Saturday, 9 December 2017

Snow at the Sabres

It's 22nd of July 1954. Two RAF Sabre jets are returning from an exercise, on their way to their base; RAF Linton on Ouse. Above the north eastern flanks of Kinder Scout they collide in mid air. It's thought they misread the high ground, following a line over the reservoir. The pilots, Flying Officer James Desmond Horne and Flight Lieutentant Alan Green are both killed. The wreckage, strewn across half a mile from a point on the plateau down to Black Ashop Moor, is discovered three days later by a passing walker.

I was around eight months old at the time. Today, it's a cold, wintery December day, 63 years later. James and I are trudging over a thin covering of windblown snow towards the major part of the jets' remains. It's a night we've had planned for a while. Five of us, including Chrissie, and spurred on by her love of the supernatural, were to spend the night near the supposedly haunted site. As it turned out, an evil-looking weather forecast means that Chrissie has stayed at home with the dogs, we having decided it would be too cold for them, and two of our compatriots had failed to arrive due, mainly, to fears of bad road conditions. Hence, five plus three dogs, is reduced to me and James (James also thought it too cold for Reuben).

We leave our house at midday and take a route over Middle Moor, past Chadwick's Cabin and White Brow and up William Clough. There's some sun trying to break through.

Mindful of my experience with cold hands a coupla weeks back, I've a newly sorted bag of gloves in my sac. Three pairs of thin thermal gloves, two pairs of lined waterproof ones and my Extremities waterproof and fleece mitts now form my hand-protection armoury. Ironically, I've carried something similar in my daysack for years but had been far too frugal when backpacking. I've spent no money on extra hand wear. I'm wearing thin fleece gloves for the initial climb, adding the thinner of my lined gloves only when I feel the need. I remove the lined gloves, leaving them dangling on their wrist loops, if my hands start to sweat. It's a juggling act, but it works.

Around 3 pm we reach  Ashop Head and start out across the moorland waste towards the point I've marked on Viewranger; the crash site. It's some years since I was last here, on a MRT training exercise.

Locating the site, we find a small memorial on one part of the wreckage.

Out of respect for the site, we choose a pitch a short distance away.

James' clever weather thingy tells us it's around minus 2C with a windchill effect of minus 7C. Cold, but nowhere near as bad as the forecast had been. We both agree, had we known, the pups would all have been fine. Oh well. Weather forecasts eh?

I filter water and, as my fingers begin to chill, I'm into the tent and warmth of my winter down sleeping bag. My hands soon warm and I've coffee on the go, now wearing dry fleece gloves. With some of Chrissie's fine home-made flapjack I'm munching and supping contentedly. Apart from throwing the occasional comment at each other through the cold air, James and I remain, ensconced in the protection of our respective shelters.

I dine on Idahoan Cheesy mashed potato and Dolmio bolognese sauce, followed by some of those fruity survival biscuits in custard. That lot's helped down by a somewhat chilled drop of red wine (maybe more than a drop). 

My tiny Treadlite lantern holds the darkness at bay.

I watch iPlayer including a feature film; "The Lighthouse". The true story of the Smalls Island tragedy of 1801, which resulted in a change from two to three man lighthouse crews thereafter. Highly recommended. Available for 10 more days.

The night is clear, cool and fairly still. From time to time I hear unusual sounds. First a single, long, shrill whistle. Much later a dog barking. It's dark and late. Who'd be up here with a dog. Only a search dog handler but there's no sounds of the shouted or whistled instructions I'm familiar with as a former handler. Nor the associated sounds of search parties. Just before 9pm there's a sharp, distant explosion. Each of these noises could have a logical explanation but, suffice to say, the crash site is known for strange sounds. And then there's the tale of a fellow MRT member who, on a night exercise, saw a man in uniform close to the Sabre wreckage on the plateau (of which he was unaware). He wasn't known for flights of fancy and only divulged this quietly to Chrissie, some time afterwards. It had troubled him. Make of all this what you will. I try to be open minded. I tend towards a belief that locations may hold a memory which, under certain circumstances, might be replayed, much like a recording.

The morning brings mist. Tent flysheets are covered in a thin layer of ice, inside and out.

After breakfast, and a relaxed second coffee, we pack.

