The black cloud comes early, not waiting for the clocks to fall back, as is her custom, but settling on still-light evenings and grizzly-grey mornings. A cough takes hold and refuses to shift, whiplashing my bones and rattling through my chest on slow, cut-short runs. Bad news comes in waves, from a relative, from the vet. If this is the amber light, I brace for the roadblock.
Summer lasts until Get Outside Day and a planned group hike to the top of Pumlumon. The ‘group’ slims to a trio, because of Covid and, oh, an escaped bull. The bull is another walker’s blog post, but the trio is joyful, spinning tall tales and even the odd real story or two as we climb to the trig and helter-skelter our way back around the cwm. I drive home smiling, and then summer slides into a heavy Cambrian mist and is gone.
I join a trail running club and I love, love, love the routes and the people and the mud, but the club starts to eat into family evenings. People say to me a lot: “You have so much spare time to hike and run!” as if I were somehow handed out a 25-hour day in an eight-day week, but the truth is that in between all the hiking and the running come a full time job, freelance evenings and many dropped plates. I set my sights on a trail half marathon and, very quickly, the training depletes me. It’s my red flag. Running is the thing that blasts away my stress; when it becomes the stress, it’s time to huddle on the sofa and watch Bake Off with a teen.
Nearly as funny as watching Bake Off with a teen is scrolling through Bake Off memes on Twitter with a teen, and we double up, huddling up. But at the same time, my body aches almost as much as it does from the coughing, because this time next Bake Off, I might not have this teen at home. This time last Bake Off, the teen had Covid. That was 10 minutes ago, and now I have maybe another 10 minutes before the teen leaves and I join the countless parents outwardly cheering, inwardly grieving. The black cloud weighs heavy on our Bake Off sofa.
On social media I see people breaking their bodies in pursuit of a challenge, sobbing into cameras on mountains. Our role as followers is clearly to cheer them on and praise their body-breaking efforts. I don’t cheer. I suggest, with intended kindness, that maybe now isn’t the time to do this challenge, on this mountain. I’m met with blankness. It’s not that I don’t understand the challenge, and the need for it – I really do – but I understand more that our mountain-able bodies are so, so precious. It’s taken me 40+ years of life, and four and a half years of hospital health tests, to learn that this body is my very best friend. It allows me to do amazing things (and, once in a while, stupid things, for which it forgives me). And, in return, it’s my job to listen when it politely says “Enough, now, you’re pushing me too far,” because this very best friendship is too important to fuck up.
Social media crashes for a few hours and, astonishingly, the world still turns. I decide a few hours isn’t enough and take lengthier breaks from the scrolling, choosing instead early nights with Hilary Mantel. Her 900-page piece de resistance is every word as captivating as I hoped, and 300 pages turn rapidly, grippingly. I do a spot of parkrun tourism in Cardiff and the folk are friendly, but it’s busy and there’s more than one burst of aggression between runners and cyclists. I long for Ponty parkrun and am surprised, after 23 years, to find myself thinking of Ponty as home. Under the black cloud, it’s a nice surprise.
Another nice surprise is being able to go to the cinema again. Having clocked up one and a half Bond films in my 40+ years, I watch the new one, the I’ve-got-something-in-my-eye one, with my three favourite people. We walk around the Bay under the inkiest, twinkliest of nights to the posh, velvety-sofa-ed cinema, and watch as the trailers of every film pushed into the tightly-shut cupboard of a pandemic come tumbling towards us, velvety-seated in the dark. There are all the Eternals, Venoms and Dunes to keep a tall teen happy until Christmas. I don’t think I need worry about the tall teen leaving home in the next year or 15, and we tuck happily into sumptuous, velvety burgers in our sumptuous, velvety seats.
There will be time enough for trail clubs and long runs and sobbing-on-mountain challenges when I’m teenless, too few years from now. Until then, I will plod through cut-short runs on grizzly-grey mornings, slowly clocking up my annual 1,000-miles in time for my and Miranda’s birthday in a very un-challenging timeframe indeed. I will swim, in my middle-aged-mum wetsuit, in a grizzly-grey sea and I will brace for the roadblock in the very best company. A long winter is ahead but, as it always does, it will pass.
If you, too, find yourself under an early black cloud, you might enjoy my five go-to autumn reads – the last one’s a classic! I’ve also previously shared my self-care tips for winter and, when you’re really struggling, please believe that the best medicine sometimes really is the medicine x