Outdoorsy

I get a lot of pleasure from lots of things that I never used to these days – but one that continues to surprise and delight me is my garden.

Long term readers may remember that back at the start of my journey in 2016 (when I still wasn’t coping with every aspect of life very well) this was viewed by me as something of a burden rather than a boon.

Right up until early 2017 I considered the maintenance of it to be a disagreeable chore rather than a chance to get out and have some exercise.

Consequently I’d let it slide into a shameful mess and I didn’t know where to begin. The problem just seemed too huge to tackle.

Although generally things were becoming easier for me as I lost weight the mental barriers were still bigger than I realised at the time and every time I pulled back the curtain of my back window (which usually remained closed – because out of sight is out of mind) I was convinced it was still beyond me.

I was doing a lot of walking back then though – and as well as becoming increasingly fitter I was beginning to fit into mainstream clothes more often than not. I was still a different man compared to the one I am today – and at 20st 10lbs still had quite a distance to go before I reached my target weight.

When I look back at my mindset then and compare it to the one I have now I can see that without doubt I was still being held back by an increasingly outdated perception of my capabilities. There were a lot of things that I was afraid of trying or tackling head on and certain tasks were so knotted up with fears and memories of how they used to affect me that I avoided them altogether.

This was until my friend eventually grabbed this particular bull by the horns and offered to help start me off with a couple of days clearing it (link).

I (maybe a little pensively) started with his support – fully expecting the (previously ever present) crippling back and joint pain to be immediate – and that I’d be drenched in sweat throughout. It wasn’t easy – but it also wasn’t the sweaty agony I expected – and as the days wore on the process slowly yielded pleasing results.

For one thing I could see my path and the fence again.

After many weeks of chopping branches up into little pieces, trundling back and forth with my wheelbarrow, filling refuse sacks and seemingly endless trips to my local tip I finally cleared it though.

My persistence had won the day but the fact remained though that my satisfaction from doing this wasn’t because I loved the process of gardening. I’d done it purely because I wanted to open my curtains and it had been bugging me for a very long time that I’d let everything slide so badly.

My approach going forward was therefore proactive and ongoing preventive maintenance. ‘Do a little a lot’ was mantra I adopted – and in doing so the garden soon became very much like washing or ironing because although I liked to see it look tidy – in truth it was just another chore around the house and very little more.

However this mindset wasn’t the whole story.

Whilst cutting the bushes back I’d been majorly upset that I’d accidentally disturbed a blackbird nest – and despite trying my best to cover it back up (link) ultimately the elements drove the little family out and their eggs were eaten (link).

I spent a lot of time watching this struggling little family and couldn’t help but fall in love with blackbirds – which (mostly because of their inquisitive behaviour) quickly became my favourite reason for having a garden.

They monitored my activities while I was working and bit by bit became bolder – following the cycles of my digging and mowing to get the choicest morsels for their dinner.

The more bugs and worms I unearthed the happier they were.

Then I started realising that if I made an effort to feed the birds in my garden and left places for them to nest (I stopped cutting back my bushes so brutally and left a thicker canopy) birds would come back and I’d always be able to listen to their pleasing twittering when I was in the kitchen.

Soon after I also started putting bird boxes and feeders in the garden which I regularly filled up with seed balls.

They’ve become quite popular…

The record that I’ve seen this week is five sparrows clinging to it – all chiselling away at the tasty treats – whilst blackbirds and pigeons hoover up the crumbs below.

Over time, and just like me, the garden has taken on a new lease of life.

It’s not just the birds though because I’ve realised that there’s another dynamic at play lately. I enjoy it a lot more with company.

Now the weather has improved when I cook for my partner we tend to sit outdoors and enjoy the birdsong and leafy ambiance together.

Whilst I was weeding my patio and path the other day I realised that I’m no longer making it look nice because I have to. My incentive to maintain it has now shifted and I’ve realised that I’m doing it not as a chore but because I want to share the space with someone else.

It gives me pleasure to know that they like it too.

A garden is a fascinating little eco system that supports any number of little creatures and tending to it (as well as continually being out and about in the wider world) keeps me feeling connected to it in a way that I never was in the past.

On Thursday (in between my various gardening exploits) I visited Coombe Abbey for the first time in a couple of months – and it didn’t fail to disappoint.

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Everything is in bloom – and this applies doubly to the wildfowl.

They’re doing very well indeed this season – and the swanlings (remember those?!) are clearly thriving because there’s plentiful food for them to eat.

There were seven in this particular brood. All seemed to be in rude health and were nibbling away at the wonderful green algae that was absolutely covering the pond they floating around in.

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Full tummies seem to mean more chilled birds – and neither the swanlings or the ducks at Coombe seemed to mind having their picture taken.

When you get closer to them the expectation is instead that you are very likely to have food – and as such a natural fear of human beings quickly evaporates and is replaced in almost all the birds by a willingness to eat seeds directly from your hand.

Coombe is hope to something else of interest though – and it wasn’t there when I last visited.

There’s now a ‘go ape’ facility there and the whole tree line in one area has been repurposed with all manner of climbing ropes, ladders and zip lines.

The prices are a little steep in my view (it’s going to be a wallet battering hour or two for a family of four) but I suppose if you want properly trained staff and good facilities then you have to pay for the privilege.

Whilst I was looking at the notice and saying I’d like to give it a go my friend pointed something out.

The weight I’d lost to get to target (if it was real live person) would have been too heavy to use the facilities! Furthermore if I’d been the same weight as I was when I started clearing my garden they wouldn’t even allow me to buy a ticket!

I plan to give it a go at some point though regardless of the cost because it looks like good fun. Plus over time I’ve realised that somewhere along the line I became ‘outdoorsy‘.

Anyway.

I must get on. I have a lot to do this weekend.

Once again I’m working towards making my partner’s move to Warwick a reality and there’s a whole load of things that need to get done before that can happen.

At least I know though that when she arrives the garden will look ticketty boo!

Davey

P.S.

These photos popped through the letterbox earlier, courtesy of the kind PR people at Slimming World. Friends think I know nothing about football – and that my lack of willingness to watch even world cup matches when they’re on means that I don’t have the first clue regarding the subject.

How wrong they are!!!

I for one will never forget meeting Gary Lineker – although admittedly I thought his ears would be bigger. It just goes to show – your heroes are never what you expect!

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Red Kites and Waterfalls

Since I last wrote I’ve been out and about in Wales exploring my old university stamping ground.

Aberystwyth.

It’s for quite a while been my spiritual home in many ways – and I thought (that apart from family members) this was something relatively unique to my circle of friends – but it turns out that it’s not.

Lately more and more people have mentioned that they too have a connection to the location and both bloggers (and a more intimate partner in crime) have told me they also love it.

It’s been almost three years since I’ve seen its sea and countryside and I’ve honestly missed it – so I spontaneously decided late last week that I had to go back for a short weekend break.

On a nice day the view is to die for – and when you climb Constitution Hill (which I did shortly after arriving on Saturday afternoon) in the right weather there are few things that are more lovely.

This place has a lot of memories for me – but although many of them are happy ones there are also more than a few that have a tint of sadness or pain associated with them.

I was last in Aber in August 2016 (shortly after starting Slimming World link).

Once my initial joy about being able to walk along the promenade with my father and climb the 300ft up to the top of  ‘Consty’ I was faced with a different and all too familiar reality (link) when I was shouted at on the street and called names because of my size.

