the beauty of the opening ceremony

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It starts with just a single figure

Balooning out to all those dancers

Twirling in the drops of light,

A ceremony gluing us together for

A week, a month a year, that opening

Is just the starting point

For a legacy that stretches out for years

And changes lives in precious little ways.

Tonight is the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games which are being held in Birmingham. It is exactly ten years since we held the Olympics in this country and I think we are all hoping that these Games will bring us all together in the same way.

There is something so magical about the opening ceremonies for any kind of games and I remember a decade ago, sitting on my sofa and actually crying as I watched the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.

I’m not normally that soppy, but I’d had a false start on my English Channel swim with the pilot calling me that day to say that I would be swimming the following morning. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and he decided against it so it got pushed back to the following Wednesday.

I went to watch the swimming the next day and I got to see Michael Phelps swim. Again, I cried as the crowd roared and I felt as though I was experiencing something so special.

Those two weeks were incredible and I did spend so much of it crying as my own nerves took a hit waiting for a good window to cross the Channel, and then I also had the joy of watching our athletes smash it at a home games.

I’m sure I’ll spend the next 11 days glued to the action on TV (unfortunately no tickets for me this time), and I hope that I can feel some of that overwhelming emotion I felt a decade ago.

Good luck to everyone competing!

Much Love

Rachel xx

when is the correct time to quit?

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When should you quit?

Is it onmy before the halfway mark

Or just when it starts to hurt?

Do you carry on crawling on hands and knees?

Do you stop whenever you please?

I doubt there’s an answer that simple,

No equation; no one size fits all

That’s part of the final story

As you leave the race in a blaze of glory.

I have a friend who was doing a continuous deca Ironman last week. For those of you who are not familiar with the the world of ultra, that means that he was completing a triathlon that is ten times the distance of a standard ironman.

And if you don’t know ironman distances then I am here to tell you that he was attempting to swim 24 miles, followed by a 1,120 mile bike ride and all topped off with a 262 mile run.

I spent last week glued to Facebook as I watched his progress. He boshed out the swim in 13 hours and then took several days to complete the ride. By the time he started the run his body was already broken and it was painful to watch the video clips of him hobbling around the 1 mile course.

Ultimately, it got to the point where he was just moving too slowly and he had to withdraw after EIGHT DAYS of moving. He had about 120 miles to go, but he just wasn’t going to make it so he dropped.

I can’t imagine how disappointed he must be feeling right now, knowing that all that effort came to nothing (he still has serious respect from most people in the ultra community whatever the result).

It has made me think about my own experiences with giving up and that disappointment, and more importantly, when is the appropriate time to chuck in the towel? I used to say that once you went past half way you couldn’t quit, but sometimes you just want to see how far you can push it.

I’ve had several friends die because they’ve pushed it too far, and it’s horrible to log onto Facebook and see that somebody got into difficulty in the Channel and couldn’t be saved.

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is so important, but I’ve learnt over the years that listening to your body is important. You learn a lot from quitting so it’s never actually a wasted experience.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is embrace those failures because they’ll normally make the best stories years down the line. But make sure you learn your lesson and come back stronger next time.

Much Love

Rachel xx

book review: the reader on the 6.27

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I’m the kind of reader that needs a quirky main character to get on board with. I need someone who says inappropriate things and doesn’t understand why they have offended; I need a character who loves to just read the final chapter of a book; I need a hero who only eats yellow food.

The more unusual the quirks of a character, the more likely I am to fall in love with him or her. One of my all time favourites is Eleanor Oliphant and any book that likens itself to that masterpiece is going to draw me in.

The Reader on the 6.27 was compared to Amelie and that film warmed my heart until it was almost on fire. So I was very excited to dive in and see what Jean-Paul Didierlaurent could offer up.

The main character, Guylain, works in a recycling plant that basically just pulps books that have not sold so that there is space on the shelves for new books. But Guylain takes any pages that have escaped the pulping machine and reads the short extracts to the people on the train he takes to work each day.

