Batsford Duckskull

There are apparently tiny little creatures everywhere.

I can’t see them – but it seems they follow me all the time – and only those with the right mindset and equipment can track their movements. Unbeknown to me ‘Duskulls’ have been occasionally lingering in my shadow and watching me while I thoughtfully munch on apples.

They were following me in the Cotswolds just the other day…

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Thankfully I have a protector – and in an effort to catch all of the assorted creatures (there are also other far more outlandish ones!) that apparently congregate and float about my person she has recently invested in technology that hoovers them up in large quantities.

If you see her in out in the wild she usually has this weaponry to hand.

It’s called a Pokeball (who knew?!) and it’s now guarding our persons 24×7. Occasionally it vibrates on the coffee table or in her pocket to alert us that it’s automatically hoovered up a new captive. This buzzing also functions as a reminder that once caught they need to be properly cared for – because if such things aren’t exercised then they may stage a mass escape.

Consequently we must go out and regularly socialise them with others in the wild. This is rather useful when it comes to my willingness to go exploring, and so far the half term break has been characterised by plenty of park wandering with a little spherical cage.

Almost exactly two years ago (where does time go?!) I passed by Batsford Arboretum with a friend of mine (link) and we both thought that it looked lovely from a distance.

At the time we did say we’d go back but for some reason never got around to it.

That particular day of exploration was characterised by our usual tendency to get slightly lost (as well as discover deep mud) and although we meandered very close to the outskirts of this lovely little area of managed woodland we never actually ventured inside.

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I’ve meant to go back ever since, so on Tuesday we booked some tickets online and set off to explore.

It’s dependant upon your perspective as to whether this kind of outing represents good value for money (as well as the petrol it cost us almost £18 – which is actually cheaper than two cinema tickets) because it’s entirely reliant upon the time of year that you visit, the willingness of nature to yield a riot of colour when you do, and whomever beholds all this leafy goodness possessing an underlying interest in nature.

If you like staring at a myriad of little buds, sprouts, flowers and mushrooms (that are everywhere) then I suggest Batsford Arboretum is worth your coin.

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It is however worth noting that if you fancy visiting somewhere like this for a lengthy brisk walk then you’ll probably end up feeling disappointed – because to travel around the entirety of this little wooded park won’t take a very long time.

Even completing several circuits won’t add up to a massive distance – so if you’re a slow mover or not especially fit then this could be viewed as a bonus. There are some hills though – so just bear that in mind (you can rent a mobility scooter at the pay desk if you’re so inclined).

It’s all good though – because instead my usual ‘distance = virtue’ approach to walking on Tuesday was switched off and I was definitely in more of an exploration mode. This was fortuitous because Batsford Arboretum requires that you take the time to wander and explore – searching for all of the teeny tiny details – then there are some absolutely lovely things to see.

All in all we spent four hours there and every time we stopped there was something like this hiding in plain sight.

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If I’m honest (once new Pokemon had been captured and long term inmates exercised) we spent a lot of our time taking shameless selfies with the autumnal canopy as a backdrop.

The faux bokeh depth of field effect on modern smartphones with multiple focal depth lenses makes an area like this a real joy to play with – and I have to say these are some of the nicest photos I’ve taken of my partner, and that I think she’s taken of me.

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Of course – the arboretum itself is almost as lovely as my other half (who looked delightfully autumnal too) and both of us spent the majority of our time stopping, zooming, cropping, re-framing and generally fiddling with our nature photographs.

There’s also quite a lot in the arboretum that has a very oriental theme, and alongside the plantings (many of which come from Japan or the surrounding region) there are little architectural features all over the grounds that underpin the style of (then far away and exotic) landscapes that the architect was attempting to portray to those walking around the woods.

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As well a lovely Japanese house (which I sadly failed to take any pictures of) there are also lots of cute bridges above streams and some really really wonderful sculptures.

There’s a lot of more traditional Cotswold architecture to be seen as well – and on top of the delightful thatched sandstone houses and grand county mansion there is a wonderful little church (St Mary’s) that’s clearly loved by the local community because it’s in fantastic condition.