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In some ways I managed to lay those demons to rest this weekend because I not only did I return as the man I’ve always wanted to be (both fit and healthy) but I did so with my partner – which underlines just how much my life has changed for the better.

Although we both have ties to this region I think it’s safe to say that we found ourselves experiencing it with a fresh perspective thanks to the benefit of a second set of eyes and memories.

Despite thinking we both knew what was in store there were quite a few nooks and crannies that one of us had visited in the past, but the other hadn’t. As we strolled and reminisced throughout the weekend we were never short of thoughts and experiences to share.

It was all somehow different and new because of this.

I’ve walked along the promenade before and watched the sun go down on the beach many times – but rarely had I done it feeling as happy and contented as I did on Saturday evening.

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Aside from my ‘mushyness’ (which I am from time to time prone to) there’s much around Aber to explore – and after a lovely night’s sleep in a quiet hotel deep in the Valleys outside the town (with it’s own waterfall in the back garden!) we awoke to a busy Sunday itinerary.

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Our first port of call was to be Devil’s Bridge.

This is an absolutely spectacular slice of nature where majestic waterfalls meet endless wooded views filled with wildlife. Furthermore – if you get there before 9.30am it’s also a bit of a bargain.

The turnstile leading down from the (free) car park is coin operated – and unlike paying when there’s an actual person on the till it costs £2 (2x £1 coins) as opposed to £3!

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If you want to do the Waterfall Walk (which I highly recommend) just remember that it’s a bit of a steep climb at times – with the steps that you navigate being both deep and uneven – so I wouldn’t suggest doing this when it’s raining or if you struggle with mobility.

However – if you’re able to do it then it’s totally worth the effort because as you wind your way around the valley the view continually surprises and delights.

There are many many carefully placed viewing platforms that provide the perfect spots to watch the raging torrents of water as they flow down from under the road bridge into the valley below.

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It’s easy to lose time here – and we did.

All in all we spent a blissfull hour and a half in the completely deserted natural beauty of the location lazily watching the water roaring downwards and peering at all of the interesting plants and rock formations.

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If you’re a geography geek it’s magical!

However – all of the rocks and plant life pale into insignificance when faced with what I spotted in a tree just before leaving. Red Kite numbers have been carefully nurtured back up to a really healthy population in the surrounding hills and they are everywhere.

However – even though you regularly see them circling the valley and floating on the currents high above where you walk I’ve never seen one this close or in it’s natural habitat feeding.

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(if you want to see a video of this head over to my instagram feed here)

After we’d spent a while watching this majestic bird eat it’s (rather unfortunate) lunch the next port of call was Nant Yr Arian – which is another local Red Kite haunt, and it was in this location that we’d planned to watch their daily feeding show – but only after a walk, bite to eat and cup of tea.

Once we’d fed and watered ourselves (I had a delicious baked potato with rather decadent looking filling of tuna that was heavy with mayonnaise) we headed off for a hike.

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It’s fair to say that visiting this place represents another milestone – because on my way home from Aber in 2016 I decided to give walking around the hills a go.

As a heavier man it was really really hard work (link) and throughout my time there I was continually boiling hot and sweating buckets. In contrast on Sunday I wore three layers and a wooly hat and was still chilly in the shade!

When I started on my weight loss journey back then I wasn’t really au fait with what Apple Watch could do for me – and I hadn’t started exercising in any serious way – nor did I realise that I could track my walks with workouts.

I was wearing it because I thought it looked cool and at the time was more concerned with being able to move rather than travelling further and faster or keeping a note of where I was going or what I was burning off.

The wonderful thing is though that Apple Watch didn’t care. It was paying attention the whole time and keeping a historical record of the day for me to look at later.

All in all on the 15th August 2016 I walked (in between lots and lots of sitting, puffing and panting) 3.52 miles and took 7,200 steps – yet despite this relatively short distance (at least compared to my current standards) my overall expenditure for the day was an incredible 5,630 kcal.

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Back then I walked only the yellow route (the mid distance and difficulty route) and ignored the green and red ones.

In contrast on Sunday (as well as walking all round Devil’s Bridge in the morning) my partner and I explored everything.

Instead of just one path, we walked the green, yellow and red routes that criss-cross the hillsides and woods near the visitor centre.

During Sunday I (we) covered 8.64 miles, took 18,504 steps and climbed the equivalent of 96 flights of stairs.

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In contrast – even though I did around two and a half times as much on Sunday compared to that day in August 2016 I burned less than 2/3rds of the calories – underlining just how much more effort it took to move around when I was 31st.

The joy of exploring Nant Yr Arian these days is when we’d finished I also had plenty of energy in the tank to do other things.

It’s truly incredible how much I can do now compared to what I could accomplish in a day back then.

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My current level of fitness also meant that I also got to experience the entirety of what the location had on offer – and the views are just stunning.

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When you choose to venture deeper into the forest it’s no less wonderful – and as you stroll around it, the delightfully dappled light of a sunny day continually dances over the soft, mossy floor that you’re surrounded with.

Once we’d finished walking (and treated ourselves to more coffee and tea) the only thing that remained was the red kite feeding display, and we seated ourself on a grassy hillside to watch.

I’d never been around for this before – and I’d seriously been missing out. There were in fact so many Red Kites that the air seemed like it was filled with flies.

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Everywhere you looked they were swooping and diving to collect the food from the small  patch of land that the staff were throwing it onto.

This swarm of birds persisted for around 45 minutes – and while they were all together they performed arial display after arial display, all the while continually calling to one another and looping endlessly around in breathtakingly intricate flight paths.

They are not only beautiful beyond words – but next to impossible to capture with my current hardware – so you will have to imagine the spectacle we were treated to rather than endure the ridiculously blurry shots I captured with both my phone and compact camera.

If I’m honest though – even with all of this amazing beauty surrounding me I’d been preoccupied throughout the weekend with one thing.

Weighing in at Slimming World.

It’s fair to say that I’ve been avoiding this for a while – and doing so had meant that the reality of what my scales told me around a week and a half ago was pretty sobering.

In the evening, after a rather large blow out they had reported that I was a depressing 15st 2lbs.

Taking this as a wake up call I began to try and work my way back towards some semblance of being back on plan, reducing my food intake, and choosing speed food over free food as well as cutting down on anything that could be classified as a syn.

This was also my approach whilst on holiday and whilst I did choose to indulge (having museli as well as a cooked breakfast for instance) I cut the fat off my bacon, refused toast or fried bread and left behind the fatty, unappealing sausage that would probably have made me feel sluggish and guilty for the rest of the day.

In a similar way – when out for a meal in the evening – I chose a baked spud (instead of chips) a side of roast veg and had it topped with a low fat beef chilli. At all other times my partner in crime and I munched on carrots and fruit as we explored.

None of this made my underlying worries go away though – because I’d commited to Angie that I’d weigh in on Monday I returned from holiday – and being away from home, eating food that I hadn’t cooked and not being able to weigh myself meant that sleep was at times hard to come by.

I’m a worrier and no mistake.

When I finally rocked up at group on Monday though the exercise and good choices had meant that I’d managed to turn things around quite a bit – and had dropped from 15st 2lbs to a far more reasonable 14st 5lbs.

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However – I wasn’t out of the woods.

Since I’d recently re-set my target weight to 13st 7lbs this good result still represented a need to lose a further 9lbs in order to get into the upper end of my target weight. Furthermore I’d left myself just over a week and a half in which to do it if I didn’t want to pay at the next meeting (you get one week of grace to get back to where you should be at SW before fees apply).

God bless my consultant though. She’s an absolute diamond.

