Peat surveying, 19/03/18

If you follow me on Twitter a) I’m so very sorry and b) you’ll know I started a new job at the end of January. I stepped away from 12 years with Natural England to take up a very peat focussed role (I’ll get to why peat is important soon). I’m still in communications, but now I’m a jack-of-all-comms-trades for Yorkshire Peat Partnership (new website on the way), Pennine PeatLIFE (new website under construction) and the IUCN UK Peat Programme (not started that new website yet). Gosh that’s a lot of peat. Why not take a few moments to come up with your own compeating priorities pun?

When it comes to peat habitat in the uplands, we’re talking blanket bog. Healthy blanket bog is mainly composed of bog vegetation fed by rain or snow and so is nutrient poor and acidic. As the vegetation dies, it doesn’t decompose and instead forms peat – Sphagnum mosses are the key species for this. In good condition, blanket bog:

  • filters water before it gets into our supply, reducing the cost of drinking water
  • stores carbon; despite occupying just 3% of the Earth’s land surface, peatlands are our largest carbon store on land.
  • slows the flow of rainwater across the hillsides, helping to reduce flooding
  • provides habitat for some really amazing wildlife.

In poor condition, it discolours water (meaning our drinking water costs more), releases COinto the atmosphere, does nothing to impede the flow of water and is not much to live on (if you’re a critter) or look at (if you’re a walker).

YPP and PPL are both very much about restoring degraded peat across the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, North Pennines and Forest of Bowland. If you’re familiar with any of these areas, you’ll know that means the uplands.

The snow across January, February and March has made the uplands pretty hard to get to and, even assuming you can get there, the blanket bog is under several feet of snow. This has set back work schedules and we need to get everything done before the bird breeding season starts. For me, this means two days helping my new colleagues survey peat bogs. As well as an opportunity to get up onto the tops, this was a chance to find out what the rest of the team does while I’m building websites.

Thus the 19th of March finds me in the back of a Toyota Hilux, Jenny and Chris in the front, winding its way up onto the fells in the Forest of Bowland. I’ve never been here before, so it’s also a chance to both see some new hills and to look at familiar hills (the Dales) from a completely new angle.


Tools of the trade – depth poles and GPS mapper.

We park up and boot up. It’s bright, but very cold. There’s a dusting of snow on the tops and the wind has teeth. We collect our survey equipment – depth poles and handheld GPS units – and Jenny and I follow Chris to the survey site. Away to the west, Morecambe Bay glitters in the low sun. And how often do you get to describe Morecambe Bay as glittering?

Red grouse whir over the heather as we cut across the flank of one fell to drop onto a track. We gradually curve back uphill and roughly north east until I’m staring over the broad valley (Lonsdale?) that holds the A65. The southern fringe of the Yorkshire Dales, white in the distance, stares back. It’s not quite clear enough for me to work out which bit of my regular stomping ground it is. In any case, we’ve too much to do in Lancashire for me to spend much time gazing at Yorkshire.

This is a wild landscape, in as much as any landscape in England can be said to be truly wild. We are on a plateau, peat sat on what I assume to be water-impermeable bedrock geology – possibly gritstone¹. We are surrounded by heather, sphagnum and cotton grass (though heather dominates on this site). The moor is ribboned with gullies and, in places, expanses of bare peat.

Chris sets  out to survey peat on one side of a small valley and I assist Jenny on the other. We are working a series of transects – testing peat depth and surveying vegetation every 100m – and also surveying any erosion features we come across on each transect. It may not surprise you, gentle reader, to find that I am doing the donkey work. I’m measuring peat depth with a pole that screws together in sections, and Jenny is examining the flora and the erosion features.

We find our first survey spot using GPS – these units are accurate to within one metre. Now for some donkey work. I stab through the peat surface with a pole section. This is harder than it sounds – there is a thin layer of cotton grass over the peat and the peat itself is frozen at the surface. Once you’re past the surface, resistance is variable but, in places, quite substantial. The pole vanishes down to the last 10cm marker. I screw in the next section and continue. Once the pole hits mineral soil (peat is organic), it will go no further and we can thus gauge the depth of the peat. In this instance, it’s 1.6m – about 5’2″ in pounds, shillings and pence.

Right down at ground level, we (by which I mean Jenny) find Erica tetralix (cross-leaved heath), Calluna vulgaris (ling; the heather not the fish), Eriophorum vaginatum (hare’s tail cotton grass),  Eriophorum angustifolium (common cottongrass), Vaccinium myrtilus (bilberry) Empetrum nigrum (crowberry) and some Sphagnum ssp. (I can’t remember which species, I’m afraid). Fans of the National Vegetation Classification system will recognise this as the M19 community (M for mire). Jenny notes this down and we move on.

En route to our next GPS point, we cross a huge gully. The peat is stripped away right


Peat hag, with human for scale.

down to the mineral soil – it’s around 1.5 m deep and 4m wide in places. A massive peat hag – a steep erosion feature – looms up. Around the edges, the peat is ribboned by a dendritic (branching) gully system.


It’s hard going, this terrain. The heather masks a multitude of sins for your feet: tussocks, gully, holes, even the gradient in places. We weave backwards and forward across the slope, from point to point and across each erosion feature. The wind continues to claw at us. It is nowhere strong enough to knock you from your feet, but it can catch you at an awkward moment – perhaps with all your weight on one leg in a clump of heather – and you’re on your backside. It’s the strongest workout my right leg has had since the accident, so that’s over 3 years now. My word, I’m out of shape. It is, frankly, a relief when we stop for lunch.

In a patch of snow, there are mustelid prints – too far apart to be a weasel, so I assume a stoat. I can’t help but wonder if it’s in its white winter coat. I’ve only ever seen one ermine before, not so very far away at Martin Mere, tearing about on a frozen pond. What a splendid beast.


Stoat prints in the snow.

We meet up with Chris for lunch over on his side of the valley. He leads us to a comparatively sheltered spot at the bottom of a huge gully. Suddenly out of the wind, it’s almost balmy (provided you’re wearing all the clothes you own). We sit in the sunshine and eat. A raven goes overhead, low enough that  I hear its wings soughing the air, making that odd, soft klonk call. Further down the gully there’s a startled chak-chak-chak and a ring ouzel whips up and vanishes across the heather.

After lunch, we repeat the process on this side of the valley. The deepest peat I measure today is 2.4m (that’s nearly 8 feet). We find a peat pipe, which is pretty much what it says it is – pipe within the peat. I say peat in this post a lot, don’t I? There are various theories about how they form, but nobody knows for sure. Finally, we head back to the Hilux. I am knackered – this has been my hardest day out on the hills since the surgeon gave me permission. Glorious, though, and I’ve learned a lot. Returning westwards, we can see Blackpool Tower away out on Morecambe Bay. And as we drive back down to where the tarmac lurks, a flock of curlew go overhead – twenty or so. A cracking end to a cracking day.

