Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

“Casserole your gran; disembowel yourself with spears…” #cooking #slowcooker

You’ve caught me in a state of mid-late-November overwhelm. So I am procrastinating, avoiding my work and attending to my “next step” in my personal improvement plan: COOKING.

Great! I can turn this into a food blog….

Perhaps not.

The children put in a formal complaint that my food offerings were utterly repetitive. I think the meals are “balanced” insofar as there is a protein, a carb and some vegetable type thing – but they are, admittedly utterly monotonous. I go to Morrison’s, buy one of everything I ever buy, pay for it and then churn out the same things week on week.

So, I asked my facebook friends what foods are foods I have forgotten – and they were very generous with their helpings of advice and suggestions and three things are apparently the answer to my problem:

A slow cooker.

Here’s my beef with slow cookers: you need to be organized. Clearly, if you are going to be eating it hours and hours later, you need to know what it was going to be hours and hours in advance. Imagine that!

In addition, there is meat and veg prepping to do at unnatural times of the day or night. Sealing meat and all that. I don’t fancy handling raw meat at the best of times, let alone early or late. And then there seems to be a lot of messing up a pan then transferring it to the slow cooker. I think the “one pot” idea is perhaps a myth.

Do we trust the slow cooker, in the way that “we trust the fridge”? What other appliance would you leave on, cooking, when you are out? Can you ever relax? Is it not like thinking “Did I leave the straighteners on?”, but knowing full well you did?

 A good casserole dish.

I thought casseroles were just a dramatic convention in Australian soaps of the 1980s, used to justify unjustifiable visits to the eponymous neighbours. But it seems that some of you, in fact, everyone except me, would use a casserole dish once in a while.

(Confession: I do have a casserole dish. It is very small and very cute. I use it to make nachos when I am having a party-for-one. I layer up cooked chicken, salsa and cheese; I repeat to fade, then heat, douse with sour cream and inhale.)

So, it looks as if I will have to go and get a casserole dish and put some things in it. Then it will be stew and tagine city round here.

Vegetables in a box, delivered.

Some say: “Don’t get sucked into the vegetable delivery thing; it is a scam.”

However, a good many people argue that having surprise ingredients turn up on your doorstep is liberating and life enhancing. I am wary of new vegetables. I mean, they might send me an artichoke and I won’t know what to do with it; they might send a beetroot and give me traumatic childhood flashbacks to gagging on vinegary veg; they might send me fennel; they might send me kohl rabi…

We eat broccoli, corn, peas, green beans. That might be it. Might that be it? Onions, I suppose. And occasionally soup with more random vegetables.

So, I am supposed to be branching out into uncharted culinary territory on Tuesday, but what with one thing and another, I think I might struggle. I would love to blog about a triumphant stew moment on Tuesday night, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

I am very appreciative of all the tips and advice and look forward to widening my repertoire in due course.

In the meantime, we can continue to enjoy our haggis, potatoes and baked beans; our chicken tikka with rice and green beans; our spaghetti carbonara…… repeat to actual fade….

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A Missing Grace? #ananiasandsapphira

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Let me tell you the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

The early church were living in God’s grace. Everyone was being selfless and generous. It was all going swimmingly.

Ananias and Sapphira didn’t really get it, though. They figured they could look the part; they could appear to be selfless and generous in their community – but they didn’t have it in them to go the whole hog and keep up with the Joneses, or the Josephs, as it was.

They conspired to compromise. They figured they would give over a big wodge of cash, and give the impression it was everything they had received for a particular sale of property. Ananias came and presented it to the Apostles.

Peter pointed out that this was a deception – an unnecessary deception. If God is omniscient, he would be able to see through this false display of generosity.

Ananias fell down dead when faced with his hypocrisy.

Then, with dramatic irony hanging heavily over the gathering, Sapphira, his wife turns up and compounds the lie. She claimed that the donated money was the price paid for the land. They told her that her husband had died and that she was about to die too.

“At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.”

So, the question for the modern Christian is, eh…. where’s the grace in that?

This story reminds me of Genesis, where we have the first couple, Adam and Eve, who bring about a curse.

They too were living in a time of grace:

“You are free to eat of any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.”

They too conspire and attempt to cover up the truth.

However, instead of the immediate conclusion of the death curse – “when you eat of it you will certainly die” – Adam and Eve are shown grace. They are removed from the garden so that there is no possibility of them eating from the tree of life and living forever; they are mortal – and their earthly life is grace.

Both our couples were living in a time of grace, but did not live as if they lived in a time of grace. Both couples were sinful – and “the wages of sin is death”.

So, is grace missing from the story of Ananias and Sapphira?

They sinned and they died. This should not surprise us. But it does. Surely they should have had a chance to repent of their hypocrisy and to live in grace?

That was the opportunity they had already had – and that they missed.

It was all going so well: devotion to the apostles teaching, prayer, signs and wonders, sharing. The people had “glad and sincere” hearts. “and God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them”.

This glad sincerity was lacking in our unfortunate couple. They must have felt inadequate, unable to give, unable to live up to the generosity on all sides. What they missed was the grace. They didn’t have to give their money away:

“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

Ananias and Sapphira could have lived freely – they could have received from others if they were in need; they could have given freely if they had wanted to.

There was grace there – but they decided to spurn the grace offered and construct their own safety net – keeping a little back for themselves and kidding on they were better people than they were.

The difference between Adam and Eve and Ananias and Sapphira is the delay or otherwise between the sinful act and physical death. Ananias and Sapphira are cast out of the place of grace as they had not accepted it, as Adam and Eve did not accept the grace afforded to them in Eden.

The truth is, sin brings death – be that immediate physical death, metaphorical death, spiritual death, death of relationships, death of what is right…

We just get so used to living in grace that we don’t appreciate it – we forget that we live on a gift of time. We try to concoct our own plans to ensure that our futures and those of our children are secure in our own strength – be that by affiliating ourselves with churches and charities, getting good jobs and pensions, protecting our own resources, our own reputations – our egoism has no bounds.

Ananias and Sapphira are a very familiar couple, trying to appear well meaning – and actually being well meaning in some respects – but they were ultimately self-serving.

Their fundamental problem was that they missed the grace that was theirs.

You don’t have to do anything to appear great in front of God.

You can’t, in fact.

You are not great, in front of God.

You can do things to appear great in front of people. God sees straight through that.

We need to accept his grace and live in it.

(I should do a line by line on Romans 6 now as that is where all the answers are to this one. Another time perhaps.)

… in which I shed my shed…

“I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones…”

It was countdown to Armasheddon. The Leaning Shed of Eaglesham had been getting squintier by the day. If only I had set up a time lapse, back when the shed was first erected; we could have watched the slow twist and slope as gravity gradually took hold, when what went up would start to come down of its own accord.

Built in a hurry, to store a pile of junk we didn’t need, want or use for the following decade, the shed originally did well. It kept our half empty paint pots, leftover tiles, redundant gardening tools and ill-considered amazon purchases beautifully protected from the elements.

Then the door started to stick; then it started to refuse to shut; then it definitely started to go a bit squint and the Leaning Shed of Eaglesham became a thing.

Meanwhile, I dreamed a dream of a summerhouse, a she-shed, a little timber haven that would have nothing in it but a silent seat for one and a view of my view.

“Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry…”

The day finally came when I couldn’t give the shed garden-room any more. I took the aforementioned carefully stored items to the tip, got a crowbar and started the demolition.

It was very satisfying at first, kicking out the tongue and groove slatty things, taking care to dash away if the shed threatened to lurch or topple too far in my direction.

The weird thing was, it turned out that the whole shed was being kept “up” by a solitary paint can, that was maintaining as close to a right angle as it could, on a shelf by the door. Dislodging that was a scary moment. A bit like playing kerplunk.

The other tricky part was getting the roof off. It was so robust compared to the rest it, what with its waterproof roofing and the fact that it was made of two massive sheets of actual wood and not the daft slatty things that the walls were made of.

Once the shed was fully skeletal, and the structural-integrity paint can was gone, the weight of the roof started to slowly, slowly crush and twist what was left of it. I got a bit panicky that I might be rumbled in the act of demolition by someone tall, strong or competent before I got it down.

So I went a bit crazed with my hammer and crowbar and battered and pulled at the roof until it was finally flat and inert and looking as if it had never thought twice about knocking my garden wall down at all. Phew.

The quoted parable doesn’t work out well for the man in the story. He dies before he can get his bigger barn up.  I haven’t got my summerhouse yet. I just have the space for it, which has turned out to be a very useful place to dry clothes.

