September – my favourite month of the year. I was born in September 53 years ago (I know, you’re saying how can that possibly be?). I love everything about September – the air, the colours, the letting go of a lucklastre summer and no longer feeling pressurised into wearing hypothermia-inducing skimpy clothes. September feels right to me, it’s where I belong.
This month I’ve travelled a bit, met up with friends, had a few highs and a few lows and have a feeling that my life is now moving on from the ‘big C’.
This time last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had no conception of how it would pan out and I was very scared. My birthday in 2014 was a blur. I can’t remember anything but just wishing for the time that the surgery would be over and I would feel better. It took a while – the healing process was slow – but now I look back on the many, many good times I’ve had in the last 12 months and I feel blessed.
Yes, time heals. But it’s the wonderful people in my life who helped mend me that count. You’ve been FANTASTIC. Yesterday was my birthday and I was overwhelmed by everyone’s good wishes, (and a special thank you to those who participated in the marathon session in a west end hostelry which has resulted in my rather delicate disposition today.)
I’m completely overwhelmed by the generosity of two Scottish artists who have donated stunning paintings to my fundraising efforts for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. My friend Louise Burns, who owns the fabulous Christo’s Gallery on Glasgow’s Great Western Road, approached artist Angela Hynd to ask whether she would like to get involved with my cause. Angela generously offered to contribute and painted the beautiful ‘Silver Birch’ in oils. She says that the painting represents growth because in early Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification. Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year, and gardeners still use the birch besom, or broom, to ‘purify’ their gardens.
Angela’s partner Scott Prentice, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, also wished to contribute and created the gorgeous ‘Sunflowers’ in acrylics. It’s a rich, heart-warming painting.
The paintings will be auctioned off in Christo’s with the proceeds going to Breakthrough Breast Cancer, an organisation which funds a quarter of all breast cancer research in the UK. I decided to get involved in fundraising following my breast cancer diagnosis last September. I’ve signed up for the charity’s West Highland Way Challenge next month and I’m currently in training. These paintings will help my fundraising efforts enormously and the kindness of Angela, Scott and Louise has given me a very welcome impetus and motivation to complete the challenge.
So a huge THANK YOU to the artists….and a bit about them:-
Born in 1971, Angela Hynd found her first creative outlet in the family silversmith workshop where she served her apprenticeship making hand crafted traditional Celtic jewellery. Deciding to follow her own artistic path she then took up studies in illustration and had been working in this field since graduating in 1999. During the last ten years Angela has been concentrating on oils, her favourite medium and due to the appreciation of her work, is spending more and more time in the studio. Her work now features in collections all over the world with RBS being one of her patrons.
Scott Pentice is a Glasgow born artist who studied Illustration at GSA but through the years he has honed his skill by using all sorts of mediums to display his message, usually of beauty but often leaning to the darker side of life. He says: “I work both traditionally using a variety of mediums such as watercolour, gouache, acrylic, pastel or pen & ink but I also enjoy using more modern techniques in computer image generation and image manipulation, using our G3 power Mac. My partner and I are currently writing and illustrating our own children’s books and also have a keen interest in photography and animation.”
Christo’s Gallery has collections from mainly Scottish-based artists and designers. Owner Louise Burns takes time to source each piece and displays a wide range of art, with something to appeal to most tastes. She says: “Sourcing, displaying and selling beautiful art gives me a great amount of personal pleasure. Being able to share my interest with others is invigorating and satisfying.”
To get in touch with Louise at Christo’s, call 0141 579 0004.
These boots were made for walking……….but just not today. In the last week, I’ve clocked up 33 miles of hiking, am stiff, have sair feet and am badly in need of a chiropody appointment. So I’m hanging up my boots for the next 24 hours, cracking open the Prosecco and tuning into BBC Radio Scotland. My pal Fiona Stalker’s new show ‘Out For The Weekend’ – a programme featuring the multitude of activities on offer in Scotland’s great outdoors – begins this afternoon and we’re VERY excited (OK, maybe not so much about the gardening feature as we don’t even have a window box). I’ll be on air during the show, talking about how I’m walking my way back to health and happiness following my breast cancer diagnosis eight months ago and resultant surgery.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there’s been quite a transformation. When I began walking 10 weeks ago, I was physically and mentally wounded and was desperate to regain my strength and well being. Since then I’ve trudged, tramped and trekked more than 200 miles north, south, east and west in our beautiful country and I’m feeling so much better.
While I’ve still got some way to go – and am slightly nervous about the West Highland Way Challenge I’ve signed up to in four weeks’ time – I know I’m on the right track and plan to continue walking regularly until I regain full fitness and beyond.
