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Archive for the ‘In The Moment’ Category

Let me count (many, but not all of) the ways I have felt anxious, scared, overwhelmed in the last week or so.

  • Driving to visit Mum to help her getting settled in her new house. All the way there I knew that I’d get within 300m of our family home, but then have to turn right instead of going straight on
  • Having left the office early to do the school pick-up, checking my email at home and seeing 5 emails about the meeting in the morning
  • In Tesco to buy milk and bacon for Saturday breakfast, Mariah Carey bellowing over the speakers about what or whom she wants for Christmas
  • Trying to book a train home from London after an evening event with clients (avoiding engineering works and replacement bus services)
  • Not wanting to go out in the snow where our children were excited, making snowmen
  • Being in a meeting room with 25 other people all making small talk
  • Thinking about Christmas presents, shopping, food shopping, logistics
  • Seeing old colleagues for the first time in ages and how to respond when they smile and ask “how are you”?
  • When Rachel is upset about her own Mum’s health and stressed with too many things going on at once (I feel it’s partly my fault for not supporting her more)
  • Catastrophising about when my employers might start getting impatient about how long it’s I’m taking to recover and be back at full responsibilities. In truth, they’ve been brilliant, but that doesn’t stop the feelings
  • Doing a Mindfulness meditation that’s supposed to help me feel better, but I don’t
  • Being at that client event, 20-odd people sat around a massive table; eating, drinking, laughing, talking
  • Leaving that event early, hoping no one notices or calls out after me
  • While Rachel was downloading the details of everything she’s been dealing with in terms of family logistics, the electrical, decorating and plumbing work we’ve had done and whatever else (as well as doing her job in the last week of school term)
  • When someone asks me what I’m up to this weekend

I’ve had good days. For most of the time on most days I’m OK, but these things keep coming through, and they’re often pretty intense.

I’m trying to accept them, not to fight or resist them.
I’m trying not to retreat into my Safe Place where I just watch films or listen to music or podcasts on my own.
I’m trying to take things one day at a time, to be present in the moment.
I’m trying not to feel ashamed that I’m not coping with ‘life’, that everyone else seems to cope with reasonably well.
I’m trying to do some sort of exercise.
I’m trying not to blame myself for being scared, thinking and feeling things that objectively aren’t true.
I’m trying to talk to friends.
I’m trying not to feel guilty about how my colleagues have to cover for me, how I’m not getting better sooner.
I’m trying to be, feel and act positive(ly).
I’m trying not to judge myself.

…Will I always feel this way?
So empty, so estranged…

Ray Lamontagne – Empty

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A recent thing that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook has been the 7-day Black & White Challenge: post one photo a day for a week that reflects your life. Photos should contain no people and carry no captions or explanation. And like the best (sic) memes, you’re encouraged to challenge another person to take the challenge each day. 7 times the fun!

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a challenge, and apparently it’s caused far more ranting on social media than I’d wish for from a civilised society in 2017. But never mind that, I took part and enjoyed it. But why should I let the pictures speak for themselves when I can speak for them?

Birthday Cake
The first day of my challenge happened to be Eleanor’s 12th Birthday, so there was cake. She’s an avid baker and indeed she made this red velvet cake herself, and the icing, and iced it!

Black and White Challenge 2017 Birthday Cake

Whiskers
We adopted Whiskers on 1st July 2016, almost on a whim. We knew the family of his elderly owner, but she had to go into residential care, so he needed a new home. We went round to meet him and he was so immediately friendly that we took him there and then. He’s 9 years old, adorable and adoring, he craves and loves attention. I can scarcely remember a time without him.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Whiskers Cat

Bedside Table
These are a few of my favourite and least favourite things, some of which remind me of my mortality every day. Is it a cheat to have these pictures of Rachel, Jamie and Eleanor? I love (not in the same way, obviously) cinema, films and Empire magazine. The Handmaid’s Tale is my current much-overdue reading material. We’ve been watching the stunning TV adaptation, and in fact experiencing the two simultaneously has in fact enhanced my appreciation and admiration for both. A rare feat.