Here’s hoping I can earn enough peanuts to buy a summerhouse next spring. I also hope that it’s vertical.

…in which I buy a lot of dresses in charity shops…

If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I am generally wearing fitness kit and am covered in grass and mud, unless you know me from my other real life, where I still dress like a teenager with converses, jeans, a t-shirt and a hoodie. At work, though, I wear dresses, so as to appear like an adult. (I still can’t do the tights thing though, unless I am wearing my game-changer heels – and that’s only for special occasions when I need to look tall as well as old. Although I am old at work, which is weird, so maybe I don’t need to dress up as if I am in my mid-forties which is what I am.)

The Year of the Dress began in August 2008, when I thought I would wear dresses to work for a year. Ten years in, and I have never looked back. Why leave oneself open to the possibility of mis-matched separates, when you can simply put on a dress?

The charity shop thing was gradual at first. I sometimes had half an hour to kill before collecting my daughters from a thing, and would have a rummage in charity shops, picking up random things that would do for various events that I was only half-heartedly going to; I would head to the charity shops for dress up, when I was going to be Velma, or Where’s Wally?

Then the dress thing started to happen in earnest. My favourite full-price shops for work-dresses are Oasis and Wallis, with a hint of Next. Dresses there are usually about £45-£70. The trouble is, I am paid in actual peanuts, so one resents spending one’s hard earned peanuts on dresses to wear to earn the said peanuts in the first place.

It turns out that the charity shops are stuffed full of the dresses I would have paid £65 for, except they are all, pretty much, £7.99. They even do three-for-a-tenner deals sometimes. And they are all in great condition.

I know what you are thinking; you are thinking  – eh, are they not a bit fusty and come with an air of “someone else”? Well, I find that a run through the machine and an afternoon on the line brings them out as good as new. I also figure that the people that donate the dresses are just people like me who donate dresses; it’s just that the dress has served its purpose; it maybe doesn’t sit right on its original owner; it is now too small or too big depending on how their diet is going; they’ve worn it out with all their various groups of friends and they want to give it a new lease of life.

The unexpected thing that has happened is that shopping in full-price shops is something I now look at through spectacles of a different colour. I see people scouring the sale lines of random sizes and colours, looking for a bargain, and it looks no different to a charity shop rail – but the prices are daft. Honestly, they would be better off doing a lap of a charity-shop-rich area. It is now, I think, perhaps impossible for me to pay full price for a dress. That part of me is perhaps broken. Buying a new new dress is, in fact, throwing money away.

The quality of the stock that you see is generally excellent. If you can get over the fust question and the second-hand thing, I highly recommend it.

The other motivation that has sidled up to me while my charity shop habit was going exponential is my eco-niece @lesswastelaura. By buying things that have already had a life, and donating them back again, it keeps the thrift economy ticking over and reduces the demand for more new stuff, so that’s good too.

Happy shopping, everyone. I’ll race you to the bargains!

… in which I make flapjacks… #gbbo #flapjacks

I am very excited these days. Every morning I wake up buzzing for the day ahead. It’s weird. I must be riding an exercise-induced-endorphin high.

Of course, yesterday I had good reason to be excited. The Great British Bake Off is back on air – giving me a perfect example of plot structure, which always comes in handy, I find.

This year I have two aims for the Bake Off season: I plan to bake something every Tuesday to eat during Bake Off; I also plan to lose 1 to 2 lbs every week, meaning I have a normal BMI by Christmas or thereabouts. So, I’m using all my powers of doublethink.

You may know that baking is not my area of gifting; my adventures in making pancakes are well documented.

I thought that, for an easy signature bake, I would follow the flapjack recipe from the back of my porridge oats packet (despite the fact that the apostrophe and the spelling of ‘porage’ make me feel uneasy (even although both are in fact perfectly justifiable, but one does have to go through the loop of thinking about them every time you see the packet) not to mention the gender and national stereotyping on the box… unless he is the eponymous Scott, of course.)

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I went to Morrison’s for the specified 20cm sandwich tin and some demerara sugar. All set.

Now, my oven is famous for burning food. Bad workman’s tools and all that. So, I figured that the 190 degrees thing was likely to end in charred oats, so I went for 175 degrees.

Recipe followed, sandwich tin in oven, 20 minutes on the timer.

