FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANY WAY I DAMN WELL LIKE

Well, this was going to be a light-hearted little number about how I scare the living Bejeezus out of tourists visiting our happy little town by driving round the place blasting unexpected genres of music and singing along with exaggerated mouth movements.

It’s quite true – I was doing it only this morning, bopping along the main street happily trilling along to ‘Go Home’ by Eliza Doolittle and causing seismic tremors in the pacemakers of several out-of-towners in the Market Square with my impassioned, not to say vehement, rendition of the finale: “I just wanna go home in my dancin’ shoes/Put my dancin’ shoes on/Gonna cha-cha-cha, I’ll cha-cha-cha my way home/I won’t stop till I’m/Goin’ through my front doo-ooo-OOORR!” …and so on. They seemed to be in fear of their lives for some reason.

And so it is by this wacky and roundabout route that we come to today’s real theme: fear. After almost a year of planning and daydreaming, the Highland Games become a really real reality of the real kind this coming Saturday. And I have to say, I am pretty scared.

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I just project apprehension, don’t I? But honestly, all kinds of stupid little fears are jumping at me like yappy toy dogs going for my ankles: what if I can’t even lift the stupid weights when it comes to it? I’m 47, for goodness’ sake, and I spend most of every day sitting on my arse in front of a computer screen – what if I’m kidding myself and I really am too old and saggy and wobbly to make a credible athlete? Is my throwing kilt too short? Are my kick-arse motorbike boots too extreme? Am I actually a self-deluded idiot that everyone will be glad to see the back of at the end of the season? Will I ever be able to turn a caber? I have hearing problems – what if I can’t understand what’s being said over the tannoy (seriously, can ANYBODY understand those things?) and miss my throw, how pathetic would that be? And so on… and on.

Fear eats you alive if you let it. Sometimes it does it in dramatic, bone-crunching fashion, but more usually it hollows out your resolve and character from the inside, saps your motivation and drive, paralyses you, a cancer in your spirit. You try to avoid it, flinch away from it, and it warps your path. Choice by tiny choice, you end up in a place you don’t even recognise, let alone want to be. Something I’ve learned: those toy dogs grow into Dobermans if you feed them.

In the pilot episode of ‘Lost’, the hero, Jack Shepherd, is talking to the heroine, Kate, about fear. He says he coped with it by making the decision to let the fear in, let it do its thing – but only for five seconds. That was all he’d give it. And he started to count: one. Two. Three. Four. Five. And the fear was gone. It’s a great scene, a great TV moment. It also happens to be true. This post is my five seconds, if you like – my way of dragging my fears into the light and letting them do their worst, showing them to myself for the yappy toy dogs they really are.

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Take that, yappy toy dogs!

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And that.

Counted to five. Committed my spirit to the Almighty. And oh, look.

No more fear.

Thank you and goodnight, all you Dobermans.

Shocking News

I know this doesn’t gel with the general tone of my blog, but that really doesn’t matter. I am sad. Not just feeling a bit meh about life – deep-down, heavy-hearted sad. I got news yesterday that Steve Aitken is dead.

A couple of days ago, he was discovered with life-threatening head injuries at the auction mart where he worked as head auctioneer, after an ‘incident with a bolt gun’. He died a few hours later. He was 45 years old.

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My head just doesn’t know what to do with this piece of information. I think of Steve just about every time I throw – particularly when I throw the weight for distance, when I can hear him laughing about my ‘little dance’ in the middle of the turn, and doing his Jedi Master spiel about ‘letting the weight go where it wants to’. I guess a lot of people all over the world will be thinking in similar terms – he told me that he went on coaching tours abroad quite often – so there must be quite a tribe of Little Dancers out there who are going to be feeling the shock today.

