaging my brain in something new, getting some routine back, not having to leave Oxford every day, and managing my own routine again. I'm not sure I've reached a 'flat bit' on the walk, necessarily; but perhaps I've changed into a wetsuit and gone and jumped into the sea - entirely different, entirely refreshing.

In the style of old, I will leave you with something that has fully entertained me recently, that is entirely unrelated. I've been loving both 8 Out of 10 Cats does Countdown (amazing combo) and the fact that The IT Crowd came back to do a final episode, so what else can I offer you than a smash-up of the three? 
Until next time (and who knows what exciting new jobby things will spark bloggy things?), much love x

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