I’m less keen on needing two pairs of glasses now, and two different daily eyedrops to keep my glaucoma under control. Nor am I thrilled about the Citalopram tablets, but after 6 weeks, I genuinely think they’re beginning to make a difference.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Bedside Table

Sibelius
This coming Saturday the Stroud Symphony Orchestra is playing Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony. It could prove to be an emotional evening, as it’s the first concert I’ll have played since Dad died in August. It will be something not to have him in the audience, as he (and usually Mum too) came to virtually every concert I’ve played in the last 20 years. Sibelius is one of our shared favourite composers, and this perhaps his finest symphony. The epic, triumphant final movement might be tough to play without tears.

Black and White Challenge 2017 French Horn Orchestra Rehearsal Sibelius 2nd Symphony

Headspace
Rachel has been a practitioner and advocate for mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion for a couple of years, especially after she took a course locally with Linda Thomas. I’m using the Headspace app (free for a 10-day basic trial, paid-for after that, packed with loads of good stuff). Just taking time out, focusing on my breathing and how I’m actually physically feeling, not suppressing thoughts, just noticing them and letting them pass on by without beating myself up; observing, not judging. It’s worth a try…

Black and White Challenge 2017 Headspace Mindfulness App

Map
I’ve loved maps since I was a child watching my parents navigate our way through France on holiday, and closer to home. I love OS maps and their symbols, contour lines and clarity. This is centred on Tetbury and barely a day goes by without me pausing to reflect on how much I love the Cotswolds. I’ve planned many bike rides on this. Strava is great, but it’s not everything.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Ordnance Survey Map Tetbury Cotswolds

Clock
My last picture was taken on Wednesday, a Bad Day. I’d been working at home but it hadn’t gone well. After a poor night’s sleep I was down, distracted and dismayed all day. Sunday and Tuesday had both been Better Days, but Wednesday certainly wasn’t. By the time I needed to go and do the school run, I felt like I’d achieved virtually nothing. The clock ticked on and I felt lousy. The volatility and seeming randomness of what can make for a Good or Not Good day is almost debilitating.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Kitchen Clock Cornish Blue

But today I’ve genuinely tried to be present, in the moment. I’ve not thought about next week or next month or should I go to that meeting or what about Christmas Shopping? And it has felt productive. Laundry, cooking food, writing this, doing yoga, going to the gym. It might not seem much, but it’s been a Good Day.

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The response to my last post was at once astonishing, heartwarming and more than a little worrying. So many kind words, so much unconditional support, not even a hint of the hard time I was giving myself, that I feared might come my way. And so many people who have clearly experienced similar feelings and issues themselves.

THANK YOU to everyone who has sent kind words and thoughts, recommended reading, shared experiences, or contacted me to ask how I am and if you can help. It’s been humbling and uplifting.

More than 3 weeks on, and I’ve been riding the clichéd emotional rollercoaster. In the immediate aftermath of my diagnosis, I felt a wave of relief, of validation. It was official: I had permission to feel shit.

Too good to be true?

Then for a few days in that week I felt really good. I went cycling with friends, twice. I did yoga and played my French Horn every day, went for Autumn walks, talked with friends. But then I felt like a fraud, because I felt good. How can I be off work when I feel this good? How can I have depression? The tablets don’t kick in for a few weeks, apparently, so am I making it up?

But then we went for dinner with friends on Saturday, and I didn’t enjoy it. The food and company were great, but by the end of the evening I wanted to run away. A recurring symptom of my particular depression is an anxiety about being around people, even good friends. I want to curl up on my own at home, where it’s safe and I don’t feel like I have to justify myself. I’ve found it hard to explain exactly what I’m feeling, what I’m anxious about, which again makes me feel other people will dismiss it. I’m desperately sure that I’m bound to disappoint people, either for being depressed, or by not being depressed enough, or in the right way.

Don’t ask me…

The next week was a blur and chaotic. For more than 2 days we had British Gas men in the house ripping out the decades-old boiler and installing a new one, and our daughters were both on 1/2 term, meaning I didn’t have anything like as much time to myself all week. And what was hard was anything where I had to make a choice, or a decision, let alone anything more distant than something like What’s for lunch?  More complex projections were nearly impossible: What do you want for Christmas? What time do we need to leave on Monday? Which fabric do you like for the new chair cover?

Ups and Downs

Week 3 was mostly fantastic – a long-awaited trip to Amsterdam was our best family time in more than a year, despite the long and occasionally fraught travelling. We loved the city and had an amazing time, walking miles every day, revelling in art and architecture, bitterballen and stroopwaffels.

