No space oddity

I am a happily married middle-aged woman who should know better, but dammit I have a full-blown giggling girlie crush on an astronaut, I strongly suspect I am not alone.

For the past few months, quietly-spoken Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield has thrilled the world with Tweets, broadcasts and You Tube uploads from the International Space Station. In and among the day job of being a real live spaceman, he has skilfully harnessed social media so the rest of us back on Earth can look, learn, marvel and in my case sigh and flutter my eyelashes like I did when I was a teenager in love with Donny Osmond.

As well as Tweeting astonishing photographs of the world as he passed over, he gave an insight into the science of the space station and demonstrated dozens of day-to-day activities such as brushing his teeth, washing, getting sick (eww), fire safety and how to control the ISS as it circles above at 17,500mph. He encouraged people to ask him anything via Twitter, which they duly did.

West Yorkshire from space - copyright Cmdr Chris Hadfield

West Yorkshire from space – copyright Cmdr Chris Hadfield


And if being a pilot, astronaut, mission specialist and all-round clever guy wasn’t enough, he’s a rather good musician, somehow managing to get his guitar into the Soyuz transport then the ISS itself. He made the first ever recording in space of Jewel in the Night, a song he wrote. He also sang along with students, a kind of out-of-this-world concert. What a guy. WHAT A GUY! 

His finale before he left the ISS, hopefully to return soon and thrill us again was an out-of-this-world rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, which has gone viral.

When he came back to Earth with a bump earlier today, it was to a worldwide welcome from the many admirers he has gained since he arrived at the ISS in December. He has so many invitations to visit the places he has photographed, I certainly hope he’ll take up ours to come to Leeds and join us for a Saturday morning parkrun, I’ll bet he’s a great runner too, sigh…… I have a mental picture of him coming first in the 5km run, then joining us all for coffee and cake afterwards, how could he refuse?

Of course my girlie crush is just that, Noel, who wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, says he understands.  Though personally he confesses he’s more of a Buzz Aldrin man, far less showy!

Office closed, gone to the mountains

My kind of lawyer, Canmore, Alberta

My kind of lawyer, Canmore, Alberta

The multi-coloured mountain shouting its existence from the sign next to a clapperboard building was what first urged me to cross the street. I’m a sucker for bright colours and mountains, though have never been known to go out of my way to enter the precincts of a lawyer’s office. They deal with serious matters and I’m not one to take seriousness seriously.

But one look at the scribbled notice in the window struck such a chord that I vowed there and then on the spot that if I ever needed a lawyer, Peter Perren would be my first choice. Never mind that it would mean a trans-Atlantic trip, and drive up to Canmore just outside Banff National Park, I’d just take skis if it was winter or climbing gear if it was summer to make the most of the trip. Hey, for the legal advice, it may even be tax deductible.

Peter, I feel I can call him by his first name as a kind of kindred spirit and am already on friendly terms, even though I haven’t met him, had shut up shop for a few days. He’d gone to the mountains. His note also informed anyone else who cared to read it that the office wasn’t open Fridays. My interpretation of this piece of information was that Peter takes long weekends, I assume partaking of the various activities on his colourful sign.

I like his approach, he definitely seems to have the right work-life balance, but let’s face it, if you lived so close to the Canadian Rockies, where would you want to spend most of your time?

So the return home to a rejection for a job application which had taken me the best part of a day to complete, making sure I met every one of the 40-odd essentials on the person specification, just turned my eyes back towards the mountains. To add insult to injury the heading in the email was ‘regret letter’, my immediate impulse was to reply with a ‘stick your job up your arse letter’ in the heading, but I do need to earn a living and may be applying to the same institution. Though on second thoughts, maybe I could re-train to be a lawyer. I wonder if Peter needs a partner…..

Embrace the ice

Ice comes in all shapes and colours

Ice comes in all shapes and colours.

Funny,  I thought as I skittered to a halt after a spectacular,  but rather untidy 50 metre breakdance move down one of the easiest slopes in Canada, ice and snow can be embraced in all their majesty and beauty. Yet on this occasion,  with a couple of kilos of the cold stuff working its way up my back to my sleeves and a further heap forcing its way down to my boots, I wasn’t so sure.

Back home,  the social media was as gridlocked as Leeds city centre traffic with stories of three centimetres of snow causing one-minute journeys to take hours. Schools were closed and everyone wanted to go home early. Again. No-one was talking about the unique crystalline structure of snowflakes.

As we drove the 50km from Banff to Lake Louise after a night storm we saw not one but two vehicles on their rooves, victims of the hazardous conditions. It was scary, but the police were soon on the scene and a procession of snowploughs made it safe for careful drivers.

After picking myself up from the breakdancing incident caused by poor style and not paying attention, I was in need of retail therapy. From Kicking Horse,  we headed for the small town of Golden, British Columbia. In common with all the towns in this frozen part of the world,  Golden celebrates snow and ice. This weekend sees the Snow King Masque Parade, which brings together snow and ice-related activities with err masks. We’ll  miss it, but got a sneak preview of the coloured ice sculptures made by local children using anything from plastic bottles to rubber gloves to make the ice shapes. Simple, but effective. Who says ice and snow aren’t beautiful?

A day of rest

Noel at the Colombia Icefields. By gum it was cold!

Noel at the Colombia Icefields. By gum it was cold!

Four days of skiing and we were in need of a rest day, all that huffing and puffing up and down the Canadian slopes on plastic planks was getting a bit tiring, so we swapped our boots for trail shoes and set off up the mountain for a short run. Short? yes. Steep? Yes. Slippery? Yes. Spectacular? Oh yes.

The run from the hotel up Tunnel Mountain , just a stone’s throw from Banff town centre wasn’t far, just short of five miles. But starting at an altitude of 1300 metres and climbing another 300 metres certainly got the old heart rate going. Of course we both wore our Eccleshill running shirts, we’re hoping it will score us extra points in the club championships. And we may be the first Eccleshill Road runners to run up that particular peak.

It felt great to run up the narrow paths and then back again, meeting walkers with their big packs who were picking their way up. Though the freeze-thaw cycle on the path defeated even Noel’s fine new super-studded trail shoes and he nearly came a cropper on the steep switchbacks. I was worse, and managed a spectacular slide stopped only by grabbing the fence, I think they heard me all the way down in the valley. And then to finish with a sprint along Banff’s main street was just plain showing off, but it was our rest day and we were determined to make the best of it!

So could the day have got any better? We took our bus-sized SUV up the Icefields Parkway , a road that’s a World Heritage Site, skirting mountains, lakes and glaciers, with more oooohs and ahhhs per kilometre than anywhere in the world. It was stunning, the camera worked overtime. I got very excited to see a lenticular cloud formation, but the best sight of the day was on our way back.

There, sitting in the middle of the road, as if he owned it, was a lynx with his pal. They just looked at us as we approached and ambled off, leaving me scrambling for the camera and snapping a blurred image through the windscreen.

What a great rest day, but it’s back to the slopes tomorrow – hey ho!