It’s been quiet here recently. A short break. Travelling and staying a little clear of Social Media, save for the odd photos on Facebook and Instagram and the occasional look to see how friends are doing. Nothing intrusive and not something meriting one of these rather self-indulgent and grandiose messages of ‘I AM TAKING A BREAK FROM SOCIAL MEDIA’ as though the world actually cares.

So restarting with the New Year. A good prompt to restart with a look back and look forward. Highly personal, of course. But what else can it be?

2018: Vietnam
Certainly one of the reasons for relative silence here was a visit to Vietnam. Also the high of 2018 and something that, in all honesty, will be difficult to put in to words. How can I express the complete assault on the senses that was out first night in Hanoi? Surrounded by people, all of whom seemed to be on mopeds whilst trying to get our bearings in a city that did not so much take you in with a warm embrace but slapped you a couple of times around the face and told you to wake up.

We woke up quickly and to an enriching land. There followed three weeks of….. experiences. Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed corpse (just back from annual trip to Russia for restorative care), Ha Long Bay making you feel minuscule, Hoi An by night illuminated by multicoloured lanterns….. Not to mention the food that helped me put on three kilos of weight.

Toward the end the heat did finally impact me, normal for someone with MS, but not so much as to ruin the trip which had been a concern. Good planning meant that the avalanche of the senses was not such that I was literally swept away.

Three weeks of memories but what stands out is the human experience. Shocking poverty contrasted with surprising wealth. To step inside a hut in a village near the Chinese border and be overpowered by the suffocating smoke from a fire over which a single pot of food was cooking and over which corncobs were being smoked and realise that, what was suffocating you, was the source of warmth and food without which people could not live. If you do not feel uncomfortable you are not human. In Hanoi we had seen statues of Lenin, showrooms selling Bugattis and Rolls-Royces and beggars on the street. Contrasts that will stay in the memory.

2018: That Other Thing
As this blog makes clear, MS is a part of my life. But, for 2018, it was not a bad thing.

Yes, you read that right.

How can that be anything but bad?

Of course it’s not good and this is not about the become some bullsh*t, life-affirming story about how it has enriched my life because it hasn’t. Rather, what has been good in the last year, after five years, is a form of acceptance. Things are not what they should be, that’s true. It can be so disconcerting to feel that tight hug and to hear myself stutter or loose track of what I am talking about halfway through. It’s something that I have covered many times in the blog to the extent of having it’s own section. But acceptance here does not mean submitting passively.

What it does means is realising that you have limitations and living within them. Not overdoing it. But still doing something. It is still difficult to grasp. The unpredictability of being in great shape one day and physically empty another. But, well, knowing it is something that you cannot control means that you embrace the good days. And when it is a bad day? Accept it, albeit in a perfectly acceptable spirit of annoyance.

Note: 2018 was a very good year in terms of symptoms/issues. There can be many reasons for that, lifestyle or pure luck. But I accept the good as well! Revel in it!

2018: Cycling Obsession
For the second year running, Liege-Bastogne-Liege was completed despite some setbacks. This was the sole challenge I set myself on the bike for 2018 and received a lot of attention in the blog. That the action raised a lot of money for MS Research made the ride really special. Grateful to the friends who rode with me and all those who sponsored me.

I also set myself two private challenges. To be honest, private in case I could not complete them. But I did!

First was to break 200km in a single ride. I did that, slowly, in August. On the fifth anniversary of my initial diagnosis.

The other was to break 10,000km in a year. Pure distance, nothing special with mountains or similar. Just stay in condition and maintain the distances. This target was reached on 13th December with a medium distance ride slowed by a cold wind coming from the East. Nothing spectacular, just a celebration of a year of solid consistency, learning how to pace myself and ride my own tempo, staying in condition with an eye to some further targets for 2019. More on those another time, but safe to say 2019 will be the year of the mountains. Next year no distance targets, though, just more effective training for what is coming.

2019: Concern
I must confess to entering 2019 with some concerns about something that will impact me but upon which I can not exert any control. Seems like a common theme in my life but… this one…. it’s difficult to grasp. And I will be upfront about it.

Brexit. There. I said it.

There are so many words written about this. Most of them uneducated and with absolutely no attempt to understand the feelings of the other side. Indeed, I cannot help but think that the use of ‘sides’ in the above sentence reflects how polarised the discussion has become. Rather than adding to this I will just say how it can affect me and why that is a concern.

I could perhaps be seen as the embodiment of the European dream. Born in Britain, living the last twenty years in Holland due to a relationship started during a university exchange period in France. Now, it seems that the guarantees that I built my life around will not be there for much longer. We are taking steps to ensure that I can continue to live in Holland and, let’s be clear, I will not be thrown out of Holland on midnight of the 29th March 2019 or reduced to a life of penury, that is an insult to the real poverty we saw in Vietnam.

Yet I am concerned. What worries me (and 5 million other people, British and European) is just what the impact of three years of slogans and immature political statements will have upon my life, my ability to work. And there is the feeling that these issues are simply not taken seriously enough by any of the political agents involved. They would rather wrap themselves in slogans. Children who do not know what they want.

2019: Carrying on the Cycling Obsession
Let’s get away from that and back on to a positive obsession. I recognise that my power is less and I can have issues that result from MS. But the need for targets and to keep challenging myself keeps me going, adds positive energy to that acceptance of (some) of the circumstances that have impacted me. I will set three targets for next year. The first two are clear, the third I am thinking about. They will be fun and I will approach them with maturity and a clarity.

Almost as maturely as my last ride of 2018 where I overtook two cyclists who had overtaken me without saying hello which really annoys me. That’s maturity. Equalled a personal best as well!

Sometimes I am spitefully normal as well.

2019: Delight
I have started reading a book. ‘Delight’ by JB Priestley. I read a short chapter every morning before starting the day. Short reflections on just why something brings the author delight. A short section on a Gin and Tonic and packet of crisps is especially rich in the context of the war and the shortages it brings.

In closing this entry, I hope to carry on the blog is this spirit. Not every entry will be about what is wonderful, it is too honest for that. That honesty, though, shone through in one man’s short entry on why a Gin and Tonic and packet of crisps made him happy. It is an honesty that I found inspirational, to use an over utilised word.

1 Comment

Peter Farmer · January 2, 2019 at 09:52

Superb article Steve, I really enjoyed it, from all angles.

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *