I often think that one of the keys to my success over the past few years has been planning and routine. I don't need to think to work out how to fit exercise into my life. I don't get to lunchtime wondering what food choices to make. Everything is set in my mind in advance. I know the combination of tubs to pick out of the freezer in the morning to give me the right mix of meals. I know how to plan my commute to and from work to incorporate the right exercise for the day. My mind has some tried and tested back up plans for when things get a bit disrupted, and essentially it's just a case of reading the instructions.
When things are normal, it works well. My routine is demanding, and it keeps me busy, but it has just about enough "sanity time" built in. I'm out at 6am every morning, and two or three nights a week, but there are two or three for me to recover a bit. I sometimes worry that I don't have enough time to myself to relax, to read, to think, to write, to do the things that feel more like living than simply existing, but when I do have a bit of time, I enjoy it for a while then start to get a bit restless, which I take as a sign that I'm ready to head back onto the treadmill again.
But when things aren't normal, that's when I start to worry whether this is good for me. Yes, when things start to get manic my routine helps me fit more in than I have any right to be able to do, because I've got the technique of packing a bag with everything I need for the day in 5 minutes flat, not forgetting anything, not needing to prepare food from scratch later. But what does seem to go missing is the sanity time, and after a while that really starts to show.
I don't have a great relationship with my dad. There's nothing specific there, or if there is it's hidden deep in my subconscious, we're just not particularly close. I had hoped that we might get closer now that I've started being more active. He was always the sportsman, the walker, and I wondered whether we could tap into some shared interests. That hasn't happened yet. Maybe one reason for our continued distance is my dislike of his attitude towards my mother's family, but that's jumping ahead in the story a bit. He also just doesn't understand me, as when he assumed I'd have a menu for the local chinese takeaway, which was a bit ambitious as I (a) don't like chinese much and (b) haven't had takeaway for about 3 years. And as for the scales he bought me, they're going straight in the bin (not least because they weigh me 2 stone heavier than I am - serves him right for buying cheap tat because he wants to weigh his case and then passing them off as a "present").
Anyway, his dad hasn't been too well recently, so he decided to come over from Gran Canaria to see him. Even though he spent every day at their house, he still stayed at mine for some reason. I'm not actually sure why, to be honest. On the basis that they have a spare room, and had to come over to pick him up and drop him off every day, and half the time I wasn't in anyway, I'm not sure what benefit he got from trekking back over here, but that's a side issue. As is the fact that I found out he was coming from my grandparents. He never bothered to tell me himself, or to ask whether I had any plans. But let's move on. While he was here I did feel like I should spend some time over there. I didn't break into my normal routine, but on the nights when I'd normally have been resting, I went over there. So that cut down my evenings in the house to... well... not very many at all.
And then, on thursday evening when I was over there, my grandfather got a weight off his chest. He's pretty seriously disabled after a bout of polio before I was born, and now he's got something wrong with him, but the doctors aren't exactly sure what. He's having regular blood transfusions, has to go to the hospital every week, and although he looks better now than he did a few weeks ago, is no closer to being better. He wanted to take the opportunity of two thirds of his family being there (all four of us, out of six), and him still being of sound mind, as they say to give us firm instructions about what he wants for himself. He doesn't want to be kept alive. He said he's had a good life, he's 81, and he doesn't want to become a burden on anyone. It wasn't an easy conversation.
So at that point, you'd hope that the mood of the evening could only improve. Until my dad got a phone call from my mum who is still in Spain (they rarely come back at the same time, so someone can look after the business and, more importantly, the cat). When he told my grandparents (not me) what she'd called about it took me a while to compute. Apparently Mrs Newton had been so unwell that they'd called the doctor out to see her.
After a second or two, I realised that he was referring to my other grandmother. It would have been nice if he'd directed his comments at me rather than his family, and if he'd referred to her in terms that I recognise. Or in fact anything that would indicate that he was talking about his own mother in law.
A bit of background here. My grandmother is 80. She was in hospital somewhere over 10 years ago, had a bad experience, and has pretty much refused to see a doctor since. They still go for flu jabs etc, but she refuses to see the doctor about the more serious ailments that she's been suffering from. She intends to "go out of this world as she came into it" (rather ironic for someone with a daughter who spent pretty much her whole childhood in hospital), and has a deep distrust of the medical profession. So if she's agreed to see a doctor, things must be bad.
So I said that I might go over there on the Friday night to see how she was and, equally importantly, how my grandfather was. Rather like me, he's too stubborn to admit when he wants help, or support, or even just a hug. He struggles on trying to cope with my grandmother, and you can tell it gets to him a bit. He worries about her, no matter how much they bicker.
When mum's here she visits her parents, and she visits my dad's parents. When I suggested that I'd go over to St Annes to see them, what was my dad's reaction? Absolute silence. Although it's not entirely an unreasonable idea, I know better than to expect him to go over there on his own. But if I was going anyway, would he join me? Clearly not. I suspect that there may be a minor row on this subject when he gets home. I always get the feeling, from how he talks to his family about them, that he looks down on my mum's side of the family a bit. He's the privately-educated dentist's son from the city, while she's the carpenter's daughter from Wigan, coming from a family where she was the first to go to university and where a good night out is still an evening of bingo at the labour club. I just get the feeling that he sees himself as better than them, and when his family talk about my mum's parents it sometimes has a "look at how the working class live" sort of tone. Maybe I'm being unfair, but his lack of interest in a visit hasn't helped.
So instead of looking forward to Friday night as an opportunity to enjoy the rugby, collapse into bed, and enjoy a long, leisurely run on Saturday morning before the inevitable trip over to my dad's parents, I ended up going to the rugby, then trekking from there to St Annes. On Saturday morning I did cling onto the last remnants of routine by squeezing in (as you do) 17 miles up to Blackpool and back, along the sea front, taking advantage of the fact that I'm an early riser, and my grandparents aren't. Also taking advantage of the fact that whenever I go somewhere I eye up potential routes, so even though I'd never run from their house before, I knew where I'd go if I did) It wasn't the run I'd planned, but it was good to finish 17 feeling like I had something in reserve, even if it wasn't the same as completing 20. I then spent a difficult day trying to find out more details about what's actually wrong, trying to give my grandfather some support, trying to find some way to squeeze some fruit and veg into my diet.
Meanwhile, my dad went over to his parents (again), and they were sorting out getting him to the airport for his return flight. Over 5 days I'd managed to see him for one evening and a couple of snatched moments elsewhere (and he'd still managed to wind me up by leaving biscuits lying around and leaving the toilet seat up!)
I left St Annes at about 7pm and, on the way to the motorway, I picked up a bottle of wine. Having got my long run out of the way, I had just one plan for the rest of the weekend. A glass of wine and collapse into bed when I got home, then do some chores (washing, shopping) to make up for the fact that I'd barely been in the house since Tuesday, on Sunday morning, then spend the rest of the day reading the paper, speaking to no-one, and trying to get my sanity back.
I got home, and I unlocked the door. I put my bags down and I opened the wine before doing anything else. As I grabbed a glass my mobile rang.
It was my dad. The stupid idiot (that might not have been the word I used) had managed to go to the airport on the wrong day. He'd got there and realised that his flight wasn't listed. The flight was this evening, not yesterday. He was coming back to Leeds and needed me to pick him up from the station. By this point I was so tired that when I put the phone down I almost burst into tears. I knew that if he came back I (a) wouldn't be able to go to sleep until he got back (b) wouldn't be able to drink wine while waiting for him (c) wouldn't be able to have a quiet day of doing nothing (d) would need to go over to his parents for lunch (AGAIN) today and (e) was on the verge of going insane. I just about managed to get to the station and back without falling asleep or crying, although by this stage I was virtually incapable of speech, and thankfully this morning I was feeling a bit more sane and agreed to go over there for lunch, if not the whole afternoon. But boy was I glad to get back home afterwards, locking the door behind me, grabbing that bottle of wine for a second time and just collapsing onto the sofa. Then falling asleep.