But tomorrow’s another day. For now, it’s feet up and fizz!
If you would like to donate please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Smith2015/
On Sunday, Lindsay, Phoebe the Spaniel and I went out for a ramble around Mugdock Park and beyond. We got lost. And muddy. How exactly two fairly intelligent businesswomen failed to plan something as simple as a walk is something we wouldn’t particularly want our peer group to know about. So, if you read this and tell anyone, tell them not to tell anyone.
When we started off, the bogginess factor was about 5/10. If we’d known what was to happen later in the walk, we wouldn’t have bothered so much about skirting round muddy puddles, trying not to get our lady boots dirty. Much worse was to come. Mugdock and the tracks around are well-signposted, but we blithely eschewed the waymarkers, trailblazing across open land, with a vague notion that we were doing a loop and would end up back at the car.
How wrong we were…..and hour into the walk we ended up on the wrong size of a padlocked fence, talking through the rails to a fellow dog walker who assured us there was no escape from our incarceration and sent us back the way we came. She patiently gave us directions – pass the two benches, go through a gate, ford a stream, climb up onto the moor, pass a big boulder and go straight on back to Mugdock. We eventually found ourselves on the moor and looking for a sign – but it seems the signmaker forgot to put his working jacket on the day he was meant to complete it. We drew a blank.
We then spotted a gate which we landmarked as a short-cut to our destination…..which was our next mistake as it was bordered by a bog as deep as Loch Ness. On the lead, Phoebe was keen to get over the gate. Just as Lindsay was balancing perilously on a bank working out her next move, the spaniel lunged forward dragging her into the malodorous midden. There was a mud-curling squelch when she extricated her boots. We trudged muckily back to the car, vowing never again to go ‘off the trails’.
There are certain times in a girl’s life when the only therapy worth investing in is of the retail variety. Yesterday was one of those times. It was a bleak, cold day, punctuated by sharp rain and hail showers. It reminded me of the long, long winter I have just endured post-surgery when I was more than a bit miserable. During those dark months, I was sore, afraid, anaemic, susceptible to infection, healing oh-so slowly and watching a raft of box sets. Perhaps watching Breaking Bad – a show about a struggling chemistry teacher, diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer who turns to a life of crime, producing and selling crystalized meth – was not my smartest move. The series had some very macabre scenes and wasn’t exactly cheery.
The show’s title is based on a southern colloquialism meaning, among other things, ‘going wild’ and kinda describes my shopping expedition yesterday. It was expensive but boy, did it brighten my day. I bought a bright pink ‘Sawtooth Hoodie’ (actually the colour is ‘Lupin’ which I love), purple lightweight hiking boots, mauve socks and sunglasses with interior green stripes. The hues of my purchases are important. I’ve spent months skulking around in baggy dark clothes, colours which suited my mood. For months, my only purchases were two post-surgery bras which are the most unflattering garments known to womenkind and were a fusty shade of ‘Scotch Mist‘ when I eventually ditched them. So, it was with a mission to Go Bright that I embarked on my spending spree. The outdoor centre where I made most of my purchases has both a cafe and a climbing wall. I stoked up on calories in the former to stave off any potential shopping fatigue – which was wise as it was a heavy shift.
‘Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife’. The first line of British band Blur’s popular track ‘Parklife’ came to mind on my walk yesterday and now I can’t get the lyrics out of my head. It was released in 1994 – CRIKEY – and remains popular today. That set me off thinking about what I was doing then. I lived in Aberdeen in the early 90’s and – as was a rite of passage in those days – worked for a large regional newspaper group. It was the aftermath of a bitter industrial dispute at the company which saw the sacking of 120 workers. For nearly a year after, journalists mounted picket lines outside the newspaper offices. The dispute was one of the longest and costliest in Scottish media and nearly bankrupted the NUJ. Those were trying times, which some might attribute to bonkers bosses (or bonking bosses, as the Scottish Sun reported) but I made very dear, lifelong friends there.
In 1995, when the bosses and I had a bit of a contretemps, I moved to Glasgow, which in Gaelic means ‘dear, green place’. The city has many lovely parks and gardens and I’m lucky to have two on my doorstep. Blonde Eleanor and I set off for a circuit of two of the city’s favourite parks – the Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove Park. The Botanic’s iconic Kibble Palace (pictured below) is one of the most prestigious remaining Victorian iron and glass structures. Built in 1973, it houses tropical plants from around the world and is a peaceful place for repose. The Botanics is also home to some stunning orchids.