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You’d think that this kind of high brow day out would inspire lofty and reflective thoughts in those who immersed themselves in the surroundings of the sympathetically planted surroundings.

Most would imagine that the calm tranquility would have a similarly calming impact upon it’s visitors.

We however are not your average visitors….

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It’s true to say that although we both love nature we seem to love having a good time even more – and when we’re together a slightly… mischievous side emerges in both of us.

This can lead me to be quite naughty at times (as mentioned a few posts ago staying on plan with Slimming World has been a recent area where I’ve struggled) – but thankfully we can also inspire more virtuous behaviours in each other – and despite some treats such as a Sunday lunch with all the trimmings, a birthday party cake at the weekend (I only had a little sliver) and a couple of ‘skinny chicken burgers’ (basically two chicken breasts in a bun with some salad) at Wetherspoons we’ve collectively been doing rather well of late.

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I am stepping on the scales at group this coming Saturday, and whilst I am definitely going to have a relatively sizeable gain compared to my last weigh in eight weeks ago there is a positive takeaway, because on my own scales I have lost a significant number of pounds in the last two weeks.

This is something of a relief, because in just over one frikkin week’s time I am going to the Slimming World ball.

This morning (after some gentle persuasion from my partner in crime) I tried on my tuxedo, and it fitted. Well – maybe ‘fitted’ is something of a stretch. What I mean is that the buttons did up, but overall it was still a little snug.

However, in many respects this is immaterial, because although I thought I had my outfit all planned and laid out today the world threw me a curve ball, and I found the most wonderfullest thing ever in the whole history of ever with a cherry on top and took it home in a carrier bag.

My initial plan was ‘try to look half decent’.

It’s now (thanks to the contents of my carrier bag) changed to ‘I plan to look freaking awesome!!!

This goes double for my partner, who has also found a really cool outfit that fits her like a glove. I’d go so far as to say I melted a little bit when she tried it on – and every subsequent time since I’ve become more and more convinced that it’s absolutely perfect.

It’s been really cool to be looking for little things and trinkets together, and nattering regularly about what will go with what, which shirt will look best with which waistcoat, and which necklace, earrings or clasps will work to accentuate neck and backlines.

It’s (in many respects) a world away from this time last year, when I was planning outfits on my own and scouring charity shops buying more than I needed to make sure that I had what I wanted.

This time I’m going to be over target on the scales – but even though I’m a bit heavier I’m also going to be infinitely happier.

This may well be my last public appearance for Slimming World and I’m damned well going to make the most of it – I want to go out feeling good about myself and what I’ve accomplished and numbers on scales are only half the story.

Today I’ve spent a wonderful half term day off that started with me loudly waking the house up at 6.30 (dancing at the end of the bed in my pants to eye of the tiger was just what my other half needed to laugh herself out from under the duvet), swimming 1.5km, driving to Coventry, walking through Memorial park, into town, round town and back again, coming home, cooking tea, and now writing a blog.

At the start of January 2016 I could do none of this.

I had no-one to share my life with and I was busy drinking and eating myself into oblivion. Now, where there was despair and hopelessness there’s love and companionship underpinned with fitness and vitality.

I’m going to the ball with my head held high. I have nothing to prove because I have a life and a purpose.

That’s why – sober as a judge (nearly four years now!) I’ll be smiling my ass off and swaying back and forth with my significant other to the last song of the night on the dancefloor without a care in the world.

I may struggle to realise it sometimes but honestly life is good.

Davey

Be more bear

Last week the weather really got me down.

Every time I looked out of the window it was grey and dull – which was invariably accompanied by rain.

The mornings are now cold and dark and it’s tough to climb out of bed when it’s warm under the duvet and there’s someone to put your arm around.

The snooze button has never seen so much action.

Although I have a lingering cold (not flu – just a runny blocked up nose) I’m oddly buoyant at the moment.

The scales are definitely moving in the right direction and I’m currently significantly lighter than when I stepped on the scales at the weekend.