She sat down next to me before image therapy started, rubbed my arm, looked me in the eye and was completely honest.

‘You look great the way you are.’ Angie said.

‘You were a bit gaunt before. I think you should raise your target weight back up a bit.’

Honesty – the relief was like a hod of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders when she said this. To have someone whose opinion I trust (and she’s not alone) tell me this helped me realise that I’ve been burying myself with guilt over a few pounds.

In reality I’ve managed to keep all of this weight off and still continually live an active and healthy life at the same time.

I’m not a failure dammit. I’m a success!

So – I agreed with her that I will re-set my target to where I was when I won the MOTY competition and go for 14 stone. At this weight all of my clothes fit perfectly and I feel both vital, confident and alive.

Anything else is just a number.

So internet – my next weigh in is Saturday 20th April – and by then I have to get rid of 5lbs.

I can so do this – and what’s more I once again feel in control.

Davey

Christmas update

I really am a big kid in many respects.

If you tell me I’m going anywhere nice then the possibility of me sleeping properly beforehand is practically zero.

It’s why I’m wide awake right now.

My mind can be quite hyperactive at the best of times but honestly when it’s faced with the prospect of going to do things that take me out of my usual comfortable bubble then I start going into ‘planning mode’.

This is the side of me that makes lists and lies awake at 2am completely unable to nod off.

It’s thankfully not a huge element of my personality – because for the most part I prefer a degree of last minute chaos.

I’m not the type of guy that typically chips away at gradual preparation – and find usually that a pressing need to do things with very little time to spare usually results in better creativity.

Such added urgency also means that tasks appear to get completed in lightning fast time with practically zero faffing.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

I like to think that doing things at the last moment saves time, because there’s rarely a wasted moment just before an event.

I guess the truth is that I actually just fit in all the dead time before I finally give up procrastinating and get around to doing what I have to do.

It’s not hard to faff about over the Christmas period though.

It’s what the holiday’s there for after all!

While I’ve been doing some exciting new things over the last couple of weeks (more on this maybe in another post further down the line…) for the most part I’ve been experiencing a rather relaxing Christmas on my own.

Many would may see this as the absolute opposite way that Christmas should be spent (and at any other time I may have been in agreement) but I’ve rather enjoyed it.

With very good reason I haven’t felt as if I’ve been in solitude at all.

Everyone that matters to me has been in practically constant or semi regular contact – and once again I’ve been reminded that I have some very creative and very caring friends who (it appears) are always thinking about me when it comes to gifts.

Newer readers may not have heard of Swanlings before – but back when I first started losing weight and could barely move around the park, I motivated myself for a while by following the progress of some cygnets in St Nics.

Nature can be cruel, and out of a large staring group of several cygnets they slowly dwindled in number until only one remained.

This swanling (now fully grown) is still a solitary presence in the park – and whenever I pass by him or her (I have no idea!) I can’t help but stop to say a metaphorical hello.

We’ve both grown and developed together and because of that Swans (and in particular their offspring) hold a special significance in my heart.

My friend (initially a passing blog reader who eventually became much more) clearly understands this and totally out of the blue made me this wonderful piece of embroidery for Christmas.

When it comes to gifts It’s true that big things don’t matter at all.

It really is the thought that counts.

This year I’ve received and given items and cards that probably cost much less in monetary terms than any preceding year in my history – but in truth what’s passed in both directions has probably done so with more love and thought than ever before.

This has led to me feeling rather cared for and supremely relaxed – and has probably been the cause of another feature of the last few days.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day definitely saw me take my foot off the metaphorical gas – and despite ambling around the park for a while on The 25th and 26th (the swimming pool has been closed!!!) the vast majority of my time has been spent eating, reading and playing video games.

I know that dietary excess is something of an expectation that goes hand in hand with the Christmas experience, and I shouldn’t really do guilt – but I can’t help harbouring a little.

I always find periods where I let my appetite off the leash somewhat unsettling – because I immediately realise I’m still capable of eating a LOT of food in a short space of time.

It’s really easy to undo hard won victories on the scales in a very short time – so I resolved relatively early in in the experience that Christmas would mostly be vegetarian.

With the exception of chicken on some days over the holiday season the last few days has consisted almost entirely of roasted and boiled veggies with a few carbs and lots of apples or plums.

Everything I’ve made (particularly in the above picture) was practically oil free and very Slimming World friendly.

I’m not gonna lie though and say I had small portions – because I ate the flipping lot as well as a huge pile of fruit afterwards.

Truthfully I enjoyed every last mouthful of it.

Consequently the evening of the 25th saw me flopping heavily into bed after playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider for the vast majority of the day.

I was quite satisfied with my resulting food coma and felt rather Christmassy.

At least one of us got a good level of exercise in.

By time time I fell asleep (in comparison to my short five mile stroll around the park in the morning) Lara Croft had killed two rather deserving jaguars (whom I turned into some rather fetching boots after they relentlessly stalked me for two levels) brought a swift end to several bad guys and in doing so had clambered over a significant amount of South American jungle.

Frankly I was exhausted just watching her – but couldn’t help admiring her new attire.

I’m just a hair’s breadth away from her approach to personal styling myself – and I’m barely one party invite away from buying something ridiculously outlandish to wear just for the hell of it.

I’m genuinely surprised that many of the things I’ve tried on recently (mostly as an attempt at personal humour) have actually resulted in me thinking ‘You know what?! I’d actually wear that!’

This is a sign that I’m far from unhappy in life – and that the man I’ve become is in a place where he feels so secure that experimentation is just something that happens naturally every day – instead of to be avoided at all costs.

I am still a creature of habit in some respects mind you – and I do like some certain things to remain the same.

As well as regular canine contact (how can you not love a face like that?!) one of these has been the continued joy of bottomless coffee and a good read – which you may well have noticed has taken the place of writing over the last few days.

This is partly because another very generous friend gave me an old (slightly damaged but still fully functional) Kindle as a present – and having never owned one before I can say with complete surprise that I’m totally in love with it.

It only has one purpose (unlike my iPad) but the featherweight nature of its construction and razor sharp text make it instantly pleasurable to read in any light.

The only problem is the numb posterior that it’s caused in both coffee shops and the smallest room of my house…

So that’s been my Christmas internet – and it’s not over yet.

When day breaks I’ll be off to do the things in life that make me happy.

There will be lots of twalking and lots of exploration.

It’s gonna be fun!

Excuse me though. I need to see if I can get at least another hour’s sleep under my belt…

Davey

Another bin liner full

That’s it. I give up.

Short of having the heating on 24×7 (something I consider extremely wasteful) I think I’ve resisted the inevitable for too long.

I’ve purchased a hot water bottle.

It’s one in a huge line of changes that I’m just having to accept about my new life. I get cold and I struggle to stay warm. I’ve gone from BEING a radiator of heat to needing to be close to one at all times.

Tonight it’s going to be under my duvet ahead of bedtime and I plan to climb into an oasis of warmth – rather than shivering and curling up into a foetal position for the first 10 minutes like I did last night.

I have no idea how teeny tiny little birds with stick thin legs don’t freeze to death running around on the floor looking for bits and pieces.

I’ve seen loads of these lovely little pied wagtails around lately – mostly at street level locally – but today they were everywhere in the park too.

They scuttle about picking up bits and bobs in a very industrious manner before flying off in a cute lollopy, undulating flight.

How they can fly at all without becoming itty bitty cubes of ice is beyond me though.

