International Women’s Day.

We all know some badass women, don’t we? Women that are just bloody awesome. Women that are fantastic role models, inspirational and just downright incredible.

Today is International Women’s Day – a day observed since the 1900’s to commemorate the movement for women’s rights and celebrate women across the globe.

(It’s also my brother’s birthday – Happy Birthday Matt!)

 

I’ve been lucky that all the women in my family have been pretty damn awesome. Strong, independent working women who have raised me to stand on my own two feet and have confidence to go out into the world.

My Dad’s mum was such a woman. She’s not been around for a few years now but I will always remember certain things about her that made her a badass:

  • She became the second ever policewoman (WPC2) in Lincolnshire in the 1940’s at a time where women just didn’t really do that. She absolutely loved it and used to light up when telling me about it, even though she hated the fact she only got sent to minor crimes (the men got sent to the major/dangerous/interesting ones).
  • I’ve never met someone so stoic. She’d had crap thrown at her throughout her life from war to rationing to bereavement to just general life but just got on with it, no woe is me from her.
  • When she got burgled at age 92 when two men broke into her house and ransacked her living room in front of her, her reaction afterwards was to wave her walking stick around saying “I would have given them a few socks with the stick if it wasn’t out of reach”.
  • She valued her female friends immensely throughout her life.
  • She was fiercely independent (sometimes to the point of being stubborn). Even in later years when her mobility wasn’t so good she still refused any help and lived by herself in the middle of nowhere.
  • She rode around on her bike well into her 70’s, and even when her handbag got whipped out and stolen from the front basket, she refused to let it stop her.

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What a top woman. If she was still around for me to tell her that she’d tell me I was talking nonsense; she was modest too. She’d also freak if she saw what I’d done to her clock she left me so probably a good job I can’t tell her.

I probably won’t have children of my own, so I can only try to be an inspirational role model for my niece, and help her grow up to be a confident, curious, strong, happy woman. A badass woman.

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Surf’s Up.

It started like any good weekend away; with a ROAD TRIP! I get ridiculously excited about road trips for some reason. To me, it’s not just a pain in the arse to get out the way before something exciting, it’s the start of the excitement. All you need is other people in the car (solo road trips are fun, just not as fun), some tunes (taste optional) and snacks (mandatory, always mandatory). Good weather and shades also help make a road trip go from great to awesome, but, given that we live in England, we are realistic that this will not happen in the majority of UK road trips, so we can live without. In order for a road trip to go smoothly, some kind of navigation aid is crucial. In this day and age, normally a postcode is punched into an electronic device and tech does the rest. NOT THIS TIME PEOPLE! We had the old fashioned sat nav; a.k.a an actual map. After confirming that yes, Nigel actually didn’t have google maps (I didn’t realise that could happen) I had to read a road atlas. In a trip down memory lane, I soon realised why google maps are SO AWESOME (please don’t ever take them away from me) and was reminded of learning to drive and not realising how maps and road signs actually worked together.

Surprisingly, after no wrong turns at all, some questionable music, cucumber and carrot stick snacks (it’s what Sian does you know) we arrived in glorious technicolor sunshine at Surf Snowdonia, our home for the next couple of days. While we laid out in the sun, basking in this Welsh phenonemon, the others arrived. We decided to visit the pub go for a walk while we waiting for the rest. Soon, we were introduced to Rich’s incredible short-cutting skills, “a must for any trip away”, Bev explained, fond memories being recounted of ‘those times when…’. Losing track of time due to an extremely intellectual debate on the EU referendum, we realised that although Adam had decided to try out the new ‘congested route’ option on google maps (and had great success), they had actually arrived. Bev and I decided to start our activity weekend with a gentle jog to go meet them, which, after quite a few beers and no sporting wear (i.e. sports bra), went better than expected.

Giddy with excitement (or it could have been the fair few drinks and no food) we all skipped off to the restaurant, only to be met with panic and confusion from the restaurant who thought we had booked/hadn’t booked/should have booked/had 15 vegans. A few conversations with Stewart later, all was smoothed out when it seemed the main issue was just that they had to sit us in a slightly different area of the bar/restaurant. Which actually was completely irrelevant as it all had a hotel-lobby feel anyway and all we wanted to do was eat and drink, not admire the table dressings.

