Making New years resolutions is almost an annual ritual. In the holiday time afforded between Christmas and New Year we have time to reflect on the past year and think about the upcoming one. Many of us rush to make new resolutions for the New Year, perhaps in the hope that somehow we will be a better, more likeable person. A common one is that we should take more exercise and so joining a gym would be a good idea. Often these candles of intent flicker and die out in a couple of months, maybe less.
The perceived wisdom is that “we are who we are” and that “human nature does not change”, so these aspirations are bound to fail. This year during lockdown we have already had time to reflect on what is important in our lives and to try new things. I thought it might be instructive to reflect on my own experiences during lockdown and see how I fared in this respect. Out of interest I (in common with many others) have kept a coronavirus diary to record what we did and how we felt during lockdown, so this has been invaluable in promoting my poor memory on what actually happened, as opposed to what I hope occurred. During this period there have been times when the streets have been empty of the usual hustle and bustle and this was noticeable around August, which should have been Fringe/Festival time.
Edinburgh Lawnmarket: centre in busier times, left and right during 2020 lockdown
Photo credits: Bruce Ward ( left and right) and BestofEdinburgh (centre)
One of my many faults is untidiness and that has been so for many years. My sister recalls me being tidy up to the age of 8 after which “the rot set in” but I received detention at school on many occasions because I left running shoes, clothes and books lying around. Things have not improved much in the ensuing years, thus requiring periodic garden/home “cleansing” when the mess accumulates. Just before Christmas I excelled myself by filling the utility room with wood to dry out to complete the woodshed roofing, whilst having stones strewn round the garden (part of a planned new rockery). Neither job was finished before Christmas but the tidying up was, accelerated by the threat of eviction.
The curtailing of group activities like drama, pottery and language courses, not to mention socialising with others theoretically gave me a lot of “free” time but we all know that this never translates fully as the time for the ceased activities was scheduled and our routine adapted to fit the activity into a regular slot. Nevertheless, during April and May helped by good weather we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors gardening, walking and relaxing. So it was not a great ask to get the vegetable garden planted and keep it in order. At the end of the day the weather was good enough to have a drink on the balcony and admire the day’s work.
Activities on the “attempted” list
|Tried and succeeded||Started but either lapsed, done periodically or not completed||Failed|
|Starting a blog||Tidy workshop|
|Outdoor photography||Planning a week’s menu||Repair of bicycle|
|Regular walking||New lino on kitchen floor||Write more poetry|
|Lose weight||Start pottery at home|
|Keep veg garden in order||Bury water pipe to greenhouse|
|Improving knowledge of trees and flowers||Decorate bathroom|
However bad habits are hard to shake; doing jobs that are more enjoyable first means that the unpleasant and boring jobs remains at the foot of the list. So, the blue waterpipe to the greenhouse water tank at the bottom of the garden remains an unsightly eyesore and the punctures on the old bicycle are still not repaired, while the chain has become clogged with dirt.
With a canal path close to the house that leads to countryside at Ratho, just 7 miles outside Edinburgh and then a further 20 miles onto the Millennium Wheel at Falkirk there is an easy and interesting route out of Edinburgh. The Union Canal goes from Edinburgh to Falkirk where it links with the Forth and Clyde Canal that runs from Grangemouth in the east to Clydebank (Bowling) in the west, just outside Glasgow. Over the Christmas period in 2017, I walked a different section of the Union Canal for a week and discovered lots of interesting information about Edinburgh’s western side. This Christmas we have walked down to the end of the canal, where the canal now terminates and seen goosanders, mallards, coots and waterhens. Over the last few days with the snowfall it has provided a different picture.
Edinburgh post Christmas 2020: inc. Harrison Park, bronze swans at canal basin and Mortonhall woods
With a canal path close to the house that leads to countryside at Ratho, just 7 miles outside Edinburgh and then a further 20 miles onto the Millennium Wheel at Falkirk there is an easy and interesting route west out of Edinburgh. The Union Canal goes from Edinburgh to Falkirk where it links with the Forth and Clyde Canal that runs from Grangemouth in the east to Clydebank (Bowling) in the west, just outside Glasgow. Over the Christmas period in 2017, I walked a different section of the Union Canal for a week and discovered lots of interesting information about Edinburgh’s western side. This Christmas we have walked down to the end of the canal, where the canal now terminates and seen goosanders, mallards, coots and waterhens. Over the last few days with the snowfall it has provided a different picture.