What happens next? Well, a few days later, the site is surveyed from the air with an Unmanned Arial Vehicle and the two surveys are combined. They’re then used to create a work schedule for the site to restore it to functioning blanket bog. I’ll see if I can write a post about that in the future…

If this has whetted your thirst peatlands, why not get out and take a look for yourself? International Bog Day celebrates the beauty of bogs on the 4th Sunday of July – in 2018, that’s the 22nd. Check out the website to see if there’s an event near you.

Thanks to Jenny and Chris for taking me along and sorry if I got any of this wrong.

¹I’ve just checked on the British Geological Survey app on my iPhone – it’s “Pendle Grit Member, Sandstone Interbedded. Sedimentary Bedrock formed approximately 328 to 329 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period.” It lists the superficial geology as “Peat. Superficial Deposits formed up to 3 million years ago in the Quaternary Period.” Splendid – I’ve had this app for years and only just started using it properly¹·¹.

¹·¹Other geology apps are available.


Wharfedale-Littondale loop, 09/12/17, 9.4km

The hills:

An easy circuit from Upper Wharfedale over to my favourite of the southern dales, Littondale, and back. Well, I say easy – it’s neither long nor navigationally challenging, but the start is really pretty steep.


Mountain weather forecast for the Dales for 09/12/17 from met

The walk:

From the western bank of the Wharfe, just above the Kettlewell bridge, Susan, Harvey and I follow the footpath due west, uphill across some rough pasture. There’s perhaps an inch of powdery snow on the ground and the turf thereunder is pretty convincingly frozen. The path cuts through a narrow band of rock – an outlier of Great Cote Scar. You’ll need your hands for a few metres, but it is not a scramble.

Above the scar, the slope slackens and steepens and slackens and steepens in a series of infuriating terraces. Harvey makes intrepid progress through the snow, which has drifted in places, and drags Susan up in his furry wake. Under the crest of the ridge, we pause to look back over Wharfedale. Immediately opposite, Great Whernside squats over Kettlewell like a brooding gritstone god. It’s quite a boggy brooding god but this would probably be the best weather in which to tackle it, its mires frozen solid.


Great Whernside looking all brooding and such…

Turning back to heights draws us up onto the broad hump of the ridge. We use Harvey’s harness to airlift him over the first stile of the day, and it’s still funny. It will never not be. I balance on top of the stile for a view down into Littondale. It really is beautiful and it’s lack of tourist facilities make it much less crowded than Wharfedale or Ribblesdale.

Continuing due west, we head downslope. This side of the ridge is much gentler and there’s a deal more heather. Red grouse whirr hither and yon. To the north and a fair stretch above us, a kestrel hovers above the snow. Fun kestrel fact: the kestrel’s preferred prey is the field vole; field voles use habitual runs through the undergrowth; they urinate as they’re running; their urine has a signature in the ultraviolet spectrum; kestrels can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. Voles – dying for a pee. I said it was a fun fact.


Arncliffe and Yew Coggar Scar beyond,  across the River Skirfare.

The path drops down into Byre Bank Wood. We’re out of the wind here, so we pause for lunch. Harvey has some black pudding we saved from breakfast. He really likes it. I have a pork pie and Susan has a sausage roll. We really like them. We take in the view across to Arncliffe and Yew Coggar Scar until the cold pushes us back into motion. It’s slow going through the wood. There are gnarly tree roots underfoot, the rock is polished really smooth and there is ice in places. Eventually, we drop through the wood into pasture and then onto the road.

If you were minded, you could cross the River Skirfare and take a path southeast along the river bank. We’re getting a move on, so we simply turn left onto the road and follow it down to Hawkswick. The slope above us is steep and thickly planted with new trees – it looks like a new deciduous plantation. A pair of buzzards circle over the saplings as we stride into Hawkswick. At the far end of the village, we turn uphill again through a walled lane before cutting east across the steep flank of ridge. Somewhat incongruously, there is a field of donkeys. I like donkeys. They have a mysterious smile that says they know something you don’t. And they probably do – I know I have no idea what it’s like to eat grass for 15 hours a day. As with my previous blog post, please note that livestock are not a navigational feature.

We once more find ourselves on the broad back of the ridge, albeit further down and


Harvey “I have peed on this and now I own it all” Photo © Susan Owen

looking down now to the confluence of the Skirfare and the Wharfe. Our route turns due north from here, dropping gradually toward the southern end of Great Cote Scar. At Knipe Wood, you could handrail the top of the Scar and then return to Kettlewell via the not-scramble whence you started. We choose to wind down through Knipe Wood, a mixed not-entirely natural woodland, cloaking the slope above the Kettlwell road. In the summer, I’ve seen goldcrest in here, flitting amongst the pines. We come out onto the road and hoof down into the village (there is a track running around the road, but this is quicker and the footing more sure).

Kit list:

In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Paramo Torres belay jacket, Montane flux belay jacket, OL Sheet 30, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, Veho Pebble phone-charger, Petzl Tikka Plus 2 head torch, coffee, a pork pie, a sausage roll, Lowe Alpine mountain cap, Marmot XT gloves, some old pair of Lowe Alpine shell gloves (you can never have too many gloves and I’m carrying spare kit for two). I wore Scarpa Rebel Lite GTX boots, Rab Latok gloves, Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock, Paramo Velez Adventure trousers, SmartWool leggings, some old Berghaus long sleeve base layer,  a Nike vest.

Bingley Moor and Burley Moor, 06/12/17, 8.5km

The hills:

The moors are possibly a state of mind as much a geographical location. They all run into one another in the South Pennines, and it’s quite possible I crossed Hawksworth Moor rather than Bingley Moor on the way to Burley Moor. Or that I crossed both. Can’t get enough of them – they’re very moorish…

The walk:

To get to the starting point, you could get a train to Saltaire, hoof up the side of (or ride on) the Glen tramway and then to the far end of Shipley Glen. Or you could get a bus from Bingley (as I did), bail out in Eldwick near the Birches pub and scoot round the edge of the woods to the far end of Shipley Glen. However you go at it, I started out where Glen Road meets Glovershaw Lane, crossing the latter at the cattle grid and heading north. The footpath handrails the edge of Baildon golf course over some slightly muddy, unimproved pasture. Above me, a bird glides on bowed wings. It is diagonally on to me, obscuring its shape and at first I think it’s a curlew despite the time of year. It turns sideways on and then away, flashing a long, russet, forked tail. It is further away than I realised and it is, of course, a red kite.

