Saturday, 13 August 2016

#1MillionSteps for Diabetes UK

I haven't done much blogging over the past month or so and that is, in part, due to committing to take the 1 Million Steps Challenge to raise money for Diabetes UK. That means walking at least 10,000 steps every day between 1 July and 30 September. I haven't managed that every day but on other days I've massively exceeded it and got some spare steps in my steps bank. I'm a diabeatnik myself and have Type 2 diabetes so I have a vested interest in raising money for research and support for diabeatniks and also into the end result of being more active, that is, a healthier me! In the last week I've exceeded 500,000 steps so I'm on track to complete the 1 million a week or two early.

It would be quite difficult to achieve 10K steps by pottering about at home (well, unless you live in a mansion, I suppose) so that in itself has encouraged me to get out and about more and to walk more. So, instead of getting the bus to the tube or railway station, I now walk. The walk to the station takes me past streets I've never walked down and parts of Tooting Common I've never explored, so I take diversions and see what's at the other end of the street. That increases my steps and it helps me better understand my area of London and what great stuff I live beside.

Instead of getting the tube to the nearest station to wherever I'm going, I get off at the station before that and walk. That helps me see things I wouldn't normally see. I was recently on a one week course at the National Gallery so I got off at Embankment rather than Charing Cross - not a huge difference really, but it gave me another 1000 steps each morning when I arrived and each afternoon going home.

Being at the National Gallery gave me Trafalgar Square to step round at lunchtime and the Gallery itself to explore, as well as Covent Garden down the road and a host of other things. I'd never had lunch in Trafalgar Square before so I made a point of getting some sandwiches and water one day and sitting int he Square to watch the tourists and other lunchers. That's a very small thing but, if I wasn't counting my steps, I would probably have just gone to the Gallery cafe for lunch rather than going outside or parading up and down the galleries exploring the art. It's often the little things like that that add the extra steps I need for the bank.

The challenge has also encouraged me to walk to events rather than get the bus - it means leaving earlier than I normally would but that's no great hardship. I set an early personal achievement of 28K steps in one day by walking to the Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park, wander the show for a couple of hours and then walk home a few weeks ago. I last went to the show 20-odd years ago but it was great fun and I loved the beer glasses (so nice I had to have two pints to get two glasses).  That's helped me to re-discover Brockwell Park, it's pond and lovely walled garden, rolling grasslands and picnic areas as well as all the fun of the show itself. The summer sunshine helps, of course.

I've also discovered things a lot closer to home on the two commons I live between - Tooting Common and Streatham Common. Tooting Common is a huge area of parkland bordering Tooting, Balham and Streatham. As well as its famous open-air swimming pool at the Lido it includes acres of grassland, some areas mown short for sports and some left to grow wild, areas of woodland, some recreational facilities for children and tennis courts and, of course, the lake. I wasn't sure if it was a big pond or a small lake but, after many visits, I've decided it's a lake since it's big enough and has a large island in the middle. It's great for wildlife and I like to see the swans, the occasional heron, geese and the shy turtles that appear on a sunken log at one side of the lake. It's very popular with mums and kids who feed the birds despite the signs asking them not to.

The secret joy of Streatham Common is the Rookery, the old gardens of a mansion house that used to stand at the top of the Common but was pulled down a century ago and the gardens were bought by public subscription to remain open to the public. I've known about the Rookery for years but never actually been, so the steps challenge gave me the incentive to visit and I'm jolly pleased I did (and I go back regularly to see them change as plants bloom and wither and others take their place). It really is an astonishing garden up there on the hill and, if you walk further along to Norwood Grove house you get great views across south west London and out over Surrey. You'd hardly believe you were in London sometimes.

Visiting Commons and gardens means I've seen more flowers this summer than in many a year. London is such a green city but it's sometimes difficult to believe that from what we see on the television news and films. Streets and bricks, traffic and concrete, but my London is full of green and growing things, lots of trees and flowers, blackberry bushes and nettles. As well as Tooting Common and Streatham Common, I've visited Brockwell Park, Figge's Marsh (there's no marsh there, sadly), St Jame's Park, Embankment Gardens, walked past so many gardens both big and small and seen so many flowers. Endless flowers and bumble bees having their lunch of nectar. I keep my eyes on the olive tree in the Rookery in case it starts producing olives. Now that we're into August the blackberries are starting to appear and so are all the hips and hawes on the bushes - it's going to be a very fruitful autumn following all the sunshine and rain we've had.

The steps challenge has also made me take advantage of my surroundings and see things that I've known about but never actually bothered to see. Visiting the Rookery was a joy and, now that I've discovered it, it's somewhere I will keep returning to regularly as the seasons change, but today I visited Brixton Windmill for the first time. I've known about it for decades but never quite managed to get there. It's one of the last few windmills in London but it's definitely worth a visit - it's occasionally open and you can go inside. I was just pleased to see its dramatic exterior with it's white sails and black building. It's about half-way up Brixton Hill (or down, depending on your direction) and is definitely worth a visit.

I also visited the Black Cultural Archive while my steps took me to Brixton and the small but very informative exhibition about the history of Rastafarianism. The Archive only opened a couple of years ago on Windrush Square and I'd never been before so this was a perfect opportunity. I also took the opportunity to explore Brixton markets (I remember my first visit 30 years ago and buying a sweet potato, something I'd never tasted before) and visited the David Bowie mural opposite Brixton tube station to see that some new floral tributes had been left for the Starman. There was a huge mound of flowers back in January and every now and then since - they keep getting cleared away after a respectful time but they keep reappearing.

So, the 1 Million Steps Challenge is raising money for Diabetes UK which is a good thing in itself. But it's also good for me. I'm losing weight and becoming fitter, I'm discovering the joys of the area of London I've lived in for years but never had the time or the motivation to explore more fully, and I'm becoming more observant to compete in the Diabetes UK weekly Twitter challenges (I've won twice so far as well - firstly about wildlife I've come across and the second about actual steps). Little things count and can be important as can all the little decisions to walk rather than get the bus or a train to get in a few extra steps or to see a street I've never walked down. I hope I continue after the challenge!

No comments: