Archive | January, 2013

Mountain prep, budget time, budget cash

31 Jan

Nine weeks - uh oh

Nine weeks – uh oh

KILIMANJARO CHECKLIST – I balked in horror at the PDF glaring at me out of my work computer screen.


it read sternly

1) Doctor’s declaration and medication (anti-malaria, anti-altitude-sickness, yellow fever jab, rabies jab…)

2) Kit list (two pages long)

3) Suggested six-month intensive training programme (combining cardio, endurance and muscle-building exercises together with the odd “rest day” – a leisurely hour-long jog, for example, or a gentle 80 lengths of the pool).

I alt-tabbed between screens, hysteria rising.

The date was January 11 – approx nine weeks before I was due to get on board a plane to Nairobi, strap on my hiking boots and scale the great berg itself.

These are also nine weeks during which I am trying to get to grips with a constantly-changing job schedule, shifting from Evening Standard news to features to Daily Mail sub-editor.

They are nine weeks already crammed with behemoths of unavoidable time consumption such as my mother’s birthday, my ex-flatmate’s birthday, “that girly night out we’ve been planning for ages” and several protest marches against the closure of a hospital NHS ward in South London.

And they are nine weeks when I will be trying to live as frugally as possible in central London (well, relatively frugally). In early February, I finally moved out of the parental crib. Great for my sanity (and my rentz’, who were about as ready to slay me and bury me with all the hairbands I kept leaving all over the house as I was to commit matri/patricide). But for my wallet… Ah, woe is my wallet.

My Sainsbury’s budget is set at MAX £20 a week, with going out expenses averaging around £80 – it’s not my fault; my friends are too well-paid for their own good. I have rules: a night out may involve food OR drunken revelry and dancing, but not both. Lunch is packed, exclusively. Coffee is Sainsbury’s basics OR coffee bags OR (in the worst case) instant, and NEVER from the Costa kiosk in the lobby. And I have banned myself from even setting foot in Whole Foods, High Street Kensington, for fear of succumbing to a sushi box and a ginger scone.

Clearly, however, Kilimanjaro was going to be quite the metaphorical as well as the literal mountain to climb.

Task 1 – the doctor’s declaration. Impossible at my GP, where getting an appointment is like winning a prize draw (with a pretty disappointing prize). You have to ring eight times before the “engaged” tone reverts to the hold music and the automatic announcements that “your call is important to us, you are number twelve in the queue”. Half an hour later, a monotonous youth informs you that the next available appointment is in June, but you can come to the drop-in between 3 and 3.15pm every third Thursday of the month if it’s an emergency.

As I sat at work nd gazed in despair at the ever-increasing emails from the tour coordinator demanding my signed doctor’s form – hallelujah! – a deus ex machina floated over in the form of two words I snatched from a conversation behind me. Occy health. In a flash, I raced over to this obscure office, where a kindly nurse was almost disturbingly happy to sign me off as perfectly healthy.

The pills I solved with a quick Google – the same Google that informed me convincingly that yellow fever and rabies vaccinations are ‘not a necessity’ for climbing Kilimanjaro. The good is (he says at the top of his website) NHS accredited. In less than a week, I had a smart bottle of Doxycycline and a pack of Diamox sitting on my dresser. Tick.

Task 2 – the kit list – proved equally painless-after-initial-horror-filled. I had looked up “4-season sleeping bag” and discovered the cheapest options came in at £400. But, thanks to a rapid Facebook-stalk, I discovered several friends with jubilant “we reached the summit!” pics on their profiles. Not one but two people sportingly agreed to provide me with the requisite base layer, hiking sock and mummy liner.

So finally it came to task 3 – the six-month intensive work-out…

First step – storm down to the gym and negotiate a cheaper contract. Having succeeded, I planned 20-minute evening cross-trainer and bracing Saturday morning swims (followed by sauna reheat). Big tick.

Next – onto the bike, to and from work, come rain, come shine.  OK, so I do this anyway, but this was a conscious decision not to stop. I have also vowed to seriously POWER the marginally quieter stretch between Albert Bridge and the Cromwell Road. Another nice big tick on the checklist.

And now for the hiking training:

– Lunchtime power-walks around Kensington Gardens (at least 30, possibly 35).

