A Ramble in Different Ways
Earlier this year I read “The Old Ways” by Robert Macfarlane. Although this book was recommended to me, I knew nothing about it. For some reason, I assumed that it would be about old ways of doing things. However, it’s about ancient paths, the reasons for their existence and the people who travelled on them. Some of those paths are across land, some across the sea; some are in the UK, others elsewhere. It’s thought-provoking, but not contentious. It’s beautifully written and I loved reading it.
Whilst reading this book I started cycling regularly, not quite daily, but several times a week. I was working at Loughborough University for a few days and it was the easiest way to get there. I discovered a cycle route along a brook, past some allotments and a pond; such a calming way to start and end the working day. I remembered how much I used to enjoy cycling. I’ve cycled from Bath to Bristol, from Glasgow to Loch Lomond, from Nice along the coast to Cannes and along the coast in the other direction to Monaco. Freedom and Fresh air!
But now there’s another “F” – fibromyalgia. Its characteristics are widespread pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness and difficulty sleeping. Not necessarily all at once, and not all the time. It is a somewhat random condition. It’s helped by regular, gentle exercise and my cycling commute was just perfect. So, when I finished that work contract, I continued to cycle gradually increasing the distance each week. There’s a catch to this exercise thing – do too much of anything and you end up with all symptoms at the same time for several days! And the problem is that you cannot tell when you have done too much; it just hits you a couple of days later. The fourth “F”; I had a flare or two! It was so bad that I didn’t even realise that I’d missed one of my regular knitting groups; all I could think about was pain killers, lie down, rest and sleep. I recovered, I restarted cycling, just shorter distances and less often and I’m gradually building up the distance I can do safely. About 10 km three times a week! Not bad, eh? I’m trying to be the best I can despite the third “F” whilst avoiding the fourth “F”.
So, if I haven’t blogged for a while, it’s usually because I have so many teaching and design deadlines, that in order to avoid the fourth “F”, I have to ease off somehow and one of the easiest things I can stop is blogging.
Reading “The Old Ways” made me think about my cycle journeys differently. Over several months, I’ve cycled every cycle route in my home time. I’ve discovered routes new to me; routes that are secret to those who only travel by car. Routes where I can almost pretend that I’m in the countryside. I’m developing an intimacy with nature and the seasons. I seen leaves bursting out from their buds in the spring. I cycled through showers of petals falling from Cherry trees abundant with blossom. I passed Fritillary, their heads bobbing in the breeze. I’ve watched swans patiently waiting for their curious cygnets. Sometimes I wish I could freeze-frame nature, just to enjoy a particular moment more!
One day a week I travel to Nottingham to work at Headway House. Headway is a charity that works with people with brain injuries. All these people are on a new, unexpected and unwanted journey – one where they discover how they can live their life after their brain injury.
“I still have a life, it’s just not the one I expected.”
Brain injuries have many causes and affect people in different ways. Hence every person with a brain injury has to adjust to what their body and brain can and can’t do. They are adjusting psychologically to the fact that their life will not be the same again. And they may, as a consequence of the brain injury, loose their driving license, their job, their life partner and their home. It’s a lot with which to cope. Headway run a programme of activities to help people with brain injuries. People attend a few days a week. The activities are varied and help in different ways. Some are practical, some educational and others for fun. I run two sessions, one to learn hand knit and the second about colour theory.
I’m sure that anyone who knits or crochets understands that these are therapeutic. The repetitive movements feel calming and meditative. One possible theory is that repetitive movements enhance the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which when low leads to lower pain thresholds and depressed moods. Knitting is also thought to develop new neural pathways which may lead to improved memory and cognition. You can find out more about some of the theories about the benefits of knitting from StitchLinks. And of course there is the satisfaction of creating something and the increase in confidence of learning something new. I have a small group of enthusiastic knitters. Some had never knitted before while some are quite experienced but have forgotten a lot due to the brain injury. After a few weeks either learning to knit or learning some new stitches everyone is knitting their own design for a bag. I can’t wait to see how they turn out!
Colour theory is not about skills, it’s accessible to anyone and can be applied to anything. My approach with this group is practical, with the teeniest bit of theory. So far we have mixed the primary colours to make a colour wheel, made some collages and done some quite detailed colour mixing. For each person, it is a journey of discovery finding out the colours that can be made using, for example, a particular red and blue. Along the way, the colour theory group are developing organisational and decision making-making skills. And they are thinking about the clothes they wear and how they decorate their homes. They are choosing colour combinations that they would not have chosen before. It’s simple, but I guarantee that if you learn about colour theory, you will not think about colour in the same way. You start to understand why some colours look good together, and why some don’t! And colour makes me happy!
A cycle journey
During one of my recent journeys to Headway, I spotted something I’ve not seen for a while. It was there the following week. I wanted a close-up view, so I cycled to this spot. This is what I had seen …
What a beautiful blue! A field of Cultivated Flax flowers. Grown for seeds (linseed), oil (flax or linseed oil) or fibre (linen). Worth a short cycle journey!