There are a host of other characters that are so outlandish, I felt that they were almost Dickensian. I couldn’t help but smile at the little love story that ran throughout, with a toilet attendant, no less. And Guylain’s friend with no legs kind of reminded me of Leiutenant Dan in Forrest Gump.

I gave this book a big fat five stars because I just fell in love with every character we were introduced to. The book fell somewhere between a romance and a fable/ fairytale. It was beautifully written and left me contemplating what the message behind it was – and there were so many lessons to be learned.

At the centre of it all was love and friendship and what that means to us as humans. It shows that it’s messy and complicated but can also be boiled down to something really simple and delicious.

Much Love

Rachel xx

death on the hospital ward

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The smell of disinfectant hangs, heavy

As doctors drift by, angels in white coats

Stethoscopes draped on shoulders like

The wires that leave their patients arms.

The quietness presses down on us,

A little family unit, waiting for

The inevitable, the gentle rhythmic beep

To fade to nothing as she slips away,

You’d hardly notice, it’s so understated,

I don’t know what I had expected,

To see her soul leaving through her mouth?

But no, she’s gone in much the same way as she came.

I was reading about somebody who lost their dad when they were young and they could vividly remember going to the hospital before he died and seeing him lying in the bed with a tube coming out of his mouth.

It immediately made me remember being about five or six years old and visiting my great aunt in hospital a few days before she died. I still feel a little bit traumatised from that experience as she looked so unlike herself, the aunt who used to be so full of life and fun.

Hospitals are horrible places at the best of times, but that was the only time I had been in a place where people were really sick. I still don’t think I’m very good at acknowledging death and how it will even come to me one day, but I remember really getting it in that moment and it terrified me.

I’m sure that if I were to go and visit somebody who was about to die now, I would have a much easier time, but since reading my book this morning, I’ve been replaying that visit all afternoon.

Death comes to us all, but it will never fail to be both frightening and, I suppose to a certain extent, quite beautiful and liberating.

Much Love

Rachel xx

the little bar in majorca

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The DJ comes on at ten

As seventeen year old girls totter in

On six inch heels, in boob tubes

And skirts that parents would shake their heads at.

He only plays songs that get them dancing

While clutching their Bacardi Breezers

And singing their hearts out,

Eyeing up boys who will buy them shots

And share fishbowls of something blue.

The barman throws bottles of vodka,

Winking at the boys as they move in for the kiss,

They don’t know each other’s names

But there’s a chance they’ll end up in his bed,

With her sneaking out with those heels in her hand,

The sun rising hot, as she walks back in shame

But they’ll all be back the following night

Picking up others after too many Schnapps.

a day in sunny weymouth

We slowly walk towards the sea,

Complaining loudly about the pebbles underfoot,

Looking forward to reaching the waves

Where the beach turns to sand

And our feet squelch in the mud

And we count to ten, taking deep breaths

Before we launch through the surf,

The cold of the water crushing our chests,

Making us laugh with the rush of air

That escapes our lungs in time.

I went to the beach yesterday and it was beautiful. I haven’t been down to the coast in a while and I certainly haven’t got in for a swim in years.

It was quite exhilarating to get up to my waist and then just take that plunge so that your feet leave the ground. When I was training for the channel I used to do that every weekend and it became the most natural feeling in the world. But when you haven’t done it in ages, it really does take your breath away.

Once we were out, we lay on the beach, reading as we tried to warm up, and it reminded me of the days that I would get out early and sit chatting with volunteers on the beach when I was training.

We were lucky enough to be on the Jurassic Coast so we went for a walk along the cliff tops until we came to this beautiful little pub that was hidden between the hills, called The Smuggler’s Inn.

We have such a beautiful countryside and I remembered how beautiful it was yesterday. Picture postcard perfect.

Much Love

Rachel xx

for the love of our modern day tribes

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We smile as we pass in the street,

An inner recognition when we see

Someone else who belongs with us

That branded mark upon their skin

Or the feathers they wear in tousled hair

They tell us that they’re one of us

A kindred spirit ready to connect.