Our five-mile circuit took us down to the River Kelvin walkway and into Kelvingrove Park, past the imposing Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and up to Park Circus, built above the city in Victorian times by the wealthy burghers seeking to escape the pollution and disease of the industrialised city.
It’s a very pleasant walk….. And then I’m happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to parklife.
Blimey, they’re big! 110 metres tall with blades 45 metres long, there are 215 turbines at Whitelee Windfarm, the UK’s largest onshore windfarm. As part of our training for the West Highland Way Challenge, my fellow breast cancer survivor Grace and I set off yesterday for what should have been a 20-minute journey by car to the Whitelee visitor’s centre for the start of the walk. However, as I haven’t yet got the hang of my sat nav, which I had unknowingly set for return to my house, we did a few unscheduled ‘U-ies’ and took almost an hour to get there. (Give me a map any day).
It’s quite a sight, looking out at the hundreds of white three-pronged giants which dominate the seemingly barren moorland. However, Whitelee’s habitat management estate covers an area equivalent to 2,358 football pitches and is home to deer, shrews, stoats, frogs, lizards, snakes and a variety of bird species including merlin and curlew. Yesterday, there were two additional ‘burds’ circling Loch Goin and getting a bit lost in the 130km of trails that surround the wind turbines.
So we ended up walking for longer than we’d planned and had time for LOTS of chat (that’ll come as no surprise to our friends!). Much of our conversation was about breast cancer and the fallout from the disease. Grace was one of the first people I discussed my breast cancer diagnosis with last year. She’d been there five years ago, got the T-shirt. She is an ambassador for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and is very knowledgeable.The day after I was out of hospital, she came round with the tastiest superfoods salad to help build up my iron (I’d lost a lot of blood and was anaemic) and has offered a lot of valuable advice. We have since shared many experiences ……….and many glasses of wine!
If you would like to donate to my West Highland Way Challenge please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Smith2015/
My hiking book billed it as a RELAXING 7-mile walk over moorland and along the Greenock Cut aqueduct. It started so well yesterday, in sunshine, with fantastic views over the Clyde to the hills beyond. Then this happened…….
Weather with more front than Blackpool swept in from the west and nearly knocked me off my stott. Gale force winds of up to 100mph – along with showers of flinty hailstones – battered into me. Relaxing, became invigorating, then a bit scary. The Cut is quite exposed and I was feeling the almost overpowering effects of a particularly enthusiastic jet stream from the Atlantic.
The small huddled flocks of sheep had all eyes on me, I could see them thinking: If she’s not here to round us up and bring us to shelter, then what the hell is she doing here? But being more ‘fool’ than ‘hardy’, I kept going and resolved to complete the circuit. An hour and a half into the walk and I was quite exhausted. The force of the hailstorm meant it was difficult to look into the distance. Added to that, there was no signal so the walking App didn’t record my miles. I had no idea how far I still had to go. I was never so glad as when I rounded a small slope and there was my car.
The Greenock Cut was constructed between the 1820’s and 1840’s to take water to and from Loch Thom to Greenock. It’s now a Designated Ancient Monument, has a visitors’ centre and, in the right weather, is a pleasant outing. I’d avoid it in hailstorms though…….unless you want to save on those dermabrasion sessions.
I’ve had to take a couple of days rest as I’m suffering from an ailment which afflicts many a Scottish walker – sair feet. I’ve also got aching shins and wonky hips and by the end of last week was feeling fair trammeled. On Friday, I had an appointment at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary and I decided to walk. All the way. On tarmac. I know, it’s my own fault that I’ve got gammy legs as I clocked up a total of over 30 miles last week, which was perhaps a bit ambitious at this stage of my recovery. I was a bit downbeat at being so knackered, but rallied when I remembered that four months ago I could barely make it in a taxi to the hospital. It’s progress.
The walk from my home in the west end to The Royal in the east of the city, is as interesting as it is diverse. It starts at the Botanic Gardens, down to the River Kelvin, through Kelvingrove Park, down to The Clyde, walking along the city’s iconic river to the scene of the terrible Clutha helicopter tragedy, past the Tron and up the High Street, ending near Cathedral Square and the imposing and rather spooky Necropolis.
I had a bit of time to pop into Glasgow’s Cathedral, a medieval place of worship which is also known as St Mungo’s Cathedral, after the 6th Century missionary who became Glasgow’s Saint and whose tomb lies in the crypts. He was a cult figure in the Scottish Church who, according to enthusiastic biographers, performed four miracles in his lifetime which are featured in Glasgow’s coat of arms. These included reincarnation of a bird and saving Queen Languoreth from execution by her jealous husband by finding her ring inside a fish. Some guy, that Mungo.