A good nights sleep later (actually it was, those pods had pretty comfy mattresses – OK they were plastic pee-proof, but still, they were thick enough that you didn’t feel your spine digging into a bit of wood, plus the snoring-stick did not have to be used), it was time to prep up for our Snowdon HIKE. Hike is in capitals here to make the point it is NOT A STROLL. Poor Emma had been told by Adam that we were just off on a little walk, so they win the Most Unprepared award for not realising this was proper walking boots-water-snacks & lunch walking territory. I later asked Adam if he had not read all the details on the Facebook page but apparently he only reads “the first bit then I don’t bother”. Luckily for him Emma takes it all in good spirits, Elena brought enough food to feed 3 (Lucian’s share) and we revel in the fact we have more piss-taking material on Adam to add to the pot.

Talking of food and awards, Maya wins the Most Food Ever award. I have never seen so much food brought (and made/sliced/diced/prepared) for a couple of nights. And I swear the box was still full when we took it back out the other end. But not shit food though, good, proper food, green stuff and all sorts, it was like having our own healthy chef with us!    

And talking of awards, Elena wins the Most Style award. From her silk kimono for camping to her colour co-ordinated mountain wear fashion range and perfectly big-curl hair, big sunglasses and even bigger smile, this is one stylish laydee.

In typical group-organisation style, we all jump into separate cars with only a vague idea of where we’re going. Nigel, confident even without google maps, decides to follow Elena (who does have tech) ‘just in case’. We head off in Ben’s car, stopping by the shop for essential supplies, adding a time delay dimension into the race-to-Pen-Y-Pass Car Park. Sat nav (not google maps, I hasten to add) takes us a beautiful (but bouncy) scenic way and we rock up at the car park, only to be met by a ‘Car Park FULL’ sign. Logical thing to do was for me to hang out the window and ask where we can park. Cue the cones being moved and blokey pointing to a space in the upper level. WIN. As it happened, there were actually 3 spaces up there, so we raced back down to the entrance to see if we could see the others (because of course, this being in the mountains there was no phone signal – this is important). After what felt like a statistically significant time period, we soon realised they must have passed by and headed to the park and ride car park a few miles down the road. As we were at the start point for the track we wanted to do, we decided to stay put. What we didn’t realise is that the others were doing pretty much the same thing, only they had some phone signal so had sent text messages and voicemails saying where we were and for us to meet them there. Of course, we never got these, and it also didn’t occur to us that they would think we hadn’t got into the main car park. Still, we had a lovely hour or so in the sun chatting to the wardens and watching the 24hr 3 peak challengers arrive. Only when Elena drove up did we all realise what had happened. Ha-ha-ha.

Bev wins the award for Most Alcohol Drunk But Least Effects Seen, based on previous events but also having been asked if she was running up the mountain by a young chap, clearly impressed by her form.

So reunited, but feeling like we were a lot later starting that we had hoped (we weren’t really), we all started marching up the Pyg Track at some pace and soon realised it was pretty steep and pretty muggy to be doing too much of that. Claire was having some trouble with her ankle and unfortunately (but sensibly) decided to drop out fairly early on. I personally think it was a possible ploy to go and flirt chat with first aiders all day.

Injury count = 1

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We trekked on, up and down with some cracking views. Last time I did this track it was gale force winds and driving rain, and I never saw a thing. This time was much more pleasant (and sweaty). Unbeknown to us, while we were walking along Linda was devising a cunning plan to make Adam carry some weight, given his unprepared-no-backpack status, and threw herself onto some rocks, bashing her shin pretty bad and requiring the freeze gel. Don’t forget a first aid kit when hiking folks!

Injury count = 2

There’s a few things you should always carry when hiking, especially up mountains. Weather can be changeable, so always carry layers and things like hats, gloves etc. Water and food for energy. Maps, camera. And maybe a carabiner and rope? Yes, according to Ben. What he thinks he can do with this bit of string rope I don’t know, but Inga explained ropes and carabiner are to Ben what a blanket is to a child and it keeps him happy.