Last weekend we visited Rachel’s mum in her care home; the first time I or our daughters had seen her in a few months. She’s very frail and her mobility is really poor. Normally I’ve been able to almost dissociate myself from the emotions of this, helping her calmly in and out of the wheelchair or car, keeping conversations going. But this time I just couldn’t. I had flashbacks to Dad’s last weeks, worries of my own illness, almost overwhelming, and this lasted almost right through Sunday at home.

On Monday I started back at work, doing 1/2 days. Everyone has been terrific, and for a while it was great to be taking a step back towards normal. But every morning I’ve felt a pang of being clearly not normal. I’ve been (rightly) kept away from the day-to-day complexity of my normal clients: if I find it hard to think about lunch, their needs would not sit well with me…

While I exchanged banter with colleagues I worried again they would think me a fraud (he seems fine). At the same time I was anxious about completing even a relatively simple task, to the extent that when I got positive feedback I almost wept with relief. I’ve been anxious about going to make tea in case someone innocently or kindly asks “how are you?”… my worries being around people are still real. I want to explain myself, but (as this rambling proves) nothing’s clear-cut or straightforward.

Yesterday I got home feeling wiped out, exhausted, jittery. I had a nap and woke up with a fear that felt like it might paralyse me: I simply couldn’t haul myself out of bed. Today I’ve not been at work and have had a day more like that first week; yoga, the gym, time to myself. Again the lifting of any serious responsibility or decision-making is a significant thing. Even the smallest issue where someone else might judge me or have their own opinion is a challenge at the moment. I find it hard to think clearly, and just want to retreat into watching a film, where I can lose myself and shut out the world.

A first step?

But that’s no long-term solution, so I’ve booked a first session with a new counselling service next week. I honestly can’t easily rationalise what’s behind my symptoms; there’s so many potential factors, from work to family, my own health, my Dad’s death, Rachel’s mum… so hopefully they might nudge me into some clarity. And maybe my serotonin levels will start to rebalance soon. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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When I first started writing What I Reckon, I didn’t want it to be a grown-up version of a teenage diary. You see, I’ve written one of those before, and it lasted into my 20s. In recent years my time has been more pressured and my posts less frequent but more reflective of challenging circumstances: the bleeding-heart liberal remembering that not everyone is like him, that he, his friends and his parents are decidedly mortal, that shit happens.

And yet I’m writing now because I’m not just angsty, or Moody, or ranty.

I’m depressed.

I have a doctor’s note and a prescription and everything. I was diagnosed yesterday by my GP with the use of a simple self-assessment questionnaire.

PHQ9 self-assessment mood depression questionnaire

Answers on the right-hand side of the grid probably mean you should talk to someone…

7 out of 9 of my responses were in the shaded boxes. 3 were in ‘nearly every day’. In case you’re interested, my scores were 2,2,3,2,2,3,3,1,0.

 

A heart that’s full up like a landfill…

Unlike a pulled muscle, I can’t pinpoint which straw broke the camel’s back. When did I tip from tired into empty, from merely stressed into actually depressed? Perhaps like the frog in a pan of water, it crept up on me. But this has been coming: an ex-boss described 2015 as my annus horribilis but, to be honest, 2016 and 2017 haven’t been a walk in the park. I know my Dad’s passing is a significant part of this, but it’s definitely not the whole story.

 

…but now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured…

The net result of this has been a huge slump in confidence. I don’t think I’m very good; at my job, at being a Dad, or a Husband or a Son or a Brother.  I’m afraid that I’ll make mistakes, or just not help. I’ve wanted to avoid people, because I don’t want to have to tell the truth when they ask “how’s things?”. I avoided cycling on several occasions precisely because I thought I’d be ‘worse’ than I was in the Spring, and look! I was right!

And I’ve wondered if I’ll ever be good again.

And this feeling comes and goes. Last Thursday it swept over me in a wave just by getting Help! coming over on bloody Spotify shuffle while I was walking to work, and left me struggling all day. It was triggered a couple of weekends ago by seeing my Dad’s greenhouse and veg beds empty and bare, when at this time of year they should be groaning with produce. I get a kick whenever I say “Mum and Dad’s house” like I have done for decades and then realise it’s not, not any more.

 

I’m surprised you’ve been doing so well for so long…

Several people have said this in the last couple of weeks, and I want to believe them. Part of the problem at the moment is that I know what people say makes sense, I think it’s true, but I don’t get the emotional kick that tells me I believe it. It’s as though they’re speaking about someone else. I’m pleased that ‘Chris’ (if that’s who you’re referring to) is good at his job, or is a good son helping his Mum, but that’s not how I feel.

