Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Festive sheep and my last run of 2013


To end the year I thought I'd just show a few sheep things I spotted over Christmas:

Paper hankies I bought from a garden centre, just because they are so cute
A stripey sheep Christmas card - love her leg warmers!
A fun sheep waistcoat I spotted last time I was in London

My last run of 2013

The weather has been vile yet again with strong winds and rain, rain and more rain. As I wasn't in a hurry this morning I waited until the rain had abated before I headed out for my run through the village.

En-route I looked down into the valley and thought how different the flood water looked on a dark and dismal day. Not at all sparkly as before and the sky just looked brooding and menacing.

For some reason I felt the need to go down into the valley to experience the flooding again and I'm glad I did as the little steam train was just pulling into the station.

One of the volunteers was waiting to open the gates but told me he hadn't got a key so was hoping that the guard had a set!

As I ran over the crossing I stopped to take a photo and did a big wave to people looking out of the windows and got several waves back. It always takes me back to my childhood as our  rail line was one of the last to be electrified and as a child it was such a thrill to wave to the train drivers and passengers.

Phew, he did have a set of keys
Full steam ahead
They don't look very friendly do they!
The rain managed to hold off until I got home so I was very pleased. 

So that was 6 miles done and dusted bringing my total for 2013 to 1811 miles. I didn't do as many marathons this year (only 2!) so I didn't need to cut back my mileage as much plus I did my 111 running streak which helped to bump up my total.

Next year, however, is another matter with 7 marathons and a 5 month  running streak. Yikes!

Monday, December 30, 2013

We were so very lucky

Floods and power cuts

Oh my but we were lucky. The storm at the beginning of last week wreaked havoc everywhere. It was so strong that we switched bedrooms in an attempt to get some sleep!

On the morning of Christmas Eve we awoke to a scene much worse than the last big storm a few weeks ago. A quick check around found we had 2 large trees down in the fields, one of which had landed on the fence in the horses field but hadn't brought the wire down so didn't require attention immediately. The other was in the second field with the sheep but they were all OK too. In the woods there were lots of trees leaning precariously but as they were leaning inwards they didn't concern us.

However, the big worry was that the power was off. It went off around 3am which I only know because a massive gust woke me up and I saw the light on the alarm clock go off. When we phoned the electricity people to report the problem we heard the longest list we'd ever heard of areas that were without power. We realised that there was little chance of our village being reconnected when major towns were without power.

Whenever the power goes off the thing I want most is a cup of tea or coffee but first I went round to check on our 2 sets of elderly neighbours who were OK and well prepared with their camping gas out and in action. Of course, the worry for older people was that their heating was off as it's hard to stay warm when you can't move around much. However, that's when wood burners come into their own.

As it looked as if the power would be off for a long time Mike went to start the generator which is linked to kitchen sockets and lights so at least we could have a cuppa. It wouldn't start, largely because someone (and I'm not naming names here but it wasn't me!) hadn't tested it recently and the battery was flat. Deep joy!

Then Mike redeemed himself by suggesting that we nip out in the car to the camping shop which was only about 6 miles away. What a journey that was. We headed down to Bodiam but had to turn back as the road was flooded. We tried another route and had to turn round because there was a massive tree across the lane. After a huge detour we finally arrived at the shop to find it heaving with like-minded people. But we came home with this sweet little burner and a kettle named 'Polly' who whistles when her water is boiling.

How sweet
That cup of tea was the best I've ever tasted and it was helped down by a slice of scrummy panettone which, thankfully, I'd made the day before.

After all that I still hadn't been for my run so I trotted off to assess the extent of the damage in the village. There were branches everywhere, a tree leaning across the lane at a 45 degree angle, supported only by the power cable. All I could hear was the sound of chainsaws and tractors as people attempted to clear what they could. As most of our lanes are lined with trees it didn't seem very safe to run along there so I headed off across the squelchy fields and followed some of the footpaths.

It was still raining when I left home and everywhere looked really dreary. The first 2 photos show glimpses of the flooding in Bodiam.

The run-off from higher ground formed new streams which cascaded towards the lower ground washing everything out of their way.