A walk over the plateau is off the agenda. James has an understandable concern for his journey home across the Peak District. It's started to snow and there looks like more to come. The sky is heavy with that milky, foreboding grayness. Instead we decide to return via Burnt Hill.

James snaps me heading across the open moor, into the snow.

Then to Ashop Head...

...and we're off east towards the Liberator wreck site, where we stop and munch goodies.

Goggles make the wind blown snow more bearable and microspikes help on the slippy flagged bits of path.

Making our way back into Hayfield's like walking into a Christmas card scene.

And, some 24 hours after we left, we're back, warming ourselves with coffee and cheese on toast.

There's no finer way to spend 24 hours than in the wilds, in the company of a friend.



Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Depression and me

I read something on Twitter this morning and it made me feel like writing.

I'm 64 and, for some years now have confidently been able to state that I suffer from depression. I now realise I've done so for much, if not all, of my adult life.

I'm really not sure how, if at all, this affected me as a child, but I can now trace back to its beginnings in adulthood.

In 1990 I was working as a Technical Representative for Tetley's Brewery in Yorkshire. I'd been doing the job for around 10 years and it's fair to say I hated it. I was a square peg in a round hole. The work didn't suit me at all. I found it extremely stressful. Things came to a head sometime in the early part of that year. One day, I was so overwhelmed I fell to wondering how I might commit suicide. Driving my company car I considered the possibility of hurling it at high speed either into a wall or over a steep edge. I wondered if I could somehow engineer it so I'd die quickly. I finally made it home to my wife and daughter and collapsed in tears. I couldn't face going back to work.

I went to see my GP and he referred me, quite quickly, to a psychiatrist. After chatting for a while he decided I was suffering from "reactive depression" and recommended I find a different job. How easily that tripped off his tongue. I had a wife and three year old daughter, a mortgage and I was the sole breadwinner. I had no qualifications save for 5 GCE O levels. I was prescribed anti-depressants. I couldn't see a way forward.

I took many weeks off work and saw a clinical psychologist for several sessions. During my time off I went to a recruitment event for primary school teachers in Huddersfield. Amazingly, I discovered that the ONC in Business Studies I'd earned on day release way back in my first job as an accounts clerk in Leeds, was equivalent to 2 A levels and would give me access to a degree course to study education. And, in the end, that's what I did. I spent four years studying and really enjoyed it. Finally, it seemed, I'd realised my potential, having been a bit of a failure at school. As I studied though, my marriage fell apart and I met the love of my life; Chrissie. That's a whole other story but, suffice to say, finding Chrissie was one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

I was 40 by the time I finished the course but, despite this, I was the first in my year group to find a  teaching job in a private school near home. After a while I took a job in a state school in a deprived area. The head was one of the best managers I have worked for and there was a great, supportive staff team. The work was extremely rewarding. However, after a few wonderful years, everything changed. The head was promoted and the arrival of her replacement heralded much disquiet in the staff and, without going into detail, brought the return, for me, of the black dog of depression.

I was off sick for months this time. I well remember the occupational health doctor appointed by the local authority expressing her dismay to me at how many people she saw from teaching, the NHS and the police, suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.

In crisis again, and after lots of deliberation and support from my professional organisation, I handed my notice in and entered the world of supply teaching. I found I was quite skilled at this and was soon in demand from schools around the area. Gradually I was offered longer contracts; for a couple of weeks, then a term. Finally, a school offered me a full time post and, with a little reluctance, I accepted.

Again, all was well for a few years until the spectre of Ofsted loomed over the school. Pressure built among the staff and, feeling low, I followed best practice and went to speak to the head. She listened but had no suggestions. Next day, in the staffroom she asked, in everyone's hearing,
"Everything OK, Geoff" and I nodded. That was the entirety of the support I received.

I was called in to see the head after a colleague had routinely checked a sample of my class's maths exercise books. I was told there was no evidence of my teaching long division; an element of the curriculum for my year group. I was dumbfounded and didn't know how to react. I went back to my classroom and checked a random book and found examples of long division. My colleague had been mistaken. I went straight to the head but she was having none of it, finding something else to criticise instead. It suddenly dawned on me that my card was marked.

