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Adventure up north

Preamble (note, this is not the cheeriest start, but I’ll get to the fun bit eventually)

My mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her early seventies. She completely forgot my dad, her husband of 51 years, within a year of his death. She soon became unable to live at home even with a full-time carer and reverted to a childlike or teenage approximation of her former self: she climbed out of windows when she felt trapped; she was once picked up by the police when walking into town (4.5 miles) when the bus didn’t come, (because it was 4 in the morning and not the afternoon as she had thought); and she finally attacked her carer in Tesco’s café prompting hospitalisation (for Mum, fortunately not the carer) and the sad but sensible advice to look for a nursing home where she deteriorated gently (and mercifully fairly happily) for a further five years.

Mum had always feared dementia because her own mother and at least two of her aunties had succumbed to it. She practised puzzles and word-games, and was physically active; she often walked more than five miles a day. But her fears were well-founded and it seemed that nothing could prevent her decline, particularly after my father’s illness and death.

Do I have that gene? I don’t know, and despite my occasional worrying forgetfulness and intermittent general stupidity, I push the thought away and try to make the most of life ‘in the now’ – because after all, I could go under the proverbial bus tomorrow with or without a diagnosis.

So, I walk and I sing and I travel. I go to the theatre and meet friends for meals and of course I drivel into this blog when I can find the time between all the above and the endless daily puzzles that I make myself do.

Just now, I am pushing myself harder – learning Italian and trying to wind myself up to concert pitch for a singing holiday in Cortona in a week’s time. On the singing front I can honestly say I am working harder than I have done since the last mega-translation I took on a few years ago and I think this may have to be a one-off – they will either write me off as a bad job if I’m not good enough, or if I triumph I will baulk at such commitment a second time around. I fear that, be it Alzheimer’s or simple ageing, my poor brain is resistant to concentrated learning these days. Or maybe I really am not as musical as I thought? Hmm, I think I’m trying to prove a point one way or the other – to myself – having dodged serious challenges thus far.

It was therefore a delight to find something else that challenged me, provided some sociability and would benefit research into and support for Alzheimer’s. I signed up months ago to walk 13 miles on an Alzheimer’s Society Trek, choosing a far-flung location by the sea which I had never previously visited and persuading three of my old friends to come with me. As it was such a long distance from home, we decided to make a long weekend of it and booked a convenient-looking Airbnb (‘sigh’ – I know, evil takeover of property everywhere), plus the cheapest train tickets available. And we thought no more about it for a while.The Alzheimer’s Society pestered us good-naturedly by email from time to time and even succeeded in making me more aggressive in my self-publicising, ensuring an early hitting of my basic target which then ticked up gently.

The weather and the rail strikes conspired somewhat against us, but we are made of stern stuff. With the train refund in my bank, I drove my lovely new red car all the six hours up to Yorkshire. My London-based friend B sat in the passenger seat and operated the Sat-nav, heating/aircon and audio choices for me, while I concentrated on missing turn-offs and failing to use cruise-control.  He had brought home-made ragu and lemon drizzle cake – a precious cargo, which we steadfastly left in its protective bag whilst we snacked on motorway service-station sarnies and biscuits which, sadly, shed crumbs in the beautifully valeted car (mea culpa here, B being clearly less dexterously challenged – or messy – than I am. I’m going to have to pick some of the more enduring crumbs out of the tiny air-con holes in the leather when I get round to it).

The 199 steps down into Whitby

It seemed not to matter how many turnings I failed to take off the motorway; there was always another one in a few miles. We eventually found a gloriously sweeping A-road which led to Whitby and, with little bother, we reached a small car-park at the famous Whitby Abbey. The Sat-nav told us we had arrived at our destination and we laughed. Really? Up here? Our property’s website gave some vague arrival instructions and a link which led to somewhere 20 minutes’ walk away. We set off on foot – ragu and cake in hand – to see if we could magically locate the property in our immediate vicinity next to the abbey ruins before driving elsewhere. The magic worked – we found the place and worked out which narrow stone archways (marked Private) we needed to navigate to park the car safely in front of it.

And so began a wonderful weekend away from reality. Yes, it rained more than half the time, but our stern stuff prevailed. In the interests of brevity (not one of my strong points!) here are random highlights.