The footpath joins what looks like a recently complete gallop – there’s quite a bit of equestrianism round here – and I am momentarily confused by the new track as it is not on the map. This is lazy map-reading – I should be focussing on contours and geography rather than this kind of manmade feature. The gallop loops up into Birch Close Lane, running northeast past some old farmhouse type buildings (you can generally rely in this kind of manmade feature) before turning due north for Weecher Reservoir (and this kind). You could follow the access road that services the reservoir and then turn east along the the road (but see later caveat) or, as I did, cut across the field. As I take a bridge over the reservoir’s overspill, I spy a herd of belted Galloways – my favourite breed of cattle – off to my right (author’s note: cattle are not a reliable navigational feature). The field is pretty wet and there’s a fair bit of skirting round mud. Eventually I emerge on Otley road and cross it the foot path on the far side. Take care with this road – it can be a bit hairy. A generous interpretation would be that the comparative wildness of the landscape has led the drivers here to the conclusion they are in Mad Max. Or perhaps they should all have set off about 15 minutes earlier and there’d be no need to drive like the world is ending.


Baildon Hill from Bingley (or possibly Hawksworth) Moor.

Once safely onto what may be Bingley or Hawksworth Moor, a well established path leads me north northwest toward a drystone wall. It eventually starts to run parallel to that wall. Another wall runs directly across my path; I cross it and look back for views of Baildon Hill and then carry on north north west. Under a low rise, the track crosses through the wall on a stile and I pause for coffee out of the wind. Before me lies a broad flat area of bog with a track running towards a low, black oblong on the horizon. It’s definitely manmade, but a very serviceable landmark. If the horizon is a bit hazy, the path very rarely strays more than about 20 metres from the fence. If visibility is too low to see the fence, I’d probably just give this one up for the day – this is a walk for the views rather than the challenge. I yomp roughly north northeast across quite a lot of really quite wet peat. I’m not complaining – we need the peat wet – until the path starts to climb toward the low, black oblong. Grouse whirr about me in the heather, making their strange lekking noises. I climb up out of the bog to a low, very solidly built hut on a gravel track. This is the crest of Burley Moor and, I think, the watershed. Behind me, water drains into the Aire, before me, into the Wharfe. There’s a grand view across to Nidderdale AONB, the golf balls of Menwith Hill glowing white in the winter sun.


High Lanshaw Dam from the crest of Burley Moor.

I pause here for coffee once more. Pro tip – if you want to sit up in the wind so that you have the view and the sunshine, maybe put your belay jacket on before you get up into the wind. After I have mastered my apparel and been suitably refreshed, I hoof due north and downhill, with a row of grouse butts off to the east. I think the moor is owned by Bradford council and leased for grouse shooting. Certainly, the heathers shows signs of active management – it’s been burned in places to promote new growth. The path curves around to the north west but I keep facing north and drop down across some


Mmmmm, greasy and polished…

steeper ground to join the Dales Way. The ground here is drier and bracken stubble is poking up through the grass. Below the Way, the ground drops steeply to Hanginstone Road – I’ve driven along it many times, but never looked down upon from this angle. I follow the way to the (and I hesitate to use this adjective) iconic Cow and Calf rocks. If climbing greasy gritstone on routes polished smooth by decades of feet is your thing, this is the arena for you. From here, you can take any number of routes down into Ilkley, whence there are trains to all corners of England (well, Bradford and Leeds). I drop down through some mixed (and I’m reasonably sure planted by the Victorians) woodland, past an artificial tarn to Wells Road and thence straight downhill to the station.

Kit list:

In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Paramo Torres belay jacket, OL Sheet 297, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, Veho Pebble phone-charger, coffee. I wore Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock, Paramo Velez Adventure trousers, some old Berghaus long sleeve base layer, Five Ten Camp Four GTX approach shoes, Montane Vortex gaiters, Marmot XT gloves. Yes, I do seem to have gone all Paramo – I’ll see about a review soon.

Baildon Hill, 15/10/17, 7.9km

The hills:

Baildon Hill (282m) sits above the Aire valley between the town of Baildon and the village of Eldwick. I grew up in Baildon and now live in Bingley, just below Eldwick, so this is very much my home patch.

The walk:

We start from the Leeds-Liverpool canal, at Dowley Gap locks. You could get a train to either Bingley or Saltaire and hoof along the canal to get there. From the locks, we (Susan, Harvey the shorkie and I) head east along the towpath, crossing the canal over a little humpback bridge to the north bank. Where the canal crosses the River Aire, we drop down some steps to the river bank. This is Harvey’s first outing in his new Ruffwear Web Master harness. It has a handle to make it easier to lift him over obstacles. I will never stop finding this funny.


Harvey the shorkie modelling his new harness, and managing a bit more dignity now he’s not being swung about like a handbag…

The weather is definitely turning its mind to thoughts of autumn, although it’s bright and clear. There are a couple of mallard on the river – I’ve seen dabchicks, goosander, tufted ducks and kingfishers here. We follow the river to the rowing club. The weir looks like it’s had its gradient reduced since the floods at the end of 2015. After we pass the clubhouse, we take the club’s private road north to a long, straight avenue, running east to west. We follow it west until we reach what used to be one of the gatehouses to the Titus Salt estate. From here, a path runs steeply and muddily uphill. In winter, the tall hedge on the right is babbling with long-tailed tits and goldfinch.

At the top, a curious wrought iron construction, almost like a massive kissing gate, admits us onto a cobbled, walled bridleway. We turn east and descend to a tiny little reservoir. I should know what it was for, but I don’t. My assumption is that it provided water for Salts Mill, but whether for the workforce to drink or for industrial purposes, I know not. Harvey has discovered a love of jumping on walls for a look at what’s on the other side. He quickly changes his mind with this particular view.

As we clear the reservoir, we’re into Shipley Glen woods. In the summer, they echo to the strange, ululating laugh of the green woodpecker – the yaffle. Its plumage camouflages it perfectly in tree canopy so it’s more often heard than seen. We head uphill once more and, as we hit the main track through the woods, curve eastwards up and around the slope to emerge from the trees at the Old Glen House pub. We follow the road westwards to the ice cream van and then take a way-marked public footpath around the back of some houses – Harvey’s new harness is useful for manoeuvring him over the cattle grid here.

