Rachel Cullen Rides… #imback

So, I’ve been getting out and about on my mountain bike a bit a lot over the last few months. Rach the Runner has, over a relatively short period of time, morphed into Rach the Rider. And I am absolutely loving my newfound BFF – my 8-year-old Trek Hardtail – which is escorting me to everything from hair appointments to work, to dreaded ‘open week’ at my daughter’s school, on 27-mile round trips to see my counsellor / therapist in Hebden Bridge (*not really sure how else to describe her, other than “A PERSON WHO IS PAID TO LISTEN TO MY SHIT”) – and even hypnotherapy sessions (Look into my eyes… The jury’s out on that one.)

And, with plenty of exciting cycling adventures planned, together with a BRAND NEW Scott Scale 720 waiting patiently in the front room (I daren’t offend him by even attempting to ride his gloriously untarnished frame just yet) I thought I’d look back to the epic adventure myself and Gav Dodd Fax undertook late last year which may well have kick-started this newfound love for me.

Because just as running saved me once, so riding is now helping me to manage the carnage going on behind the scenes, and to dodge the curve balls life continues to throw at me in some kind of warped Takeshi’s Castle-style obstacle course.

And I am LOVING it.

I’m loving the feeling of growing in confidence with every single ride; I’m loving the increase in fitness I feel on every hill climb which once seemed impossible to conquer; I’m loving the bravery I feel with every tricky off-road downhill I manage to navigate with increasing speed; I’m loving my ever-expanding wardrobe of Lycra cycling attire, and familiarising myself with the Wiggle website (££!!!); I’m loving the fact that I have no option but to learn new skills – I now know the difference between a Presta and a Schrader valve – and I love knowing that I will learn how to maintain my bike, and how to fix a broken chain. All of it interests me; it challenges me; and it frees me from my own thoughts which previously only running has ever been able to do.

So, HELLO to this – a new and exciting chapter in my life. A chance to learn again, to challenge myself again, and to live life to the fullest, again. Because what else is there?!

***

November 2017

We’ve really gone and done it this time,” I say to Gav, my husband of three months, as we both sit cross-legged on our living room floor and finally wade through the sizeable information pack we were sent some weeks ago relating to our forthcoming ‘honeymoon’ trip, mountain biking 480km across Costa Rica from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean. A large A4 envelope has been lying unopened on the sideboard for what seems like an eternity, tucked in amongst my 7-year-old daughter’s scrawls purporting to be a Christmas list, and a print out of her school itinerary for the next 16 weeks* (*I feel proud of myself for being ahead of the game, until I notice on closer inspection that it dates from 2016.Bollocks.)

It still doesn’t seem real.

What’s all this about needing a friggin visa?!” I bark, suddenly perturbed by Item Number 2 on the suggested List of Essentials, just one behind ‘Passport’. I gulp hard as the words YOU PAIR OF FUCKING IDIOTS ring in my ears at this potential glaring omission. It was only last week I received confirmation that I don’t have my requisite tetanus vaccination… and it’s now too late to get one.

Don’t worry about it, Rach,”says Gav – Mr. Tranquility himself. I glance over and notice him google searching WHERE IS COSTA RICA? on his iPhone.  Shit. It’s three days before we set off on a challenge which will blast us so far outside our middle class, corporate comfort zones that we won’t know our saddle sore, padded arses from our grazed and bruised elbows. ‘It’ll be fine!’he assures me, as he scans down a Wikipedia page on Costa Rica, thinking I haven’t noticed.

We still need to take the seat and pedals off my bike,” I remind him, as I sit staring at a once neatly piled selection of unworn padded cycling shorts which have been unceremoniously strewn to one side by the recent arrival of a Sylvanian Families camper van. They all look alien to me.

You see, I’m Rach the Runner – I’m no cyclist.