So…. what do you think happened? Do you think:

Paul: It’s underbaked.

Pru: It’s a bit dry.

Or neither of the above?

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Well, true to form, it was kind of a bit burnt around the edges. When I scored it into 8 wedges, as instructed, after cooling it for 15 minutes, the middle was totally squashed. Maybe I was a bit heavy handed with the pizza cutter. The syrup kind of sank to the bottom. The middle may have been totally squishy, but I had to saw the crust off, because the edges were in fact inedible.

If I was making them again, I would leave out the ground ginger. And I might add some seeds to make them a bit more protein-tastic. Not that I have any right to tinker at the edges of a recipe that probably works fine for the rest of the population. However, I don’t see how I can get them right. If I had stuck to the recipe and baked them at the 190 degrees, they would have been actual charcoal.

Maybe I need to cover them with foil for the bake or something.

Anyway, I shall forgo the title of Star Baker for this week.

Maybe next time.

1 Thessalonians Thoughts #4: Love and Life

The first section of Chapter 4 has advice on “how to live in order to please God”. Most people today are not interested in “how to live in order to please God” which is probably why they find it weird that some people are. But some people are.

The Thessalonians were. There is a repeated phrase in this passage. Paul tells them that they are living “in order to please God” but urges them to do this “more and more”. The same “more and more” recurs when Paul encourages them to “love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” which they are doing – but he wants them to do it “more and more”.

This passage says that they are totally on the right lines, but they should ramp it up a bit and do what they are doing “more and more”.

So, what is that? How can one “live in order to please God”? I despise bullet points, but I think it’s about to happen:

  • be sanctified
  • avoid sexual immorality
  • learn to control your own body
  • don’t wrong or take advantage of others in this context

Christians sometimes get accused of having an unhealthy interest in the morality of issues pertaining to sex – but those things are not the issue at the heart of the issue.

The first real issue is holiness; that is the goal of the believer. (Or is should be.)

Secondly, there is a concern about the issue of consent and the wellbeing of other people.

Christians should live considered lives, moral lives – not out-a-control spontaneous and selfish lives. The self is for God – and the self should not take advantage of others.

Paul moves on from sex to love; he does not conflate the two.

He praises the Thessalonians for their love for each other and the extended church – and he urges them to do this “more and more” and then he gives his not-rocket-science life-advice:

 “… make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands…”

I think this is great. I love the clash between “ambition” and “quiet life”. If you think of an ambitious person, you don’t imagine they would be happy with a quiet life; a quiet life doesn’t have that bigger and better vibe you’d expect. Paul himself isn’t having much of a quiet life when he is giving this advice, running into opposition every time he opens his mouth. Minding your own business is also an interesting one – and an important one. The Christians are told how they have to live to please God; it does not say that they have to tell other people how to live. Their own business (apart from their literal businesses) was to be sanctified and to love people. To “work with your hands” is also important; no scrounging! He continues:

“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

This links back to Paul and the team working while they stayed with the Thessalonians; Christians should not be a burden to people; there should be a work ethic.

When Christians try to figure out what God’s will is for them, I think verses like this are great. You can shut your eyes real tight, pray real hard and look for an exciting global mission – but if there isn’t a distinct calling, one should have the humility to take the advice of Paul in this verse about ambition.

The Thessalonians were to get on with living well. The rest of the letter talks about what they were expecting to happen – in terms of death and the end times – which perhaps explains why Paul was having to instruct them on how to live settled daily lives in the meantime.

For Christians, then, to live to please God involves behaving oneself, working hard and getting on with contributing to stability in society while taking others into account. Sounds like a good idea.

1 Thessalonians Thoughts #3: Reassurance

A theme in Chapter 3 is reassurance. When persecution came, Paul and his team:

“…sent Timothy…to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.”

Timothy’s role was to reassure the Thessalonians that persecution was to be expected and was not an indicator of failure.

Paul himself was in need of reassurance as he:

“…was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.”

Timothy’s report reassures Paul:

“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.”

Paul is relieved and refreshed because the Thessalonians had not been “unsettled” by the trials being suffered:

“For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.”

This letter gives the sense that, superficially, Paul’s ministry looked as if it was going horribly wrong. Chapter 2 verse 1 has the claim, “You know … that our visit to you was not without results” or  “was not a failure.”

