2021 – Close to You…

After the lockdowns and restrictions of 2020, we all hoped for a much brighter 2021.  I wonder if we got what we wished for..?

Sadly, all my winter plans were scuppered by Tier 4 restrictions (remember those) being slapped upon much of England, including my native Derbyshire.  Though the year started cold with snow, my heart was in the mountains of the Scottish Highlands and the Italian Dolomites.  Travel plans had been made in the Autumn of 2020 when the outlook was better, but how times change and change they did.  By January 4th we were in full lockdown again. Before the month had ended, major events such as the Glastonbury Festival and the Isle of Man TT had been cancelled and 2021 looked bleak.

On the 2nd of February, we lost Captain Sir Tom Moore, a man who had walked into the public eye partly because of his challenge, but more because of his attitude.  He found no need to shout, break down statues, or protest in crowds.  Here was a quiet and unassuming man who inspired a nation, if not a world.  We could and should learn much from this wonderful gentlemen’s attitude.

My speaking work continued, particularly within education and my curriculum expanded from Mountaineering and Adventure to Physics and Space.  I’ve studied the stars and experimented since I was a boy and thoroughly enjoyed online work with electricity and magnetism, followed by satellites and stargazing.  Remote speaking might not have the feel of being before an audience, but it does allow you to reach people across the world at the touch of a button.  I wisely invested in my home office, and it paid dividends.  However, it was a pleasure to be standing before audiences again later in the year and interacting with them at close hand.  Travel may have been difficult but speaking has certainly kept me occupied.

My engineering work was also busy, as we in the electricity industry quietly kept the lights burning, the machines turning and the web online.  I’m not one for self-praise, but without electricity we’d all be back in the stone age, yet little recognition came our way.  The snows of November certainly caused problems for many, and people are always quick to complain, yet slow to praise.  Imagine if the internet had been down during every lockdown..?  We’ve become so reliant on the web and electricity silently powers it – day and night.

Things do go wrong, and it’s said that mishaps come in threes.  Within a single day my iMac went bang, the front door handle broke (punching a hole into my hand) and my en-suite shower flooded my garage.  In normal times that would be too much for some, but in a pandemic..?  Thankfully I was soon laughing about it and you have to ask yourself – what is really important in your life..?  Are life’s trappings more important than life’s experiences..?  Remember “the crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow…”

The spring was cold and sunny allowing lots of time to walk, swim and cycle locally, until the lockdown ended in April.  At last, I was allowed to travel, but restrictions at home kept me local.

During April we lost the Duke of Edinburgh. I was fortunate enough to meet him on a number of occasions through my work with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and always enjoyed his passion for conservation, open outlook and straight talking, in what seems to me an increasingly muffled world.

I broke away from several organisations and trusts this year as our relationships had run their course, or I had become a ‘Nice to Have’.  No-one should feel this way.  Our time is precious.  Our commitment is precious.  Our value is precious.  Spread yourself too thinly and see where it takes you – it’s certainly not a place I choose to be.  I choose to be with, work with and associate myself with people and causes that I believe in and have an intimate connection to.  During the year I’ve become the president of the Buxton Mountain Rescue Team and an Ambassador of the Martin Moran Foundation – two organisations in which I have a personal bond.  Am I trying to sound provocative..?  Yes, because how you give and share your time, how people see it and use it, is the basis of every relationship we hold, and we should never be taken for granted.

During September my BecomingX story launched.  I had filmed the piece way before COVID changed the world and the fluctuating pandemic situation had moved the launch date repeatedly, but its impact was still huge. BecomingX was launched by climbing friend Paul Gurney and Bear Grylls.  I joined a line-up of the world’s greatest sports stars, scientists, actors, magicians and athletes in sharing their life stories to inspire others.  I’ve always shared my time and experiences freely, hoping some will feel inspired to improve and give their time in the future.  Time is one of the greatest gifts we can give…

This was a year of decisions for me.  Not only decisions of who I work with and whether those relationships are useful, but how I chose to live my life and very importantly, how I cared for my mum.  Dementia had taken hold and it was heart-breaking watching someone you love dearly, change.  Mental deterioration and soul destruction are surely some of the cruellest things anyone can undergo.  If you have been through this and loved your mum as much as I did, you will understand the feelings and emotions both she and I have suffered. On several occasions, I was advised to abandon her and get on with my own life.  Easy words to say but remember this – one day it may be you looking for help, you feeling lost and you feeling scared.  I’m not interested in Politics, Budgets or Tick Boxes.  I was interested in my Mum’s welfare, and I just wanted to put a smile upon her face.  Was that too much to ask..?

A combination of care, work and restrictions curtailed any chance of traveling this year.  I invested much of my spare time caring for Mum and it was exhausting.  As I mentioned above, I was advised to walk away, but I didn’t and I’m glad I listened to my own heart rather than others.  During November she was admitted to hospital after being incorrectly diagnosed with COVID.  A rollercoaster of isolation, treatment, discharge, no discharge, COVID, no COVID and lord knows what else almost broke me, but what did it do to my Mum..?  How either of us remained sane in this bizarre game of chess is beyond me.  Regardless of Doctors’ and Consultants’ long-term views, she passed away a few days later with myself and my sister at her side.  I will never forget sitting with her, holding her hand as she spoke the spine chilling words “Don’t leave me, I’m scared”.  No words will ever describe my emotions and within a few hours, she was gone forever.  If anyone reading this doubts the power of love, commitment, generosity or time, I’d advise they take a very long look at themselves.

Imagine your end of days.  Imagine being alone and fearing the unknown.

Despite being triple vaccinated, I tested positive for COVID just before Christmas. The last two years had taken their toll and I was completely exhausted. I had to isolate over the festive season, yet I did not strop or scream.  If you cannot change the decision or position, there’s no benefit in worrying about it.  Thankfully I had wonderful support and ended the year happy in my heart and almost snot free.

2021 wasn’t the easiest year in my life, but no year is ever a breeze.  They all have their ups and downs, and we must embrace them head on if we are to live and learn.

May I wish you all a peaceful and safe 2022 and I pray we will all be able to follow our dreams…

If you’d like to watch or listen to the extended version of this blog, please click on the video below.

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