The other birds also didn’t seem bothered in the least by the temperature today either – although they at least seem fluffier and more capable of keeping warm.

Although this patch was free of ice the pavements by my house and by the river seemed incapable of thawing – even in direct sunlight – and as I walked around St Nicholas park this morning with my friend I was once again supremely happy with my new coat purchase.

It’s doing exactly what it’s intended to do – which is keeping me warm and dry at all times. Plus it fits perfectly – unlike many other items I own.

Which brings me to another topic.

I’ve had to accept today that lots and lots of very nice clothes that I purchased are now too big for me.

I know this because one very vocal friend continually says ‘that’s too big for you’ when I turn up in an item of clothing that she disapproves of.

It didn’t seem to matter what I tried on today the same problem was apparent in seventeen of my shirts and I knew if I wore any of them in her vicinity then I’d definitely cop some flack.

Not that I mind of course.

Often I don’t even realise that things have changed until someone points it out or pokes me with a sharpened stick.

When I had a bigger stomach and I tried on a shirt or jumper I used to have a ‘tug test’. This was a quick pull of the available material around the waist in an outward direction and if it didn’t give around 4 inches room then I knew that as I sat down that everything would pull taught and I’d look like my buttons were about to pop.

I’ve begun to realise though that my seated waistline (now all the belly fat doesn’t pile up above my belt anymore) is largely the same when I’m seated as it is standing.

This seems to have just happened overnight (well in the last 3-4 weeks anyway) and whilst dramatic weight loss is clearly a thing of the past, becoming more slender and toned is very much a feature of the present.

Continual exercise (even just walking – but maybe also sit-ups) is really making a difference. It still makes me sad though that I now have yet another bin liner full of perfectly nice clothes.

I’m not sure yet what to do with them. Should I keep them ‘just in case’ or is that the wrong mentality? If I don’t and one day I need them will I regret throwing them away?

I never plan to be big again but there may be a time where I experience ‘fluctuations’. I don’t know what’s in the future. Maybe I should get rid of the lot as a statement that things will never ever go that way again – but it seems at odds with my usually thrifty approach to life – and wasteful in the extreme to discard them.

However – if nothing else there’s at least one up side to my ‘problem’.

Whilst rummaging around today I found a receipt from late January 2017. It was from an outsize clothing retailer in Leamington and it was for £110 – an amount more that Supercoat 3 cost me last week.

The contents of the docket? Three shirts.

I was quickly transported back to what buying clothes meant a year ago – and how I was held hostage by the prices that specialist shops can charge. They have you over a barrel – and if you want to look presentable you have no choice.

In contrast (as I looked through the newly filled bin liner of 2xl shirts) the very most that a single item cost me in there (apart from one impulse purchase brand new) was £5. The vast majority were £3.50-£4.00 – and that’s pretty much what I spend per item (including trousers and jeans and jumpers) these days.

So my wardrobe may be relatively bare again – but at least now the things I’m currently purchasing (hopefully) aren’t going to need discarding soon – and they won’t break the bank.

Anyway internet – I must get walking again. I’ve only done 10 miles today and I need to get another 3-4 in so that I can maintain my average for the week.

Plus I was a bit of a piggy-wiggy last night and sat munching fruit in front of the TV when I should have been doing something else with my hands.

After I posted yesterday’s blog stats (about how getting rid of a pound of fat requires over 3300 calories to be burned) I’m supremely aware that I need to move my ass 😂

Davey

New teen

I made an early start today. I’ve a lot to pack into two days now if I want to get everything done. This working for a living lark doesn’t make fitting things in easy at all.

However – so far I’m making it happen, and as I was up early to get my shopping done before my first walk of the day. I’d have to do it quick because I had another appointment shortly after.

Today a good friend was coming back to Slimming World after a little time away – and I’d agreed with her that we’d go for a pre session chillout twalk around the park before we both stepped on the scales.

St Nicholas was nice this morning (the weather was lovely and mild) and there was plenty of life around – particularly joggers, who seemed to be constantly dodging my friend’s dog Pugly.

He perpetually wants to play and run around them – although I don’t think they they had time to reciprocate.

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After just under 3 miles we wound our way down the river and back to group, just in time for it to start – where Pugly began his usual task of begging for food. 

This little guy is really obsessed with eating – and in this respect I guess we’re kind of kindred spirits. I couldn’t help but laugh when my friend recently posted a picture of his ‘face of shame’ after he’d finally become enough of a puppy porker to set off the passenger seatbelt alarm in her car.

At Slimming World he’s in the right place for food optimising tips however. The venue was quite busy today and the group seemed larger than it usually is – with lots of familiar faces – and some that I haven’t seen for a while.

After saying hello to the ladies I stood on the scales.

Now – today I feel a bit different.

I don’t know whether it’s the probiotics I’ve been taking – or whether something else is going on – but my stomach definitely felt smaller this morning. So much so in fact that I’ve worn a shirt today that last week while I was ill had suddenly begun to seem tight around the waist.

I’m also now wearing a pair of 40in waisted jeans that were previously a bit… ‘Great British Bake Off’ (without the soggy bottom) but that now fit me perfectly.

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So – because of this I felt hopeful I’d lose something and was keen to get back to where I’d been before last week’s gain.

To be clear – I’ve done nothing new – no more exercise than usual (although this does mean that I walked a not insignificant 72 miles in total) eaten no differently – I’ve just kept sticking to what I know works and carrying on regardless.

I only went and lost eight frikkin pounds and got my sixteen and a half stone certificate!!!

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I’m now in another new weight bracket.

I’m inside the 17 stone range and am sitting at 17st 12lbs. I’m in a whole new teen!!!

In total I’ve now lost 16st 10.5lbs (106kg) !

As you can imagine this makes me exceptionally happy.

It’s also a great reminder that keeping calm, carrying on, not saying ‘screw it’ and most importantly sticking to what you know works will ultimately pay off.

Although there may be an occasional blip, my downward progress (when I look at it in the form of a graph) still looks like a largely straight line, which frankly I am REALLY REALLY PROUD OF.

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There’s only one way to celebrate an event like this – and that’s to go for another walk – which thankfully I’d already arranged for the afternoon.

I said goodbye to everyone and after a chat with Angie as I helped her pack things up I headed home.

For a while I didn’t think that my second planned excursion would happen, as periodically it’s seemed like monsoon season today. Before I left my house this afternoon I could have sworn that (as the rain lashed down and rolling peals of thunder boomed out after several cracks of lightning) that I saw India float past my house.

However – at the very worst this meant I’d just sit and chat with my friend over coffee so I drove over to her house as planned anyway.

Since the walk we were planning to go on would probably now resemble a bog we instead headed along a route we knew would be slightly less muddy and decided on another stroll around Coombe Abbey.

As always this didn’t disappoint – and immediately the skies cleared – making the way ahead look very appealing indeed.

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As always Coombe is full of birds, and today was no exception – however there was an abundance of pretty much everything else you could imagine popping out of bushes and hedgerows today – including some baby deer and wonderful dragonflies – who I’m sad to say were both way too fast for my camera.

Other, more sedate creatures however were kind enough to pose for me as my friend and I languidly strolled around the grounds and surrounding countryside twalking the day away.

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However – as interesting as all of these were the one thing that really caught my eye, just as I was leaving the (largely uneventful but very relaxing) birdwatching hide was a Red Admiral that was warming itself on a post about 20ft away.

I have to say that once again I’m stunned at the images that my little compact Sony 30x superzoom can capture from a distance.