I rode home on my motorcycle and, as was my routine, I washed it down once there. As Chrissie arrived in her car she found me sobbing outside, cleaning the bike.

That was the beginning of the end. It was just before Christmas. I returned to school in the New Year for, I think, one day. That was it. I just couldn't cope any more. Suicidal thoughts plagued darker hours. I spent the whole of that year on sick leave. I saw a psychiatrist, occupational health doctors and therapists, all of whom did their best to help me heal. I began to realise that, if I was to survive I had to remove the stress from my life. After a long, difficult process, in early 2007 I was allowed to retire on ill health grounds and awarded early access to my pension at the age of 54.

That's 10 years ago now and I'd like to say retirement has seen an end to my visits from the black dog. But no. I've been on and off anti-depressants several times and had a number of courses of therapy. Despite the apparent absence of stress in my life I'm still susceptible to the creeping angst of depression. The silliest of things can trigger it. Returning from a trip away in the van just recently I found myself so overwhelmed with tasks around the home that I began crumbling again. With help from Chrissie, I got through it. The slightest of minor triumphs can lift my mood and this time it was simply ticking some significant items off my "to do" list.

I look back now and wonder why I've suffered so. I lost one of my two brothers, aged 12, when I was just 18. He died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage during a family holiday. Not long before I first began with depression a very close friend committed suicide, without my ever knowing he was having trouble. These two events may have had an effect on me. I don't really know.

I'm lucky to have Chrissie but she struggles too, to deal with me when I'm at a low ebb. It's hard for her. Fortunately, nowadays, bouts of depression are fewer. I know the benefits of exercise and have time for that, my day being built around, at the very least, a long walk with the dogs. And our precious pups have a role to play too. Their companionship is so important to me and Pebbles, in particular, is exceptional at recognising when either of us is upset, and quick to dispense hilarious, reviving boxer kisses.

Please don't think I write this to seek sympathy. I have the support of loving family members and am now more capable of dealing with dark times. I have a good life with love and fun in it. I'm very lucky. I wish only to add my voice to others seeking to be more open about the debilitating effects of mental illness. I often hear of others suffering, as I did, while quite young and, if I can, I do my clumsy best to give support.

My life so far has had a lot of positivity. In all the time I suffered I was a member of two different mountain rescue teams and, as many know, I rose to be team leader. I filled this role for over seven years, right through one of the periods I describe above. I still managed to lead the team and was also a regional controller, acting as first contact for the police for the whole of the Peak District. Looking back, I think my work with mountain rescue offered a distraction, an antidote to depression.

Depression is widely recognised and reported now and most of you will have heard the statistic that one in four of us will suffer with some form of mental illness in a lifetime. If, like me, you're one of those, I wish you well. Believe me you're not alone. No matter how hard it is, do your best to be open about it and ask for help. You deserve it. At various times I've put a lot of effort into keeping my illness secret. It's not a good idea, only serving to increase stress.

So, finally, if you know someone who is struggling, talk to them, be kind to them. You may never know how much they need it.

Having got all this serious stuff off my chest, we've a wild camp planned with friends this coming weekend, probably in the snow, so re this blog, normal service will resume very soon.

For perspective, I'll leave you with a few images of some of the most important things in my life.

Smile. It may help.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Noah Ruairidh Appelyard

As I began to waken on the morning of Tuesday, 28th of November, my phone rang. It was my daughter, Abi. I'd been expecting the call and was relieved to hear the laughter in her voice. The day before, my son in law Dave had phoned to say they were off to the maternity unit at Tameside Hospital in nearby Ashton under Lyne. We'd pre-arranged that, when the time arrived, we'd scoot down to their house, around 5 miles away, and pick up Pepper, their flat coated retriever, and take care of her until they were back home.

Hence, I was expecting the call and was very pleased to hear that, at 5:13 that morning, our first grandchild, Noah Ruairidh Appleyard had been born. Both Mum and babe were fine, though I gathered the birth hadn't been quick.

It was late afternoon on Wednesday when Noah and his Mum and Dad arrived back at their home. We didn't want them overwhelmed with visitors but, unsurprisingly, they wanted Pepper home to greet the new arrival. So, not a little excitedly, we drove down. We left Islay and Pebbles, wrapped up warm in the car. Too many dogs in the house might not be the best.