My stress levels have been unusually high of late. And it’s not entirely relating to the arduous task we will face of mountain biking 480km across all kinds of terrain, possibly hot-stepping volcanoes (excuse the pun) and avoiding sloths in the road (yes, they have those.) I am equally terrified of almost every other aspect of this trip – the mountain biking is merely the cherry on the anxiety management cake. The other ingredients are akin to a travel itinerary rivalled only by Tim Peake’s Principia space mission in December 2015. The worry list includes – in theory:

  • A 2-hour drive to Manchester airport, plus half an hour navigating our way to the correct parking location (we have fallen foul of this before and had to call for assistance at the barrier’s emergency intercom)
  • A 40-minute flight from Manchester to London Heathrow which will in reality take circa 4 hours, with an intravenous drip pumping Costa Coffee into our bloodstream before being stripped half naked at check-in for a gentle frisking… No! I am not wearing a fucking belt!
  • Once at Heathrow, finding our hotel which looks to be another 45-minute bus ride away (Heathrow is the size of our home town, Halifax, it would seem.)
  • [the next morning] Boarding a shuttle bus from our hotel to London Heathrow Terminal 4 before 6am, most probably whilst still asleep;
  • Another four-hour wait and flight from Manchester to Amsterdam;
  • Hanging about for endless hours at Schiphol airport waiting for our connecting flight to San Jose, which I soon learn is the capital of Costa Rica (I had no idea);
  • An 11-hour flight to San Jose with my knees wedged up against the permanently-reclined seat in front, whilst the restless toddler behind me kicks my seat for 10 out of the 11 tortuous scheduled flying hours;
  • Collapsing in a heap in a hotel before a 4-hour bus transfer to the start (ahem) of our “adventure” the following morning.
  • And then – she says without any hint of irony – the adventure begins.

The above is what isSUPPOSED to happen. I don’t know it yet, but it won’t happen like this. Not at all…

It’s a good job I don’t know.

We’re in the queue to board the plane from Manchester to London Heathrow. I’ve already consumed my requisite three litres of airport Costa coffee and arsed about in WH Smith’s with my fake book – a cover-only proof copy of Running For My Life* – placing it in amongst the best sellers and posting photos on Instagram in a vain attempt to amuse my editor and agent. It’s worked, but has sadly meant that we’re now late in locating the correct gate for our flight, and so we rush along the mile-and-a-half travellator to Gate A54 where a grim looking snake of people has long since formed. I can feel the early onset of mild bruising on my lower legs from where my badly designed wheel-along travel bag has repeatedly bashed into my ankles.

We’re virtually last in the queue, and about to board the 40-minute flight to Heathrow. The only couple left standing behind us are smiling in a kind-yet-mocking manner at me holding my pillow. It’s not a compact travel pillow… no, no. It’s the big fluffy one from my bed which I sleep on every night. The man comments, “At least you’ll be comfortable on the 40-minute flight to Heathrow!” I laugh in acknowledgement of his accurate summation that I’m not a seasoned traveller, and this unequivocal evidence that I’m also fussy about my sleeping arrangements. Pillows are a tricky one to get right: too hard and it’s head on a brick; too soft and I risk face-planting onto an inch-thick scotch pancake. Mine is just right: fluffy and supportive whilst not overly officious. And it’s coming to Costa Rica with me.

The most worrying thing is,” I laugh, acknowledging that I look like an unseasoned Travel Wanker, “… that this is my most essential item!” Clearly, I’m joking… but little do I know that my big, fluffy pillow will be my saviour over the coming 10 days.

Friendly Mocking Couple are on their way to visit their teenage son in Toronto. He is apparently some young ice hockey prodigy. Aged just 15, his mum tells us, he’d reached the pinnacle of his potential over here in the U.K. and so it was that – still aged 15 – he left the comfort of his safe British nest and flew to live in a new city, in a new country, where he would see his parents just once every 6 months (I’m guessing that was the upside.) He doesn’t know it, but he’s my new hero. Aged 16, I was too busy melting Mars Bars against my bedroom radiator whilst tearfully examining my latest hormonal outbreak in one of Mum’s pressed powder compacts to concern myself with independent living or dream-chasing.