There is the sense that it looked like a failure, but that this was not important.

I suppose if you join a movement or jump on a bandwagon and then the ringleaders get carted off to prison, you might think twice about the wisdom of being tarred with their brush.

When one part of the church was being persecuted, it needed to know that the rest of the church was remaining faithful, so that they could “really live”.

When things look as if they are going horribly wrong, maybe they aren’t. But when it looks that way, the rest of the church should remain faithful so that those persecuted can “really live”, despite their circumstances.

1 Thessalonians Thoughts #2: Relationships

In chapter 2, Paul continues to explore the relationship between his mission team and this church in Thessalonica. He reflects on the methods and the motives he had when engaging with this group.

Paul characterises the relationships between the team and the church using imagery based on other relationships, including family relationships.

Firstly he claims:

“as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”

So Paul is claiming that they could have simply taken charge and been able to call the shots, but they were like “young children”. What are young children like? Playful? Wanting to learn? Innocent? Dependent? Kind of a weird image to use when he’s supposed to be the big-hitter of an apostle. But I suppose that’s his point.

The imagery then switches to another relationship:

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.”

How does a nursing mother care for her children? If it is to do with the nursing part, the main thing is the availability and the attention of the mother. And it is sacrificial; it is characterised by the need of the child and for the child’s benefit and growth. Presumably, Paul is making reference to some kind of 24/7 policy for giving the Thessalonians what they needed – allowing himself to be drained of his knowledge and teaching for the betterment of the people. And this is motivated by love.

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

I have always liked this quote – “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. It makes me think of Christian life at its best, when people have integrity and share time – rather than hit-and-run evangelism. Paul goes on to describe another important feature of ministry as it should be:

“Surely you remember… our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”

While they were on their mission trip, they paid their own way; they did not impose on Jason of Thessalonica financially.

Here comes another relationship simile:

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…

So, Paul and the team have gone from being like little children to being nursing mothers and now they have arrived at fatherhood in an image of ideal parenting.

There is one more relationship image in this chapter:

when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought…

(Caveat: my own Bible’s version just says “when we were torn away from you” – so I am not sure if the translator just got over-excited with the family imagery going on in this chapter and decided to run with it– or if there were connotations of being an orphan floating around the words of the original text. So I may very well be reading too much into this.)

Paul claims he was “orphaned” metaphorically – perhaps a link back to being like little children – children that want to be with their primary carer above everyone else – in distress when they have to be left behind or, in Paul’s case, to be elsewhere.

Paul clearly sees the church in Thessalonica to be part of his family – a family bound together with interdependence, love and a desire to be together. It is interesting to note the variety of roles he saw himself and his team in – as a father, a mother and a child – and also conveying the distress of separation from them.

What’s your role in your family? I suppose that most of us have multiple roles – I am a mum, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin – it depends which relationship is in play at any given point. And in the church – do we feel like “brothers and sisters” as (I haven’t quoted here but) Paul keeps saying (although I suspect the “and sisters” are editorial but I don’t know)?

How much does your church feel/operate like a family? And who are you in it? (I’m just… the kind of relative you have to explain to your friends, once out of earshot…)

1 Thessalonians Thoughts #1: Reputations

Technically, you shouldn’t read someone else’s letter. If the envelope doesn’t have your name on it, you should generally leave the envelope alone.

This letter was from Paul, Silas and Timothy to the Christians in Thessalonica – so it was a group letter to a group, so it is less private – perhaps a little like a post on a group page.

As you read the opening chapter of 1 Thessalonians, you get the sense of the relationship between the writers and the recipients and hints about the characters involved and the events in the background. This letter hasn’t come down the centuries in a vacuum; the context for the letter is given in the book of Acts.

(Primarily, I think) Paul is writing to a group of Christians that he has spent time with and knows:

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.

I am not sure if this is hyperbolic or literal – but with the “always”, “all” and “continually” we get the impression that the Thessalonians are important to the writers.

Some beautiful sentence structure here with reference to:

…your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have the three pairings – work/faith; labour/love; endurance/hope – that give us three groupings. We have faith, love and hope being produced, prompted and inspired – as you might expect – but we also have work, labour and endurance which paint a practical picture of the Thessalonians and the action that sprang from their faith, hope and love.