It’s amazing what following the Slimming World plan can do when you have your head in the game.

It’s not rocket science mind you – and one of the simple changes I’ve made that’s really helped is having a pint of water with each meal to make sure that my appetite isn’t caused by thirst rather than hunger.

It doesn’t do a lot to stop me fantasising about eating lots of lovely things but it does seem to stem the tide when it comes to overeating at meal times – although I’m aware that everything is relative.

I’ve still got a big appetite – but for now at least it seems to be under control during the day – which has been my major issue over the last few weeks.

If start eating during the day sometimes I just can’t stop myself.

This led to some rather unusual dietary habits – where often I wouldn’t eat until after 5pm – which I did on and off a lot when I was single.

It’s not really compatible with relationships though – and it’s often quite hard to avoid breakfast and lunch when you’re alone if you’ve become used to eating it at as a couple.

I used to think I was a bit weird when it came to my ‘not before 5pm’ habits – but then I watched a programme about type two diabetes reacting positively not only to the types of food you eat but to the times.

In the case of many people a significant factor that helped reverse their raging blood sugar levels was intermittent fasting.

I never consciously tried to fast during the day to reverse my diabetes (for the longest time I didn’t think it could be done and didn’t dare to hope that one day I’d be medication free) but I now realise that I did do it quite a bit – and I’ve always wondered whether this had an impact on my condition.

To be clear – I’m not advocating people suddenly start fasting. It may have implications for some that aren’t particularly helpful and I’m no expert.

I personally didn’t eat during the day purely because when I woke up and for a long time afterwards I had no appetite. Since I find it hard to switch this off when it finally arrives I tend to make the most of periods where I’m naturally not hungry.

I don’t agree with the whole ‘kick start the metabolism in the morning’ approach simply because I don’t think that there’s one rule that fits all.

If my hat doesn’t fit someone else then why should my diet?

In my case though I felt absolutely superb if I just listened to my body and didn’t eat until I was hungry.

I guess that I’m a slave to impulses in both extremes. I also listen too closely when it’s telling me to stuff my face as well, which really doesn’t help.

What does help is random encounters however.

I was waking down my street today under a grey sky in a miserably drizzly shower heading into town when a lady I haven’t seen for ages hopped off a bus, saw me and said ‘Wow! You look FANTASTIC!

I don’t usually get such random compliments on the street – but it genuinely added a spring to my step. I had a sub 15 minute per mile walk into town as a direct result.

It was really nice of her to say so – and it’s a pleasure to meet someone that tries to do the same as me. If someone looks nice I ALWAYS make a point of saying so.

You never know when (just like me) a lift like that will make all the difference – and believe me when I say it did.

This morning not only were the scales kinder but my clothes were too.

I can now just about fit into two of the jackets that I could potentially wear to the Slimming World ball – and I’m working toward the waistcoats.

I have no idea what I’ll eventually decide upon yet (I need two outfits on a budget) but I want to feel as good as I can – so I’m trying to be as open to patterns and styles as possible.

I spent ages stressing about this last year as well and it nearly drove me potty then – and that was without the added hassle of having to lose weight on top of it all!

Last year’s informal jeans are way too snug currently so it’s all up in the air!

I have to say though it’s extremely helpful to know that I’m not alone in these kinds of struggles.

My group leader Angie is also trying to publicly reverse a holiday gain that she’s been very open about with our group – and I doubt either of us would feel toogreat if we were forced to climb back into last year’s outfits right about now.

All of my blogging friends appear to be struggling as well and absolutely every one that I usually chat to or follow has managed to put weight back on too.

Maybe it’s just the time of year.

If I was a bear then no one would mind.

There’s a competition in Alaska for people to spot the fattest bear they can (link) and post it.

Meet ‘Holly’.

I’m not sure whether Holly even knows that she has a name – or that her furry booty is being admired around the world – but her ambling twerk has been recorded for posterity (or maybe I should say posteriority) and she’s the 2019 queen.

One thing’s for sure – no one would hassle me if I chose to s&&t in the woods at that size.