And I wonder about my own anxiety levels relating to this Costa Rica trip. I am 39 years old. I’m travelling with my (new) husband, and we are a team. I’m fretting about having a too soft/too hard pillow, and the effect of mild sleep deprivation following a 2-day journey to reach our ‘adventure destination’; I’m worried about missing our girls for the next ten days, and my 72-year old mum being home alone until a week on Monday (although that’s not exactly true – she’s got a better social life than me.)

But the story of Friendly Man’s teenage son has made me momentarily get a grip. I’m not 16. I’m not on my own. I’m not going away from my family and friends for 2 years to have the shit kicked out of me by young Canadian ice hockey players. For all the above reasons, as I sit here cuddling my oversized fluffy pillow the night before a long day of travel, I’m thinking to myself – I can fucking do this!

To be continued…

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Going back in time… the University of Hull 1998 vs 2018

It’s a ‘meh’ Tuesday morning in March 2018 (* ‘Meh’ now being a thing, and having full emoji status, of course.) But it isn’t any old Tuesday morning for me. I’m on my way across the M62 to Hull – the University of Hull, to be more precise – and back to the place where my mental health began to unravel so spectacularly some twenty years ago.

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This is one of the very few photos that exist of me, in the years shortly before commencing at Hull University.

When I took myself away from the University, aged just 19, I was so utterly broken, damaged and scarred (literally) that I swore I would never go back to that place. Not under any circumstances. But here I am.

I’m on my way back.

I’ve been invited to go and talk to a bunch of current students about some of my experiences which I’ve written about in my book, ”Running For My Life”. Naturally I say, ‘YES! I’d LOVE to come over and do that!’ But what they don’t know is that I am saying ‘yes’ in spite of myself. I’m saying ‘yes’ because I refuse to give in to the terror welling up inside me, trying to convince me to think of any excuse at all to say NO.

I can’t let that happen: I WON’T let that happen.

I’ve spent some time preparing for my talk. I’ve written a short introduction, and have repeatedly forced it upon my nearest and dearest (although my 7-year-old’s opinion is admittedly dubious) But the emotions I feel during the process of writing and rehearsing it have taken me by surprise. I sit in a coffee shop with silent tears streaming down my face as the memories are allowed to enter a space which has been strictly off limits for two decades; I burst into uncontrollable tears during one opportunistic lunchtime rendition at work. I find it hard to gather myself, and struggle to battle through the final few words. I look up, and I see that Steph, my good friend and work mate is crying, too.

Shit. I wasn’t expecting this.

As Gav and I drive along the M62, the sight of the Humber Bridge causes the frayed circuits in my brain to reconnect. Shortly followed by Princes Quay and the waterfront. I have flashes of that same journey from another time. “Crikey! You see over there? That’s the pub where I bumped into Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South,” I say to Gav, who has already been subjected to similar reminiscences for well over an hour. His love knows no bounds. The closer we get to the University, the flashes increase in both frequency and intensity. That’s the hairdressers who once bodged my highlights… Over there was a small supermarket on the corner, but it’s a Chinese take-away, now… There’s the park a burglar disappeared into who I disturbed as he’d just cleaned out my housemate’s bedroom… The memories crash into each other as my brain struggles to keep up with the tidal wave of visual stimuli.

The University entrance suddenly appears on the right. I remember it being grand, and feeling slightly cheated that ABSOLUTELY NONE of my lectures, seminars, or tutorials would be held in the impressive, listed building that greets newbies on arrival. Nope! We were based in the shit breeze-block 1960s car park around the back of the campus. Perhaps they could have mentioned this in the prospectus?? But I’m once again wowed by the Venn building. It looks spectacular and glamorous. It feels spectacular and glamorous. I feel spectacular and glamorous just standing on the steps outside.

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The Venn Building: Spectacular and glamorous.

I go inside to pick up our pre-arranged parking permit, and nearly burst with excitement as the lovely lady behind the desk talks to me in her genuine Humberside accent. It strikes me that some of the current Hull University students weren’t even born the last time I heard it.