It's hard putting my feelings into words. I don't actually remember holding a baby so tiny since Abi was born, almost 31 years ago. Suffice to say it was emotional as Chrissie and I each nursed the tiny boy in our arms.

As you can see, we couldn't even wait until we'd got our coats off.

Abi thinks of everything. She'd brought Pepper a new toy as a gift from Noah, making sure their lovely dog didn't feel left out. It worked. Pepper wasn't remotely interested in the baby. She had a new toy to chew. Abi messaged us later to say Pepper had started to react once Noah made a noise. But she's a soft, affectionate dog and all was well.

We didn't stay long. I remember well how important it is to give yourself time to settle, arriving home with a new born. But the happy parents were pleased to see us, and this time our pups too, just a couple of days later.

Now we could absorb the experience a little more.

Cuddles and smiles all round.

I was fascinated at Noah's complete lack of reaction when any of the dogs barked, often quite loudly, at a noise outside. Of course, he'd been hearing those sounds from Pepper for all the months he'd spent, curled up inside his Mum and, no doubt, noticing her calmness at such noises.

Pepper is getting used to Noah already. But, as is normal, the three dogs dash around like lunatics every time they see each other. There's no room in their heads for babies...yet. But eventually Pebbles noticed the little thing on Chrissie's lap and then wanted to spend all her time licking little Noah.

Islay, meanwhile, is being aloof and disinterested. But, to be fair, she is, by far, the calmest of the three dogs. And the only time Noah cried was whilst having his nappy changed in the other room, with the door closed. The dogs all pricked up their ears, but made no connection once Noah returned.

So there you have it. I trust you'll understand but I felt I needed to record this momentous occasion on here. And be warned, there'll be more to come, I'm sure. Sorry.

Dave and Abi are surrounded and supported by a their extended family now they live back up north. In addition to us, Noah has three more grandparents and four great grandparents, not to mention various aunts, uncles and dogs. He's gonna grow up nestled in love from all.

Chrissie and I are looking forward to sharing in his future.

I'll leave with with this lovely photo of Mum, baby and dog on their first family walk, with Noah just four days old.

Such happiness.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Paramo Bentu fleece and windproof combination, review

I've a long history with Paramo stretching back 20 years. In 1998 I tested an Alta jacket and salopettes along with a mountain shirt, having been sent these as part of my research for equipping Kinder Mountain Rescue Team. We subsequently bought Paramo for the whole team and, some years later, replaced the Altas with Aspira jackets having been so pleased with Paramo's performance. It goes without saying that we wore the kit in every condition you can imagine, right up to full white outs and blizzards on the Kinder plateau. Chrissie and I equipped ourselves at our own expense with Paramo too and we've worn various items of their kit in everything from desert conditions in the Grand Canyon, up to proper Scottish winter in the Cairngorms. So, you could say I'm biased towards Paramo, but it's based on lots of experience.

I have a shameful number of Paramo items in my arsenal of outdoor gear at home but, now retired, I'm out every day, albeit sometimes only for a dog walk. So, of late I've found myself revisiting my older jackets and getting good use out of them. I am, however, still susceptible to being drawn to new items of kit, especially where technology has moved on.

Many moons ago Paramo sold the Fuera windproof jacket to be worn with their Taiga fleece. I bought both of them. The Taiga had the same pump lining as their Analogy waterproof jackets and, if used in combination, the Fuera and Taiga formed an equally waterproof jacket, though thicker and warmer than, say, their Alta. Great for a really cold winter day but serious overkill for much of the year.

Recently Paramo have revisited this concept and currently in their range is the Ostro fleece and windproof and the Bentu fleece and windproof. Whilst relaxing for a week with the van in Hawes last month, I tried both of these combos in a local retailer. They were being offered at a discount if you bought both items together. I found the, very light, Ostro a little too lightweight for my taste but was quite taken by the Bentu. I wasn't so keen though on the sage green colour, which was all they had in stock. 

Returning home, I ruminated for a while before giving in and ordering a blue Bentu combo from Gorge Outdoors in Cheddar for £171; a good discount. This was around 3 weeks ago now and whilst not a long time, we've had a wide range of weather conditions and temperatures here in the Peak District and I've worn the combo almost every day in everything from a mild, dry autumn day right up to the overnight backpack I did with Islay just last weekend in full-on wintery weather (read about it here).