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A scenic lunch later (with Sian nearly taking out walkers with apple cores and Linda delighting everyone with proper nice cookies), more going uphill and a stretch of walking with Sherbert, the miniature Schnauzer we made it to [nearly] the top. We decided to have a group photo just below the summit because there were still [some] views and the top was covered in cloud. Good job we did, the summit was like Picadilly circus and there was an actual queue to get to the top trig point (needless to say, we didn’t bother and just had fights with midges instead).

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Toilet done, midges fought, selfies taken, we headed back down. Bev’s dodgy ankle was playing up and the cars were in different locations so we split into two groups for the descent. Alex, Ben, Inga and myself went back down the Pyg Track to join the Miners Track with the rest doing the Llanberis Path. Rich regained the Most Likely To Get Lost award for suggesting another short cut which, I heard, wasn’t actually that short.

Injury count = 2 1/2 (technically not a new injury)

Our fantastic four group had a lovely stroll down. No short cuts here but a quick paddle in the lake for Ben, and Alex got to gossip to her hearts content. You can’t quiet that one up at all when she gets going 😉

Back at the ranch the mood was jovial as we’d got the hard bit out the way, it didn’t rain and of course we’d all earned that beer/prosecco/cider/any alcohol. Nigel was impressing everyone with his Big Job before we’d had enough of that and headed back over to the restaurant, with Stewart and the team slightly calmer this time as 1) we’d booked in and 2) we’d become friends and he loved us. Food eaten, back to pod life for a bit of a guitar sing song around the [metaphorical] campfire while we waited for Lucian who was on an epic late night drive. He was in for a treat when Elena headed to the gate in just her dry robe and not a lot else, but suspect that it wasn’t quite the treat he was hoping for when he ended up being in a sauna with 5 of us at 2am. Or maybe it was (although it wasn’t that kind of sauna action). When we finally figured out how to make the bubbles bubble in the hot tub, we enjoyed some relaxation until a ghostly apparition appeared at the fence, scaring us all. The Welsh ghost of Father Christmas, we were a bit worried he was going to tell us off for being in the hot tub but no, he just fancied a bit of a chat as I’d guess he was a bit bored and lonely wandering around at 3am by himself.

Sunday blasted into life with a massive blue sky and a huge hot yellow thing in the middle of it. This pleased everyone. Today was surfing and water activity day! So better to be hot while plunging into cold water,yes?

Some of the guys went surfing. Yes, surfing in the middle of Snowdonia, no where near the coast. A mechanical wave runs up and down this lagoon. The surfers tell me it’s nothing like being on the sea but fun nonetheless. Alex enjoyed it as she got chatted up by an attractive man in a wetsuit (although got spectacularly cock blocked by Ben. Fail). Ben mangled his already-mangled toes on the seam of the bottom of the lagoon. The rest just appeared to be having a massive laugh with some up time on the boards. To be honest, I was too busy talking perfect portfolio careers with Inga and sunbathing with Bev to watch properly.

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Injury count = 3 1/2

Surfing over, next up was Crash and Splash. Like a wipeout water obstacle course and <dramatic pause> The Blob (an inflatable thing where one person sits at the end and others jump off a platform onto the other end making them rocket into the air). This is one of those things that looks less scary/more fun than it actually is. Not only do you have to jump off a platform and land a certain way (this is HARD, well it was for me) you then sit at the end and wait with baited breath until you’re flung for [what seems like] miles in the air and have no control on how you land. Although it is much fun watching everyone’s less-than-graceful (except Emma, she was uber-graceful) landing. Inga must have had significantly more weight ‘blobbing’ her as she went pretty damn high, and managed to land in a way that winded her. However, this has earned her the Most Impressive Blob award. She also totally rocked at the monkey bars (while taking most of the skin off her hand pad bits near the bottom of your fingers – no idea what that bit of your hand is called).

