Since last Sunday, I have been admitting to myself that I have only one more year in which to use my ‘fifty-something’ tag-line on this blog. On my birthday, I wake up to snow – I read this as a metaphorical warning – and decide to make the most of things for another 12 months before reverting to a new strap-line, ‘Sixty not out; get over yourself, woman’.
I decide not to let the snow deter my new surge of energy and thaw my car sufficiently to drive to a flat stretch of grass where I can run without fear of starring in any pratt-fall reels on other people’s social media. I feel quite smug that I have prised myself out of the front door and then realise that loads of other people are also running in the snow, and most appear to have run up the hill to get to the Downs in the first place – perhaps they will toboggan back down after their loop around Narnia. They all look so much younger than me, but I remind myself that I could still be in bed opening birthday cards.
I then start the work week with an enforced positive attitude – knowing that there are only 5 days of the school term left and that the holiday is beaconing. I also note that I have a niggling pain in my lower back from that run on Sunday. On Tuesday when I wake, the snow has gone, but the grass is rigid white with frost and I wonder whether this, and my back, can provide a sick note to get me out of 6 am boot camp. I decide to soldier on and once there again feel smug, this time when I realise that only half the usual crowd have made it to the session. In fairness, the other half are probably still negotiating the requisite number of lycra layers needed to embrace the cold, and, if they can actually move their limbs – entombed as they now are in thermal armour – they will have missed half the session by the time they have cracked open the de-icer and coaxed cars out of hibernation.
In short, I limp through the BMF session and at one point just lie on my back doing absolutely nothing but admiring the starry sky; I wonder if the instructor will mistake me for a snow angel rather than attack me for my lack of chest-to-floor burpees.
My consolation prize is knowing that on Saturday morning I have the BeMilitaryFit Christmas session to look forward to. Who doesn’t love a squad of fitness fanatics dressed in tinsel, Christmas jumper or Santa hat, all ready to roll in the frost for the seasonal reward of a free mince pie and a nip of orange squash?
As the week progresses, the temperature drops further and the students at school are high on end of term activities and chocolate rather than buzzing with new learning. ‘All the other teachers are running a Christmas quiz, Miss. Anyone would think you don’t like us’. I tell them that I have been too cold to get to the shops to buy any confectionary prizes and that I am too exhausted from covering other teachers’ lessons and lunchtime duties to muster up some fun and games (there has been a surge of end of term absence). I tell them that they should be grateful that I am still here – even with a bad back – to fulfil my seasonal promise that we will finish their last assessment in time for Christmas. ‘All the other English teachers are doing a Kahoot quiz, Miss’. ‘Humbug’, I respond, ‘at my age you will realise that life is not all fun and games. And, as my back is killing me, will someone volunteer to collect your pile of books and fill up my hot water bottle?’.
On the last day of term the school site is like an ice rink and I skate down to perform morning gate duties. Students have clearly listened to our 5-a- day advice and have already eaten their third chocolate orange of the morning before they even enter the school site; I realise that it is going to take more than my Christmas jumper and some strong pain killers to get me through to lunchtime when we can legitimately wave the little cherubs goodbye. I note that some of the students who have refused to attend school all week, in Lazarus fashion, are back in with us for one last morning of Christmas assemblies and the obligatory Ofsted-approved tin of Quality Street. Who said resilience is a thing of the past?
I am joined on my gate duty by a colleague. Distracted by my back pain and the cold, it takes me a while to realise that although I am head to toe in duvet coat, he is wearing shorts and t-shirt. I look up and realise that he is also wearing a Donkey Kong mask and brandishing an inflatable banana. In his satchel he has managed to secrete a small sound unit which is blaring out a synth-heavy medley of jingles and sound effects from the original Donkey Kong arcade game. He is in his element and clearly excited to tell me that his whole faculty are dressed up as Nintendo characters. I suddenly feel very, very old – 59 in fact – and worry that video games are not an intertextual reference I can engage in. Thankfully my colleague is extremely forgiving and – out of the ears of the students – he allows me to engage in a little, ‘oh matron’ banter along the lines of, ‘your banana looks a little deflated in the cold, Sir.’
Sadly my week does not end in the flurry of Christmas boot camp activity that I had intended. Instead, I pull out of the end of term staff karaoke (thank you, Lord) and drive up to take my 96-year old mother to her hospital appointment. I realise that her part of the world has top trumped me on weather and I drive through ‘proper’ Narnia snow to ensure that she reaches hospital first thing on Saturday morning. Sadly, mum has been making these trips regularly over the last few weeks with either my brother, carer or paramedic and has become quite blase about NHS strikes and travel difficulties. She is just grateful for the road trip and fresh faces.
On reaching the hospital car park on Saturday morning, mum briefs me on the use of her blue parking card and the necessity of my finding her a wheel chair. This is a double shock to the system. Firstly, mum has spent the last couple of years steadfastly refusing use of a wheel chair when shopping – vanity has made it a challenge to even get her to use one walking stick when out in public. Secondly, on arriving at the hospital, I realise that the main building is lying at the top of a slope and that the ‘Blue Zone’ car park looks like the Cresta Run. Suddenly staff karaoke seems like the easier option.
Credit to mum, she treats the whole outing as an adventure. She gives a little whoop when I finally put ‘my back into it’ and run her chair up the ramp into the main hospital entrance, and promises not to tell anyone that I tipped her out of the chair – when I mistook the height of the kerb – if I promise to detour via the M&S cafe so that we can collect a cheeky take away coffee to take up to the ward.
We spend the whole morning at the hospital – mum totally flattered by NHS staff who refuse to believe that she is 96 years old and who award her a free pair of bed socks to keep out the cold – and me, freezing in the waiting area and finally called in to collect her. By this time, mum is sat up in bed, surrounded by a group of nurses on their lunch break, watching her finish another cup of coffee. ‘One of these lovely girls went to get this coffee for me, love – I told them that the ward coffee is horrible. Shame you couldn’t join us; we were just talking through their strike strategy so that they can work around my future appointments’.
So, I end the week back where I began, running in the cold. This time I run with my marathon running pal, and we run in freezing sleet this morning. My friend is having none of this ‘running-on-the-flat-business’ and factors both a sharp descent and ascent into our run. The paths are polished ice and we skid around – she balletically, me less so – but win the admiration of quite a few walkers who brief us on any black runs that lie ahead. One chap, toasts us with his take away coffee and heartens us by cheering, ‘good on you , girls’ – we turn round and ask him to shout out the ‘girls’ part a bit louder and he obliges. Another man offers to piggy back us over a particularly tricky section – well, in truth, I think he was only making this offer to my buddy. I think he must have known about my bad back. Strangers can be so kind.
Wait. What bad back? I now realise that my back has not been niggling since I ran up that hill with mum yesterday morning. I may have had my wheel chair licence revoked by the NHS but I do feel that I can still negotiate this last fifty-something year. I will keep going until hell freezes over – or my sixtieth birthday – which ever comes first. At least I now have a two week holiday to work on a back up plan.