This stream is actually the footpath and I had to pick my way carefully along it until……...

…I encountered this tree across 2 boundary fences. Its side-branches had already been chopped off but it was too low to go underneath so I had to jump up and scramble over it.


Then 2 good things happened:

Number 1 - the sky started to clear and the sun came out which made everything seem so much better immediately.

I love the colour of the bracken against the bright blue sky!

Number 2 - I met a neighbour from the village who offered to come and help get the generator started. 20 minutes later he was round at our house with jump leads and the generator was up and running. He even left them with us in case we had any further problems and he wouldn't take anything for doing it. Thank you so much Derek, you were our hero and I think I might knit you a hat as a thank you.

The icing on the cake though came at 5pm when everyone had resigned themselves to being without power on Christmas Day - the power came back on. Apparently, as the problem in our area was quick to fix we were given a high priority as there are a large number of older people, with high proportion of them with special care needs, in our village.

Just a few miles away there is a village that has been without power all last week and on the news last night they still hadn't been reconnected. Not only are some people still without power, there are many people whose homes were flooded and my thoughts are with them as I realise just how lucky we were.

Christmas Day and beyond

On Christmas morning it has become a tradition that I go for a short run dressed in a silly costume. We somehow forgot to take a photo of me, suffice to say I looked ridiculous in my sparkly Santa hat and dress! It was a lovely morning for a run and I actually prefer a sunny Christmas Day to a snowy one.

I was just taking a photo of these gorgeous red berries when a neighbour spotted me and invited me in for a glass of champers. Well it would have been rude not to!

So my run ended up at just 2 miles as I didn't want to leave Mike alone for too long. After lunch we had a nice walk into the village and back to stretch our legs and met more neighbours who plied us with drink.

On Boxing Day the weather was bright again so I ventured down to Bodiam to see if the water had subsided. Thankfully it had cleared from the road but the whole of the valley was covered in lakes. It looked really pretty with the light reflected off the water.


Beautiful Bodiam Castle - the water had gone over the ridge of green that you see in front of it which is 3 feet higher that the top of the water level shown!

The clubhouse was built on stilts because of flooding but the water rose much higher and it was flooded inside - you can just make out the goal nets of the football pitch on the left
The River Rother, 3 x normal width
The 'overflow' car park at Bodiam Castle - how very apt!
Picnic anyone? 

Keeper's Cottage looks as if it's on the shore of a lake but those are all fields
This line of telegraph poles runs through a field, not along a path
 Greylag geese (I think, as they didn't sound like Canada geese)
A ruined crop 
I love the reflections in the moat
Even the pill box was flooded
Where'd the path go?
A mid-sized tree uprooted and flung far away from where it grew
The railway line was partially submerged in places

I've run out of time now but will be back soon with more news and a final total of my mileage for 2013 - after yesterday's run it was 1805 miles but I've still got a run to do tomorrow; then it will be the start of my 2014 challenge.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Today a blog I wrote about Christmas and mum will be appearing on ARUK's dementia blog. It was a difficult one to write because this is always a tough time for me; I'll let you read my blog post so you can understand why.

This last week has been equally if not more eventful than the previous one but I really don't have time to write about it all at the moment so I shall have to write about things retrospectively as and when I can.

As a taster here are a few things; we returned to the Menuhin Hall to record some of Mike's music, had a visit from another film crew (that was hilarious!), I decorated another Christmas tree for the village church, lots of running, vile weather, magazine articles, carol-singing around the village green, knitting and crochet. Oh my, there really are not enough hours in each day!

I have also launched my outline plans for fund-raising in 2014 and even though there are still a few  details missing it's really rather exciting and will certainly test my physical and mental strength to the limit. Plus I have 2 major dementia events lined up for January and February already, one of which is fun and the other is very important and serious.

So for now I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and New Year and for anyone whose life has been touched by dementia I shall be thinking of you and leave you with this beautiful poem by Vikram Seth (Mike set it to music for soprano voice a while ago and it is glorious):

All You Who Sleep Tonight

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above -

Know that you aren't alone
The whole world shares you tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A bit of a do

It's been one of those weeks where you hardly have time to breathe. My running schedule went out of the window completely and I had to snatch time when and where I could. I'm not complaining though as I hope all this activity surrounding dementia will finally amount to some action. Positive action, not just talk.