Injury count = 5 1/2

The final activity of ‘get out of your wetsuit’ was slightly less energetic and once completed, a weary set of BMFers headed back out into the sunshine, ready to eat/drink/drive home/sleep/collapse*. Lots of hugs later, the group dispersed, all to go our separate ways. Some straight home, some stayed and had lunch, some of us stayed and had a nap in the sun before heading home. *delete as appropriate

And heading home now means another ROAD TRIP! Only when heading home, it’s just a plain old road trip. No capitals. Everyone’s weary, everyone’s tired, sad it’s over. There’s probably no snacks, no singing, no chatting. Definitely sleeping. This had not gone unnoticed by Nigel. Nigel decided to go to extreme efforts to get out of driving once he realised all his passengers were asleep by having a twisted ankle, not mentioned previously but clearly causing pain now. This did mean though that a shop stop was called for, and snacks were purchased. This perked everyone up, and after a while at the side of the road with Nigel getting his leg up in full view of the queue of traffic, we swapped drivers, made sure Nigel’s ankle was the comfiest in the car with a little pillow to rest on and the road trip turned into a Road Trip! Not quite full capitals, but enough to lift the car energy to at least – BOOM – keep us all awake.

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Final injury count = 6 1/2

That’s not too bad – less than half of us. There might have been some that I have forgotten. Because, it wouldn’t be a BMF weekend without any injuries and both identified and unidentified bruising. Lesson: always pack the freeze and ibuprofen gel. ALWAYS HANDY.

All in all, a top weekend, made top predominately by the people who were there. Often it’s not what you do but who you do it with. And this crew are the best. You all rock, THANK YOU ALL for a brilliant weekend.

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What’s next?

Merry Christmas

It’s that time of year again. The time that you can’t really miss, especially living in the Western world, where it’s rammed down your throat by the fat-fisted media and advertising pretty much constantly since September. I am of COURSE talking about Christmas!

Hurrah!

Bah Humbug!

Which one are you? As we seem to be told we are one or the other. If you’re not skipping around filling your proverbial cup with festive joy then you MUST be a humbug. And if you’re not grumbling about it, then you must be a buzzing-to-the-eyeballs Christmas fairy ready to shake your tinsel wand at anyone who comes within 2 feet of you. Anyway, regardless of how you feel, there’s no escaping it, it’s only just over a week away. 9 more sleeps* until The Big Day. Not sure how Christmas Day has ended up with the same kudos as someone’s wedding day, but hearing what some people spend on food, presents and all the peripherals, it’s certainly going the same bank-breaking way.

*ah, while we’re here, who the fuck came up with this measure of time? What if I wake up and then go back to sleep? Is that 2 sleeps in one night? In which case it could be 18 more sleeps for me (I never sleep through the night, I’m like a bloody baby). Or more if I drink a cup of tea too late. Or watch a horror film just before going to bed. I have no idea when this became part of the English language, but on Heart (radio station) they even have a song about so many sleeps until Santa. Hmm.

What the chuff IS Christmas anyway? The whole point of where it came from is some Christian story about the Son of God being born to a virgin (more likely Joseph persuaded Mary it wasn’t really ‘doing it’ if he didn’t put it all the way in) in a stable where they then got visitors who had an excellent early-model GPS system and good visitor etiquette to bring gifts for a new baby. Now, if you’re religious, then I’m guessing that’s what your Christmas is going to be centred around, and carols and stuff. All the nice ‘Christmassy’ stuff but if you’re not religious, might not sit well. So then, there’s the other things that have become popular. Trees covered in shiny pretty things, the giving and receiving of presents and spending time with family. Which, for some people will be the best thing ever. And for some, the worst thing ever. There’s something about Christmas that, like weddings, that bring out the worst in people. I’ve heard of tears, manipulation and just general festive craziness. And let’s not forget the parties, the food and the booze. Over indulgence and just general hibernation-inducing activities. Eat more food in one day than you’d eat in a month; all food that should come with a health warning and doesn’t grow on trees or in the ground, then roll around on the floor with a full groaning belly (maybe that’s just me) thinking you’re never going to eat anything ever again, not even a stick of celery.