I ask her to say ‘five [“farve”]’ and ‘nine’ [“narn”] again, explaining to her that I’m here for the first time since the turn of the millennium. Her eyes light up as I tell her the reason for my visit after such a long absence. I glance over my shoulder and realise that just around the corner is where I queued to fill out student loan application forms before anybody had to entertain the prospect of paying for their higher education. I only wanted a student loan so I could afford to buy a fancy raincoat from Ted Baker’s. Maybe that was the catalyst of my demise…

We visit the Waterstone’s bookshop on the University campus, and almost immediately I spot Running For My Life faking it amongst the Joe Wicks & Fearne Cottons. What on earth is my book doing hobnobbing with the stars? I wonder, before my mind is jolted back two decades on sight of the entire wall of ‘Law Study Guides’. I remember so vividly standing and facing that very same tower of ‘Short Cuts to Tort’ and ‘Pocket Book of Contract law’. I get a distinct feeling of déjà vu, of being in that exact same spot armed with a scribbled list of compulsory and expensive legal study materials I would be required to buy in order to eek my way through the ridiculous law degree (*it always felt ridiculous, to me.) It does however give me some small comfort to know that today’s law students are still required to hand over vast wads of cash in exchange for doorstop volumes of legal texts, so there is definitely evidence of karma in action.

I have a mooch around the bookshop, and eventually I pluck up the courage to go and introduce myself to John, the lovely sales assistant. I explain who I am, trying hard not to sound like an Author Wanker, and I tell him that I am reminiscing. I wonder if I’m rambling, but I’m enjoying talking to him. He is kind, and the bookshop feels like home to me, in a place that never did.

Eventually, we head over to the main hall where the ‘Hull University Alumni Careers, Health and Wellness’ event will shortly be taking place. ‘People are looking at you as though you’re famous!’ Gav says. I laugh, and assure him that it’s probably because my stripy jacket looks like a deck chair. We’re a little bit early to go into the large conference room, and so I find a comfy seat to settle down in just outside the ‘Rossetti’ canteen whilst Gav goes for an explore. It looks more like a posh service station following the mistimed arrival of several coach parties, or a British Airways domestic flights VIP lounge packed full of well-to-do travellers who can’t get to Edinburgh because of fog.

It didn’t look like this twenty years ago.

I observe people as they meander past. ID badges swing clumsily around necks, and I wonder if this is the only distinction between the students and A N Others on campus. Words like ‘dissertation’ jump out of the otherwise blended pool of chatter I can hear from surrounding conversations, and I wonder where I would be, if I were a student here, now. Would I be standing outside the Rossetti cafeteria, chatting and laughing with my friends about some dissertation I have no intention of starting until the eleventh hour, and complaining about the hundreds of pounds I’m obliged to spend at the Waterstone’s bookshop on dry, uninspiring legal texts? Or would I be stuck in my tiny bedroom facing a mostly unfrequented back street, staring at a disordered image of myself in a small, frameless mirror?

I think I know the answer.

It’s time to head up the stairs to the conference room and listen to the first group of speakers. Four confident, unblemished, successful, and proud Hull University Alumni stand up and talk to the room about their career paths, giving advice to the young audience who are lapping up their every word. Gav and I are seated in one of the front rows, and I simply marvel at the fact that these people appear to be entirely ‘baggage free.’ No issues here!!! Not a single whiff of any mental health disorder. It’s a place of SUCCESS and ACHIEVEMENT. This is about those guys and girls for whom things lined up and made sense; those who didn’t familiarise themselves with the intricacies of their own face at the expense of dream-chasing; who weren’t required to expend inordinate amounts of energy in preparation for leaving the house to go and buy a pint of milk. These were the movers & shakers of their respective academic years.

I momentarily wonder how that might have felt.

Following a short break, it’s time for the ‘wellbeing’ part of the day. We hear from some amazing young people who volunteer their time to look out for the likes of me – back in the day – as ‘Wellbeing Champions’ and ‘Hull University Angels’. I can only imagine what kind of difference this might have made to me, and how different my story might look, had the signs of distress been spotted by a kind, intuitive stranger.