Here's the fleece jacket.

My chest measures 40" and this and the windproof are sized large.

In addition to the two zipped side pockets there's a good sized chest pocket.

The sleeves have loose cuffs with no elastic. This makes them very easy to push up your arm for cooling, but they're a little long for me so I'm tending to turn them back.

The zip is backed with a light flap.

The pockets are backed with the latest, lightweight pump liner.

And here's the windproof, which I'm wearing over the fleece for illustration.

It has four zipped pockets, all of a good size.

Like the fleece, it's a shorter jacket but the back is dropped to cover your bum. Good for cycling.
I prefer shorter jackets, just aesthetically. If it's raining I'd always be wearing some form of waterproof legwear.

The hood is roomy enough for hats or a helmet, has volume adjustment and pulls in around the face.
It has a wired peak.

The hood can be stowed using a velcro tab, though I can never quite see the need. I like my hoods to be ready for quick deployment.

The hood and yoke are lined with the light pump liner, giving the windproof alone more potential to keep you dry than previous, completely unlined, Paramo windproofs.

For those of you unfamilar with Paramo, their Analogy garments have what they call a pump liner, which serves to move moisture, mainly sweat, out away from your base layer clothing, through the outer windproof layer to the air outside. In addition, they don't allow outside weather to get in through the two layers. The fabrics are rendered water-resistant by the addition of a water-based wax which is washed into them, which can easily be renewed, and the outer and liner become, effectively, waterproof. Hence Paramo garments can be rejuvenated almost endlessly. This, together with their ethical production facility in Columbia, makes them one of the most ethical manufacturers out there. Read more on Paramo's website if you're interested. With the combo garments, like my Bentu, the fleece functions as the pump liner. Neither the fleece not the windproof would give complete waterproofing but, together, they do. Such is the theory, but what about in practice?

Being a bit of a Paramo nerd enables me to make direct comparisons between the Analogy and combo garments. Chrissie and I have the Velez jackets, one of the lightest full-on Analogy jackets they currently make. We've used this successfully backpacking in Arctic Sweden this year and I'm very familiar with its functionality as the latest in a long line of Paramo Analogy jackets. 

So far, I have only worn the fleece and windproof together, but to be fair, that's probably the best test of its functionality as a waterproof. In milder, autumnal weather, around 11C, I've worn the combo over a thin, technical T shirt (Rab Dryflo 120) and it's been warm enough, though not too warm to cause discomfort. Taking the jackets off after a long walk wearing my day sack, I have found the back of the fleece still damp with sweat but no more than my Analogy Velez would have been.

On dry colder days, which so far have been down to minus 3C ambient, I've removed the jacket to find it virtually dry, my having sweated much less. I had been wearing a Montane Allez microgrid base layer.

On wet days the Bentu combo has functioned every bit as well as my Velez. I have sometimes found the fleece to be quite damp but no more so than the pump liner in my Velez would have been in similar conditions.

I'll digress here momentarily. Back in my MR days, whilst using Paramo we had maybe 2 team members out of around 60 who reckoned the jackets weren't waterproof. There are one or two people I know on social media who think the same. Here are my thoughts. I've worn every type of waterproof from the early days of non-breathable Peter Storm and B&H Cagjacs, where you always got wet through because they weren't breathable, through to the very best of Goretex. In my experience:

1. There are some weather conditions where ambient humidity is so high, no breathable garment will allow moisture to pass out through it, since there needs to be a lower humidity outside than inside for the breathable function to work. I remember one day, over 30 years ago, when, returning from a long day in heavy rain in the Lakes, wearing high quality Mountain Equipment Goretex waterproofs, every piece of clothing I was wearing underneath was completely wet through, so heavy and constant had been the rain and the humidity so high.

2. The transference of moisture from sweat is a constant, ongoing process, so, unless you're not sweating at all, when you remove your waterproof, the inside layer, and maybe your base clothing, may well still be wet with the sweat that has not yet been transferred out through the jacket. It is my opinion that this effect may be mistaken for leakage of the jacket from the outside in.