It doesn’t really matter how you spend Christmas really, as long as you’re doing what YOU want to do. Because really, who needs an excuse to be in massively happy mood, spend time with people you love and drink and eat loads of nice stuff? Let’s just take a minute though, to remember people who won’t be spending time with people they love, for whatever reason. Maybe they’re away from home, or it’s people who are no longer with us, or people who don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with. It can be a hard time for them, so let’s not forget that. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the preparation and parties and stress (yep, all that Big Day good times, like a wedding, take a lot of Organising. People want it to be perfect, and so get stressed out.) that people can forget there are others for whom Christmas isn’t great, it’s actually a bit shit, and they want the whole thing to just be over. As quick as possible. If you know anyone where this might be the case, maybe just take a minute to check if they’re OK. See if they want to join in anything. Just say hello, it will mean something, trust me.

The other big thing about Christmas is Traditions. These are a big thing. For a lot of people, Christmas is Christmas because you do the same things every year. And every family has it’s own things. When you have lunch, or when you open presents, or what you do in the morning, or what you wear when opening presents, or where you open your presents. Or maybe what you leave out for Father Christmas. For me, I haven’t done the same thing each Christmas for years now, and so Christmas doesn’t really FEEL like Christmas any more. I could take or leave it in a way, although of course I love seeing friends and family and all the partying. But it’s not the same as years gone by. When I was little, I loved Christmas. I loved the whole Santa thing, but not necessarily for the presents, just because I loved the fact it was magic. Go to bed, leave a mince pie out and BOOM, stuff appeared in the house in the morning! In our house, me and my brother would always wake up really early and want to get up at about 4am, but we’d never know what time it was as we didn’t have any lights until my dad went to turn the generator on (we lived in the sticks and weren’t connected to mains electric until a few years after we moved in) so the parentals would always persuade us to go back to bed for a while until poor Dad was made to trudge outside across the yard in the cold to the Engine Shed to make electric happen. Then, that’s it, we were awake and no stopping us! Until the 8am slump when all presents were opened and we ran out of energy.

Then came another Papworth tradition which was my utter FAVOURITE. Dad’s infamous Treasure Hunt. I later learnt as an adult this was a cunning plan to keep us kids occupied for a bit and out of the way of the kitchen, but as a kid I didn’t care. In fact, I loved them so much that every year since I’ve looked for the tell tale first clue in an envelope in the Christmas Tree and if I didn’t find one, I’d be disappointed. So much so that Dad actually did a couple about 5 years ago for me, as a late-twentysomething adult. There was much excitement from me then, skipping around the house and outside in all the sheds and my Nan’s house following the trail of clues. They were a bit harder to figure out that first year, Dad had to dumb them down the year after, hahaha! Well, Latin references Dad? COME ON, you know we’re not that clever!!

We used to have everyone over to our house as it was the biggest. Not that we had a massive family though, but more than just the 4 of us. Cousins, Uncle, Grandparents. One year we had to eat around a table tennis table in the junk room that had no carpet and bare plaster walls because there was a big group of us. One year, we had a full house for about a week, and I hated it when everyone went home. Because I loved having so many people to talk to, and play games with. I’m a social, the more-the-merrier creature really.

We never played games that much as a family outside of Christmas, unless I badgered them on a Saturday night sometimes. My dad was normally outside in his workshop working until late so I guess the last thing he wanted to do was play Connect 4 or Kerplunk with me after being on his feet making stuff out of wood all day. Although the board game playing could get out of control sometimes, so maybe I don’t blame him. Like the time we were all playing Monopoly and I got in a mardy and had a massive tantrum and threw the board (and everything on it) in the air/on the floor. And that was only last year. Ha! Joke, I was about 7. And Matthew was cheating. And I was probably on a massive sugar comedown and shattered from waking up at 4am. Mum tells me after I’d thrown the board I crawled behind the sofa and fell asleep and was later taken to bed by Dad. I’m not competitive in the slightest any more.