I didn’t know Steve well at all. I spoke to him briefly on the phone a few times, and met him only the once, as detailed in my post below titled ‘Jedi Mind Tricks and Big, Honkin’ Metal Weights’ (just scroll sedately down the page, and you’ll find it towards the bottom, posted on the 11th April). We seemed to hit it off well, he was really encouraging and kind, very down-to-earth. He spent quite a lot of the time we had figuring out what ‘learning style’ I favour (turns out I learn by being shown something, then talking myself through the process… sounds about right!). He showed me a lot in the two hours we had, and I was really looking forward to doing more training with him when he had the time.

And now we’re out of time. Steve, for whatever reason, is gone. I’ll continue to think of him every time I throw. I’ll continue to hear his voice in my head when I’m in the middle of the turn, telling me to commit to the spin, forget about the trig, focus on letting the weight go where it wants to go. I teased him about all that stuff, called him ‘Yoda’ and ‘the Jedi Master’, but even in the one session we had, he taught me stuff I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and I’m so grateful for that.

So today, yes, I’m sad. Just writing all this down has brought me to tears. But I’m going to keep on training, and I’m going to do my level best to make that weight fly this summer. It knows where it wants to go; the Jedi Master told me so.

Supergirl and the Killer Flamingos!

For all of you who have been jonesing for photographic proof that actual Highland Gamesiness is going on up here – your day has come. Well, kind of…

Remember ‘The Little Dance’? Here it is:

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Oh yeah, shake it baby!

For the record, I now have several new and interesting moves to add to my repertoire.

The first is something akin to Morris Dancing, but without bells.

And with a bigger stick.

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The obligatory “duck-face pose” avec caber. All the guys are doing it this year.

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Did I mention it’s a very, VERY big stick?

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Actually, it’s MY very, very big stick. Caber envy, anybody?

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OK, got my stick, who wants to dance?

The second new move is a Highland tribute to Michael Jackson’s seminal music video from the 1980s. I’m just calling it ‘Killer’:

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Then, of course, since we’re dealing in cheesiness, how could I possibly leave out ‘Supergirl’?

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Thematically linked by the concept of flight is the expressive ‘Aeroplanes’:

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And moving seamlessly from powered flight to the animal kingdom, I give you the Highland Flamingo:

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My Bangles tribute, ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’:

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And last but not least, to end on a classical note, here we see the Highland Ballet:

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Yes. It’s going to be an interesting summer!

Getting Into Gear

Behold the caber! Roped it to the car roof yesterday along with the fence rails I was transporting up to Robyn’s to re-fence the copse (that’s today’s delight). I now have a 12-foot caber, between 4 and 6 inches in diameter, nicely sanded and varnished at the business end. Not tapered, but hey. I’ll manage. I’m just pleased to HAVE a caber!

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I also followed Alan H’s instructions to make myself a practice Scottish Hammer, and was extremely pleased with the results, so I’m going to detail the process here: I picked up some weight plates in Tesco (my second home). They didn’t have enough 1kg plates, so I grabbed two 2kg plates and two 1kg plates and cable-tied ’em together in a neat stack like so:Image

I also bought myself a length of plastic electrical conduit, cut it to 50″ and reinforced one end slightly (thanks for the tip, Rob) by inserting a suitable piece of roundish wood (actually, the remains of last year’s radical hedge-trimming) about six inches long. Drilled holes either side of where the weight stack would go, then inserted bolts.

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Attached the weight stack and secured it in place with the second bolt:

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From this angle you can see the piece of wood inside the tube. Rob pointed out that if I were to just drill holes in the tubing, it would be a weak point, whereas if there was something reinforcing the head-end, it would not only be that much stronger, but the tube would flex along the handle rather than trying to flex from the end. How right he was.

Once I had the hammer assembled, I added some hockey tape reinforcement to the weight stack, before realising that gaffer tape (duct tape) really was going to be the order of the day. Now I look as if I have the world’s biggest silver lollipop, or possibly a kilo of cocaine on a stick:Image

Chupa Chup, anybody?

