Somebody that I Used to Know

There has been very little time to sit and consider the achievement of last week until now. I will be applying for the Ballot for the 46 when it is open, with no desire at all to complete the 100. Knowing what’s involved, having had to deal with the virtual versions of both hills, that’s not what will ever be considered enjoyable. I’m not sure a lot of the 46 was that much fun in the rain, but it would be a lie to say the overall experience wasn’t satisfying. Next time however I’m determined to complete the thing on more than three hours sleep.

Sitting here in a foreign country, this is the first opportunity there’s been for a while to think generally away from what counts as normal life since before I started race training. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that on my return there will be much more of the same, with a probable increase in frequency: not because there needs to be improvement, but because there’s more enjoyment whilst doing that than was previously realised. Exercise has stopped simply being for a purpose, and has evolved into a genuine form of relaxation, which may sound odd, but is 100% accurate.

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There are other changes already being formulated too: my working space is going to alter (and reduce) plus there are thoughts forming that might relocate me completely. The benefit of going away, ultimately, is to allow readjustment of everything that surrounds, and it would be a foolish person (in my mind) that did not attempt some form of reinvention at least on a yearly basis. So, on our return (after a break with its fair share of drama) it feels only right and proper to start as I mean to go on.

The other key to this shift will not be to go out and buy new stuff to fill this space, but recycle what already exists in the house. There is plenty of desk space available to move and shift, and I’m not looking for anything sparkly or ‘new’ to work with. It will be a challenge of an ability to creatively recycle, and that’s something that appeals to a brain which is beginning to grasp that the future isn’t about a relentless process of continual consumption. There are some issues left to address at home too, it would be lovely to try and fix as many as possible in the months that follow, and those within my grasp will be summarily addressed.

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This is a much needed holiday. When I get back, the hard work will begin again, but with renewed enthusiasm.

The Vatican Museum

I’ve never been religious, neither are my parents… in fact, I’m pretty certain that God has never featured in anything other than marriages and deaths. Therefore it was with a sense of some discomfort myself and Mr Alt decided to visit the Vatican Museums on one of their Friday night ‘open late’ events, as it would certainly have been uncomfortable to do so during daylight hours. As it transpires, the humidity was an issue, but after a while this was forgotten as debate sparked, and then raged.

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This museum is a celebration of two things: history and religion. If my understanding of the history is correct, it wasn’t just a good life and pious deeds that got you into the Eternal Kingdom, but your service to the Church. Some of that was manual, but an awful lot ended up as material contribution. The entire building is the exhibition of that accumulated ‘wealth’: probably billions of hours of work, care and appreciation from all over the Globe. In the most crass terms, this is a storage warehouse full to bursting with God’s gifts from those who worship his wonder. To see it all, you pay a not inconsiderable amount of money for the privilege.

The irony part of my brain last night was having a field day.

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There are areas in this Museum where you cannot go, because it is still a church, and you are expected to dress appropriately… except last night many people didn’t and were still allowed in. Presumably after a while it doesn’t matter and you just take the money regardless. The Sistene Chapel, it must be said, remains an impressive example of religious devotion, but you cannot take pictures. I’m sure the low light levels will preserve Michelangelo’s legacy but still, half a mind flits back to making people buy prints from the Gift shop. Most ironically of all there’s a Priest stop outside which (presumably) is meant for Catholics who wish to discuss the significance of this work in relation to God. Last night, it was disappointingly empty.

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Love of family and others are obviously familiar sensations: doing the same to a non-corporeal being has always been difficult to grasp. However, with respect to those for whom this is both important as well as a significant part of their lives, there’s an awful lot of jaw-dropping devotion to task on show. The amount of time and effort placed into gifts puts modern day efforts to shame. However, and this for me was crucial, all of this remains very much a product of the ages in which it was created. I can wonder at the artistry at work, but am fairly confident that those making the items were very much not a representation of their era’s reality. All of this has to be considered in judgement: art is beautiful and awe inspiring, but unless it truly mirrors the society it is created within, it is not the whole story.

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It was, all told, a very interesting experience. There was only one complaint, and that is that the Ladies toilets are some of the most shockingly awful I’ve had to deal with on any foreign holiday. If there was going to be a metaphor for how I fit into the Catholic Church’s grand plan, this might be it. Making your church more welcoming should really be the order of the day, and if you could start by improving the little things, the larger stuff will end up being far less stressful…

The Colosseum

One of the reasons why our holiday this year is in Europe was because of me. Italy’s always held a special allure, and with European travel (potentially) becoming a bit of a minefield starting next year (cheers Brexit) it seemed like a good idea to push for this trip before that happened. The fact Rome became a Bond location in SPECTRE is an added bonus (*cough* Florence and Lake Como on the way back *cough*) but this belittles a very important part of my real reasoning for being here. I’m a massive history nut, and the home of the Roman Empire’s been on the To Do list since I first learnt what a Gladiator was, and we’re not talking about the spandex clad athletes on ITV who used to battle with giant cotton buds.

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Our farmhouse is on the end of the Metro line which deposits tourists literally outside the front door: this was Nero’s grand plan, to transform the existing structure on the site to a massive stadium. Begun in AD 69, it became the Empire’s centre for entertainment and spectacle and, most importantly, one of the most famous examples of religious persecution in History. For a city that remains deeply Christian, this serves as the permanent reminder of how intolerance must take place for acceptance to flourish. I’ve never been religious but the multiple significances at play continue to fuel interesting and challenging moral dilemma.