This balance of faith and action seems to be evidence that:

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

Their conversion was more than intellectual assent; it was a firm belief that had a necessary outworking. The “power … the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” must have been apparent in their response – and however this was initially apparent, it turned into this culture of work, labour and endurance.

This next quote reminds me of “Highlander” when Sean Connery’s character explains to the Christopher Lambert character that they are both immortal, but the immortals are generally trying to blend in:

You know how we lived among you for your sake.

In the account in Acts they were there for two or three weeks and stayed with someone called Jason.

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

The “severe suffering” here could perhaps be reference to this opposition to the gospel:

they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

So it all got a bit political and Paul and his team were moved on to Berea, the next town. The opposition caught up with them there, which may be evidence for this claim:

you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

With the mobs, riots and politics, it seems likely that the whole region would be aware of the events in Thessalonica.

Paul clarifies what the reputation of the Christians in Thessalonica was:

… you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

They had changed the focus of what they were living for. They were not serving “idols”; whatever they had loved or revered before was now no longer so prized. The waiting for Christ’s return was central as they thought this was imminent – and so the focus was on eternal things. What “the coming wrath” is, I am not sure.

I think the theme of this opening chapter is perhaps reputation: “the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something.”

From Paul and his team’s point of view, the Thessalonian Christians had a reputation for faith, hope and love, evidenced by work, labour and endurance which was a result of power, the work of the Holy Spirit and conviction.

Outwith the church, they had the reputation of being sympathisers to political radicals, harbouring troublemakers with their own reputation for causing trouble all over the world. I think this characterisation is interesting as in our own day there is a propensity for the world to say “so, what you’re saying is…” before misrepresenting one’s beliefs: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

More widely, they had the reputation of being full of faith. Interestingly, Paul says “your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it”- so strong was this reputation.

I am skipping ahead a bit – but this verse has a good solution to any issues with reputation:

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,  so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thess 4: 11-12

Good advice for anyone .

Oh I do like to be beside the Deeside #runbalmoral

Last year I went to Aberdeenshire and ran “The Illuminator” – 15 miles through glorious scenery in the pitch dark which, while fun, did seem a bit ironic, given the scenery I hadn’t seen.

So we signed up for “Run Balmoral Trac 15 Mile Trail Race” which was during the day, so that we could run through glorious scenery and see it.

The Illuminator had taken me three hours and twenty minutes, so I figured the RunBalmoral 15 miles would be about the same – given that both races were all about elevation.

Imagine my horror and faint panic when I read on the instructions a few days before setting out to Deeside:

“There is a cut off time of 3 hours for the event.”

Ahhh!

“If you are out on the course after three hours, you will be given the option to either stop and be transported back to the finish area or if you continue, you will be made aware that the marshals will be removed and you will have to make your own way back.”

How stressful! I was consumed with visions of a sweeper Land Rover snapping at my heels as I failed to eat up those now oh-so-necessary 12-minute-miles. But to cut 20 minutes off my time-for-distance was a tall order. Much as I didn’t want to arrive at the finish line in a Land Rover, I also didn’t much fancy being left out in the foothills of Lochnagar with nothing more than a dwindling supply of water and three jelly babies.

I was going to have to run faster. (I wasn’t even entertaining the other option that they gave; you could ask for a head start. Just no.)

I have a problem with speed – but I had done some research… and was told to take more steps and lean forward. Other people said I needed to… move more quickly. That kind of thing.

I did an uncharacteristic amount of number crunching in my head, figuring out what I would hope would be on my FitBit at various points in the run. I don’t have a head for numbers; it was quite a challenge. But twelve-minute miles would be good, so ten-minute miles would be better, and I could save up some minutes to use at tricky bits. So that was the plan.

After a full Scottish breakfast and the donning of optimised kit (including the last formal outing of my soon-to-be-retired-NorthFace trail shoes, ancient but very reliable non-chafing shorts, my orange-therefore-easy-to-spot-in-race-photos Deerstalker t-shirt, my Tweed Tunnel Trail run buff, my invincibility gloves and my hydration system and jelly babies… all good and ready to go) we arrived at Balmoral and trekked in to the event village toting our post-race tote bags.

The morning had been beautiful, but the temperature was dropping and there was plenty of chittering to be done until we got going. With the fear of very possible failure giving this race a bit more of an edge than other races,  I resolved to “go faster”.