– A Sunday spent clumping around London to break in hiking boots – Oval to Tower Bridge (approx three miles) then realising I had overshot and going back to St Paul’s (1.5 miles) to join a three-ish mile Shakespeare and Dickens’s London walk. What a bonanza – not only did I discover that intervals in theatres came about because that was when they used to relight the candles, and that stationery is called stationery because it was sold from “stationary” carts in the street, but also the walk was free (minus the overpriced Starbucks hot choc I needed to reheat at the end). Then came three-ish more (including bridges) miles back to Oval. Sum total of hike: 7.5 miles, maybe more like eight when you factor in getting lost, meandering, trying to locate said Starbucks. Not bad.

– A very cardio-intensive ceilidh in Hammersmith Town Hall, the amount of beer drunk to re-hydrate a testimony to the workout.

This programme alone, I’m sure you’ll agree, would more than rival the six-month deal recommended by the tour company.

And I won’t stop there either. I have booked – for the princely sum of £125 – an all-inclusive training weekend in Edale, Derbyshire (all-inclusive meaning youth hostel, spag bol and packed lunch which I secretly hope involves those plastic calypso drinks we used to get at school).

Following this plan, I am bound to succeed.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, eat your heart out.

Let me explain…

29 Jan


Big ol' smile (I'd just had a sandwich)

Big ol’ smile (I’d just had a sandwich)

CLICK HERE to sponsor my Kilimanjaro climb 14-24 March 2013

When I was 10 years old, I went on a family holiday to Arran in Scotland. It was cold (about 8 degrees, give or take), rainy and I didn’t want to climb a bloody 400-metre mountain. And so – as my family and the poor family friends they had dragged along will confirm – I did the only sensible thing. I lay down in the heather. And I screamed.

So obviously it makes sense that now, aged 24, I’m planning to scale a slightly higher mountain – 5,071 metres higher, to be exact. It’s likely to be a tad colder (temperatures can fall to -20 degrees celsius), a tad wetter (freak storms can appear out of nowhere) and rather a lot further away from the cosy, peaty fires of Scotland and the pumping central heating of London.

I’m climbing Kilimanjaro.

And it’s all for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths.

FSID funds study into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – also called cot death. It supports bereaved families and tries to get more information out there to stop more cot deaths from happening.

It is a hugely important charity, not just to mothers, families and babies all over the country, but also more specifically to my family.

A year before I was born, my mum had a son who died – Thomas. While I was growing up, my hyperactive imagination used to fantasise about what he would have been like. I envisaged someone really good at maths so he could help me with my homework, but also someone with a great imagination, someone really funny, really good at playing make-believe games with me. Then he became someone who liked the same geeky films, but who also managed to be really cool and attractive with loads of FITTIE friends…

Mum and Dad never found out why Thomas died when he was only two months old – many parents don’t. But since then, in a huge part thanks to FSID, cot deaths have reduced dramatically. Money has gone into research and more and more people know how best to put their babies to sleep to reduce the risk of death. FSID has also worked with bereaved families – like mine. They talk to parents who are going through what for most people is unimaginable grief at losing a child. And they help parents if they think they want to have another baby.

And they want to do more. By 2015, FSID aims to reduce the number of unexplained cot deaths to less than 200 (it is currently around 290 per year) and halve it to 150 by 2020 – as well as still supporting all those parents who really need the charity’s help.

Now, I’m up for a challenge, and I like a bit of fresh air and exercise. But mountain climbing – no thanks. In fact, in the case of the incident described above, the mother among said family friends actually suggested my leg bones might be wrongly connected to my hip bones, so convincing were my howls as I scaled the hill.

Equally – cold. I don’t do cold. I wear a jumper when it’s 25 degrees. I wear gloves in the middle of summer. I tell everyone who will listen in dramatic tones that I suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome, which in moments of chill or tiredness leaves my fingers and toes completely white, to turn a corpse-like shade of purple when I try and induce the blood to circulate again, and means I limp around on chilblains all winter long.

On the other hand, tales of breathtaking views, of camraderie, of extreme euphoria on reaching the summit, but above all else, the prospect of raising some dosh to help FSID mean this is going to be worth it – period.

So that perhaps explains why I’m going to be clumping around in my walking boots at work for the next few weeks (gotta break ’em in), why I keep dashing off to the gym (TRAINING!), and why I’ll be heading to Tanzania on March 14…

So sponsor me at

And then read on…