Be like Donovan – keep the thrill alive

Earlier this week, I was listening to an episode of Blood On The Tracks, the Colin Murray-fronted show, where guests bring their record collections and debate their favourite tracks in certain chosen categories.

In one particular round, the guests were asked to name their favourite act to come out of Scotland.

Fashion queen and former guitarist in The Fall Brix Smith chose Donovan.

If you don’t recognise the name or the above picture of Donovan, don’t worry.

In the 60s, he had a string of hits, such as Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman and Hurdy Gurdy Man, but his star waned in the 70s.

It transpired that Brix Smith knows Donovan and has his number, so Colin Murray challenged her to call him live during the recording.

He duly answered and immediately launched into an excited monologue about the new album he’s about to release, and if he can send it to her.

When the call finished Colin Murray was ecstatic to hear that Donovan was still enthusing about making new music at the tender age of 73.

Find a passion and stick with it

And that’s my point here. Try and imagine yourself in your 70s.

For many, this will be half a lifetime away or more. The thought of still doing then, what you do now AND still being excited by it seems unreal.

So find something you enjoy and keep doing it differently in order to avoid it getting dull.

Then maybe you, too, will be like Donovan at 73.

Why gardening mirrors your life

I spent a couple of hours gardening this afternoon and – at the end of a major weeding, pruning and watering session – it struck me how a garden is much like a body.

Bear with me – I know it sounds a bit far-fetched…

We all have a tendency over winter months to let ourselves go.

Bad habits creep in, we eat comfort food, and we don’t think about doing the best for ourselves.

As spring approaches, and the weather improves, something changes.

New thoughts and ideas flourish and blossom and it suddenly seems a good time to jettison the habits that are holding you back.

Are you beginning to see the metaphor here?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve pruned away a lot of dead/bad habits and hopefully given other things space to grow that were previously hidden or smothered.

Similarly I’m trying to weed out those niggly things that don’t seem significant, but given time can take over.

I’m not there by any means – I still have things to improve, seeds that hsve been planted haven’t quite yet come to fruition, but the signs are hopeful.

In other words (if you’ll allow me to stretch the metaphor to its limit), providing I tend to myself regularly and properly, I hope to re-flower later in 2019.

Ok, metaphor over. Essentially, though, I’m sure many of you will recognise how easy it is to forget to look after ourselves and it’s much easier to do a little bit regularly, rather than wait till we’re beyond repair.

Sahara Trek 2019: Reflections on the trip of a lifetime

Four days. 100km. One large, hot desert. 17 remarkable people.

Those are the numbers that tell just one part of the Sahara Trek I’ve just returned from, on behalf of The Brain Tumour Charity.

It’s difficult to do justice to such a once-in-a-lifetime trip in one blog post, but I’m going to try by breaking up the experience into sections…

The country

Morocco to many people is Marrakesh or Casablanca: all souks, kasbahs, bazaars and tagines. It is, of course, so much more.

All the people I met were warm and friendly, and accepting of Europeans.

The country is almost exclusively Muslim – and thus quite conservative – with Arabic and Berber the most widely-spoken languages, although I got by comfortably in French.

The mountains are a major feature of the country – the Atlas range being the most famous, but also the Rif and the Anti-Atlas, that borders the part of the Sahara we visited.

The Sahara itself

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life.

Ah yes, the desert! The first thing we discovered is that – in Morocco at least – the Sahara does not necessarily mean miles and miles of rolling sand dunes.

Yes, the dunes exist (see image above), and it’s tough to walk on, but more often than not, the terrain was simply dry and barren.

Volcanic rock is a common hazard deposited around 600,000 years ago by the now-extinct Azrou volcanic field.

Similarly dry, cracked river beds are in abundance. They do flood on occasion, but rain is rare in Morocco.

There are small bushes and trees in the desert too. Some stand solitary, while others can be part of a larger, lusher selection (see below).

Ultimately, though, the scenery is – quite figuratively – spectacular. I don’t use the word lightly.

The 360-degree views were stunning. Mountains, blue skies and a totally unspoilt vista.

It was also noticeable that we barely met anyone else while trekking. This really wasn’t a tourist trail, unlike – for example – Mount Everest.

Night-time was cold – with a capital C. Within minutes of the sun going down, the temperature plummeted. Obvious, you may think, but in comparison to the high-20s during the daytime, it can come as a shock.

And the stars! Oh my goodness, the stars. Living in industrialised countries, we forget quite how pervasive electricity is, even at 2am.

In the Sahara, there is barely any electricity. No streetlamps. No lightbulbs. No TVs. And no ambient light to ‘pollute’ the night sky.

I have almost never seen such a sky. The stars are always there, but we just never normally see them.

The people

No trip of this kind would be complete without those who complete it with you.

The other trekkers were to a person wonderful. Walking with people who are living with a brain tumour, who are directly affected or who have lost someone is hugely humbling.

I laughed. I cried. I listened and I heard the most touching and moving stories.

And we all did it together. We all helped each other. Through the difficult moments. The blisters. The times when it felt as if it would be easier to stop.

And we did it all because we believed in a common goal. That we will find a cure for brain tumours and help those affected by this terrible disease.