It has to be said that I am a bit heavy on my feet and wear out my shoes more quickly than I can afford! I am trying to go a bit more gently on my fantastically comfortable and light Berghaus walking boots.
Being back at work this week means less time for practice walks. But this is where I’m grateful for my faithful companion Rolo, without whom I would be even more of a couch potato and workaholic!
I am also thankful for the beautiful part of Leicester in which I am blessed to live with the stunning Shady Lane arboretum and Piggy’s Hollow on my doorstep. On a bright clear morning like yesterday it is such a joy to see, the bluebells and other spring flowers beginning to sprout.
I’ve no idea what the weather will be like up on Hadrian’s Wall – probably a bit mixed I imagine. But I do know that there will be equally stunning scenery to enjoy.
While I am getting some fresh air up on the Wall, I am delighted and touched by the support that will be here for me at St Denys in Evington. My colleagues have organised a number of walks as well as lots of prayer. In the arboretum there will be a Walk with Wonder and a Welly Walk for young families. These are things we do regularly now as part of our move towards Eco Church status, inspired by the Gold Award holders at St Catherine’s Church, Burbage who came to speak to our Annual Meeting last night.
‘Tread softly, all the earth is holy ground’ wrote Christina Rossetti and I’m reminded of those words every time I go out for a walk at the moment. They seem particularly apt in this Easter season:
Tread softly! all the earth is holy ground.
It may be, could we look with seeing eyes,
This spot we stand on is a Paradise
Where dead have come to life and lost been found.
Treading softly isn’t only good advice for those of us who are a bit heavy on our feet, it’s good advice for all of us as we reflect on our impact on the world around us. I need to beware, lest I trample roughshod over those fragile new shoots with my size 8 Berghaus boots!
So, another complication in my planned walk is my diabetes. In 2006, when I was 28, I was diagnosed with Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes, just like my dad was when he was around the same age. (That should have given me a clue, but I didn’t even spot the signs when I was drinking more and weeing more, eating non-stop without losing weight, and generally exhausted – I was a teacher at the time so that seemed pretty normal!)
Thanks to the support I had at Addenbrookes, I’ve been on an insulin pump for the last five years. The pump drip feeds insulin into my body all the time and is permanently attached to my side through a tiny cannula. Here it is, my life support machine…
When it comes to walking Hadrian’s Wall, as someone who isn’t particularly active or sporty, I have tried to be sensible, planning to walk no more than about 10 miles in one day. I’ll take plenty of snacks and make sure I reduce my background insulin. Having said that, I still managed to have a hypo on one of my practice walks last week!
In the past week I’ve been to see my specialist nurse and hospital consultant to talk with them about my anxieties. They are a great team and I feel well supported. My biggest worry is not so much my blood sugar levels as my feet! They aren’t beautiful (as you can see!) and you should pity my poor colleague who had to wash them on Maundy Thursday, but as far as the walk goes they are pretty much essential. Without them, I’m stuffed.
What has amazed me is that you can live with a body for very nearly 40 years, and still be discovering new things about it! I’ve discovered this week that my right foot is more flat-footed than my left which explains why I was suffering a bit more with aches on that side after my practice walks. (It also explains why I’ve never been a great dancer, although my eldest would say that’s just being a normal embarrassing dad!)
All in all, it’s really helpful to know about these potential weaknesses at an early stage so I can try to do something about it. Good socks and boots will make a big difference but I’ll be looking for a bit of extra support for that middle part of my right foot!
‘Vicars only work one day a week, don’t they?’ I’m not convinced every person who says that to me is joking! But I can assure you it’s definitely not true.
However, this Sunday I am not working, I am not taking a service or standing in the pulpit at St Denys. I’m coming to the end of my post-Easter break and have spent the week beginning to get my head and body into a good place to take on the challenge I have set myself.
After hearing the great stuff our Royal Princes have been saying is week, I think I can safely and freely admit to having shed a few tears … again! The more I think about this walk, the more I think about Andy. And just as I thought I had got a handle on my grief, it comes back with a vengeance.
I know I’m not the only one to lose a brother, I’m not the only one to lose family members to VHL, and I’m certainly not the only one to struggle with grief, but I’m a vicar! Aren’t I the one who is supposed to have an endless supply of comforting words and messages of hope for everyone else?
Well, yes, I do have hope in God and I hope I can offer some comfort, but more often than not, I just want to say that grief is crap. It’s unpredictable and it’s overwhelming. Last week we took our children to the cinema to see The Boss Baby of all things, and I wept buckets in the foyer afterwards just because the big brother in the film wrote his new little baby brother a letter at the end telling him how he’d always be there for him and promising that they would grow old together.