Maybe I should give up worrying about the ball and focus on the simple pleasures of arboreal defecation instead. It seems to work for Holly.

The upside for her is also that she doesn’t have to find a smart outfit to look dashing in either.

Sigh.

Be more bear. That should be my new motto. I should just twerk my chubby furry booty and move right along.

Nevertheless I need to dress to impress and I’m in research mode.

The one thing I’ve noticed whilst perusing windows is that checks seem to be in vogue at the moment. Every shop window dummy appears to be rocking some kind of pattern that only a few years ago would have probably been considered as kitsch and disgustingly unfashionable.

Personally I’m not sure that when I feel so curvy covering myself with what essentially boils down to the fabric equivalent of graph paper is such a good idea.

I can deal with vertical stripes – and even horizontal ones these days if the cut is right – but both?

That’s a brave way to roll and I’m not sure that I’m that intrepid currently.

One thing I do like about these examples however is the bold coloured waistcoats which draw the eye in to the (in one case delightfully flamboyant) ties.

I have quite a few nice ties – but what I don’t have though are many cotton patterned ties.

I’ve become a really big fan of Liberty print shirts and cotton ties lately (link) and the idea of a matching one with a smart pocket square fills me with glee. This is mostly because it’s a billion miles away from the tent sized drab clothes I used to be forced to wear when I could only fit into 8XL items.

Let’s face it. If you want to go full flamingo then you get some matching dog accoutrements too right?!

I’d absolutely dress my furry little buddy (if I had one) in outfits loud enough to make Quentin Crisp blush if I had the chance – and since I’m heading down south soon it’s even occurred to me that a hat for the day may be in order….

This years’s guest star is Alan Carr (who I plan to get a hug photo with) so I’m sure that I’ll be in hood company if I choose to go a bit nuts.

There are plenty of outlandish options if I choose to go down the ‘wear it once’ route – and as I’ve noted in previous posts there is a lot to be found if you’re willing to pay high street prices instead of being an astute charity shopper.

Thankfully my other half appears to be quite happy to let me indulge myself when it comes to patterns like this – and never seems embarrassed when I’m dressed like I just got thrown out of the Chelsea flower show.

I’m sure this is because she too secretly likes to accessorise…

While I love shoes like this:

She loves ones that express her own personality – which in her case is always delightfully quirky!

So – I’m once again on the up and full of thoughts and possibilities rather than negative clouds and stormy skies.

It may be grey and rainy – but it never bothers bears.

Be more bear and twerk it baby!

Daveybear

Maybe I can

Sometimes a holiday is in order.

In my case I haven’t physically been anywhere but I have been taking a break from social media.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been almost completely absent online and it’s been a very nice change of pace.

At some point a few years ago I made a conscious choice to become a very public person – and once I had it soon became my new normal. Blogging about everything I went through and sharing photos of my life soon felt as natural as a morning visit to the smallest room of my house.

There are times however (particularly in recent weeks) that I feel it’s just not appropriate or even very comfortable to write about how I feel and what’s going on in my life.

The really frustrating thing is that this (in something of a chicken and egg way) tends to coincide with a period where I don’t cope very well overall.

I’ve never fully figured out whether a lack of writing is caused by or in itself causes the mood dips I experience – but they definitely feed each other and quickly become related even if they don’t start out that way.

The other thing that gets fed in instances like this is my stomach. The hands I have connected to it decide that they will pass the time by picking up anything in the fridge and consuming it relentlessly until it’s all gone.

My efforts to stick with #onplanoctober (writing everything down and being good) lasted a mere 8 days – and then I just threw myself under the culinary bus. I ate and overate and then overate some more.

Once I’d done that then I grabbed a bit more food and overate it until it hurt a bit.

The net result?

Well I don’t really want to go into forensic detail because I’m ashamed and feel like I’ve been letting not only myself but the entire world down.

To add insult to injury none of my lovely lovely shirts fit properly at the moment and my waistband is noticeably tighter.