Behind the houses, there’s a drystone wall running up the hill. We cross a stile to the western side of the wall – Harvey is once more airlifted in his new gear – and handrail the wall up


Looking Leedswards. Other West Yorkshire cities are available. And less up themselves.

the hill. Just before we reach a caravan park, we recross the wall to some boggy ground, ascend a little more before…drrrrrrrum roll…recrossing through a rather narrow gate. A muddy footpath runs up through bracken and Himalayan balsam to emerge on the caravan park’s entrance road. We carry on straight uphill through bracken now turning seasonally brown (the bracken, I mean; we’re not turning seasonally brown). As we start to crest the top of this slope, we turn back for a view roughly Leedswards. What? Leedswards is totally a word.

We have a gentle stroll across flat ground now, skirting another caravan park to the west. Ahead of us, the summit mound of Baildon hill looms (admittedly not very loomingly, as it’s not that big). A short pull takes us onto a plateau with splendid views of West Yorkshire (if  such a thing an be said to exist). We take a pew on one of the benches near the trig point, drink coffee and admire the vista. There’s a circular display that names all the features of interest on the horizon. It’s all here – Top Withens, the Ovenden Moor wind turbines…um…Drax (the coal-fired power station, not the massive, blue guy from Guardians of the Galaxy). West Yorkshire is the best Yorkshire.


West Yorkshire has it all…

We slip off the north edge of the summit and down to a strange geological arrangement, like a conglomeration of cinders and shale. No idea what it is – when I was a child, my dad told me it fell from outer space. I’m 47 now, and I think he may have made that up. We turn due west, skirting the northern edge of the upper caravan park before plunging downhill, back toward Shipley Glen. Crossing Glen Road, we follow the broad, obvious track down to Loadpit Beck, and cross the stream on a little, concrete foot bridge. At the far side, we turn roughly south, climbing gently back up into the woods.

The path here, hugs the top of the glen, walled pasture to west and steep, deciduous woods to the east. We arrive once more at the strange Victorian-almost-kissing-gate and turn uphill where we turned downhill before. The bridleway is skirting the edge


There are a lot of these little lanes round here. I rather like them.

the Salt estate; soon a walled lane draws us west, down onto the carriage road that ran between Salt’s two gate houses. It’s not marked on the OS map as a public right of way, but it’s been treated as one since I was child. Just uphill from where we join the carriage road and off to the south are what I believe to be the remains of Salt’s mansion. It (or rather its various owners) suffered a series of macabre and unfortunate deaths before its demolition in the 50s. Recently, a series of hauntings were proved – by a talking dog and some kids – to be Mr McGruder trying to make off with the old Salt fortune. He’d have gotten away etc…

Emerging from the woods into Gilstead, we cross the road to turn south and downhill. Where the road turns sharply to the right, we recross and footpath takes us back to our starting point on the canal.

Kit list:

I didn’t really take any. A flask of coffee, basically. Harvey was wearing a Ruffwear Web Master harness. He looked splendid. I think he’s starting to like it. He gets excited when he sees it now.

An accretion of brutality, 12/05/17

“Came up running, maybe faster than anyone she’d ever seen run, straight out across the garage, down the long line of what they’d said was Lev’s father’s car collection. As he ran, each long arch lit up with its glow stuff, so shallow they might almost have been beams, to fade again as he passed below, and she hadn’t imagined there were so many, or how big this place was. As he ran he screamed, maybe how he hadn’t screamed when what happened to him had torn so much of his body off, but between the screams he whooped  hoarsely, she guessed out of some unbearable joy or relief, just to run that way, have fingers, and that was harder than the screams.

Then one last arch faded when he ran beneath it, and there was only darkness, and the sounds he made.”

William Gibson, The Peripheral

The first time I read this paragraph, I thought it was an extraordinary thing – beautifully and terribly human. Here, now, suddenly having my leg free of the metalwork to which I’ve been bolted for 10 months, my eyes shimmer with tears. It describes a man abruptly free of the awful physical injuries that have come to define him and perhaps seeing past the emotional trauma that was grafted on with them. His wounds are far more grievous than mine but, you know, fictional. When I look at the list of what my body has endured over the last 31 months, it’s a blankly terrifying accretion of brutality. I’m glad it was spread out. In summary:


Left brachial plexus neuropraxia – I stretch the nerve cluster that moves my left arm, paralysing it. As I am hanging by it at the time, I fall 5 metres, sustaining an open right tibial fracture and a fibula fracture. I bounce 30-40 metres, during which: fracture left ribs 4-10 (that’s 7 ribs in total); right clavicle fracture; fracture thoracic vertebra 6; fracture transverse processes on thoracic vertebrae 5 and 6 and on lumbar vertebrae 1 & 4; fracture spinous processes on sacral vertebrae 1 & 2. I lie on my own for somewhere between 8 and 9 hours. The sensation of one half of my tibia rubbing across the other half is genuinely the worst thing I have ever felt. I am airlifted to Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary.


Picture of surgical scar on author's spine.

Magnificent scar

An intramedullary nail (basically a titanium rod) is inserted into one half of my broken tibia and the other half is slotted over the other end and fixed with screws. A tissue graft is lifted from my right calf and slipped under the open flap of skin, which is then stitched closed. A skin graft is taken from my right thigh to cover the bare meat on my calf.





No, this is a magnificent scar…

The two vertebrae on either side of my spinal fracture are stabilised with titanium Meccano. I gain a magnificent scar. It’s not as magnificent as my leg scar, but it’s pretty dapper.

I’m not sure of the date because: morphine.

At some point after leaving intensive care but before I am moved to Leeds General Infirmary, and deep in the clutches of morphine induced Bruce Willis hallucination (no, honestly), I try to manually remove my own catheter. Even through the opiate cloud, it is eye-watering. Don’t try this at home. Or in hospital. Ow.



The horror, the horror, the horror…

Because my tibia was exposed for such a long time, the bone has not healed. The intramedullary nail is unscrewed and removed – I dread to imagine the mechanics of this process. The surgeons cut 3cm of dead bone from my tibia and shunt the two halves together. Then they put 12 pins through the bone and fix them externally to a series of stainless steel rings – an Ilizarov frame. Just for clarity, my right leg is now 3 cm shorter than it was, and my muscles and tendons contract to the new length.


So that I can stretch the missing length back in with the frame, I have a corticotomy, which is to say that they re-break my leg. With a drill. And a chisel. I Google corticotomy to find out how to spell it; the first search result is a YouTube clip of an actual corticotomy. I’m lucky that way.


The old break is sufficiently healed that I can start opening up the new break. I turn the nuts on four bolts 0.25mm three times a day. As the gap widens, the pins gradually stretch my flesh. It’s an extraordinary sensation. This will continue until 29/09/16.


I snap a pin. The torsion from widening the gap coupled with 4 months of my being possibly more active than the average patient distorts and then breaks one of the pins on the bottom ring. The pin is pulled out and then a new one is driven through my leg. Not in the old hole, no. They make a new hole. Of course. This is my third nerve block. When it wears off, oh my word.