 

It will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end…

My colleagues have been fantastic, despite my ongoing fear that I might now be tainted goods, fragile, vulnerable. It was my boss who reminded me of our company’s policy with Lifeworks. A short confidential call with them put me in touch with a counsellor who, last Friday evening, suggested I should speak to a GP. So now I’m signed off work for a fortnight, with a week’s holiday to follow.

I’m hoping to make this time as positive and proactive as I can: exercise, fresh air, time doing nothing. I’m taking medication to help rebalance my chemicals and boost serotonin. I’m expecting to be taking these for at least a few months.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

When I started writing this post, I was hesitant: why write this at all? But then I learned that today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day, and reminded myself that talking is important. So I’m going to hashtag the sh*t out of this.

It is ok not to be ok.

This is far more common than we think. My elder child has had mental health issues, some (but by no means all) linked to having Aspergers-Autism: these have included self-harm. My wife had post-natal depression that rendered her convinced she was a terrible mother and afraid to leave the house.

Please be kind to yourself and each other.

 

 

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You have glaucoma in your left eye.

A few months ago I had a routine eye test at our local opticians in Tetbury, part of which was the normal visual field test. I stared into the eyepiece, waiting for the machine to whirr and flash a series of tiny pinpricks of light, to which I would respond by clicking a button whenever they appeared. All-so-normal, until it seemed my left eye wasn’t quite so good at noticing the dots. This was unexpected, and very different from just 12 months earlier, so the optician asked me to repeat the tests. The results were the same.

I can still sense the whirring of the machine as it flashes lights that I ought to be able to see. There’s a rhythm to it that I can recognise. With my right eye there’s a regularity to the button clicks as the lights register in my brain. For my left eye there are gaping silences where clicks should be. I’m staring, squinting, aching to see something that means I can click. I’m tempted to cheat. The test takes longer as the machine gives me more chances, makes the lights brighter, trying to understand what’s there and what’s not there for me. And while I know it’s only minutes it feels much longer. I sense the nurse knows what the silences mean: this isn’t normal.

Visual Field Tests Glaucoma

This isn’t mine… but it’s sort of similar

 

And so last week, after further tests, a precautionary MRI scan and a couple of months of eye drops, I sat with the consultant as he confirmed the inevitable, and talked about my glaucoma.

There are fairly significant differences in the visual field tests in your left eye, notable damage to and thinning of the optic nerve…

…but your IOP (intra-ocular pressure) is normal, much lower than often is the case with glaucoma…

…you’re really quite a lot younger than the typical progression, a bit of an outlier on that graph…

…nothing on the MRI scan, so we can definitely rule out anything like a tumour pressing on the nerve…

…there’s no increase in your pressures since taking the drops, no real progression since the last tests (3 months ago), so that’s pleasing…

…you probably won’t notice anything different, until you do bump into something (joke)…

…playing a wind instrument like an oboe or French Horn can cause spikes in IOP, although I’m loathed to tell someone who loves playing music to stop…

So the long and the short of it is that I’m now taking daily eye drops (painless, no hassle at all), and will have repeated tests every 6 months. And that’s it.

Except…

The following day, at my regular orchestra rehearsal, I was acutely conscious of sensations of ‘pressure’ when playing, especially loud and high notes. We’re playing Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, which has plenty of loud and plenty of high, especially for 1st/3rd horn. In fact there’s mostly a lot of notes that are both loud and high, in rapid succession, in violently percussive chords and fanfares. In exercise terms it’s high impact, like running up and down stairs. I could feel the impact inside my head, around my eyes, behind my eyes, in ways I’ve never actively noticed before. And all the time I was thinking

Should I be doing this? Am I risking my sight?

There were moments when I wanted to play quieter, or stop. There were moments when I didn’t want to play my Horn any more, at all, ever again.

Apparently the mean time for progression from early diagnosis to loss of vision is more than 20 years: for normal tension glaucoma and for younger (under 60) patients it’s even slower than that. So I’m probably being over-sensitive. But if the visual field loss starts in my right eye, I’ll have to tell the DVLA. And then I’ll have to be reassessed for driving.

So.

I’ll take the drops every morning, and play 4th horn instead.