Soon enough, it’s my turn. I walk to the front with my interviewee – John – and sit in my chair. And I read out the introduction that I have written. I am proud that the 2018 version of myself said ‘YES’ to coming back to a place which the 1998 Rachel struggled to be a part of; I am so proud to have been able to sit and talk to the young(er) people about my struggles, and to let them know that not all ‘success stories’ start out that way.

And if my purpose is to be the example of that, then it was worth driving over to Hull back in 1998, and again in 2018.

***

Introduction 

I first came to Hull University as a shy, naive, overweight, introverted, 18-year-old back in 1998. 

It was twenty years ago when I moved in to my student house on Marlborough Avenue with a random and eclectic bunch of strangers, and into a shared bedroom with a horse- lover named Bethany Barnes who had an unfamiliar west county accent, and a (significantly older) death-metal loving, biker boyfriend. 

My heart sank!

It was twenty years ago when I started out on a journey that I could never have predicted.

I came here to study for a 3-year Law Degree. Was it my dream to become a lawyer? Nope. Not at all! Did I have a dream to become anything, back then?? Sadly not. So, I followed the dreams that others had for me, instead. 

I didn’t know what challenges would lie ahead for me as I carried my super woofer CD player together with a god-awful selection of (mostly scratched) compact discs from my dad’s car into the ground floor bedroom I would share with a complete stranger.

I thought I’d just come here to study Law, but how wrong I was.

  • Mental health issues? What are those??
  • Clinical depression? How? When? Why?
  • Eating disorders? Who? Me?!
  • Body dysmorphia? Really? What on earth is that?

I would soon find out about them all.

I was blissfully unaware that I would be about to undergo a major operation to “fix” my delinquent body, or that I would soon suffer the cruel effects of increasingly worrying mental health disorders, including clinical depression and Body Dysmorphia.

I would become imprisoned inside my own mind, inside my own body, and – quite literally – inside my own bedroom – with no idea how to get out.

And as I stand here now, twenty years later, a happy and healthy 39-year-old woman, mum of a 7-year-old mini version of myself, a marathon runner, author of a book “Running For My Life”; and – most importantly – a woman who has wrestled with those bastard inner chimps and won, I’m happy to be able to share part of that journey with you.

I hope you enjoy listening to more about my story… 

Thank you

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The Ghost of Amanda Walker

It’s early Friday evening and I’m lying stretched out on my living room floor, with newspapers and magazines in which I am featured scattered all around me. I am sick of the sight of my own face. Fortunately, I have a small and (sadly) ever-decreasing pile of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs to my right, which is offset by the little pot of M&S Supergreen Salad to my left. The juxtaposition seems both crude and predictable, but I’m OK with that.

My life hasn’t been normal for approximately one week now. I’ve already written about the challenges of being a reluctant social media whore, and my initial apprehension at facing this inevitability. But the shocking thing is the degree to which I am successfully pulling it off.

‘You sounded so relaxed during the Marathon Talk interview, Rach. Great job!’

‘This interview is brilliant, Rachel! Well done!’

‘You were fab, Rach! Totally nailed it.’

And so it goes on…

In between Twitter messages congratulating me on my various PR performances, I turn to Gav and ask him, ‘How the fuck am I doing this, Gav?’

He has no answers.

I’ve heard from old school friends, ex- child-minders, long lost cousins, and work mates from two decades ago. I’ve been spoken to by the one mum in the school playground I had hoped wouldn’t acknowledge my existence, and quizzed loudly about my PR schedule in a Halifax nail bar, where an old lady sat listening in bemused silence, only to interject with, ‘some bloke threw himself off the motorway bridge last week, didn’t they? Poor soul.’ Although clearly spot on with the Mental Health theme, it did bring the mood in the place down to a point at which even a ‘Feeling Hot-Hot-Hot’ flame red couldn’t raise our spirits.