At a regular x-ray, I point out that the two pin sites in the middle of my calf weep quite a bit. As the pins are supporting the old break, which has healed, and provide a potential avenue for infection, they are removed. With pliers. I get gas and air. It’s not painful exactly, but when you pull metal through skeleton, it generates friction, which generates heat. When the hot metal emerges from your skeleton into your flesh, it is quite odd. Oh, alright, yes, it is also painful. Ow. Again.


I snap another pin. No, I don’t understand either. It’s like they don’t make these frames for people who, I don’t know, walk about. Anyway, this time, my consultant just takes out the pin clip and puts in a longer clip that reaches in to grip the snapped end. This means I do not have to have the pin replaced. All of the hurrah. The frame tinkering transmits all the vibration directly to my skeleton. The piercing nausea is quite distracting. Also, I have an ingrowing toenail on my big toe. It’s clearly not the gravest of my woes, but straws and the camel’s back, eh?


My consultant tells me that if I promise not to rock climb, he will loosen off the frame and then remove it in three weeks. He takes the nuts from the supporting bolts. As they are under tension from holding up 76kg of idiot, they have seized up. Another surgeon has to hold the frame while he loosens them. Again, the vibration is transmitted directly into my hard infrastructure. It last seconds and forever. Ow. Again, again. In addition, now the that the nuts are gone, the frame can flex. When the bolt threads rub across the rings, it is a brand new crack in Hell’s paving.


After a further x-ray, the consultant decides that the frame can come off. The pins are all


As good as new. Well, better than broken.

snipped through with bolt cutters. Some of them take some cutting. As the pins snap, the tension they are under is released directly into my skeleton. One of the pins at the bottom is actually really loose – I watch the nurse prod it back and forth with her finger before she plucks it free. The rest are not loose. Oh, no. They are well and truly ossified in place. Most of them are heaved free with some accompanying sacrilege on my part. (Honestly, they’re missing a trick here; if they mixed helium with the gas and air, this could be primetime viewing. The show would have it all: blood, drama, tension, human frailty, really squeaky blasphemy. I digress.) A burly male nurse is brought onto the pitch for the stubborn pins. He is able to shift all but two of them. I invent some new compound swears. My surgeon is brought in. He takes what is basically a drill chuck on a T-handle, and clamps it to the end of a pin. Two nurses hold my leg down. The surgeon heaves on the pin. The third nurse hits the pin from the other end; I have my eyes closed and have no idea with what. I inhale gas and air all the way down into my pelvic girdle. My left leg (the good one) actually goes into spasm. There’s a fair bit of blood. One more pin to go. See previous pin. Peace, the charm’s wound up. My leg is dressed and encased in a rigid protective boot and I am released into the care of a responsible adult*.


Tibial triptych. It’s a bit more colourful than the Isenheim altarpiece, but about as grim.


And here I am. In actual trousers. And socks that come up over my ankles. And underpants that don’t contain Velcro. It’s been an astonishing process: humbling, painful, life-affirming, somehow simultaneously bright and befuddling. I’m sure that I have not been easy to deal with; I can only apologise. If it’s any consolation, it’s been less fun being me than being around me. To everyone who has altered clothes for me; visited me in hospital (especially if you bought coffee); done shopping for me; dropped by at home to see how I’m doing; taken me to the pub, cinema, shops or physiotherapy; done laundry for me; cooked for me; changed the bedding for me; carried stuff for me; put up with me on Twitter, the ‘phone or real life; driven me to, waited around for me at, or driven me home from the hospital; done something for me that I’ve forgotten – thank you all, I am in your debt. A special thank you to my team at work, who have been so supportive of me whilst probably dealing with me at my worst: you rock.

And just for clarity, although this post references brutality, the care I have received from all of the staff at both Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary and Leeds General Infirmary has been superb. I am grateful to them all and sorry that, on occasion, my circumstances have got the best of my temper.

*no, really

Aren’t you better yet? 02/03/17

“Singing six months ain’t no sentence, and one year ain’t no time”

Junco Partner, The Clash

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 5 months since my last confession. Where has the time gone? I am, I think, in a state of shock, so this will be a bit of a stream of consciousness as I try to put my thoughts in order. Let’s get you all up to speed, and then I can crack on with recent events.

When last seen, I was enjoying a ferociously strong gin and all of the extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings. I say enjoying – I still resent the way that Gimli was gradually turned into comic-dwarf-relief by the screenplay. Also, Strider wasn’t scary enough and his character arc was crammed into some unnecessary, producer-driven three act structure. I digress. This isn’t getting you up to speed.

Scurry forward to mid January and I am once more in orthopaedic outpatients at Leeds General Infirmary, having my lower right leg irradiated. In the subsequent x-ray, there is perhaps twice as much bone as in December, and it is much denser. The screen shot here is of the lateral x-ray. You can see the bone is filling in from the back forwards. This is because all the muscle and therefore blood supply for the tibia is at the back, in the calf.


Lateral x-ray of my right tibia, in all its happy glory.

I point out to my consultant that two of the pins weep quite a lot when I am active. They are supporting the old break, which has now healed, and so are functionally redundant. They are removed. With pliers. I get gas and air. It’s an extraordinary sensation. Not painful as such, but the friction generated by metal pins being drawn through my skeleton is quite something. Would not recommend.

In the run-up to this x-ray, I’ve stopped using crutches indoors and, after it, I stop using them altogether. This is important because weight-bearing triggers a nerve signal to make the bone grow. The more bone is in the gap, the more I can weight-bear. The more I weight-bear, the stronger that nerve signal. The stronger the signal, the more bone grows into the gap. Repeat.

At physiotherapy, I’m now working on a lot of single-leg balance exercises and I’m moving 80kg on the leg press (I weigh about 76kg, so I’m pressing more than double bodyweight). Elsewhere, I’m getting down to the shops and back with around 4kg of shopping and without crutches (albeit incredibly slowly). I’ve very gradually phased prescription painkillers down and then out. After the end of January, I phase out over the counter painkillers too. That’s a relief, I can tell you. Not just because of the freedom from opioids, but also the lecture every time I buy cocodamol. Oh dear me, yes. “Have you taken these before?” I think you could say that we are acquainted, yes…

My February x-ray gets bumped on to the start of March. Out of interest, I get my thumbs into the gap in my tibia. It feels like it’s full of bone. There’s a little bit of a hollow, yes, but the consultant has told me that there will probably always be a concavity on the front of my shin. But am I just feeling bone because I want there to be bone and my mind is making up the difference? And, good grief, I cannot tell you how much I want to be rid of this frame. It weighs 2kg. The ends of the pins are sharp and catch on everything. You can never forget it’s there, even in bed. Actually, especially in bed. I can only shower my right leg once a week, so it’s constantly sloughing greasy, dead skin. I’ve been wearing 3/4 of a pair of jogging bottoms for months now and I’d quite like to just put on some trousers. Or jeans. Maybe even jeggings. Oh yeah, and I’ve basically got 12 knitting needles entirely through my leg and that is exactly as comfortable as it sounds.