When I was out running this evening, I passed loads of people walking their dos and out running themselves. I would smile at most of them, even though a lot of them would rather look away and ignore me.

And for that reason, I sometimes get a bit grumpy and in my head I start having arguments with them. I get particularly angry when people are walking in a wonky line while their eyes are glued to their phone screen; or people who take up the whole path with their dog lead so that there is no getting past them without jumping into a hedge.

However, as I was running down the hill, I saw a man in the distance walking towards me. He had a black T-shirt on, and across his chest I could see the Speedo logo in white. I instantly felt the need to wave and smile without even a hint of irritation.

After I’d passed, I realised that my attitude towards this random man was completely different and the only reason seemed to be that he obviously did a sport that I do. He was a member of my tribe.

It just goes to show that although we don’t live in tight knit tribes like we would have thousands of years ago, we do still feel like we belong to certain groups and we like the people in those groups more than others.

I don’t see myself as a very social person, but it’s nice that I have these little invisible alliances that make me feel a bit warm and fuzzy inside even though I can’t explain why.

Much Love

Rachel xx

doing the best you can with what you’ve got

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It sounds like the kind of thing

You’d hear at one of those annoying conferences

You know the type, where the speaker comes on

Clapping above his head, probably skipping

To The Eye Of The Tiger, everyone cheering

And he shares such platitudes as:

Love the life you have, but also

Strive for much better, like a Mercedes

And a kitchen island that you can share

On Instagram, a picture with your family

All wearing matching pyjamas, but anyway

Do just try to do your best with what you’ve got.

I am going to miss my drive to work in the mornings, because it was my time to just let my mind wander. All my best ideas seem to have come when I’m driving to or from work, and I’m going to lose that time in my next role (not that I’m complaining given that I’ll save a small fortune in petrol money).

Today, I was daydreaming (while concentrating on the road, of course) and I remembered being in Majorca with my family before it all went a bit wrong. We were sitting at a cafe on the beach and this couple climbed into an old rowing boat, but they had no oars.

We sat and watched with interest as the woman fixed at piece of wood to the back that acted as a rudder, then the man held up a broom handle with a sheet attached to it.

“No way are they going to go anywhere like that,” said my mum as we watched with interest.

But to our surprise, the wind hit their makeshift sail and they set off slowly across the bay. Within five minutes, they were just a dot in the distance.

This isn’t very profound, but it was cool to watch, and it did remind me that you don’t need a million pound yacht to get across the ocean; you just need an old boat and some bedding. And in life, you don’t need the kitchen island. Not really. You can still cook in your six foot kitchen, and you can probably have fun at the same time.

Much Love

Rachel xx

it is literally hotter than the surface of the sun today

adult beach dawn desert
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The days at school have been shortened

As the heat rises, classrooms baking

And students moaning, teachers too

And we all pray for the setting sun

When the sting is taken out of the day

And we can breathe a little easier.

It has been so hot in the south of England today; we have had the Met Office put us on a red weather warning which means that there is danger to life.

I think people from other countries are laughing at us a bit because we are moaning about temperatures they normally see every summer. But the UK is genuinely not set up for this kind of weather. Out houses are built to keep in heat, not let it out.

We are all literally dying over here, so please think of us as we melt in our classrooms that have sun in the windows all day, and no air con. I’m going to grasp my God given right as a Brit to complain, and moan for the rest of this week.

Much Love

Rachel xx

the day of the heatwave

The air crackles, thick

With the smell of chargrilled burgers

As children scream, sprinklers

Chasing them around back gardens,

Knowing there’s no school tomorrow,

Just an endless run of days

Each kissed by sun aggressively,

It burns with such ferocious force

That only mad dogs and those Englishmen

Will play on fields no longer green

But scorched an ugly brown

The only respite found is underneath

Those weeping willows, casting shade

As little toes splash in the shallows

Wishing that they could wade deeper in

Escaping heat that quickly eats us whole.