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All in all it was a really well timed walk with some perfectly lit sunny moments where the world came alive both underfoot and all around us, showcasing the best that the countryside has to offer at this time of year.

Although there aren’t an awful lot of flowers around at the moment, every so often one manages to catch your eye, and particularly after a bit of rain you’re reminded how awesome the little things in life can look when you stop to pay attention to them.

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Anyway – I feel good.

I’ve broken the back of the teens – and I’m in weight territory that I’ve not seen since about 1992. Those that are mathematically inclined will also note that there is a particularly significant milestone approaching that’s unrelated to a certificate – but that IS related to how heavy I am and how heavy I was.

Answers on the back of a postcard internet. Can you work it out?

Davey

Wyken Slough nature walk

Today was supposed to be more inclusive of gradients and hills – and I was originally planning another exploration of the hills and tracks around Ilmington – however at 5am I was awoken by the hammering rain outside my window.

Fields full of livestock don’t make for particularly good walking after a huge downpour – and you tend to find that the corners where stiles and gates reside have two different kinds of deep mud. One smells really bad and the other smells almost as bad…

So my friend suggested that instead we take a walk along the Wyken Way – which is just on the outskirts of Coventry. As it’s somewhere I’d never been before I was pretty happy to go somewhere new – especially one with a nature reserve along the way.

The start of our walk was on the canal – right next to our parking space – and immediately as we crossed a bridge onto the towpath I could see that recent regeneration of the area had taken place. Both sides of the bridge were adorned with some really cool metalwork wildlife sculptures – which (like the signs dotted about nearby) suggested that there were Kingfishers locally.

Sadly – despite both of us saying we’d never seen one before none were apparent as we made our way along the canal side. What was apparent however was that swanlings seemed to have a pretty good life in this area – and even before we got to the nature reserve I saw probably the largest surviving armada of them that I think I’ve ever come across.

Given that the brood that swans normally seem to have appears to be around 6/7 – unlike the swans in my local park – this family looked like all of them had all survived, which was really incredible!

They were all really lively and healthy too – and very inquisitive indeed, coming up to see us and nibble the grassy bank.

Further up the canal we came to a fork – and stopped to briefly ask for some directions. The canal volunteer in the blue jersey retreated into his little hut, and much to the obvious delight of my companion returned with a huge OS map – and proceeded to point to where we were and where he thought we had to go.

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I was quite impressed – but as we moved away twalking and laughing my friend quietly pointed out that hers was a better resolution and showed much more detail.

I could be wrong but I think I detected a teeny tiny hint of competitive cartography in my vicinity. Never compete with a girl’s map resolution. It will end badly.

The opposite side of the canal appeared to mostly be taken up with national grid infrastructure – and there were many warning signs, along with lots of ‘planted steps’ for water voles, of which there were allegedly loads.

However they seemed to be hiding in the same place as the Kingfishers today because despite them having tons of places to climb in and out of the water they all seemed to have gone on holiday.

I imagine they were probably sunning themselves on a nice beach elsewhere while we stood in the rain on the bank opposite their empty homes waiting for a fleeting glimpse of their noses.

However although there were no voles there were some interesting bugs on the opposite bank…

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After a while (and a particularly muddy field full of cow s**t later) we found ourselves on a path to the Wyken Slough Nature Reserve.

As you may expect the rain has been a constant feature of the day – and despite the really rather miserable conditions it can produce (wet legs and leaky boots I’m looking at YOU) there’s also some real beauty to be found when things get a fresh soaking – and along this tiny overgrown lane everything seemed to be about to drip, but not quite making it to the ground. Every bush and branch had a weight and pregnant poignancy that probably only lasted for a matter of minutes while we were there and then was gone again.

At that moment in time everything looked wonderful.

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It was around here that we got a little lost – and spent a while walking into bushes and routes that effectively became dead ends around the back of an industrial estate.

But exploring is fun!!!

Getting lost is fun!!!

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This didn’t last for too long however and we soon found our destination – along with a huge marsh of bullrushes.

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On the other side of the path however was an army of swans, ducks, gulls and coots!

I couldn’t make out whether they were happy to see me and wanted food, or whether I was in imminent danger, as when I moved in for a closer look the swans (of which there were a LOT seemed to be making a rather direct path toward me…

Unbeknown to me my companion (clearly enjoying the sight of me being stalked by a swan or two) was taking a video of her own…

Thankfully I didn’t get mauled and won’t be appearing on in any swan snuff videos on YouTube any time soon!

Shortly after this we decided to head back to a pub we’d passed earlier on the walk at the canal junction and have a bite to eat. We eventually found ourselves inside what turned out to be an unusually busy Tuesday lunchtime service.

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However, despite the Greyhound proclaiming it was a ‘triple award winning venue’ (and I hate to be critical but if the cap fits) it seemed to be staffed by people who had no idea who should be sitting where or the order in which people should served and were surrounded by lots of tables full of customers waiting for their lunch. Each table’s occupant looked either very annoyed or very bored and had half empty drinks glasses in front of them along with irritable, hungry children.

After we’d had our drinks we decided to move on rather than order and wait an eternity for food and have a coffee at home – saving £5.50 for a baked potato in the process.

This actually turned out to be quite fortuitous – because on the way back from my friend’s house (after being pleasantly caffeinated by her) I decided to check Kenilworth to see if there were any unicorn trousers. 

I found not one, but TWO pairs within budget! I’d wanted to pay no more than a fiver – but each were £3.99 – and my favourite of the two was an almost BRAND new M&S pair!

I have no idea what’s going on with the residents of Kenilworth – but the tags were still on one shirt that I picked up today – giving a clear indication of just what a bargain hunt my clothes shopping has suddenly become!

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I now have multiple really really nice outfits of practically brand new clothes in my wardrobe for less than the cost of a single shirt when I was an 8XL guy!

To be honest it’s been a great day. 

I’ve had excellent company and lots of chats with lots of friends. I’m also seriously winning with regard to non-scale victories.

If I ever ever decide to backtrack on any of the good choices I’ve made lately in life I want to remember how I feel today – and I’m so glad that I’ve gotten into the habit of writing it all down so that I can prove to myself if I need to what I feel and sound like when life is good and things are clicking into place.

I can walk for miles, I have great friends, I can get into cheap good quality clothes – and I have a sense of positivity that not only propels me forward, but that occasionally I can see rubbing off on others in a way that it never used to.

Although from time to time I have bad days internet the vast majority of them now are ones where I lift my head off the pillow and I’m just thankful I get another day full of possibilities.

Even if they so far have not contained a single Kingfisher…

Davey

Brandon Marsh

I’ve been in gentle exploration mode today – with the emphasis on stopping to look at things rather than clambering over stuff and moving quickly.

Although I’d originally planned a return trip to Ilmington Downs today (original visit here) for some hill based cardio exercise I’m still being troubled by some stubborn blisters on my left foot from over two weeks ago – and despite having a day here or there where I do a bit less to promote healing (and using some fancy plasters) they don’t seem to be shifting easily. Annoyingly others appear to be joining the party – which isn’t really helped by me buying some 2nd hand walking boots from eBay.

These are not the cause of my current blisters – but I need to wear them and get used to them at a time when my feet don’t want to be in boots at all.

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Tread wise they seem hardly used – and the soles are very comfy – however the left foot appears to have part of the inner membrane above the toes slightly twisted, making the boot feel a little cramped compared to the right one. They were 1/3 of the cost of the same pair new though, so I guess beggars can’t be choosers!