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If this is a mid-life crisis, I’m quite enjoying it.

I took part in my first Obstacle Course Race (OCR) in 2013, as a group of colleagues ran the Tough Mudder event. I surprised myself by how much I liked it, so did it again last year, but a combination of TM’s openly-relentless commercialism and injuring my foot just 3 miles into the 12 mile run left me somewhat deflated.

So I pledged to renew my enthusiasm and entered a ‘smaller’ event (there are tons to choose from all over the UK), which had received excellent reviews, and looked quite a lot like Tough Mudder, but without quite so much running, and lots more obstacles. I tried to corral a team of colleagues, but through a toxic combination of inertia, personal circumstances, illness and plain laziness I arrived at the RockSolid Race just outside Exeter last weekend, running solo…

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015

That’s what I’m going for…

Nobody does #rocksolidrace alone…

I was more than a bit nervous beforehand, as I struggle on obstacles like Monkey Bars and the 8-foot walls. But the RSR team have a great social media style which is a million miles away from the testosterone-fuelled corporate behemoth of Tough Mudder (more of which later). This event is friendly, it seems organised for its runners.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Twitter

And of course they’re right. Around the course people help each other (like in TM) over things and through things. At every 6/8-foot wall around the course, the volunteer marshals were brilliant, all chipping in to give people a boost up. The final wall came about 3/4 of the way through, so everyone is knackered when they reach it, but the lady manning the obstacle (surely no more than 5’3″ herself) cried

No one walks around my wall…!

…and insisted on giving a boost to anyone and everyone who needed it, no matter what their size.

The clue’s in the name…

If I wanted to run 12 miles around a muddy wood, I could do that quite easily close to home. But I don’t, I want obstacles, and the 10km RSR course included 38 obstacles, which I Reckon is a great ratio. I was running on the 2nd day of the event, meaning there’s a lot more mud. 1,200 people have churned up the tracks already, so what was simply a steep hill on Saturday becomes a treacherous slide on Sunday. And I love it that way. The RSR obstacles are a brilliant mix of natural terrain, ‘created’ terrain and man-made monsters.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Course Map

OK, so this is really small. What it should label is MUD, HILLS, COLD WATER, and STUFF TO CLIMB OVER or THROUGH

There were huge piles of hay bales, tyres or logs, walls and A-Frames, tunnels, cargo nets, logs to carry, and a cruelly-twisted uphill sack race, cunning in its simplicity but agony on the legs.

#bemoremud

Best of all, there was a lot of mud and a lot of water. Our first taste (literally) of the former came early in the race (#6 on the map above, innocuously titled “River Run”). I’d assume this meant splashing through a stream, or something. When I reached the bank there was carnage. To reach the stream we had to cross a small ‘pool’, maybe 4m wide, but the ‘pool’ was in fact a sticky swamp, full of waist-deep, thick, sucking mud. How my trainers stayed on I’m not sure. This is probably the closest to drowning in quicksand I hope to experience. I ended slithering across the surface like a worm, until I got hauled out by someone standing on firmer ground. Later we crawled through muddy pools where the water was thick with mud and weeds, and it did not smell pretty.

It’s March and I’m running knee-deep up a river, but at least the water is clean…!

Did I mention how cold the water is in March? Blimey. I was grateful for the chance to run between obstacles to get my circulation going. The course had most of the mud in the first half, and most of the ‘cleaner’ water later, but there was a lot of this too. Crossing a lake via huge unstable ‘stepping stones’, wading through chest-deep water, a skip full of ice-chips, more (clean) streams to run and crawl through, a fantastic slide into another lake, followed instantly by a 12-foot leap into the other side of the same lake. It was relentless but brilliant.

Rocksolidrace Exeter 2015

Bruised but not broken at the finish…

By muddy runners for muddy runners…

I Reckon RockSolidRace is a far better event than Tough Mudder. It has more, and more varied obstacles. It doesn’t have some kind of overweaning adolescent need to promote its Toughness or Bigness or Whatever three times a day. It feels closer and smaller (because it is), but best of all, is the feeling while you’re there, at the event, that the race is organised by runners for the people taking part. A few comparisons…

