It didn’t all start with the failed fostering of Ernie the wonder hound. But he certainly was the actual nail in the proverbial. Ernie is a 40 kg greyhound, and we took him on a few months back with a view to fostering and possibly adopting. He didn’t so much hit it off, as hit off everything. He was a massive lump of muscle, and clumsy with it. There were also a few snappy moments with Bonnie, and rather than risk a rushed trip to the vets, we took the gloomy decision to get him back to his original foster home.
But before he went on his way (he is currently out on foster, which is great news), he jumped into the pond a few times. And his heavy frame and long toes punctured the lining and try as I might, I just couldn’t find the leak. Or to be exact, I found a few, fixed them, refilled the pond, and observed with slow dismay as the level dropped slowly each time to about half-empty. Or half-full. Or whatever humour you’re in yourself, like, but the bottom line is that my pond was buggered.
So a couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to redo the pond with concrete. A week of research online followed, which allowed me to make plans and estimate materials required. I was going to need at least two tonnes of gravel and eight bags of cement, minimum, and that was just for the first ‘coat’. A second layer of sand and cement would then be required over that, so more cement might be needed. I borrowed a cement mixer from a friend (all good mates have a mixer in their backyard) and the local builders’ providers dropped off the gravel, cement, sand and the roll of 1,000 gauge polythene I would need to cover the job when it was finished.
Last Saturday, having fully drained out the pond and cleaned up the liner, and made a few alterations to the shape, I got to work mixing up the concrete and barrowing it into the pond over a few layers of chicken mesh. This main layer is about three or four inches thick and forms the bulk of the pond’s lining. It also means losing a bit in depth and volume, but the trade-off is hopefully a pond that never leaks. Sunday was the second layer of sand and cement. Not as thick this time, but this layer needed to be rubbed up with a sponge that it will be reasonably smooth when it dries, and I apply the G4 Pond Sealer. For now, the pond is covered in a tent of polythene to allow the render to set and cure properly without any rain ingress (fingers crossed) and then I can seal it.
It was quite a nostalgic journey for me to be heaving sand and cement into a mixer again. As a youngster, my brother and I spent many days with our Dad, out on various building sites. Even though in his later years he had acquired the ‘general builder’ moniker, he was a plasterer by trade, so you had to get that mix right when he was plastering a wall, or you’d know all about it. The worst mixes required lime, and if you’ve worked with this stuff, you’ll know what I mean. (I still have a scar on my right index finger from doing a little plastering in the house over 15 years ago. Unused to the trowel, I managed to rub away a small patch of skin that never healed. I blamed the lime).
You’ll also be familiar, I suspect, with the different tactile responses from these various materials. My favourite is cement. As a building material, it is the magic ingredient that sets concrete. As such, it is one of the most important building materials on the planet, and the cement industry is colossal. From an ecological point of view, it is incredibly energy-hungry to produce, and is far and away the largest producer of CO2 in the construction industry.
But when you slit open a bag of cement, it has the most wonderful ‘feel’ to it, even just off the shovel. It has a sound all its own – a sort of ‘flut’ – and the only other thing that sounds a little like it is a gentle footfall in freshly-fallen snow. I wish Seamus Heaney had done a little plastering in his time (maybe he did?); I’m sure he would have nailed the sights and sounds of a day’s plastering.
The upshot of all this sudden physical exertion was a warm feeling of satisfaction of a job well done (assuming it all holds water), a dull ache in the shoulders, and a pain under the right scapula (an old injury that always flares up when I try and fool my body that I’m twenty again). I also skipped both weekend runs, so that will put a dent in my monthly total. So be it.
And so, on to some running. Finally. The weekend’s heroics in the garden (eh? ed.) have naturally knocked back the total running stats. But I am trading in the demonstrable Garmin recordings for the hard-core session of shovelling and trowelling. Two days of high-intensity cardio. The judge’s decision on this is final.
I did get out this weekend just gone for a few decent runs, on top of the more normal shorter spins in the woods. On Saturday, I journeyed out eastwards along the canal, into the Deep Sinking. I made it as far as the dual arches under the towpath (the function of which is a little unclear) before turning for home, and detouring by the lake, ostensibly to look for a dog lead we had mislaid the day before. But as it was a fine day, and I was overly-warm, it seemed a shame not to test the waters. As it turned out, it was refreshing in ways I had not expected. Firstly, there had been some rain in the mountains which feed the Liffey, and the reservoir was full to the brim of fresh water, which meant it was rather brisk. Secondly, I slipped getting out on a slimy rock and caught my shin on the same offender and gave myself a fetching little gash and bruise to match.
But it was 20k all told by the time I made it home, slightly bloodied but unbowed. And the next morning, Mark and I reeled off a decent 10k in just over 55 minutes, which is a handy pace on the back of the previous run. And I felt pretty good too, so perhaps the short hiatus from running did me no harm at all.
And speaking of a hiatus, let me segue into televisual entertainment for a second, if I may. We’ve been watching Ozark, and finally it has come to an end. If you haven’t watched it, needless to say, I highly recommend it. If you have, well, you know what a great piece of drama it has been. Which prompts me to post up this little meme, to celebrate the force of nature that is Ruth Langmore.
And whilst we’re in a maudlin sort of frame of mind, let me post up another picture. This is Saoirse from roughly around the time we met. Fortunately, I will spare you the corresponding image of what I looked like from back then, as I occasionally wore denim dungarees in public! One day, if ye are very, very bold, I’ll root it out and foist it upon you. You have been warned.
Preparations continue for the July ultra. I continue to have ‘the fear’ that I will stray from the path. And if that all sounds a tad biblical, bear in mind I am on a pilgrim way. But as I will be on a schedule, I am keen not to add any extra miles to the journey, or do anything to deviate from the route, as we are attempting an FKT (Fastest Known Time), or, in my case, a SKTBALTFOR. Or Slowest Known Time, But At Least The First On Record. To this end, I have bought a detailed map of the mountain section over the Knockmealdowns.
In theory, with a functioning iPhone and the GPX route recorded into Google Maps (already done), I should be able to see my location in real time, and follow the line. But many a slip, as the saying goes, so I need belt and braces, and then a few more fail safes for good measure. At least a folded map never runs out of batteries…
And speaking of batteries, I have also purchased a spare battery for the GoPro, as they are famously mean on battery life. There’s no way one battery would last the journey, even though I will only be getting snippets of footage here and there. As I get closer to the day, the nerves start to get a little jangly. I need to collect all the items I plan to bring and get a decent 50k or so run in. That way, I will get a real sense of the weight I will be carrying, and where the problem areas will be. They will only manifest themselves on a decent journey.
I did manage a practice swim in the canal last week, during the fine weather. A poor soul was trying to do some quiet fishing, so I didn’t stay too long. The water was fine, really, but in truth, I have not been doing any swimming at all, so the mile will be something of a challenge. On the plus side, I expect there won’t be too many spectators on the day, and any that do turn up to see if I dissolve on contact with the water, will, once they get over that particular disappointment, vanish back up onto the road again once I myself have made my way around the first corner. That’s what I think may happen. I could be wrong. It’s happened before…
And of course, there is still time to donate! Huzzah! Here is the link, if you can, and honestly, there is no problem if not; I really dislike hustling folks for money. But if you can spread the word on your social media feeds, that would be great. And a huge thanks to those that have gone the extra mile and made a donation. It’s hugely appreciated.
In the meantime, stay safe. Enjoy your activities, whatever it is you get up to. And pause to reflect on how many more reincarnations you need to go through before you reach Greyhound levels of enlightenment.