My news feed dances with assurances that my eyebrows are fine. The good hillwalkers of Instagram respond to my last blog post with customary cheer, animation and much encouragement. Apparently, the countryside is filled with decent guys who are too busy hiking to notice unfashionable facial features. It also turns out I’m just not asking the right questions at the start of the selection process.
I learn I’m at the ‘extreme end’ of outdoorsy, which hasn’t occurred to me and might be putting off guys who claim to love walking but actually only if there’s a pub after a mile. “A quick check of how many tents, how many sleeping bags, favourite stove, etc, should root out the fakers,” advises a hearty Scot. I tell him I have four tents, a T5 and a bivvy. He has only three tents, a T5 and a bivvy but he also has a group shelter. Group shelter-less, I feel fraudulent and instantly downgrade myself to the part-time end of extremely outdoorsy.
“The man for you is probably sitting next to his dog, on top of a mountain, wondering if he’ll ever find a lady whose eyebrows are not drawn on,’ says a fellow naturally-browed lady. One of my favourite Instagrammers, a fabulous spirit who thinks she’s mermaid, backs this up. “You just haven’t climbed the right mountain yet,” she says. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains, but I hold that thought.
I go on a proper date, for which I wear a dress and my sparkliest heels. We head somewhere I don’t know, which turns out to be the kind of grungy Cardiff bar I spent a lot of time drinking cider and black in 20 years ago. Hiking boots and a chunky knit would better fit the tone, but my date is lovely. He’s articulate, funny and interested and we talk, without the awkward bits, about our favourite places, nature, family, grief. We share a wonderful moment – maybe four – in the shadow of Cardiff Castle under a crisp night sky, then he goes his way and I float mine. The next day he leaves Wales. It figures.
Life weaves on; I have another MRI at another hospital and once again fall asleep under the comforting, rhythmic clanks and bleeps. I see an ophthalmologist (I stay awake for this one), who tells me jollily that corneas should be like marble but mine are like sandpaper, and suggests some rheumatology tests. I suspect we’ve done these, and my GP confirms that we have. “But we might as well do them again!” she finishes and, sure, we might as well.
The day after a gentle hike in the Beacons with the teen and teen in training, we go to London. I promise them no mountains and instantly haul them up 376 steps in St Paul’s Cathedral and a few miles through the city’s parks, as autumn’s too crisp and lovely to take the tube. Somewhere between a pre-teen slump from one and a teen meltdown from the other, they manage to synchronise good moods on the Cutty Sark. They read all the facts about tea, show suitable astonishment at the cramped cabins and test their knowledge on a wooden quiz board. As a late afternoon glow settles across the Thames I think, for the 500th time, how blessed I was to bring these two, of all the babies, home from hospital.
We’re zipping along on a river cruise when a message pops up from the lovely date, wishing me a wonderful weekend under beautiful skies. He suggests a long hike when he returns to Wales but gives no mention of when that might be. I look up into beautiful skies, sunlight glinting off the Shard. If I’ve learned two things in 18 months of MRIs and blood tests that might as well be done, they are, firstly, patience, and, secondly, how perfect life is when you open up to travelling hopefully, regardless of whether or not you ever arrive.