But on a manageable scale, and in a very small way, my story is impacting on people. As those who have (and haven’t) known me read my words on the page, and hear my voice on the radio, I get the distinct feeling that I’m not alone: I was never alone. And I can’t tell you the joy that brings me. To know that all the years of sadness, madness, and quiet, invisible lostness didn’t count for nothing; that my efforts to pull myself back from the brink of despair, and to watch my own mum grapple to do the same mattered. Hear that again: TO KNOW THAT IT MATTERED – means everything to me.

I sit opposite my mum in a coffee shop in town, and in between sips of extra hot skinny mochas (*again – the irony) we speak about the past week, and how it has felt for the pair of us. And as I look across at my lovely, endlessly selfless mum in her charity shop padded jacket and (what appears to be) a child’s headband keeping her mass of thick white hair from her dainty-featured face, I tell her about one particular question I was asked in a radio interview just a few days ago.

“So, you discuss you mum’s mental health issues in the book, Rachel. How is your mum now, and what does she make of your success?” one well-informed Northampton-based interviewer asked me whilst we were live on air.

I thought for a moment, and then it struck me that this is our story, and our success. You see, all those years ago, we wouldn’t have been sitting together chatting over our chocolate-sprinkled hot drinks in a busy place where people meet and talk. It wasn’t a part of our reality, back then. Just to sit and chat. It didn’t happen – it couldn’t happen – because the demons running amok in my mum’s mind held her captive, and they had pulled the curtains shut tight to avoid any hint of sunlight creeping in. The lightness couldn’t reach her – it was simply beyond her grasp.

“I’m pleased to say that my mum is really well, now,” I answer the male radio voice at the other end of the phone. “She has friends, and they go places; she chats to people she knows in town, and stops to have a quick word with a lady she knows from the knitting group, because it would be rude not to.” I’m now on a roll, pouring over all the remarkable changes that have happened in the years since my mum slayed her demons, and wrestled back the curtains.

“But most of all,” I continue, “This is our success. It is hers as much as it is mine. She showed me that she could find a way to accept help, and discover her joy in life – and she believed that I could do the same. So, the book and all it stands for is not some passive thing that she has observed from the distant sidelines. She has lived and breathed all of my struggles, and cheered for my success. She has cried quietly at times of despondency, and whooped loudly for every mini victory. All the races, all the medals; the first-place Breville Juicers and the no-place Christmas puddings. She has been there for it all, and – as I say in the book – I am as proud of her journey as she is of mine,”

 I glance across to another table in the very same coffee shop, and who is sitting there? None other than Amanda Walker, the girl whose mother inspired me when I was aged just 9 years old (Chapter ‘The Foil Blanket’) and who perhaps sowed the first ever seeds of marathon running in my young mind. I don’t even look twice: I know it’s her. She looks lost and alone. But then again, she always did look lost and alone. I wonder what the last thirty years have held for her, and I wonder why – and how – she is sitting in the very same coffee shop as me and my mum, today. Before I can find out, she has silently disappeared, as though a ghost has just vanished from a room.

And then I think to myself: Maybe it has…

***

It’s amazing to see photos of people (and pets) enjoying my book! You can buy Running For My Life by clicking here

Thanks for all the support, and the INCREDIBLE reviews we’re seeing on Amazon. Keep them coming!

Rachel x

 

I remember where I was. Do you?

It was the strangest of Sunday mornings. I woke up bleary eyed as usual next to my pot-smoking numb-nuts of a boyfriend – a scaffolder called Neil from Hull.*obvious caveats here being that there is absolutely no shame in a) being a scaffolder b) called Neil or c) from Hull (well, almost). The fact that he was an unfortunate combination of all three, and also a virulent pot head with the intellectual capacity of a struggling amoeba were all merely unhappy coincidences.

