But let’s be chronological here. Quest first, on Saturday. This is held at Newton Abbot racecourse in Devon every year at this time. Last year’s was a washout weather-wise but I had high hopes for this year. Because of my sponsored walk on Sunday I could only go on Saturday so Mr B, my 12 year old step-son and I set out almost at the crack of dawn (well, 8.30 but you know what I’m like in the morning by now) down to Devon. A beautiful day which clouded over as we went south and west. By the time we arrived it was overcast and grey and the clouds seemed ominously heavy. Typical!
We did a quick circuit – it’s a lovely venue with the indoor bit jam-packed with the usual Health and Healing /Mind, Body, Spirit stalls which I’m getting quite accustomed to this year, and also a lot of outdoor gazebos and tents with more ethnic/new age stuff for sale. I tried to persuade Mr B to buy a colourful Afghan hat but he’s still a bit of a refusenik about anything too unconventional. Although improving by the year. My step-son bought a black sort of gangster hat though – mostly I think because it made him think of Michael Jackson in the Billie-Jean video – and he did a hilarious impersonation later.
I said hello to many friends with stalls including Mercury Rising (great books, Tarot cards, etc) and Celtic Moon (beautiful things like moongazy hares, jewellery and a wonderful range of head-dresses). After a healthy lunch (Mr B’s diet is going very well indeed) we went along to Bob Broadway’s bookstall where I’d arranged to be all afternoon to sign books. I’ve only recently added Bob as one of my hosting booksellers, and it was great to meet him. He’s completely Stonewylded which helps enormously and surprised me as he comes across as someone quite sceptical and business-like. But as we know, Stonewylde seems to go down well with all sorts, and he’s 100% behind me, promoting the books and looking for opportunities.
We spent a busy afternoon talking to new people and selling books, but also meeting up with Stonewylde fans and readers who’d come over specially. I really do love that. Quest is such a popular event and there were many Stonewylde readers from all over the country there, from as far afield as Cornwall to Leeds! They all came up for a hug and a chat, and I enjoyed that very much. During the afternoon the heavy grey clouds gradually but sneakily cleared and the sun blazed out. I was wearing a sleeveless summer dress and no hat, and Bob had put me outside his gazebo at my own little table. The suncream was in the car, Mr B and my stepson were wandering around and doing interesting things like a drumming workshop, and meanwhile I gradually burned! So stupid – I was really cross with myself.
Whilst we were there, Fiona who organised Quest came to meet me and invited me to do a speaking slot or workshop next year. I gladly accepted (it’s such a popular event and I came to it too late this year) and am looking forward to that already. We also met Bo and Carolyn who are the organisers of Kernowkopia, the wonderful Cornish festival in Newquay in November. They have plastered me all over their promotional literature which was everywhere at Quest (these festival organisers are very supportive of each other which is lovely to see) and this earned me some Brownie points with my step-son, who now believes I’m actually quite famous! I’m so looking forward to Kernowkopia too and hope to get most of my Christmas shopping done there!
We spent the night in Bristol with family, and I had nightmares all night long it seemed about my half marathon walk the next day. I was really suffering from sunburn, and in my dreams I’d forgotten not only my competitor’s number and safety pins, but also my sunhat. I was told by the organisers that I couldn’t take part because of this, which was a bit of a relief. But I woke early and realised, yes, it was all a dream (and that takes me back to my teaching days when every child in the class used to finish their stories with that immortal line until I cruelly banned it). So … smothered in high factor suncream (horse/bolting/gate?) and feeling ridiculous in my ivy-covered bra and hat, I was driven by my lovely Mr B to Ashton Court where the Sunwalk starts.
Once there I was no longer ridiculous at all as every one of the thousands of women (and some men) present was sporting a decorated bra. Mostly pink and fluffy, it has to be said, but still ridiculous. How brave are some women! All shapes and sizes, and walking through the streets of Bristol in a bra, showing off your tummy too, takes a bit of courage. Walk the Walk is the brand-name of this charity, and it organises the famous marathon Moonwalk as well as this half-marathon Sunwalk. The millions of pounds raised by their events around the country all goes to help fight cancer and its horrible effects. One of their many projects is to provide scalp-coolers to chemo units. I saw these when I used to sit with my friend Debbie during her chemo cheap phentermine wholesalers sessions. They’re like an old fashioned hood-dryer, and they help combat hairloss which is often the final demoralising straw for the cancer victim.