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One final modification was to wrap the handle to about halfway down with black hockey tape, then add rings of hockey tape at hand-width intervals so I could carry the thing without the tube sliding through my hand (thanks again for the idea, Rob):Image

Yes, that is a scythe leaning against my workbench! I borrowed it from Robyn’s garage in order to engage in a bit of slash-and-burn gardening the other day. My soi-disant “lawn” had become a kind of unlovely cross between a tyre dump, a piece of derelict waste ground and the sort of tussocky, waist-high weed-fest that you see on programmes like ‘Ground Force’. My poor abused lawnmower would probably have been swallowed whole by the jungle, so I brought in The Equaliser to whop everything off at ankle-height and give it a fighting chance.

I love using the scythe! It’s just incredibly therapeutic, and it feels stupidly cool to carry it tilted over your shoulder like Death’s more casually-dressed young cousin. It also gives you a hell of a workout for your core muscles – you grip it by the handles and do a big, powerful, dipping sweep from right to left, move a pace forwards and do it again, and again, and again. I had the waist-high wasteland chopped flat in about fifteen minutes, and that includes the time taken to wrench the blade free when I got it stuck in the wooden hen-run (yeah, sorry about that, ladies).

So, off fencing today (yippee skip). Hopefully I’ll have enough energy left later on to try out my new gear, which is waiting for me up at the farm!

 

[Update: One VERY long day’s fencing later, and no, I have no energy left for anything beyond crawling into my bed. On the plus side, I’ll really need the exercise tomorrow, otherwise I’m going to be stuck in a pretzel-shape, so I should get some good practice in with the WFD, Hammer and caber. I may even be able to persuade one of the daughters to take some photos.]

A Field Day

It has been noted that I am veering off topic on this blog – away from all that tedious training stuff, away from the struggle to become an athlete in a sport dominated by men, and towards blogging about the colour of my nail varnish and what I had for breakfast.

Busted!

In the absence of my lead photographers today, I’ll introduce you to the place I spend a lot of time in doing my throws training: The Field. It belongs to my friend Robyn, suitably enough, as she was the one who got me into this pickle in the first place. I keep my horse at her smallholding, so I’m up there a lot doing all the backbreaking slogwork that keeping a horse entails.

I only seem to have taken photos up there when it’s done something picturesque like snowing, so here is the view from my training-ground in one direction:

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And in the other direction:

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You’ll just have to imagine it without snow and with added mud and rain. Wind is a big feature of this place! It’s rare for the air to be still up there. I figure I’ll have to contend with all that at the different Games anyway, so bracing against the howling gale is probably good practice!

As with everything, my practice gear is makeshift, to say the least. Here’s my trig:

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Practically indistinguishable from the real thing, right? Guys?

OK, it’s an electric fence pole laid on the ground. Sheesh.

Here is my 8lb stone, for the putting thereof:

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Pretty, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a big smooth lump of stone a bit bigger and heavier than a large housebrick. It’s the closest I could find to an oval on the day I went down to the river. So sue me.

And, for the grand finale of gear-tat, may I present the Sue Rann 13lb Weight For Distance!

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Yes, it’s a 6kg kettle-bell attached to a heavy iron ring with a piece of sash-cord. What of it?

This, by the way, is the 20ft Thistle. That is, it’s not a thistle that’s 20ft high, but the thistle growing right about 20ft from the trig in the general direction I throw in. Very useful when measuring.

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I’d show you a picture of my revolting, slimy, worm-eaten practice caber, but I’m off to the builders’ merchants today to pick up a 4″x4″ post about 14ft long, which is going to be my NEW, non-revolting practice caber. I’ll see if I can sweet-talk the guys at the depot into taking the corners off for me, otherwise I’ll be doing some fancy footwork tomorrow morning with my electric saw, tapering the thing. Then I’ll go over it with a sander. Then I’ll take it up to the Field and throw it around.

Oh, the things a girl has to do!