Either way, I awoke in my hungover state to the news that Princess Diana had died. What? What the fuck?! I ran back upstairs to tell him the news, but he simply groaned some ganja-induced nothingness, rolled over, and went back to sleep. Meanwhile, I took my lost nineteen-year old self back downstairs and watched whilst the country – literally – wept. I remember the sky being heavy and dark, spewing rain as though it were filled with a million teardrops, and wondering if that thing they’d taught us in GCSE English called “pathetic fallacy” actually existed.

And I felt the sadness. I didn’t jump on the next train down to London and cling to the gates of Buckingham palace wailing, but I felt the overwhelming outpouring of grief in my own sad, lost, nineteen-year-old way, within the confines of my mum’s living room which felt as dark, empty, cold and lonely as it ever had done.

That was twenty years ago next week. Two decades have passed by. I had just turned nineteen years old – a mere babe. And now I’m here, aged 39, simply unable to recognise myself from that young girl (it offends me to describe my then self as a ‘woman’) I’d drifted into becoming. What would I tell her if I knew then what I know now? Would she believe me if I told her how much more life had to offer than she realised at the time? Whose dreams would she follow? Would she be brave enough to pursue her own?

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I am. I will. I do.

You see, the sadness I felt on that Sunday morning felt to be far bigger than it should have been. I wasn’t even an avid Diana fan, if truth be told. I didn’t follow her fashion sense or try to emulate her coy heavily-charcoaled smoky-eyes look. I didn’t honestly know what to make of the Martin Bashir interview, and if truth be told, I didn’t really care less. In my nineteen-year-old self-absorbed head fog, all I could see (and smell) was my pot-smoking anti-intellectual scaffold-erecting boyfriend (although he did have a cracking body, an immense year-round perma-tan, and he vaguely resembled Jay Kay from Jamiroquai from a distance in a busy, badly-lit nightclub.)

No, the grief that I felt was for waste. The waste of a life – however fucked-up; however imperfect; however flawed. It was as though something inside me knew that I was wasting my life. Sitting there alone on my mum’s fern green sofa with my tub of Pringles and a full-fat coke, whilst my comatose semiliterate other half was still dreaming of illegal pot plants in my bed, upstairs. On a very deep level, I knew this was my waste – of my life – and it was my loss. And I was grieving for that as much as I was sharing in the nation’s bereavement over their very own People’s Princess.

What’s more, it made me warm to Princess Di. She was flawed, too. Her life hadn’t turned out how she’d perhaps planned – although from the multitude of round-the-clock televised synopses accounting her 36 years of life, she’d avoided being lumbered with a drug-taking scaffolder from Hull. So, she lived in a castle (and I don’t want any royalist nobheads correcting me on this.) But – of course – as we know, one person’s castle is another person’s prison. Perhaps the worst possible combination is having to simultaneously live in both. What a waste.

I’m not in any way suggesting that this one seismic, tragic world event propelled the direction of my weed-stinking young life. It didn’t. I would go on to wake up on further Sunday mornings next to the poor man’s look-alike, Jay Kay. I would eat sausage rolls and drink Red Bull with him on a weekend break in Blackpool, where I realised the extent of our misalignment when his idea of having fun was smoking pot in our room, which was so small that the TV was suspended dangerously on a badly-mounted wall stand hovering directly over the single bed (there wasn’t room for a table.) Waste, you say? I looked across at him on the train home and knew what that was. I willed him to be quick-witted, responsive, energetic, interesting. He was none of those things. I ate another sausage roll.

That summer, I began to run.

A lot has happened in the subsequent twenty years. Boyfriends (and husbands) have come and gone. Mistakes have been made. Bollocks have been dropped. Careers have been changed. Many different versions of myself have been born and then reborn. But in all of that learning, I have never lost sight of the fact that I won’t waste my life. I’ll make changes. I won’t opt for the path of least resistance.

I will run. I will always run.

Because hell, I could be sitting in a hemp-fest flat somewhere, drooling into my Just Eat kebab slumped off my tits on weed waiting for my husband, Neil, of twenty years to wake up from his afternoon nap.

And what kind of a waste of a life would that be?

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The view from our plane, this morning (yes, really.) It’s a beautiful world.