Some of my smaller sized jeans appear to have shrunk even further in the wash…

There’s a line that must be drawn – and on Sunday (where I inexplicably found myself awake early and feeling motivated) I drew it.

The truth is I have to weigh in soon at Slimming World.

I haven’t done so since the first week in September and need to do it every 8 weeks – and when I do it’s not going to be pretty.

Furthermore I have the ultimate ‘imposter syndrome’ moment looming in my calendar in the shape of the Slimming World ball.

The invites arrived in the post the other day and honestly they filled me with dread.

I’m invited as the outgoing MOTY and truthfully at the moment I don’t feel in the least bit worthy.

Instead I feel like a complete fraud because the suits I usually wear over all of my nice shirts that don’t currently fit don’t fit either.

I can sense what you’re all thinking though – and from experience I know what a post like this will provoke in terms of comments.

I’m pretty certain that people won’t take long to pick me up on my self deprecating tone and remind me that I should be kinder to myself.

I know I know.

If I was treating myself as a friend in crisis I would say what many people in my life have already said to me.

I’d tell myself that I have nothing to prove.

I’d tell myself that I still look good and that I’m still doing well in life.

I’d tell myself that no-one (including virtually every other slimmer of the year or weight loss prize winner ever) is perfect and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

I have it on pretty good authority that they are all a little heavier than when they won their award and they have mostly across the board found a weight that suits them, even though it may not coincide with what they thought they originally wanted.

I’d say to myself if I was a friend that it’s just a number and that I can totally fix any gains because I know how and I’m not the same person that I used to be.

In my mind however the ‘truth’ (if you can call it that) is poking me with a sharp stick.

When my back is against the wall I hate that I still use food to cope.

That’s never changed (although the types of food I teach for have) and I don’t think it ever will.

I’ll almost certainly be riding an emotional rollercoaster for many many years if not forever in this respect.

There are other considerations however because it’s not all about the ball.

I’ve taken my eye off the ball a little for a number of reasons.

Firstly there’s always the ever present ‘what to do about a career’. Thankfully I think I may have found a way forward on that score – so hopefully in that respect things will soon be on the up.

Secondly there’s having a new home dynamic.

Living alone allowed me to be obsessive in the extreme in some respects – but now I’m part of a couple rather than a single guy.

My tendency to punish myself isn’t something that I can easily do any more – and there’s nowhere to hide.

If I hurt myself then I hurt my partner and I don’t want to do that.

My relationship is frankly more important to me than anything I can remember in recent memory – and my ways of coping with stress have had to adapt because of this.

This has been going on for some time – but now we live together I’m trying to deal with some very entrenched habits (basically going quiet and withdrawing from the world) that can no longer exist in solitude – but that instead someone else gets to see and feel.

When my mood dips and I begin to retreat they also feel the impact of that – because happy Davey leaves the building.

We all have these moments – and they shouldn’t be stemmed or buried because they’re natural, but if (like me) you’ve been single or even with someone but not living together you’ll be more used than you think you are to dealing with emotions and problems by burying your head in the sand (or in my case cement) from time to time.

What used to be a period of quiet and solitary sulking and wound licking before a gradual return to the world several days later that affected no one but me now has an impact on someone else.

Consequently the temptation to hide my mood dips because of this is immense.

It’s not the way to go though.

Burying everything leads nowhere – and it’s been my policy to hide nothing.

It’s also selfish – because if I’m only ever giving help and allowing no one to help me in return where does their sense of satisfaction and self worth in a relationship come from?

So I allow myself not to cope and I force myself to show that sometimes I can’t ‘adult’ any more.

Sometimes I need to be carried – and part of learning to live together is remembering that’s OK.

I can’t say that I haven’t felt guilty about being (in my eyes) less than a positive force for a little while though – but the truth is that you have to let people step in and support you.

You’re stronger when you’re around others – despite the unease that you might feel when you realise that it’s someone else’s job all of a sudden to be a chirpy and cheery person.

On Saturday I could barely speak.

I was so mortified by what I saw on the scales at home that when I accompanied my partner to our Saturday group I could hardly talk.