This year is different again, I’m in a different place (Cheltenham) for the run up, but have kept up my tradition of filling December with partying and drinking, which has been much fun up to now. Just one more weekend of drinking to get through, then I can relax and have a detox (never really drink on The Big Day, surprisingly), starting with my tradition of a Christmas morning run and a day with the family. And then Boxing Day I will spend the day with Best Friend Laura and her family, but instead of getting a bit drunk and being a bit bonkers and entertaining (according to Laura’s sister Holly), I will remain sober as later that night I fly off to South Africa for 3 weeks. It will be different, but kind of the same. Or as they say in SE Asia, same same but different. Still, every year I remind myself just how lucky I am. I’m happy, healthy and have fab friends and family. That’s what matters.

And then, that’s it, Christmas will be over for another year. And then comes New Year. I hate the whole NYE thing (this year will be a quiet affair in a pub in a small South African town), but I do love thinking about what I’ve done this year, and what might be to come next year. That’s another blog post but it’s been a bit of a whirlwind interesting year, and I don’t doubt that next year will be more of the same. I can let one little thing slip though, the Photo A Day Project, made famous in 2012, will be making a reappearance in 2016!

So until then, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the run up in my lovely little flat in Cheltenham, which is probably the cosiest, most ‘Christmassy’ (is that an actual word? Who cares.) place I’ve had. Easily my most favourite pad I’ve lived in so far. Happy happy days.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, whatever you are doing and whoever you are spending it with. And sending big hugs if you are finding it difficult, for whatever reason.

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End of an era.

It’s an emotional time. The house I called home for over 20 years since I was 6 months old has now been sold. I visited for the last time last weekend, so I’ve said my goodbyes, but I’ve been thinking about it as the parentals move out this week.  You’re probably thinking that it’s just a house. I moved out 12 years ago. Why is it emotional? Because it’s not just a house to us. It’s home. It was built by my parents and we’re the only people to have lived there. Even though I have my own home now, and I’ve lived in 4 different places since I moved out, it will always be home, and was always the place where I could go and raid the cupboards, run up and down the stairs and lounge around no matter how old I was.

I moved there as a 6 month old baby, and we (my parents, me and my brother) lived in a caravan for 4 years while the ‘big house’ was being built. And so began a wonderful childhood which, when it comes down to it, was centred around a couple of houses and an orchard in the middle of nowhere. But it wasn’t just a house. It was the place that may have just had 4 walls and a roof (eventually) but it was what it was filled with, surrounded by and what we did that made it our home.

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Like the orchard and ponds where me and my brother built dens, treehouses, rope swings, jettys, rafts, bmx tracks, and golf courses. Where I climbed trees and picked fruit. Where I fell in the pond (miraculously only once in all those years) after trying to walk on the ice in winter when it had frozen over. No wonder I’m a tomboy when this was my childhood playground.

Or my nan and grandad’s house next to the orchard where we spent many hours playing with marbles, reading Noddy and playing cards or dominoes, listening to the tick tock of the clock rescued from a bonfire that is now underneath my bed waiting to have something done with it.

And the yard where I learnt to ride a bike (after crashing into the hedge a few times) outside all the sheds with helpfully descriptive names; the engine shed, the black shed, the workshop, the rabbit shed/big shed and the shop. Including the shed that my brother climbed on the roof of so we could play a game, only the game ended shortly after because I shoved a drainpipe in his face. Accidentally of course, although I’m sure he loves the scar in his eyebrow he still has now from the stitches he had to have.

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My Dad’s workshop was where I’d go and sit on the black stool and chat to him. Where he’d tell me as a kid I could do anything in life if I wanted it and worked hard enough. And where as a teenager I’d go out and share sneaky cigarettes with him because Mum didn’t know I smoked.

The house for years had pink plaster walls because there were so many rooms to decorate and the parentals couldn’t do it all in one go. It was great though as it meant we could write on the walls, especially around the mirror in the kitchen near the phone (in the days before cordless phones) for phone numbers or doodles.

The flood/leak we had which meant all the furniture in the front room had to be moved into the dining area which I liked because it was all squashed in and I liked small rooms.