My March appointment arrives. I have my x-ray more or less on time, but when I get back to clinic, they are running almost two hours behind. I manage to distract myself from daytime television (why, hospitals, why?) with a book. Eventually, I’m called in. There on screen is the familiar shape of my tibia, sort of full of bone on the frontal x-ray. The obliques are a bit less convincing. Ignore the breaks in the fibula, gentle reader, because #FunFibulaFact: most of the fibula is functionally redundant. The bottom fits into the ankle, and the top anchors some ligaments; the rest is ornamental. Eyes on the prize, team, back to the tibia. Is it dense enough for the frame to come off? Spoiler alert: it is not dense enough for the frame to come off. The consultant loosens the upright bars on the frame to take some of the tension out. This will allow more of my weight to go directly onto the bone – see mantra above abut weight-bearing. I will come back in 7 weeks and he will loosen it again, completely. Then, in another fortnight, he might take the frame off. I am, in the finest tradition of disqualified Masterchef contestants, gutted. (Seriously, though, Masterchefs, learn a new adjective. Also that bit where they say “It’s not gonna stop me cooking”? Just once I’d like to hear “Sod it, it’s ready-meals from now on.)


Ignore the fibula (the one on the left). Nobody cares about the fibula. It does nothing, the slacker. I’m thinking about having it removed.

Pretty much in shock, I hobble into Leeds, get the train to Bingley, get some shopping (not the celebratory meal for which I was hoping), get through my front door, sit on the couch and cry. Not very loudly or for very long, but all on my own and with another 9 weeks in the frame looming before me. And yes, there is and end in sight. And yes, I’m lucky to be alive. And yes, it could have been worse. And yes, and yes, and yes, and yes. If all you have for me is platitudes, please hold your breath. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. You can do it. Keep holding. Annnnd you’re unconscious. Excellent.

So, where were we? Yes. Another 9 weeks of this. Obviously I can do it. My remarkable body and my little, thug heart will keep going because that’s what they do. My beleaguered mind – always the weak link in this chain – is right at the end of its tether. I was prepared for “we might have to leave this until April”, but May? May? That’s a whole load of plans I had for May just set on fire in a skip. Messrs Strummer and Jones are incorrect. One year is quite a lot of time, and it seems that I cannot remember my life before this cage. And I am crushed. Right, I have to go and take my mind off this, but I just needed to get it all off my chest. Thanks for listening.

Two years later,10/11/16

“Yesterday, in my 4th operation, the surgeon put a chisel through my tibia. I can conclusively assert that the first cut is not the deepest.”

Me, affecting bravado on Twitter

Two years ago from more or less the time at which I post this, I was dangling by my left arm. Not nonchalantly, no, more in blind panic – very literally clinging on for dear life. My right hand, to be fair, was doing its best to get me latched back onto the rock, whilst my feet scrabbled for purchase on the overhang. Below, a good 5 metres of gravity beckoned me towards an uncomfortable reckoning.

My left arm did its best – for all that I’m right handed, it suspended me for a remarkable span. I vividly remember the enormous surge of adrenaline;  the baffling, committing, all-or-nothing power in my forearm; the tension in my left bicep; the calm voice in my head saying “get your game face on, this is going to hurt”. I hung on my left arm until I stretched the brachial plexus – that’s the nerve cluster that the works it – paralysing it.

Then I fell.

I often wonder how I must have looked, tumbling down the side of the crag. Was my face creased in pain? Terror? Was it blank with grim acceptance? Did I cry out? I remember the the sensation of my skeleton breaking far less clearly than the sound. At what point did unconsciousness drag me from my horror? Was it before or after my helmet was torn from my head? As friction overcame gravity did I gently slide to a halt in unlikely, cinematic grace?

I will never have the answers to much of this, and perhaps that’s for the best. I may never regain feeling in my left arm – now numb between elbow and shoulder – or across my left shoulder or down my spine. I am very happy to be here, though. Deeply so. And I am genuinely grateful to people and hounds of Keswick Mountain Rescue Team for scraping my bloody ruin off the mountain in such awful conditions. I genuinely owe them my life, just as I do, the staff of Royal Newcastle Victoria Infirmary. Thereafter, Leeds General Infirmary and St. Luke’s Hospital (Bradford) have expended considerable resource on my continuing recovery. Thanks to all of you.


Cheers! Yes, it’s 58% ABV. Who needs codeine? (please drink responsibly)

I have much for which to be grateful. I have set aside today to ponder that, not with solemnity but with quiet and intense joy. And with a ridiculous navy strength gin. I don’t normally drink in the week or this early in the day, but I feel I’ve earned this. Cheers.

A plan is just a list of things that don’t happen, 01/11/16

“[…] I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

Macbeth, Act III Scene 4

Well, my right leg is the correct length and I have the terrifying x-rays to prove it, but I’ve been able to feel the frame flexing and I’ve not been able to move without crutches for a few weeks. Anyhow, last Tuesday, I noticed I had sheared through one of the pins that run through my tibia. I had a consultant appointment by Thursday and was in surgery on Friday. The frame is much more stable and I was able to manage a few steps without crutches before the nerve block wore off. Thanks to RP for collecting me from hospital and for indulging my craving for fish and chips on the way home. I owe you one. Not enough to listen to Whitesnake, mind, but I am in your debt.


There’s bone in that there gap.

It’s now just a matter of waiting for my tibia to fill in the gap with bone, so I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years. Some of this stuff is already in other posts and some of it isn’t. Don’t judge me – we’re all desperate for content. Except perhaps you, gentle reader. Don’t give me your troubles…

Long term use of non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs may inhibit bone growth. I learned this not long after I’d seen the state of my leg for the first time post-accident. Good grief, it was swollen. I asked the nurse if I could have something like ibuprofen to bring the inflammation down. I couldn’t. The swelling only came down, in fact, when it encountered a combination of Iyengar yoga and hydrotherapy. And now it’s gone back up again.

Ribs are a really important part of breathing. Nearly as important as lungs. Yes. You (or anyway, I) don’t fully grasp this fact until you break a load of them. Then you grasp it really very firmly indeed. That’s why surgeons can’t do much with broken ribs. If you strap them up, they can’t expand and if they can’t expand, you can’t inhale and that really makes for issues much further up the triage ladder. I didn’t sneeze for about four months because I couldn’t get air into my lungs quickly enough to expel it reflexively. It was odd.