3. As I understand it, there is potential for rain to occasionally find it's way through the windproof outer of any Paramo. The outer on its own is not totally waterproof.  However, the pump liner will still continue to move any water away from the inside, back out through the outer. It's important to understand that it's the two layers together which provide the waterproof function.

What matters to me is, when wearing a waterproof in rain or snow, how comfortable are you underneath it. Which brings me to my most extreme application of the Bentu combo so far, this past weekend.

I had wondered whether or not to wear the Bentu since I know that, in the cold, when backpacking,  I've often taken off a Paramo Analogy jacket to find it damp on the inside (see point 2 above). Again, in the cold, this often does not dry overnight so you can end up putting a damp jacket on in the morning. But in practice this has never caused a problem since the jacket soon warms and the pump transference begins to do its job again. I could foresee having two wet layers kicking about in my tent overnight. But, I thought, on a short trip I'd give it a go.

I wore a Montane Allez microgrid baselayer again, below the combo. It's fair to say I sweat a lot when working hard, so I was not surprised that I could feel myself sweating on our initial ascent. If I'd taken anything off I'd have been cold. It was cold and snowing. I cooled a little, to the point of being more comfortable, when we hit higher ground and were, in effect, crossing level terrain. We experienced winds up to around 25mph, hail and heavy snow.

After four and a half hours of tramping we hit our camp spot. It took around an hour for me to set up camp, settle my precious pup and make a brew before I considered removing my clothing to, as usual, don clean dry clothes for the evening/night. 

The Bentu windproof was damp under where my rucsac straps had been, where, of course, it couldn't breathe. Otherwise it was dry. The fleece was only slightly damp with some very small patches wetted out. These seemed to be around the front of the yoke, below the level of the pump lining on the windproof. I laid out the fleece over my rucsac, which was lying inside my Terra Nova Southern Cross 2, and spread the windproof over the foot of the water resistant cover of my Rab down sleeping bag. But now the critical bit. Removing my Allez hoodie I found it to be totally dry except for some damp on the hood where it had been exposed to the elements before I'd raised the hood of the Bentu windproof. The Paramo kit had done its job and pushed virtually all my sweat out and not allowed any water from snow in, keeping my base layer, and me, warm and dry. I'd call that a success.

In the morning, unsurprisingly, the fleece and windproof were in the exact same state as the night before. It'd been cold, almost freezing. When I put them on again before decamping they felt fine, since the damp wasn't touching any skin and the Allez didn't transfer it.

Our walk back was in very similar conditions to the day before and, once home, taking the jackets off revealed them to be in pretty much the same state as the day before, with only slight dampness. Once again, my Allez was dry. Excellent.

I'm impressed with this combination and it will take it's place among my armoury of waterproof jackets for all conditions. In particular, I'm hoping it will make a good option for this cycling adventure in France next summer. Once the warmer weather arrives I plan to see how the windproof alone functions, in rain, over different base layers, including the T shirts I plan to cycle in. I'm not expecting total waterproofness, but I'll experiment nevertheless. I will take the fleece on my cycle adventure in any event.

But wait. 
"Is this the perfect jacket for all occasions then, Geoff?" I hear you ask.
Well...maybe not. 
When it gets silly cold I'll still use my trusty Aspira smock. It's, as they say, bombproof. But, I reckon the Bentu combo could probably be used in a very wide range of conditions, especially once you factor in using each garment on its own.

But, I need to add the few negative thoughts I have about the Bentu...and they are only few.

1. I'd prefer a light elastic around the cuffs of the fleece.

2. The lower pocket on both garments are just slightly too low for use with a hipbelt. Though you can just manage to access the top of them in the windproof. Not used the fleece alone yet.

3. The chest pockets on the windproof lack cord pulls on the zips, meaning some difficulty using them with thick gloves (don't get me started on my cold hands). I'm gonna add some this afternoon.

I'm glad I bought this jacket combo and, for clarity, despite my being a Paramo addict, I paid for it with my own brass and have no connection with Paramo (I used to, in my MR days, but that's many moons back).

Make your own mind up. Gear's a very personal thing and we're all different, but I reckon I'd be happy to recommend the Paramo Bentu windproof and fleece.

Smile and, above all, enjoy!