The field at Ashton Court was teeming with colour, balloons, excited women and lots of flesh. It was hot and sunny and my sunburn was throbbing under its sunscreen. We did a big razzamatazzy warm up with music and lots of cheering and clapping, but then the lady on stage asked for a minute’s silence to remember why we were all there. The whole arena and the thousands of people went silent, and then by pure coincidence there was a great peal of bells from a nearby church. That was the undoing of me, as my friend Debbie had always loved the sound of churchbells. I’d signed up for the Sunwalk whilst she was still alive and it hit me anew that I would never see her again in this life.
Then we were off – so many bodies pouring through the narrow start gates under the massive digital clock. Up the hill, a stomping good pace but too many people. I usually walk alone and this felt like being in a herd of buffalo! But gradually as time wore on people found their pace and it thinned a bit. I tried to keep fairly near the front and a fast pace, mostly because there were only a few toilet stops and the prospect of queuing with thousands of women was not good. So I marched along, listening to snippets of conversations, looking at the amazing diversity of decorated bras, smiling to the many people who lined our way wishing us well and cheering us on. It was great!
Until it started to rain. I don’t like rain or cold and am not very hardy. Bristol’s quite high up and exposed in places, and the downpour hit when I was up on a windy open plain. The organisers hadn’t of course handed out the little plastic ponchos as it had been blazing sun when we left with only a few innocent cotton wool clouds about. Hah! I was glad of my hat as the huge raindrops lashed down for a couple of miles. To make it worse we actually went past Bristol Zoo whilst it was pouring, and I knew that Mr B and my stepson were inside, probably warm and cosy in Bugworld or something. I was very tempted to peel off from the walkers and join them!
All the way along right from the start, I’d felt like little Gretel in the old Grimm’s Fairytale. There’d been a strange sporadic trail of cerise coloured feathers which started at the beginning of the walk. At some point in my efforts to get near the front, I’d overtaken a group of women all wearing bright pink boas (yes the event was at times slightly reminiscent of a hen-party but without the stilettoes) and had thought “Phew! No more pink feathers to follow!” Don’t get me wrong – I like pink (although maybe not cerise) and there’s nothing wrong with a boa in the right place, but for some reason these ubiquitous feathers were reminding me of the dreaded pink socks incident in the labyrinth, which many who’ve attended my talk will know all about. I felt a similar irrational irritation at the sight of them, so was pleased when I finally overtook their source.
Anyway, we crossed the Clifton Suspension Bridge (spectacular!) and then the rain eased off and the pavements and roads began to steam in the brilliant sunshine. It felt tropical! My spirits lifted as I saw the 11 mile marker – only two more to go! I was aching by this point but okay. I kept remembering bringing parties of primary school kids on their residential trips to Bristol a few years ago. We had some great times, but if only I’d had a glimpse then of July 5th 2009! I was several stone lighter now, happily married and an author! My old self would never in a million years have believed it – and walking 13 miles would have been out of the question then. The only good thing then was that my friend was alive and well.
Finally, we triumphantly turned into the top gates of Ashton Court! It was literally downhill from now on – which when your legs are so aching and tired is actually worse than being on the straight. And then I saw it – a damn cerise coloured feather! No!!! I’d been so convinced I’d finally overtaken them! Passing back under the digital clock through cheering crowds was wonderful, as was having the medal on its pink ribbon put around my neck. Sadly Mr B was still at the zoo at this point so I don’t have a triumphant photo, but the banana I was given was almost as welcome as him. And the fetching foil wrap too, for by this time it was overcast again and with the walking over and the seizing up beginning, I needed something to keep me warm.
I loved doing the Sunwalk and hope to do it again next year – maybe repeating the whole weekend with Quest on the Saturday and Sunwalk on the Sunday, if the dates coincide again. Today I’m in agony but there’s no time for that as the 5km Race for Life run is less than two weeks away and I need to start training for that again. It’s all gone out the window with this recent heatwave. But no more excuses – tomorrow I’ll go running. Provided my legs work, which they certainly don’t today! I’m hobbling around like an old lady and with a burnt nose and shoulders too.