I nodded at people and forced a smile or two but that was about the most I could manage.

It was an important moment though – because although every fibre of me wanted to run away I stayed where I was and sat to hear the group talk.

I’m not sure I would have been able to do this without someone holding my hand however – and to see my other half step in and take over conversations or feel the warmth of her thumb nudging my leg at just the right moment made it all doable.

In the middle of all this (making it all much harder) the entire country seems to have received a mail from the NHS with my face plastered all over it.

It’s busy proclaiming how successful I am at turning things around at precisely the moment I feel like I’m struggling to do so.

I regret nothing about being chosen to receive (and accepting) the MOTY title – but there are occasionally times that I wish I could put this particular genie back in the lamp.

No one else has ever put any pressure on me because of the award (especially not Slimming World who always ask rather than expect when it comes to publicity) but it’s been difficult to live with the knowledge that when I inevitably fail I have to fail publicly.

I suppose that someone has to though, and maybe the whole point of being a public face dealing with issues related to personal perception is that I am seen not to be perfect but continually trying to be better than I am.

Which I do.

I’m currently back to swimming daily after not dipping a toe in a pool for almost two weeks and also back up to an average of around 10 miles a day (it recently dipped temporarily below 6).

Although it’s probably not real weight loss (fluid etc has a big impact) my numbers on the scales have plummeted. Both the additional exercise and the positive progress since Saturday morning have caused me to feel a lot better and once again I think I’m winning.

I’m not only making forward progress in terms of my waistline mind you.

After boarding my entire loft I decided to try my hand at replacing my coal bunker door – which was in a bad way when I moved in to my house over a decade ago and hasn’t been touched ever since.

I’ve always wanted to do something about it but felt that I lacked the skills, confidence and tools to attempt the task.

After successfully completing my loft boarding I decided that it was time to have a go – and after purchasing some exterior pine cladding, a couple of lengths of wood for a frame, a few hinges, a latch and a bunch of screws I decided to rip the old door off and give it a go.

The first issue was that the coal bunker was full of crap…

Thankfully that wasn’t an issue for long – and after a small amount of dragging and yanking the detritus and rotten cardboard that I’d stuffed in there years ago (along with a ton of unhappy earth worms and spiders) sat forlornly on my patio.

I’m far from an accomplished carpenter – but I did do a year or so of woodwork at secondary school and (even if I do say so myself) made a pretty swanky pencil case that I still have knocking around somewhere.

The simplest thing to do seemed to be to copy what existed previously, and before I knew it I had a perfectly serviceable frame with a simple join to put my new door into.

Once this was done the tongue and groove cladding that I’d bought made creating a shape to fill this hole surprisingly easy and within another few hours I had a makeshift door already wedged in place.

I only made one small mistake and if you can’t spot it then I’m not saying anything!!!

This whole process was continually hampered though by the frankly atrocious weather (note the tarpaulin) which illustrated quite plainly what a complete pain in the arse sawdust is when it rains.

It sticks to everything and gets everywhere.

It also doesn’t help much with expansion or contraction of the material that you’re working with – and (as I learned later on) it’s worth making a door a few millimetres smaller than you think it needs to be so that it doesn’t expand in its new home and become completely wedged tight when you paint it and leave it open to the elements.

When I’d eventually finished trimming, sanding, generally tinkering with the hinges and modifying the fit of the door with a plane this was the end result.

I’m quite proud of this even if I do say so myself.

One by one the times where I tell myself I can’t do things as opposed to starting jobs with a mindset along the lines of ‘maybe I can if I try’ are diminished.

Proving I could lose weight and change my life altered a lot more than just my new waistline.

I seem to have found a new interest in DIY – which initially I used to fill the gap created by not having a job – but is now becoming something else entirely.

So – maybe I can get into a suit for the ball.

Maybe I can feel good about myself on the day.

Maybe I can also change the washer on my bathroom tap – which frankly scares the living s**t out of me.

Hopefully my next blog won’t be called ‘how I flooded my home’

Davey