  • I booked this 3 months in advance, paying £46. To enter the TM August event today would cost me £95 + £7 booking fee.
  • RSR charges £5 for carparking, while TM charges £10 (or even more in 2015)
  • The car park at RSR is a couple of minutes from the event, unlike my 2 experiences at TM where we were at least 15 minutes away
  • Bag drop is just £1 with staff on hand to supervise and secure your belongings, carkeys etc. TM cost £3 and felt much more like a free-for-all
  • Spectators can see RSR for free and many seemed to bring their own picnics. This year at TM spectators have to pay £10 each (+ booking fee), or £20 if you turn up on the day, and last year were actively discouraged from bringing their own food
  • RSR offers free hot showers and decent changing facilities. This is a complete God-send…
  • One of RSR’s sponsors, Tideford Organics, gave out delicious free soup for all the runners afterwards. Other food was available for less than £7…
  • The bar stocked ale, lager and cider (unlike TM which was restricted to sponsors’ brands) and cost £2-3.50 , not £5 for an alcoholic ginger beer.
  • I like the finishing token better…
RockSolidRace dogtags

Better than an orange headband…

TM seems to have examined every opportunity, every moment to charge money/generate revenue, and gone ahead. I’m sure this makes them very successful, but I Reckon it doesn’t make for a great experience. Last time left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth, and not just from the mud.

I loved my first RockSolid Race, and I really hope to be back next year. If you’re thinking of giving Obstacle Course racing a go, definitely consider this one. In fact, if you only want to try one event, definitely go Rock Solid.

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More moments of human experience are recorded every day than in entire decades in the 20th century; or something like that. I made it up, but it’s mostly true. The ubiquity of digital cameras and phones mean we snap and share more trivial, routine and everyday occurrences than ever before. Apparently Facebook’s photo library was 10,000 times as large as the entire Photo Archives of the US Congress more than 2 years ago! In my own experience, we have countless more pictures of our younger daughter (born November 2005) than our eldest (born June 2002).

Compare and contrast these well-known pictures of the crowds in Rome, awaiting the announcement of the new Pope, from 2005 and from earlier this year.

St Peter's Square new Pope announcements 2005 2013

Spot the lone phone in 2005 (bottom right)

I’ve experienced the same phenomenon at events from school nativities to a Radiohead concert. It seems we would rather concentrate on holding our phones steady, out in front of our faces, than actually using the senses with which we were born. Are we so obsessed with recording every experience, as if not recording it would mean it somehow hadn’t happened?

During our holiday to France in July/August, we visited one of the more spectacular natural sites I’ve been privileged to experience; the Gouffre de Padirac. Located not far from the river Dordogne, in an area blessed with more than its fair share of natural beauty (especially subterranean!), this is properly breathtaking. I’d read on Tripadvisor that photos inside the caves are not permitted, and many reviewers bemoaned this, complaining about how it’s mainly a scam to encourage visitors to buy the ‘official’ pictures that are taken during the visit to the cave (like you get at many theme parks and other attractions).

And while I have some sympathy for that cynicism, I applaud the policy. The approach to the caves is impressive enough. For a start, it’s a massive hole in the ground that is largely unchanged since the caves were discovered. What those people must have thought is beyond me, as it’s genuinely awesome.

gouffre de padirac from the surface

a long way down, and this is just the ‘entrance’

…and from the bottom of the stairs!

gouffre de padirac

Using my iPhone panorama…!

As soon as you descend into the tunnels that lead to the caves proper, photography is banned.

This means visitors have to be present, be there in the moment and use their actual physical senses to experience and remember the journey through the caves. We have to concentrate to take in the majesty and grandeur, the sheer scale of a 94m high cavern, whose ceiling is barely visible, yet even there it’s 10m below the surface. This cave is taller than any building in Bristol…

If we were waving our cameras and phones around, we would surely miss the details and natural intricacy of the plate-like stalagmites, the delicacy of the light and shadow, the reflections off the river and pools along which we travel through the caves. The lights from countless phones were a blessed omission from this natural wonder, not unlike the days in 2010 when an Icelandic volcano erupted and caused the grounding of flights across Northern Europe, resulting in clear blue skies with no aircraft tracks.

My photos of the entrance don’t do justice to the reality, but they’re infinitely better than what I could have achieved inside the caves. Instead, I shared my daughter’s approach: walk slowly, look all around, all the time, breathe in the air, remember the coolness compared to the midsummer heat on the surface, marvel at the glory of nature. She loves taking ‘mental pictures’ to remind her of what she’s seen. As she walked through the caves I could hear her muttering “click”, “click” to herself, and I smiled.

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