First there was an interview with Chat magazine on Monday, then there was a phone call on Tuesday morning from Alzheimer's Research UK (ARUK) asking if I could do some filming for Channel 5 TV News that afternoon. A group of scientists had written a letter to the G8 suggesting that eating a mediterranean diet was the best way to ward off dementia. As my diet is healthy and I have the connection with dementia they were interested in my story.

Simon Ridley from ARUK was already heading off into London to do a live interview whilst a film crew was heading my way to film me at home. I was literally heading out of the door for a run when the phone call came in and so I had to abandon it to prepare for the interview.

Jess and Sam arrived 1.5 hours later and we had to act quickly as the piece was due on air at 5pm. Sam knew exactly what he wanted - shots of me in the kitchen preparing vegetables. He raided the fridge for healthy looking vegetables (green and red peppers) together with nuts, garlic and olive oil. He had me grating carrots, chopping tomatoes and pouring olive oil over everything.


There was some vegetable soup on the hob from lunchtime and so he had me stirring and tasting it.

Then Jess asked me some questions about mum's dementia and why I believe that a healthy diet is important.

Sam decided he wanted to be all arty and do something he hadn't done before - stick the camera in our larder cupboard and have me walk towards it, select something and then walk away.

There was much hilarity as they removed things to make room for the camera!

Jess stood out of view and I walked towards the cupboard then she handed me a carrot and a pepper which I took and then walked away.

Then it was time for them to upload their shots so that someone back at the studios could edit them ready to go on air.

We watched the News and out of all the footage they took there were a couple of shots of me chopping tomatoes and about 40 seconds of me saying why I think healthy eating is important. I can't complain though as at least there was something, unlike poor Simon who didn't get interviewed in the end so had a wasted journey into London!

Then amidst the excitement of the G8 on Wednesday we had another exciting event; the BBC Sussex and Surrey 'Community Champions' awards. I'd been nominated in the 'fund-raising' category and was one of 4 finalists so Mike and I headed off to the South Lodge Hotel for the ceremony in that evening. In the morning I did 2 interviews with BBC Radio Sussex; one about the G8 and the other about the award.

There had been much consternation within the Redhead camp about what to wear as it was a "cocktail" reception rather than a sit-down meal. A full-on party frock, of which I have a few, didn't seem appropriate and I couldn't find just the right blouse to go with my posh evening trousers and so last weekend Mike insisted we head off to Brighton to find something (well I could hardly refuse an offer like that now could I?!).

Here's a sneaky peak -

It's got gold sparkly lurex threads in the cream bits and the black flowers are a lovely raised fabric (oh my!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now I spend 90% of my life looking as if I've been dragged through a hedge backwards, with my hands/nails encrusted with soil from gardening and smelling ever-so-slightly of horse or sweat from running, so getting myself looking presentable takes a while.

As I hadn't been doing much with my left hand because of my injured thumb, my nails weren't looking too bad so I decided to apply some nail polish. That was when I discovered just how shaky my hands are these days. I managed to apply it well enough on my left hand but on the other hand, well, it just didn't look very good at all and there was more around my nails than on them! I applied it nice and early to give it a chance to dry thoroughly but within 2 hours I'd managed to chip the tip on one nail and somehow got a deep groove on another (I think that was when one of the horses threw her head up when I was undoing her halter).

I also decided I wanted to put glamourous waves into my hair rather than my usual frizzy mop and so I rummaged around and found some curling tongs that I haven't used for about 20 years. My idea was doomed from the start as there really is a knack to using them and I'd clearly lost it, if indeed I'd ever had it, which resulted in this - 


So my plan of glamourous waves cascading down became a battle of wills between me and the tongs. The other thing was that even though I'd sprayed my hair with "firm hold" stuff which was supposed to keep my curls nice and bouncy, they drooped and I got more and more frustrated with the whole procedure. I also decided I was going to look fat in my frock.

Mike came into the room in the midst of my fat/hair trauma and tried to make me feel better by saying that I looked lovely, bless him, but nothing was going to convince me that the whole evening was going to be a complete disaster! 