I was on the fell for somewhere between eight and nine hours. The selfie on the post about the accident was taken (when I look at the info on my iPhone) at 12:38, meaning I probably peeled at around 13:00. When I recorded for the Listening Project, MB told me that they got to me somewhere between 21:00 and 22:00. Gosh.

I wasn’t found by dogs. Again, when I recorded for the Listening Project, MB told me that there were dogs but they didn’t get there until 10 minutes after he did and he didn’t get there until 15 minutes after I’d been found. The mind, let me tell you, is an odd and powerful  beast.

The tibia is a difficult bone to regrow – apparently I’d have been better off breaking my thigh bone. The femur is surrounded by muscle and so has a good blood supply and therefore a good nutrient supply. The tibia is mostly surrounded by skin. The tissue graft that they took from my right calf and slapped over the break? I think the point of that was to increase blood flow around the wound and so speed healing. Only the bone was dead. Just my luck…

And here’s some stuff for those of you that have been injured (or may yet be injured – I hope you won’t be, but if you are, you may this useful).

img_0091Crutches: get yourself some fingerless gloves – they’ll save your palms. I have belay gloves because, you know, climbing, but weightlifting gloves would be good too. Also, some kind of shoulder bag for moving things around the house – books, flasks of coffee, guinea pigs – while your hands are full. Mine is from Maxpedition and sits on really comfortably on my hip, across my abdomen or lower back. When not in use, crutches are such a pain to balance. No, they really are – you can’t appreciate this until you have some. Balance them upside down. If you learn one thing from my blog, learn this. You’re welcome.

There shouldn’t be any flex in an Ilizarov frame. If you can feel it shifting about, that’s not right. Don’t panic, but do make an appointment with your consultant. Seriously, don’t freak out – you probably just need the clamps on the pins tightened. You’re going to be fine. I’ve had a pin replaced. I’ll be frank, it wasn’t fun. The surgeons pulled the broken pin out and then inserted a new one in a brand new hole. I’m told this is more hygienic. The nerve block has worn off and I’m in some considerable discomfort, but it’s going to be fine, and so will you.


You should not be able to do this with any of the pins. No. Call the hospital now.

Everybody’s experience of injury and surgery is unique to them. Their physical and emotional response is theirs and theirs alone. If it’s the first time they’ve been through the mill, there’s nobody to teach them the ropes. Surgery is hard, gosh, but it is. The drugs and the anxiety and the sheer physical brutality of what happens while the lights are out  – it all comes at a price. Be patient with them. They’re doing their best in difficult circumstances. Questions that are basically “why aren’t you better yet?” are not helpful. Close the hole under your nose and think before you make any more noise come out of it.

Similarly, if you’re in the trauma club and your patience is being tried by well-meaning but unhelpful loved ones, try to cut them slack. They don’t know what it’s like to be trapped in your sack of scars. How could they? I certainly didn’t understand before I tipped off the world. When I first came round in hospital in November, 2014, I thought I’d be back at work by Christmas. I wasn’t back until May, 2015, and I’ve just spent my fifth day in surgery, earning two new scars.

Speaking of scars…
…deep scar tissue is a strange thing alright. There’s an oddness where the numbness between the surface and the tissue that can still feel is almost a physical presence itself. It will cling to your skeleton and slow you down. In addition to the scars, there’s the fascia tissue – this is wrapped around your muscles. It clamps down around your muscles when they’re subjected to trauma, limiting their movement. My word, does it clamp down – almost two years down and it’s still a problem for me. Once the wound is stable, think about seeing a sports physiotherapist. They can help break down the scar tissue and they’ll free up the fascia. It will be uncomfortable and expensive. In my first session, my left shoulder was given a Chinese burn that went on for 15 minutes. I thought I was going to cry, and believe me, I can soak it up by now. It will be worth it, though.

So, I think that’s all I’ve got right now. Or, at any rate, all I can get to the surface through the mound of codeine. Perhaps I’ll add to this in the future. If you know anyone who’s going through the wringer with physical injuries at the moment, and you think this will help, please share it with them. If you’re going through the wringer, remember what I said about unique personal experience. This is written solely from my point of view. Some of this will chime with you, some of it won’t. The bits where we part company don’t mean you’re getting it wrong. You’re just you. Stick with it; you’ve made it this far and you can see it through.

On the bright side 27/09/16

“Yeah…well…you know what Napoleon said: Give me a man who is lucky.”


So I’ve been cranking open my tibial break by 0.75mm a day since the 18th of August; by the end of this week my right leg should be the correct length. This is really quite a big deal. After that, it’s just a matter of how quickly I can fill a 30mm gap with bone tissue. I might be rid of this frame in January.  Anyway, I thought I’d try to write about the positive things that have emerged from all this horror.

Before I get to that, three caveats.

  • I haven’t coped with this all on my own – it’s been a team effort. Thank you so much to those who have helped me.
  • I have certainly wallowed in this, I’ve been selfish, used my injuries and medication as excuses, and I’ve let people down. I’m not trying to gloss over my multitude of flaws, but I do (for a change) want to focus on the good things about my flirtation with the infinite.
  • Everything is relative (except Newtonian physics – I ‘m pretty certain they’re absolute). There are people who have suffered much more than I have – I empathise with them, but I can only talk about my own experience.

Um…it seems like I’m pretty tough. Not in a ridiculous, macho way; more in a I’ve survived a lot and kept going kind of way. Surviving the fall was absolutely a matter of luck rather than physical prowess. Keeping it together for eight hours or so, though, is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done – I don’t really have the words to explain how grim that was. The genuine strangeness of the next week or so in intensive care is a close second. And then the tottering months following discharge, working my way back to some kind of fitness only to find that, no, there’s still more to come: more surgery, more pain, more dizzying medication, more struggling on crutches, more physiotherapy. And yet, here I am – head up, leg elevated (just now while I’m typing, not all the time; that would be impractical), looking at a point where I might be able to get back to doing the thing that nearly killed me. There’s no I in quit. No, wait, that’s gibberish – there is totally an I in quit. There’s no quit in me. Yes. I mean no. And first caveat notwithstanding, when I’ve been down at the bottom, when I’ve been riddled with doubt and, for that matter, physical pain, it’s really been me that’s soaked it up and got on. I did that.

