Out And About In Puddleshire

Every week, by about Tuesday, I get ever so slightly worried that I’m going to get to Friday and have nothing to write about. That’s especially true when I’m out of my routine, which I have been this week and will be next week too.

The headlines this week are that I’ve been in Inverness since Tuesday, done no miles on the bike since arriving, despite having brought the folding bike that kickstarted LCFN with me, and I’ve been to see Princess Puddles. Those are the bones: here’s some meat to go on them…

I’ve been incredibly challenged in my work these last couple of weeks and I’ve allowed it to take priority over everything else. For my sins, I’m developing a module that detects heart failure in Primary Care (that’s a GP practice to you and I) and the demands of that challenge, both analytically and technically, have been immense. My poor wee brain has been bursting, not just with ideas of how I was going to deliver this, but with add-ons that the boss man hasn’t even thought about yet. As with everything I do, I like to deliver more than was expected of me. As ever, competitive dad.

So whereas I’ve become accustomed to lying in until half seven and starting work a minute later, this past couple of weeks it’s been six thirty to seven. On Tuesday, I was already on the keyboard, coffee at my side at 5:30am. Needs must. The boss man was on holiday, due back on Thursday (yesterday), and I had a solution to deliver.

I mention all of this because I approach my job with precisely the same commitment that I gave to all of those days spent fighting with the elements on the Fenwick Muir. I know from experience that there comes a point when the amount of effort that you’ve invested overcomes all of the tiredness and of the obstacles, and you kind of reach a plateau where the results flow, despite you being in a constant state of virtual tiredness. Physical tiredness I can deal with: sleep more, push less hard, all that kind of stuff, but when the demands are mental, then you enter a different arena. Creativity is very demanding, and delivering high quality, inventive solutions straight out of the box can be very draining at times. Waking at six still tired from finishing at nine the night before is a routine that can only ever be temporary on a keyboard. But I love my job, I like to think I’m good at it, and I will keep searching for the balance of work versus play that works best for me.

Inverness was a threefold trip, although when I made the arrangement, it was only twofold. I haven’t been up to see Jane’s parents for any length of time for many, many months, and certainly not this year. The boys had planned to go during Joe’s school holidays but Finn’s working pattern knocked that joint plan on the head. So I suggested to Jane last weekend that Joe and I should go up this week: after all, as long as I have the laptop and a second monitor, I can pretty much work from anywhere. I’d been holding off from going, if I’m honest, because Eileidh has been in hospital in Aberdeen and there’s no way I could take a day out of the current schedule for that round trip.

So on Monday night, I messaged Gail, who was bound to realise from my Facebook posts that I was up the road, to apologise for missing out on a visit during the current trip. When a child is battling cancer as Eileidh is just now, every visit is an important visit and you absolutely want to make every opportunity count. If I’m honest I kind of felt I was letting her down because I got the timing wrong.

Within two minutes, back came Gail’s response: “we got out an hour ago. We’re going home and we’re not back in till Thursday”. My riposte: “So are you free on Wednesday”? “Yup”…

So then I messaged Laura. I need to stop calling her wee Laura but I’ve known her for so long that that’s the way I think of her: a friend brimming with simple homespun goodness, spiced with a passion for doing things that are right and community spirited.  “Laura, what are you doing on Wednesday. Do you have a couple of hours free to go and see Eileidh: she’s home for two days”.  It was a done deal. Laura goes back to the days of the Tartan March when she and two of her pals from their teenage years walked from Oslo to Glasgow between two Scotland World Cup qualifiers (okay, they took a plane from Bergen to Aberdeen but they still walked hunners n hunners n hunners of miles: not as many as Jimmy mind). Another bloke claimed he’d walked the lot but he was a spammer: an imposter. Never claim what you haven’t done, that’s my motto: the truth is always the truth, and if someone other than yourself knows it, you’re in trouble. And beyond that I remember her coming out of Livvy in tears after a particularly cruel Inverness League Cup exit (AET) eleven years ago. As an aside to that game for a moment, for anyone reading this who likes football, Ian Black got booked that night: no surprise there then. And whilst we started the game with Craig Dargo and Graham Bayne up front, we finished it with Dennis Wyness and Rory McAllister. Why did we lose? Well Mike McCurry being on the whistle probably had something to do with it. By the way, Robert Snodgrass was in the horrible custard yellow strip that night: and he kept his shorts clean.

So, back to Eileidh. Laura and I were discussing on the way from the train station how she might be. We’d both seen the upsetting images last week when she was clearly in great pain so we were kind of prepared for the worst. But I said to Laura “I’ve never seen her anything but boisterous, so don’t be surprised if she’s full of beans…

She was.

It was Eileidh who opened the front door to us. It was Eileidh who introduced us to the kittens. And it was Eileidh who was so enjoying being the wee sister with Cerys in tow.

Eileidh has grown up. I haven’t seen her since February and so much has happened in that time. But the hallmark of her growing maturity, for me, came in the shape of the medical box that she carried about with her. She may have been out of hospital but the hospital was not out of her. Her wee box of tricks, to which she was attached by a tube, went everywhere with her. Not once did she even look remotely like whizzing off and leaving it forgetfully behind. It was just part of her routine to pick it up and take it with her. I was mightily impressed. So was Laura.

You know that thing where you do something and it makes you realise just how lucky you are with the mundane life that you lead. Well that hit the spot for both of us on Wednesday. Eileidh is unwell, most unwell, but in typical Eileidh like fashion, she just accepts what’s happening in her wee life, puts on a brave smile and gets on with it. It’s really not difficult to appreciate why so many people across the globe love this wee girl.

And while all of this was happening, my road bike has been in the bike hospital. I’ve thrashed it hard since I came back with sore hands back in March. I might not do as many miles now as I did back then, but I do them faster, and with loads and loads of hills in half the distance so I’m up and down the gears all the time. The latest casualty list includes a new chain, a new rear mech, three new cables and a load of TLC for the bottom bracket: not to mention a seizing back brake. LCFN is only as good as its equipment and I knew that this was the chance to get lots of little niggles sorted while I was away: it’s just a pity I never found the time to go out on the bike that I started the adventure on.

Next week it’s Liverpool. I need to go and see the boss man and discuss strategy on the work front. But if I get down the road early doors tomorrow, I’ll still manage three days on two wheels before the Virgin Express comes calling.

These are busy, busy days: so much going on; so many ventures to explore and fulfil; so much money and awareness still to raise for kids with neuroblastoma. But I’ll remember this week for being out and about in Puddleshire.