  • We may have stolen a bottle of wine from Whitby’s fine Co-op on Day 1. Too complicated to explain, but if we did, then it was not for want of trying to pay.
  • The 13-mile walk was easier than expected. The outward half took us along a disused railway (flat) to Robin Hood’s Bay and, apart from a few slippery ups and downs on the cliff path back, there was nothing as strenuous as much of the South West Coast Path with which all four of us are familiar. It rained on and off, but not too heavily. Lunch was in a village hall – everything provided. The organisation of this event was excellent.
  • My nearly 20-year-old left walking boot decided to shed part of its sole at the half-way stage. I believe this is because I had made the ridiculous decision before this event to clean my boots and treat them with an ancient waterproofing spray I found under our sink. Clearly, they had been held together with Cornish mud for so many years that the shock was terminal.
  • I hopped the rest of the way. (Ok, that’s an out and out lie, but I did have to be careful that the flapping sole didn’t catch on rocky bits. I had no wish to take a tumble again. My left knee is still not right. (Sorry))
  • We visited the Dracula Museum, which provided a few scares especially for those of us (me) who see extremely badly in the dark. Without Mr J to hold on to, my fear levels were higher than normal, but I managed not to cry or cling pathetically to my friends, and only screamed once (I think).
  • The museum, whilst mostly corny, did include a short film explaining the myths behind Dracula (Whitby stories and also the Bram Stoker history). The cottage we were staying in was situated at the top of 199 steps up which we were informed the ‘black dog with red eyes’ had galloped. We thought little of this until, at midnight, we finished watching an unexpectedly bloodthirsty film on Netflix (or some other streaming site) and all looked nervily at each other before retiring to our respective rooms, checking the windows for signs of fearsome canine antics as we went.
    Whitby’s wet abbey
  • The Magpie Café is rightly famous for its fish dishes. Pre-booking was a good idea – thanks S. Best light batter I’ve ever had. (Can’t call it ‘batsman’ any more – apols, irrelevant cricket reference.)
  • Nearby ‘brewery and pizza’ outfit were doubtful when we rang to enquire for a table, told us that they were very busy and didn’t take bookings so we would just need to turn up, and then – when we did turn up – sported a sign on the door saying they had run out of pizza. At 7pm.
  • Deciding it was too risky to sample a whole brewery without pizza, we rushed down our adjacent 199 steps to a much-praised Pie ‘n’ Mash joint … where we were informed that they had just run out of mash! Short of nipping to the Co-op (but afeared lest we were on their Most Wanted list) to buy them some more potatoes, at 7.20pm we were now unsure what to do. However, we were assured there were plenty of pies left, so we opted to have those anyway and as it happened, they found some mash lying around somewhere and gave it to us on a sharing plate, which we struggled to finish between four of us. Lord knows how much they had expected to serve! This still left us room to try their jam roly-poly though, three portions between four of us, which may not have been the best fuel for the walk back up the 199 steps, but at least a 13 miles walk made some inroads.
  • The day after the walk it rained unrelentingly and soakingly ALL DAY.
  • S wanted to swim. She has a wetsuit. I don’t have a wetsuit, but fancied going to the beach anyway. We walked for 15 minutes in the unrelenting and soaking rain to reach the beach. It was too windy for my umbrella. By the time we knocked on the lifeguard’s car window to ask if S could go in the sea, we were both in wet suits anyway.
  • S was immediately swept to the edge of the ‘safe’ area between the lifeguard’s flags. Any feelings that I had made the wrong decision to avoid the swim were immediately lost on the wind, as was her swearing.
    Bandstand nuptials – in the rain
  • S’s sea ‘dip’ achieved, she quickly wrapped herself in various voluminous garments (here, I was much more envious and indeed properly coveted her dry-bag rucksack which, honourably, I resisted the urge to purloin and sneak into my car boot later that night) and we set off back to the cottage, but as we passed the harbour bandstand, it became clear that a raggle-taggle gathering was in fact a wedding-in-waiting. We sheltered in the lee of a nearby burger shack, and I positioned my inadequate umbrella against the worst of the unrelenting and soaking rain (and wind), and watched someone’s big day unfold.
  • Whitby, with its Dracula associations, is a magnet for all things goth and Steampunk. This was a Steampunk wedding, but with a rather mixed congregation. Some guests were in full Steampunk regalia, but others were in Sunday best plus anoraks, cagoules or plastic capes and many looked as bewildered as they were windswept.
    The perfect wedding day – at least there were facilities to hand
  • A cream convertible Morris Minor arrived and disgorged not one, not two, but three gloriously attired ladies. With much heaving and flounce-coordination, the bride and her chief bridesmaid – both of a certain age and in fearsome bodice-grippers with enormous bustles – emerged and were sheltered (inadequately) under billowing brollies while the third occupant – in a less showy outfit altogether (and about half the circumference of either of her fellow passengers, possibly the adult daughter of the bride) – stepped miserably in her first puddle of the day and failed to raise any sort of a smile as they all prepared to walk the 10 paces to the bandstand steps.
  • For some reason, S and I were unable to drag ourselves away and stayed in place throughout the short service which ensued. About halfway through, the local tourist open-topped bus arrived, half full of passengers, and parked up alongside our burger shelter. We noticed the driver was in full Victorian uniform. Perhaps that’s normal round here, at least for the visitors’ sake? Once the ceremony was over, the guests seemed keen to move on and to our surprise, most of them scurried in our direction and formed a queue to climb aboard the bus. Indeed, eventually all but the bride and groom were accommodated on board (perhaps it was chartered, but there was no sign of that). This left the bride and groom, having a couple of final photographs taken beside the wedding Moggy – with the TOILETS sign unavoidably prominent behind them. As S and I took our leave, we caught the bridegroom’s anguished “How the f*** am I supposed to get my gut in there?” as the bus pulled away and his only option to get out of the rain was to squeeze his enormous dress-uniform-clad self into the tiny ceremonial car with his radiant bride.
  • After the excitement and romance of the wedding, we remembered how chilly and damp we were and (not-so) hot-footed it back up the 199 steps to our cottage, where we stripped off much of our dripping clothing in the large glazed entry hall. S was still decent in her wetsuit, but I am ashamed to say that I caught myself practically mooning at the Abbey – my comment as such to S prompting our complete dissolving into shrieks of laughter at which the chaps (who had remained in the cottage throughout, no doubt busy with their assiduous musical studies – or Sunday morning snoozing more like) became concerned that we had perhaps spent the last two hours in the pub. As if!
  • We all ventured out a further two times on this Sunday and as a result most of our clothing was still damp for our return journey on the Monday. No-one cared. We had a proper laugh and all vowed to return to Whitby again someday, and also to participate in another Alzheimer’s Trek because we had been so impressed with it. In fact, we raised over £2000 between us which was satisfying. There’s always that nagging doubt when asking people to sponsor me for something I’m clearly going to enjoy doing, but in fact, we’re not asking for money for us but for the charity and in this case, it was close to all our hearts for our own personal reasons – and no doubt our family members gave particularly generously because, of course, those reasons are the same for them too.
    On the sunnier first day. Our cottage just to the left.

Haha – So much for brevity. Using bullet points makes no difference at all. Ah well.

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