Self discipline
I’ve absolutely stuck at it. I’ve seen a lot of people in physiotherapy who aren’t keeping up to their exercise regime between appointments. I’m not judging them because I don’t know their circumstances. I do know that the NHS, in as much as it has one, has waved its magic wand. The rest of this recovery is down to me. Only I can rebuild muscle, bone and the less concrete attributes like balance. I’m sticking to exercises I’ve been given and more generally doing what I can to regain strength. I’m getting to shops and back, on crutches, with shopping; to stop my toes curling under, I’m working on Adho Mukha Svanasana a little every day; to rebuild grip strength, I’m handing my bodyweight from my fingerboard every other day, gradually building to smaller and smaller holds.

Four of these nuts, 0.25mm a time, three times a day.

Four of these nuts, 0.25mm a time, three times a day.

No, you shut up. Seriously, managing medication on medication is quite a feat. Codeine really affects my grasp of how time is passing – when you’re on the limit of your daily paracetamol allowance for prolonged periods, you can’t afford any mistakes. In almost three months, I’ve only lost the thread twice; and I made the right choice – if you’re not sure whether you’ve taken them, assume that you have. Likewise, I’ve kept track of extending the frame: 0.25mm, three times a day, every day. The one time I got confused, I got myself back on track the following day. The admin is dull but by no means trivial.

Good people
More by luck than good judgement, I’ve surrounded myself with good people. My parents have helped me out hugely, caring for me for months after the accident and helping me out with shopping after my recent operations. Friends have visited me (with coffee) in hospital, raised money for Keswick MRT, put food in my freezer, changed my bedding, driven me around, helped me get to the shops and back, modified my clothing.  My employer has really looked after me – not just meeting its contractual obligations, but being really human about my rehabilitation. The members of my team have covered over the holes I’ve left in various rosters, picked up my slack, and sheltered me from cold, cold world outside.  So, caveating my caveat about my first caveat – thanks, everyone.

Look how majestic I am! disclaimer: actual majesty may vary.

Look how majestic I am! disclaimer: actual majesty may vary.

None of my injuries were, in and of themselves, life threatening. In combination with one another and hypothermia, I have gazed in awe on my own death and been returned. It’s gradually given me a slightly different perspective on life. I’m not saying I’ve got that all the time, and silly things still get under my skin. But when I’m there, it’s odd and refreshing to be staring back into the world from death’s grey kingdom. Hello, you


An age of marvels, 07/08/16

“This shouldn’t hurt, but you might feel a slight discomfort.”

The Hold Steady, A Slight Discomfort

So, the district nurse bottles removing my stitches two weeks running – they’ve been in for four weeks now. I make an appointment with my GP practice nurses. They are hesitant when they see my frame but as soon as they hear the district nurse baulked at it, there’s no stopping them. It takes two nurses 45 minutes to get them out and they have to have a time-out in the middle. They are heroic, though, and I salute them. The following day, my leg aches just from tensing up for so long. And it is quite the picture.


Air-drying is not the only way in which my leg resembles a ham…

I’m physically competent enough to shower now, which is a relief. No more flannel baths for Marquis. I have to pull a bin liner up over my right leg and strap it in place above my knee (to prevent infection, not oxidation – titanium doesn’t rust). Once a week, when the pin site dressings are changed, I can shower fully. I strip out all the dressings and then let the pin sites air-dry until the dressings are replaced.

The appointment with my consultant arrives and I am x-rayed to see whether the tibia has sufficiently healed for it to be re-broken. Normally, they would crack the bone when they fit the cage. Because they also had to remove an intramedullary nail, my leg swelled up too much to take all that punishment at once. The surgeon is pleased with how I have healed, which means that he can now drill a series of holes across my tibia and then put a chisel through it. Then I use the frame to crank the gap open by 1mm a day – my bone will grow into the ever-widening crack until I’ve got back the missing 3cm. What, as they say, a time to be alive. For all the incoming brutality, it’s a massive relief. I’ve had 20 months of no-growth in my tibia and it’s a huge weight off my mind that my skeleton is back in the game. Crikey.


Good news, Lyndon – we can now put a chisel through your tibia.

I return to physiotherapy at St. Luke’s. I’ve spent so much time here over the past year and half that it’s a sort of homecoming. Unexpectedly, they have me working on some quite heavy equipment on the first session. I keep going until my leg is shaking with the effort. Repeat on every session.

I meet a young woman at physiotherapy who had an Ilizarov frame fitted by my surgeon. She was told she’d need to wear the frame for a year, and yet had it removed after 3 months. She’s 20 years south of me, so I imagine she heals more quickly, but it’s good to hear some  positive affirmation of the process. She warned me that the first time I put my weight on the new break, it’s going to feel really alarming. It’s going to feel like something terrible has happened but that the medical staff aren’t going to alert me to that. I was grateful that she took the time to share her experience of the procedure with me. One of the positives out of all this is the camaraderie among the patients; those that have already trod the path coming back to show me the way. Thanks, HB, if you’re reading this.

It’s been an emotionally overwrought month. I’ve cried at two episodes of Castle now, and a Lie to Me. Good grief. They were all episodes where characters were being physically rescued. Feeling impaired has set me pondering what a profound experience it is to be rescued. I don’t think that, even after all this time, I’m quite over that huge crest of relief when the cavalry showed up for me. Gosh, it was a colossal moment, such a huge heart-shaking thing to experience that sudden reprieve from the infinite. Forgive my lack of clarity here – it is difficult to articulate because I’m not entirely sure what I’m feeling. To physically damage yourself to the extent that you will die unless somebody steps into save you; to absolutely understand that in that moment; to be saved amidst the certainty of your own death – it is a big thing to process, and I’m still in the middle of it. Which is fine. It is what it is, but I need to acknowledge what it is and that it is affecting me.

And while I’m on the subject of danger, it’s time for a sweeping generalisation. I know I shouldn’t speak for everyone who’s been to the brink, but I just need to get this off my chest. If you have a loved one who’s survived a life-threatening  ordeal, please think twice before you utter the words “it could have been worse”. It is a thing you say to comfort yourself* and not to comfort them. The notion that they might have suffered more than they did will in no way mitigate the suffering they have endured. And, believe me, they already have an iron grasp of the fragility of human life without your insight. If they’re like me, they’ve already devoted a lot of time to thinking about how much worse it could have been. My favourite scenario is where one of my seven broken ribs punctures my left lung and then I drown in my own blood; I’ve spent hours rolling that one back and forth behind my eyes. They get to say “it could have been worse” and you get to listen – that’s the deal for this. If something dreadful happens to you (and I genuinely hope that it does not) they will return the favour. And because they themselves have spent some time lost at the bottom of the world, they won’t try your patience with platitudes.

*this is a legitimate need – you’ve had a terrible fright – but it needs to be kept separate from their need