On the plus side the leather is supple enough for them to not require much ‘breaking in’ and so far they seem to be quite servicable. They need to be. I have big plans for them in the near future. So – in order to minimise any further poking of the ‘blister bear’ (blister bear doesn’t like being poked) today my companion and I went for a leisurely stroll at yet another place I’ve not been to before.

Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve and the nearby Brandon Woods.

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I’m beginning to wonder just how many locations there are like this that I’ve never been to. I’ve been exploring my local area for a while now and Warwickshire appears to continually throw up new (to me at least) and cool little spaces full of life and interest.

The nature reserve is one of those places however where teeny tiny bits of wildlife are completely missable if you don’t take the time to stop and look.

Take this little guy for instance. He’s about 1cm across and is teeny tiny.

I only just avoided stepping on him as he hopped across the path in front of me.

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Shortly after meeting him we stopped at one of the hides along the way – and looked for a while at all of the serene water birds just going about their business. There’s a pretty varied bunch here – and it’s really calming just watching swans and other birds float past your seat.

After sitting just tantalisingly out of reach for a while (I need a longer zoom lens!!!) from the really interesting species we moved on and it was here that I started to pay close attention to all of the insect life – which is legion around here.

 

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Although the flowers are currently well past their prime it’s not stopping the smaller residents enjoying the bounties they have to offer. A really varied selection of bees (the reserve also sells its own honey and candles) were all buzzing around busily collecting pollen and carrying it from place to place, making sure the delicate order of things is maintained.

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Maybe because it was pretty humid and moist today it was easy to get a sense that this place wasn’t just about conservation – but also about procreation. As with the little swanling above there was evidence everywhere that this was a place where gettin’ jiggy with it was the way forward.

It’s a good thing these guys aren’t shy.

I got a ringside seat.

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They weren’t the only ones taking time to enjoy the steamy conditions – there were many others nearby – and although the sun wasn’t shining brightly it seemed to bother none of them. They were all lost in their day jobs – which appeared to either be making whoopee, eating as much as they could before the seasons changed – or before their short life spans ended.

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After we’d spent a little while walking around the reserve we were back at the gift shop and decided that a stroll around the nearby Brandon Woods would be a nice way to round off the day.

I have to say I couldn’t have agreed more. The words ‘moist’ and ‘woodland’ always seem to go well together – particularly if paths are well maintained – and in this case they were. Lots of eager people were busy re-barking the trails and trimming back the brambles that were encroaching a little too far.

Although small this little piece of woodland is clearly loved by people nearby – and I can understand why. It’s supremely peaceful.

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By the time we’d returned to the reserve there was a definite need for coffee (isn’t there always?) and thankfully they had a really nice little cafe.

Initially I was confused. Normally there’s an unspoken table etiquette where you leave (if possible) a distance between you and the person at the next table – however in this cafe everyone was sitting close to each other, by the window. It was then I realised that the ground outside was teeming with bullfinches, sparrows, robins, blue tits, blackbirds, and chaffinches.

There were loads of bird feeders full of nuts, seeds and fat and the little guys were loving it!

This pretty much ruined any conversation we were having – as half way through a sentence both of us kept tailing off with ‘Oooh look at that!!!… Oh it’s gone!’ again and again.

Shortly after trying (and failing in most cases) to make conversation and take photos through cafe windows we moved on, headed for the car and then home.

However – sometimes it’s at the most unexpected moments when you see the nicest things, and just as we were driving out to the main road my companion noticed a slowly moving (I think it had a limp) but very beautiful pheasant. I stopped to let it cross the road – wound down the windows and quietly grabbed a couple of snaps as it passed by me and into the nearby reed beds.

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This site apparently used to be a quarry – and it’s very heartening indeed to see something that used to be an industrial hole in the ground returned to something that holds so much life and diversity.

Overall a leisurely 6(ish) miles of strolling yielded some of the most pleasant views of wildlife that I’ve seen in a while!

Stop and look at the flowers internet – you never know what you’ll see – and watch out for teeny tiny froggies!

Davey

 

Draycote Water and fresh Apples

Today started well.

VERY well in fact.

A knock at the door early on revealed a smiling UPS courier and a small package. Inside was a (quite unexpected) presentation box wrapped in cellophane. When I opened it I could scarcely have been happier with the contents!

Instead of my old friend returning to my loving bosom I have a NEW AND IMPROVED FRIEND! 

I’ve had my teeny companion since September 2015 – and it’s seen some revisions since it was originally launched. My ‘1st generation’ model was eventually superseded by a ‘2nd generation’ series 1 and series 2 devices in late 2016. Both of these were upgraded versions of the original. Series two had GPS and water proofing – but crucially the series 1 had a faster processor than my 1st gen version which was then removed from sale.

Clearly Apple didn’t think it was cost effective to replace my 1st gen sensor (the circular panel housing it on the underside had come loose, making it turn like a bezel) and have now upgraded my nearly two year old watch to a brand new series 1!

How’s about that for customer service?!

After quickly restoring my settings from an old backup my new Apple Watch was soon right where it belonged – on my wrist – and waiting for instructions.

It soon got (quite literally) it’s marching orders, as today I’d planned to go for a walk with a friend. He’d originally suggested that we go somewhere further afield – but knowing I’d have to wait in for a parcel we had instead agreed to go a little closer to home – and have a look at somewhere neither of us had ever been.

Draycote Water (link).

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This is a Severn Trent reservoir – and according to wikipedia it can hold more than a few kettles worth of H2O…

The reservoir was created in the 1960s and was opened in January 1969 and is by far the largest expanse of water in Warwickshire. It covers more than 600 acres (240 hectares) and holds up to 5 billion gallons (23 million m³) of water.

As you might imagine it’s pretty big – and is expansive enough to have a five mile circular walk around the outskirts of it – meaning that there’s plenty of places to sit on the reservoir wall and have lunch.

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We started out quite gingerly – mostly due to my ongoing war wounds from a week ago. I got some pretty epic blisters during my 17 mile walk to Solihull (link). I had convinced myself that they were fixed up and as good as new – until I embarked upon my energetic 8 mile march around Warwick and Leamington yesterday.

Unfortunately this resulted in (amongst other things) the angry looking 3cm wide red/black/purple one on my left foot flaring up again. Today it was once again covered in elastoplast to reduce friction and pressure – but there’s only so much you can do to something that ideally you should just leave alone and allow to recover.

I can’t help myself though. I need to walk – and it’s really annoying to have loads of energy in your legs but to have sore feet that slow you down or eventually stop you altogether.

Thankfully we soon stopped for a bite to eat after a mile and a half or so, sat on the wall, looked out across the water and rummaged through our respective carrier bags.

Whilst my friend had packed a cheese and onion sandwich I had a whole cucumber. This had been a present from him the previous day and was fresh from his allotment. It was small (like a chunky courgette) and crisp (like a gherkin) and before setting out I’d chopped it into some basmati rice along with a can of mackerel and some beetroot.

Paired with a flask of coffee this (maybe odd – but delicious) combination went down really nicely!

However – if there was EVER a time I was kicking myself for not bringing a proper camera with me then today was that time. It was quickly apparent that the whole place was teeming with wildlife – and there were quite a few birds I’d not seen before. The Draycote birding site has a link to a list of the species that have been seen in 2017 and it’s MASSIVE (see here).

Annoyingly my iPhone just couldn’t do any of this justice – and the only things I could capture that didn’t look like flies in the distance were the geese – which were legion, and slow moving.

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I’m therefore going back again soon with my proper camera to see whether I can get some better shots!