The first mile was dull tarmac – far too bangy for my shins; the second mile was similar. I think it went to hard packed track after that. At the 3 mile water stop, I cruised on through, saving valuable seconds, I hoped, by wrestling with my own hydration system. The path improved to a more trail run terrain – but pretty much the whole race was on hard packed surfaces.

As usual, I was being overtaken by everyone – I just hoped there were some people left behind me. I was doing my slow-and-steady-completes-the-race-in-three-hours pace – but there were others around me that weren’t. Two girls stopped for selfies all the time. When they stopped for a selfie, I overtook them; when they finished with the selfies, they overtook me. Repeat to fade. There was also a couple with big backpacks (I have no idea what they thought might be useful beyond water and jelly babies – but there must have been something) who I kept overtaking because they were WALKING TWO ABREAST ON A NARROW PATH – but I overtook them about five times, so they must have overtaken me about five times. They must have been doing walk/sprint intervals or something. With their rocket booster packs maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know why people walk on races unless the incline is insane. It’s very annoying when you are tortoising along like me.

So the three mile water stop was also the eight mile water stop at the end of the forest loop. I passed the eight mile marker at an hour and a half which was ideal. This meant that I had a mile’s worth of minutes to spread out over the second half of the race which was a mile shorter, as it were.

The first eight miles felt like a bit of a necessary evil to get to the bit I was interested in running – above the tree line. It was good. We punched up out of the trees to an open landscape with a middle-of-nowhere vibe about it – where you can imagine Queen Victoria and her various descendants getting away from it all with dogs, horses and John Brown etc, making up “The Old Man of Lochnagar” and avoiding the paparazzi. Of course, there was a photographer there for us, with Lochnagar looking a bit moody and atmospheric in the background…

At the ten mile marker my FitBit said 1hr 57 minutes – so it was still possible. Five miles an hour. So I reprogrammed my brain away from twelve minute miles into ‘just go faster’.  I was plodding along keeping going, keeping going, while everyone else was walking – and then this girl was about to overtake me WHILE WALKING, which does your psychology no good at all – so I caved in and walked with her for a bit.  I took the risk of taking a few pictures at the eleven mile mark which I think was the high point literally and metaphorically with great moody views one way and bright blue sky the other.

Oooooh… bleak and majestic…oooh….

Then it was downhill. My neck went into cramp which I could have done without, and my legs were beginning to struggle but I kept going and kept going. The descent was good – long and gradual, until the infamous “last hill” that was absolutely fine. I think, had there been worse weather on the run up to the race, this might have been a more challenging feature – but I liked it, as it gave me soft terrain for a sharp descent to the end of the race.

I knew that the three hours was possible, so I mountain-goated my way down out of the trail section, back onto a few hundred yards of the tarmac and across the line.

Approaching the finish line as they dismantle the course…

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Hoping they have a medal left for me 🙂

My Fitbit gave me the good news: 2 hours 59 minutes 56 seconds. Phew! I was absolutely delighted with my time and my medal and my t-shirt, although when I went to pick up my post-race-tote bag, there were only about three left!

The event village was all being packed away – the burger vans had gone, but there were free sandwiches – and the hot chocolate van was still there. We quickly got changed, half expecting the changing marquee to get taken down while we were in it – the place was deserted as all the fast folk had gone home…

Balmoral Castle was looking beautiful and the estate looking glorious. I wonder if the Queen would have preferred to watch Aberdeenshire’s fittest speeding by her window to celebrate her 92nd birthday rather than being down in London watching a variety show. I know where I’d rather be.

In comparison to other races, this was the least inclusive fitness/ability wise; the field was very… elite. Normally in large events I am exactly average – coming pretty much precisely half way in placings. This event – I was in the bottom ten percent, I think. One didn’t get the impression that there were people running primarily for charities or for someone’s birthday or stag-do or anything. These people were runners. The keenest runners were the “Devil of the Deeside” entrants – who were doing four events over two days – 5k, 10k, a running and cycling duathlon and then the 15 mile race I was doing. I had hoped/ suspected that the Devils would be … tired… on our race, but no. Fresh as daisies.

Overall we had a great time – as I had hoped  – it was very beautiful and to have made it under the finish line with seconds to spare was great. I would have been very annoyed with myself for taking pics on the course if I hadn’t made it in on time!

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