Sunday for lots of people is a day to stop and take some time out, maybe to think about God, maybe to spend time with the family, but one way or another it’s about time to process the rest of life. Sundays are rarely like that for me – my busiest day of the week if not my only working day! But this Sunday I too have a chance to reflect, and as I continue to prepare mentally and emotionally as well as physically, I’m discovering there’s a lot to think and pray about.
I should say that my training hasn’t only just begun. That would be silly to leave it till the last few weeks wouldn’t it ….
In fact, last year we spent part of our summer holiday near Carlisle which gave me a chance to get a feel for walking part of Hadrian’s Wall. I managed to do a couple of good days’ walking as well as visit some of the fascinating places to explore in that part of the country, even if I only scratched the surface of the 84 miles I’ll have to cover at the end of May.
Roman history has long been a fascination for me, going right back to seven years of studying Latin at school in Loughborough and even before I saw the Life of Brian (‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’). I had some brilliant Latin teachers who were so passionate about their subject, it was hard not to be gripped.
Along with Caecilius, Metella, Cerberus the dog and Grumio the cook, I remember learning about Vindolanda and Aquae Sulis and King Cogidubnus’ palace at Fishbourne. Then there were the great writers I got to study at A Level – Virgil, Ovid, Juvenal and Horace. It was always the poets that attracted me rather than the historians and I still remember the verses I had to learn by heart.
There is I think something poetic about Hadrian’s Wall – the way it stretches into the distant horizon and seems to echo with the footsteps of so many past generations.
Walls have had a bit of a bad press recently, built to keep out, or to keep in, or to keep apart, or indeed to keep up with the other egomaniacs trying to show off how great they are. This one’s no different, an artificial boundary ‘qui barbaros Romanosque divideret’ (to separate the barbarians from the Romans), except it’s not very effective at doing any of those things any more, and that in itself speaks volumes.
Trying to make the most of my week off.
Third day of walking today, this time with a bit of human company – my wife and youngest daughter.
Following a recommendation from a member of the congregation at St Denys, we decided to walk from Market Harborough along the old railway line towards Northampton. We couldn’t manage the whole 17 miles but I think we probably walked a good 6 or 7 and the feet are bearing up well!
It was especially good to come across the Waterloo Farm Leisure complex when it started raining. A lovely fried breakfast complete with black pudding certainly helped to keep me going!
The Oxendon Tunnel was fun to explore once I’d located the torch app on my phone! I love this picture of the light at the end of the tunnel with the water trickling through … I like that it’s egg-shaped too!
Find out more about VHL and its effect on Andy’s life.
I think the moment when it really dawned on me that my brother was seriously ill was the day I walked into the bathroom to find him fitting on the floor. He would have been about 15. I panicked and hid in my bedroom, leaving my mum to hold Andy in her arms and keep him safe while my stepdad called for an ambulance.
It wasn’t the first time I had seen something like this. When I was six, my dad collapsed at the top of the stairs one morning, having the same convulsions brought on by a haemorrhaging brain tumour. I came out of my bedroom to see what was going on, saw him and ran back into my room, hiding under the bedcovers!
So when it happened to Andy, I had a pretty good idea it would be the same cause – VHL or Von Hippel Lindau disease. To my shame, it’s only in recent years that I’ve really begun to get to grips with what VHL is, essentially a genetic from of cancer. But that doesn’t begin to capture the complexity of the illness, the endless hospital appointments to see different consultants specializing in the different parts of the body where tumours can develop, the countless life-saving operations, and the constant anxiety waiting for the next hurdle to present itself.
May 2017 is VHL Awareness month and you can find out much more about VHL on the VHL UK/Ireland website – http://vhl-uk-ireland.org/.
And don’t forget you can sponsor my walk to raise funds for VHL UK/Ireland at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/walk4andy.
Of course, I can’t really know what it’s like to have VHL. It wasn’t to be my illness. I knew that for sure when the DNA results came through in 1996. And it was our parents (my mum and stepdad, and my dad and stepmum), as well as Andy’s wife for the time he was married, who lived with the daily implications of loving and caring for someone with VHL – my mum in particular for every day of the 38 years of Andy’s life.
So today I didn’t get round to walking until the afternoon, but Rolo and I set out after lunch and had a nice walk from Evington to Houghton on the Hill and back (about 8 miles). Feet a bit sore now and had a hypo en route, but arrived in home in one piece ready to tuck into some of the Easter chocolate!