Birds weren’t the only wildlife here though – and although we never saw anything today other than small whites there appears to be a cornucopia of butterfly life in this area – with Draycote having one of the most comprehensive lists of potentially viewable species that I’ve seen so far at a reserve.

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Although we didn’t have time to explore today there are also a couple of marked woodland walks around the reservoir that branch off into small areas of trees. I’m not sure how far these go but the Severn Trent site suggests that there’s quite a bit to explore –

There is a flat five mile tarmac road all the way around the reservoir which is ideal for a leisurely stroll. The Hensbrough hill top provides spectacular views and is a great place for a picnic, whilst the 25 acre country park provides enough room for young and old to play games and enjoy the outdoors.

There were lots of cyclists and sailing enthusiasts – along with several pretty large areas set aside on the banks for anglers – and the reservoir is apparently well stocked! There’s also a visitor centre with a cafe and balcony overlooking the reservoir.

Overall it seems like a great place to take the family for an active day out and it definitely requires more investigation. If nothing else it’s a supremely quiet and relaxing place for a stroll.

Even if your feet hurt!

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Now – if you’ll excuse me internet my slightly perkier and enthusiastic puppy dog of a watch is pressing me to stand up and do something – and who am I to ignore it’s well intentioned pleas for attention?!

Davey

Chair repairs

I feel somewhat re-energised this week.

My feet are almost recovered after their Sunday shredding and it’s becoming a bit less onerous to go for a walk now. Today it’s been absolutely sweltering – with a clear blue sky. In this respect it’s not been the best day to attack the garden – but the recycling gets picked up tomorrow and I find lately that I have a philosophical objection to leaving my green bin empty.

Today it was so full that by the time I’d nearly finished clipping bushes and levelling hedges I had to climb into it with some steps to jump up and down on the contents just so that I could fit the last lot of grass clippings in.

My garden’s not going to win any beauty contests at the moment (particularly in the category of grass coverage) but crucially it’s still under control and that’s all I care about currently.


It’s also still home to lots of birds – who regardless of my pruning still seem to want to make it their go to destination for a dust bath on the left hand side.

It looks like there’s a new baby robin in town too – who’s all fluffy and mottled. He’s been darting back and forth quite a bit looking for tasty morsels in the grass and seems quite interested in me.

My resident house sparrows appear to still be living up to their names and are commuting in and out of the eaves my roof regularly – but I don’t mind – as long as they stop for the occasional picture!

In other news I decided the other day that an item of furniture that’s been sitting broken (although you’d never be able to tell unless you sat on it) in my living room for about two years needed to be dealt with.

It used to be great.

It was a John Lewis armchair and I was really happy with it when I bought it. Although it was expensive it reeked of quality and we were very happy together.

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In truth it was less of an armchair and more of a small ‘snuggler’. The idea for ‘normal people’ (whoever the hell they are) was that they’d wrap themselves in pillows (or around a partner) before tucking their legs in and relaxing with a cup of tea in front of the telly.

In my case I filled it. Completely.

My stomach went to the ends of the arm rests.

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This is how I now fit into it’s duplicate twin…

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I struggled to get out of it a lot of the time back then, and the pressure that my 34.5 stone brought to bear on it finally made something snap in the frame.

It’s not every day your fat ass costs you a fortune  – but that day each cheek was individually responsible for £350.

I was gutted. Although I had two identical chairs this was one of the few places that I could find comfort – apart from lying on my left side (I couldn’t lie on my back or right side because I couldn’t breathe).

Things had got so bad (although I never told anyone this at the time) that just sitting still had become intensely uncomfortable in almost all seats. No matter how I tried to shift my huge weight something hurt. If I relieved the pain on my back then my ankles began to swell – if I moved to prevent water retention then my spine quickly complained.

Toward the end I often ended up sleeping in my armchair when I had trouble breathing and nodding off lying down.

So it was a dark day when I heard it crack.

I genuinely intended to try and fix it – and right up until a few days ago that was the plan – but when I took the base off and saw the splintered wood and all the snapped screws at the front I decided that not only did I no longer consider it worth the effort – but that it was a blatant reminder of someone that I no longer am.

Much of my house feels the same way sometimes and I often think that if money was no object I’d destroy all of the (perfectly usable) items that represent the old me.

For the moment though, this huge chair will suffice.

Since no one wants busted furniture sitting on the front lawn waiting for pickup today I decided to take the more energetic route and saw it into chunks.

Despite it having broken under my old weight I found it impossible to snap it again with my current weight. By any standards it was a really well made item of furniture with some top quality wood inside it. In all it took me an hour of sawing and sweating in the sunshine to separate it into parts small enough to fit into my car so I could take it to the tip.

So what next?

Well I have my IKEA Poang chair, purchased from the recycling centre a few weeks ago for £10 (a stunning 70 times cheaper than it’s John Lewis predecessor) and my matching footstool (£4).

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The only problem is that my mind will not allow me to sit in it without it being propped up against the wall. I simply can’t conceive of a world where I’m actually light enough to not break it.

I know that it’s rated by ikea to hold up to 26st (I’m currently almost exactly 20) so it shouldn’t be a problem – but honestly I couldn’t take the disappointment if it broke. Instead I’m going to put it in the living room for other people to sit on until such time as I feel secure enough to do so myself.

In other news there’s still no sign of my little buddy. Apple Watch is still MIA and there’s no news in my inbox about whether or not it’s expected to pull through. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve glanced at my wrist today and frankly it’s doing my head in.

I can’t get it back soon enough internet. I am in a timeless world without haptic feedback or heart monitoring.

I’m living in the flipping stone age I tell you.

Davey

Allotment ivy

Although I have come to hate it with a passion there’s absolutely no denying that ivy is great for relieving stress. Not content with working on my own garden I agreed to help a friend out on his allotment today – and it’s nice to finally be physically able to return some of the help he and others have given me over the years when I’ve been incapable.

When taking on his allotment he inherited a plot where successive owners seem to have ignored a continuing problem with this weed of a plant and instead covered it with layer upon layer of black plastic and nylon sacking.

Someone did the same on my garden’s borders and so far I’ve not pulled this horrible (and rotten) stuff up to see the full horror of what lies beneath. If today is anything to go by it won’t be pretty…

In response to its treatment on the allotment the ivy went underground, growing even stronger and even more sinewy. It continued (now hidden from view) to migrate further along the ground, working its way through the black sacking and then under and through everything else.

The stuff is like a virus.

Although we had already cleared a small spot in this picture there was clearly a LOT of work to do along the fence line – which was where it was all coming from.

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I have to say I’m rather jealous of the ease that things can be disposed of on this particular allotment plot. In my case ripping all this down would then result in lots of chopping and stuffing a recycle bin or bags for the tip.

Before starting at the allotment I took another 6 of my own sacks to my local one this morning – bringing the total number of them (stuffed full of garden waste) I’ve now shifted to a rather mind boggling 75 sacks

Each of these theoretically contains 95 litres – so if I had around 75 in each then that means 5625 litres of rubbish has so far been pruned or pulled out of my garden (and thats not counting the huge green bins)

Also – to fit the bush branches I’ve lopped into these has taken a LOT of pruning. The pile I created from the remaining section where the blackbird was nesting took somewhere in the region of 15 (approx) bags. I also started counting last night (during this seemingly endless and mundane task) how many cuts I have to make to the average (rather large) branch in order to fit it into my wheelbarrow before I start putting it into bags.

I lost count after 100… It’s a LOT.