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It is also a RIDICULOUSLY photogenic landmark, which has detail and depth that I suspect most tourists don’t even consider. The regulation in brickwork is frankly staggering, and the skill in construction means that it has survived several major earthquakes (and attempts to recycle its structure) to surprising effect. I will be poring over the books I’ve bought in the next few weeks, and the pictures taken are more than likely to end up in a collage in my working space at home. The place is a testament not only to the people who built the structure, but those who perished within it for their beliefs. This was entertainment, pure and simple, and there are still parallels we can draw from within the walls that mirror our own modern existence.

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There are those who will maintain that history is only useful if it provides the means to make good the mistakes that took place, but monuments like this are the exception to that rule. Here is a structure that mirrors the continuation of religious persecution for entertainment: these guys stuck believers in with lions, we vilify opposition via a global arena. When all is said and done, very little has changed in 2000 years. This monument however has survived attempts to destroy it, reminding us that sometimes, it isn’t about the memories of a place, but the place itself which defines an experience.

Once we’d done here, it was time for a change of clothes and then off to the institution that grew from their humble beginnings as cat-food to utterly dominate the same city that once considered them as heretics…

Day Four :: Rome

As I’m writing this, my son and husband are out exploring Rome after dark. My daughter is still recovering from her dodgy ankle, with me here largely in the background, but tomorrow she should be well enough to go out too.

Today therefore has been writing whilst my husband sorted out patching up the van, and our first group meal in the Villa (apart from breakfast.)

Expect some pictures in the morning

Day Three :: Genoa to Rome

The plan was simple enough, we’d be taking a trip to Pisa, with plenty of time for my daughter to limp about, before arriving in Rome really late. Except, as is often the case, that was not what circumstances dictated.

We were five minutes from destination when it happened: a sickening crash and bang and off drove the coach driver, clearly with no intention of stopping. All those Bond movies have not been lost on my husband, who gave chase and successfully got the guy to stop. Needless to say, this has put a crimp in the rest of the stay. Right now Mr Alt is at an Italian Ford dealership working out whether it is possible to get the windscreen repaired at all. Joint wisdom, after checking the damage last night, is the poor van (which is less than three months old) will need not simply a complete new tailgate but probably rear bumper too.

However, we are here and safe, which is all that really matters.

This apartment is one of four in the building, converted from a farmhouse a decade ago, which has seen the rest of this Rome suburb effectively built around it. If I had to find an appreciable British equivalent, it is probably not unlike the eastern part of London that I cycled through a couple of weeks ago: the place itself owes a lot to Ikea in furnishing, but is all bare floors and wooden beams, which will be extensively photographed today. It’s also extremely hot with only one working AC unit at present, which should become two at some point today. To be honest, I’m not that fussed about the heat. This is an incredibly convivial location to write, and that’s what we’ll do today.

I am also hoping to have my first proper lunch since Sunday. If nothing else, I’m pretty confident stepping on the scales once returning to the UK there’s gonna be some weight lost…

Day Two :: Dijon to Genoa

This was not an auspicious start, all told.

Daughter has badly sprained her ankle, but we wanted to be sure it wasn’t broken in a country where at least one of us spoke the language, so a minor diversion was worth the couple of hours to accommodate. Then it was the same time again to hit Switzerland, where the kids got to understand that not all of Europe is the same financially (40 quid for 2 burgers, a quid to go to the bathroom) before we hacked it up the Alps. I’m not one normally to be staggered by road trips, but the pictures I have are frankly mesmerising. Gimme a day here to sort my shit out, and I’ll upload a bunch to Flickr.

Italy was as bonkers road-wise as everybody told us it would be, and we made it Genoa as the sun went down, to a hotel which was early 20th Century splendour incarnate (even down to a classic glass elevator in the middle of the staircase). I wish now I’d taken pictures, but Tuesday was utterly exhausting. In fact, the journey down was one of the most mentally taxing experiences for a while, added to the physical exhaustion of the Ride London 46, and by Tuesday night the plot had been summarily lost.

As it transpired, things were only going to get more stupid on Wednesday.

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You know I mentioned my e-mail address stopped working a while back? Well, yesterday I discovered a quite important e-mail that had gone astray.

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I made it into the Ride London 46 Ballot. Fortunately I’ve not missed anything vital and the participation’s confirmed, though not gonna lie, I’m terrified. It’s exactly seven weeks on Sunday, which is also the day before we go on holiday, and suddenly everything’s become a panicked, anxiety filled mess. This is not how it was hoped such a thing would initially be prepared for and so, as a result, it’s time to take a fucking huge step back at the weekend and quietly consider what is needed.

However, before anything else, it is time to start selling the reason why I initially signed up to do this.

I grow tired of the pontificating on Social media by people who talk a good ‘let’s all change the World’ speech but don’t ever push their own boundaries to do just that. So, I’ve set myself a £500 target, and have already contacted Mind, who will provide me with a jersey and encouragement along the way. This seems to me a far better means of making sure that the people who really need help are getting it, because I’m giving money to an organisation who’s sole task is to do just that. Rather than just sitting on my arse saying I care, this is a constructive means of making things better.

If the anxiety ridden depressive can do this, then maybe that will act as an incentive to others.