The hotel was quite a long drive away, right over the whole of East Sussex into West Sussex, and as the event started at 7pm and involved roads that would be full of commuter traffic we decided to head off earlier and have a meal there first. Mike got dressed beforehand but I travelled in my jeans so I could get changed after we'd eaten.

Pretty lights on Christmas trees welcomed us
Beautiful fireplace in the Bar

A very modern chandelier
A welcome pot of tea
Soon it was time to get ready so I headed off to the toilets to get changed and check my make-up. In the end I was reasonably happy with how I looked and I got into character in readiness for the evening. I actually loved my frock, even though I'd been worried that it was above my knees and I looked fat, and got loads of nice comments about it.

"Strike a pose" said Mike; and so I did!
There was a brief gathering upstairs where there was wine or elderflower fizz before we headed into the Wordsworth suite to find our table. Each table was hosted by a presenter or researcher from either BBC Radio Sussex or Surrey and I was delighted to be on a table with Sarah Gorrell who I've spoken to on many occasions over the years.

The booklet on the right listed all the nominees within each category and gave a brief resume of what they'd done. When I looked at all the people on our table and read about what they've achieved I felt humble to be amongst them. 

I was especially thrilled to meet Sarah Gordy who is an actress and has appeared on TV in episodes of 'Holby City' and 'Upstairs Downstairs'. She also happens to have Downs Syndrome and is doing an amazing job of breaking down preconceptions about the condition and showing that you do not need to limited by the constraints imposed on you by others. I was so pleased when she won the category for 'contribution to the arts'.

Mike pointed out that there were 14 categories and the fund-raiser category was 6th on the list and so we didn't have long to wait. Before the winner in each category was announced they showed a photo of them and gave a brief resume of why they had been shortlisted. Mike held my hand as we listened and when I heard what the others had done I knew that there was no way I was going to win.

Then someone was opening an envelope and reading out a name and the name was "Susie Hewer" but my brain wasn't taking it in. Then Mike was squeezing my hand and hugging me and saying "well done love; it's you, you've won!" As I stood up he added "just go carefully and try not to trip over anything" how well he knows me!

The event was going out live on the radio and so after the presentation I did a short interview with James Cannon. Mike said he was hoping that I managed to get through the bit when I spoke about my reasons for doing it because I sometimes get teary when I talk about what happened to mum. No tears this time, although I did get a lump in my throat towards the end.

Then I had to head off for another photo and short interview to be aired the next day.

With Sarah Gorrell and the trophy
Group shot of the winners - Sarah Gordy is 3rd along to my left when looking at the photo
Lots of people came over afterwards and said "well done" and many people came to tell me that they had a relative or friend who has Alzheimer's or dementia.

As we left the hotel there was a brass band playing Christmas tunes which was a nice touch. They must have been very cold sitting out there as it was below zero when we left at 10:45pm.

The journey home was rather arduous as we encountered freezing fog for most of the way but we slept well that night!

The next day Sara David, Editor of BBC Sussex issued this statement about why I'd won the award (which was incredibly kind of her and made me feel rather embarrassed as so many other people do amazing things):

"Susie is an incredible and inspirational woman who raises money to help and support a cause close to her heart. Susie has demonstrated commitment to fundraising over a long period of time in a number of varied and creative ways. Susie is also a real voice helping to increase awareness of dementia and helping others understand the condition. Susie is a real community hero".

Naturally, ARUK wanted to issue a press release including a statement from me. Here's what I said:

"I was thrilled to be nominated for a Community Hero award and to be one of the 4 finalists was brilliant. The whole event was wonderful and I met some truly inspirational people who have done amazing things for others and I felt humbled by their stories. I never dreamt that I would win and when my name was read out as the winner it took a few moments for it to sink in! I am delighted that the need for research into dementia is now receiving more attention but I am painfully aware that it is still vastly under-funded and so I shall continue to don my running shoes in 2014, defeating dementia, in my own way, one step at a time." 

Although the trophy sits in my office at home it really belongs to everyone who is trying to make a difference in the world of dementia. Together we will make a difference.