Basically it takes tons of chopping. For the last two days alone I’ve done nothing for around 3.5 hours but a continuous chopping motion. However – without a chipper I don’t see any alternative. It all has to be moved somehow.

On the bright side it’s been absolutely stunning for exercise. So much so that today we were happily pruning away for a 3-4 hours before I excused myself to go and get some lunch at around 2pm.

It’s always nice doing things together though. As my friend said today you get more than twice as much done with two of you working in tandem. It’s the ability to share the load, have a natter and a laugh in the process that makes the difference – and boy did we clear the end of his plot.

 As always this kind of wholesale removal of ivy uncovers lots of creepy crawlies – and a young robin was following us around all day. It was quietly watching what we were doing and then hopping in when food was available.

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This little fellow was such a feature of the day, and so comfortable with our company that at times it seemed like he was posing for photos – and as you might imagine I’m not really one to complain!

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When we’d had enough we sat back (me in my newly purchased £4 folding camping chair from the recycle centre that would never have fit my ass six months ago) and looked at our handiwork.

Although there was still a lot t do it looked much better than when we’d started!

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At this point I took a selfie – not realising that half a tree full of bits appears to be stuck to my head – but hey ho!

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I can’t help noticing that I look a little tanned at the moment – and I’m just loving how capable I feel. It was a big thing for me a year ago to feel like I could walk anywhere and move through the world unaided.

I feel like I’ve cracked that now.

However what I hadn’t really thought too much about until fairly recently was what I could do from a hard work perspective in the world.

I don’t mean drilling holes in the road or working on building sites (although you never know) – I mean that I always thought that I hated this kind of thing. I’ve said over and over that I didn’t like gardening and I didn’t like DIY.

What I really meant though was that I didn’t like the way they made me feel both physically and emotionally.

Nowadays they seem to be having absolutely the opposite effect – and I’m genuinely enjoying the hard work that they represent. Sitting back on that chair looking at the blank fence panels felt awesome. Helping my friend felt awesome. The coffee tasted sweeter, the air smelled fresher – and it made me happy to be there.

Later in the evening another friend happened to send me a picture taken in 2012 of me holding her then newborn baby.

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It reminded me that when I held her son in my arms I couldn’t sit properly on her very large leather sofa.

I couldn’t rest him on my lap because  at the time I didn’t have one.

I couldn’t turn around to put him down.

I couldn’t lean forward with him.

I couldn’t stand up from the sofa and hold him while I did so.

I couldn’t do anything but have the baby handed to me and then after a while hand him back.

Things are very different now internet – and if ivy continues to make new Davey possible then I accept it’s challenge. I’ll pull it and dig at it and tear at it for as long as it takes. This is not only so that I can continue to feel the way I do now – but eventually so that when I hit my target I’ll look back on this moment with a wry smile and think about what I did to get there and what I learned about myself along the way.

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Banded demoiselle

Yesterday I walked into Sainsburys to get a coffee and unexpectedly walked out with a bag of clothes that I’d purchased because they were half price.

This in itself is really not unusual I suppose – as clothes from shops like Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys are now cheap enough to make buying them little more than impulse purchases for most people. When the items are half price it’s even easier to make a decision.

What’s unusual about this for me is that I walked out with a bag containing pretty much an entire outfit that I could wear immediately if I chose to.

Although I’ve made spotty purchases here and there from high street shops a lot have been (in my view) slightly aspirational, and were things that I’d ‘shrink into’. This is the first time I’ve been able to go in, take a range of clothes from a sale rack, try them on and just buy them knowing I could wear them the same day if I chose to.

However – almost as importantly – I got two tee shirts, two long sleeved tops, a pair of denims and a lightweight raincoat for £37. This is £3 cheaper than the cost of ONE SHIRT from a specialist retailer when I was in the 4-8XL size range. 

Given how tight money is currently I can’t overstate how awesome this is!!!

I think in all honestly my exercise is helping immensely in this area. Even though according to the scales I’m not flying down in weight any more (my current average is around 2lbs a week) I do seem to be dropping in inches, and I’ve noticed in particular with my gardening a pronounced difference in my upper body. My legs and stomach are also noticeably more at home in my trousers – where I’m forever tightening my belt.

It’s really encouraging progress!!!

Mind you – although I have the garden (amongst other things) to thank for my good news my horticultural endeavours have now moved from a pastime where I could see sweeping visual changes to what’s becoming less rewarding grunt work. Now all the bushes have been cut back I have digging and tidying to do, and ivy is the work of the devil.

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In the process of rescuing my trees I’ve stripped tons of the stuff away from their trunks and roots. I’ve also now cut a clear band completely around the middle of my larger tree and severed all the vines theoretically keeping the leaves and tendrils further up alive.

Not so long ago the trunk looked like this…

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Cutting a band around the middle is one thing though. Getting the rest of the ivy off the tree higher up is another thing entirely.

After hacking through one particularly thick vine yesterday I was amazed to see it peel off the tree into the canopy above me. It came away surprisingly easily. I continued to pull it outwards while it slowly tore away from the branches over my head.

Then I pulled.

Nothing.

So I wrapped both hands around it and pulled a few more times with significant force.

Still nothing.

I then wrapped the vine around my right arm and lifted my feet off the ground, swinging on it like Tarzan.

Twenty stone of chubby man just hung there without a single creak from above or indication that I was anywhere close to breaking anything ivy related. I gave up in the end, and resolved to come back later when it had died.

In the meantime I busied myself with chopping up vines and branches to take to the tip – which now stands at a total of 69 sacks of refuse and counting. I’m not sure the frogs or birds love me any more though, as I’m removing all the fun places they liked to chill out in.

This little guy nearly got bagged and tagged yesterday – but at the last minute I noticed him. He had a narrow escape and would have been heading for the mulching plant if he hadn’t blinked at me from between the leaves.

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Today though (at least for the morning) I left the garden to it’s own devices and went for a walk. It’s been amazingly sunny all day today – and quite draining if you’re not in the shade.

I’ve been drinking water like I had a camel’s hump to fill today and I’ve needed every drop. I’m also pretty sure that despite liberal application of factor 50 suncream my newly shaven cue ball like head may have burned a little. It’s all tingly.

It’s been worth it though.

Initially neither myself or my friend were sure where to go – and had been poring over an ordnance survey map to see if anything jumped out that looked interesting.

(warning –  for one particular reader the next photo may prove unduly arousing.)

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In the end (partially due to time constraints) we decided to go for a walk I’ve done a few times before (link) but that my companion today has never seen – which was along the Grand Union canal and the Offchurch Greenway.

It’s a lovely little five mile walk and easy to do in under two hours if you have a good pace. Today though I was probably a little slower than usual mostly because I was entranced by how the seasons seemed to be so swiftly moving on. Everything was changing so rapidly!

What was once a swan nest on the canal bank the last time I passed…

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Is now a family with four large cute and fluffy swanlings!

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The canal is also home to other juvenile residents, and as well as ducks there were quite a few fledgeling moorhens skittishly darting about in the water – all under the watching gaze of parents sitting by the banks.

However – for me the CROWNING GLORY of the day was not only spotting several banded demoiselles but actually getting close enough to one to take this photo.

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If I had any lingering doubts about whether I should have bought a camera or not then this picture washed them all away. It’s probably one of the best photographs I’ve ever taken – let alone one of the most beautiful.

Step aside swanlings. There’s a new king in town!

Anyway internet – I need to get back to the garden. I have a full day ahead of me tomorrow, and I won’t be able to get to it at all.