Edinburgh is well adapted for cycling with plenty of green spaces such as the Meadows and Holyrood Park. Within in the city are other cycle routes e.g. from Leith Links to the beach at Portobello, along the Water of Leith walkway from the shore at Leith to the city centre and then onto the Water of Leith centre. The route from the centre to the Forth Road bridge goes northwest along National Cycling Network Route 1(NCN1). There are routes to the east along the coast to North Berwick via Port Seton using NCN76 and routes around the large Pentland Regional Park that extends in a broad band south west from Edinburgh to Carlops. There are 14 cycling groups in and around Edinburgh poviding advice and encouragement on how to start cycling as well as cycling route maps. Over the period of the pandemic the City Council have added bollards protecting cycle paths on roads and have increased the number of areas with a 20 mph limit.
So why with so much incentive to start cycling does the bike still languishing unrepaired in the workshop?. I guess the main reason is it is much easier to get on with a job if there is a deadline to meet or a necessity (mend a water leak, lay a gravel path for wedding visitors etc.) and the second is that I just find bike repairing slow, messy and tedious. The spanners slip on the stretched tyre, the chain requires thorough cleaning in petrol, you lose the clip etc. Perhaps if I was better at it. I would be more enthusiastic.
The converse question is why did I succeed in other new ventures? We have been walking since the first lockdown with a few gaps and have found it invigorating physically and has helped maintain as sense of well-being in a period of concern and isolation (either partial or complete). It has also provided relaxation and emptied the mind of all that clutter we carry around and which increases tension. Over the autumn period we did a longer weekly walk taking a picnic with us that enabled us to explore new places, take photographs of the autumn colours and refurbish our knowledge of trees and flowers, which had dwindled over the years to a basic level. I guess this actually worked well as package because the photography was combined with the walking and this gave more incentive to catalogue both old and new images. Over the months we have refound old handbooks on wildflowers and trees, bought new books on insects and trees and installed identification apps for flowers, birds etc on our phones.
On one such walk in December I photographed a shrub with wonderful spiky yellow flowers that stood out against the drab winter foliage aroind it. Image compare on bing suggested it was witch hazel, a plant that flowers from November to February. However my new tree identification book failed to mention it.- The reason for this is that witch hazel, is not native to the UK unlike hazel or wych elm. Both witch hazel and hazel have bendy stems, which is why they have been used for water divining/dowsing in the US and Britain respectively. In New England in the 1840’s the Puritan settlers learnt to make a medicinal extract from witch hazel and in the 1860’s a process of distillation was set up by the Dickinson family, which survived until 1987. Industrial steam distillation of witch hazel chips, followed by addition of alcohol to 14% is still used to produce a distillate used in cosmetic nd pharmaceutical products world wide.You can still buy distilled witch hazel from Boots, which is recommended for relieving discomfort of bruises, sprains, and skin discomforts (despite much medical evidence as to it’s efficacy). As is evident following these rambling threads from observation of a plant or bird to learning more about them is interesting to me. .
Over Christmas my wife has taken a complete week off work, so we have been able to walk every day whenever we chose. With snow falling overnight we woke up on December 29th to pristine covering of snow in the garden and the park behind us. Taking advantage of the fine weather we walked down the Union Canal towards the city. The canal was frozen with interesting patterns on the ice; the family of goosanders we had seen a few days previously had either hunkered down or flown somewhere more suitable, and the only swans to be seen were the bronze ones in the canal basin, Two coots were trying to find a few holes in the ice but the flew away into some sheltering bushes (a sight I have not seen that often). The combination of walking, enjoying nature and photography has worked and hopefully will continue , when the covid pandemic is over.
The take home message I have learned about making resolutions and starting new activities during lockdown is in line with advice given when I retired from work; don’t take on too much at one time and identifying a regular time slot will make it easier to keep it going. So I am not making any new Years resolutions as such, just making a few silent wishes that we won’t forget what we have learnt and will think more clearly about the environment and lifestyle we want for the long term future. but that opens a topic for another day. For now the next step may be to throw away the spanners, grit my teeth, dig deep in my pocket, buy a new bike and start cycling.