The death slide that my Dad made for us from the front bit of a bike and a rope tied from the roof of the rabbit shed to the garage. Between that, all the tree climbing and bike riding I am still amazed I didn’t break any bones. The rusty swing that Dad put up for us which we’d swing round and climb up. The tent he made from bits of wood and a bit of tarpaulin.

The gauntlet runs I’d have to do past the chicken runs to my grandparent’s house where I’d get chased by the mad cockerel. And going over there in the pitch black just with a torch. As a kid it used to shit me up something chronic that I could only see into the trees with a small circle of light. Used to be convinced there might be a axe murderer hiding in the orchard, but only when it was dark.

The fact we had no neighbours meant that we could be as loud as we wanted. And I mean LOUD. I used to have screaming matches with my friends over the fields (fuck knows why). Matthew used to play his rave music as a teenager on full blast through massive speakers outside.

Having my wedding reception there was just brill too. OK I know I’m divorced now but it was a cracking day. Really relaxed and chilled. And I still love the fact we had wedding photos taken in the big shed with all my Dad’s crap furniture waiting to be restored. Lasting memories and evidence of how much shit used to be stored in the sheds.

The garden wasn’t always a garden. In fact for years there was a massive hill in the middle of the garden from the earth that was excavated for the footings, which as a kid was great in the winter as we used to sledge down it, and in the summer we’d bike up and down it. After that was cleared it stayed a field for a bit because I had a donkey for a few years. I actually wanted a pony but I looked after a donkey over the winter as Dad wanted to see if I actually would do all the work needed. I didn’t, so I never got one. Clever man. I had so much fun with the donkeys though. And so did Dad, as they were escape artists.

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When we were younger we used to get snowed in properly, and I remember listening to the radio with mum in the morning to see if the little village primary school I went to was closed. And being very excited when it was.

IMG_20150831_112058 IMG_20150831_112048But of course it’s not just the house or the orchard or the trees or any other stuff. Of course there was all of that but what it all comes down to is the people. The people that filled the house. Our family. Small but perfectly formed, I think we’re pretty ace. We were lucky to live next door to one set of grandparents and have the other a few miles down the road and saw them every week, bringing my cousins with them most of the time too. My parents welcomed all our friends and quite often there was a houseful. Or an orchardful. Christmases were especially ace, everyone would come to us and there would be a week or so of mayhem, big trees and cat carnage. Oh, and I can’t forget Dad’s Christmas treasure hunts which would take us all over the house and out to the sheds, mainly to keep us out of the way for a bit and tire us out. I loved these so much I actually made Dad do one only a few years ago, haha. We were very lucky to have my parents around when we were young. Dad worked for himself at home in the workshop and so was always around to take me somewhere or help me with something. Mum was in and out too depending on when she was working.

Everything changes though. There’s been so many changes there, over all the years but especially in the last few years and the last few months. My grandparents house is gone now. The orchard is all but gone. All the sheds are gone. There’s more lawn that you can shake a stick at. Walls were added, fences were taken down. The yard doesn’t exist. The ponds have been filled in. The house was done up and dressed to sell. There’s a stable and a paddock, built years after the pony-mad youngster in me had moved out (thanks Dad).

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Where the orchard and pond used to be

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Where the yard and worksop used to be

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It’s not the same now, and so it makes it easier in some way to say goodbye. It’s not our home any more. But now, it’s real. Those contracts have been signed and I’ve had my last visit. I can’t go back and drive up the driveway any more, or run in and sit on the kitchen worktop. But, the memories will always be there. Many happy memories and that’s what I’ll remember.

There are so many, what’s above is just such a small percentage. And yes I know I’m massively lucky. So thanks Mum and Dad, for creating the best home ever for us. You should be mega proud of yourselves for all you achieved. Look at the pictures above. You took it from an overgrown field back in the 80’s to the home and gardens you’re leaving this week. Well done. That’s all you that is, loads of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Including the bastard job of removing all the stones from the field by hand – still not quite sure I forgive you for making me do that yet.

It’s the end of an era and sad, but also exciting as it’s the start of a new chapter for you. Lots of exciting things coming up, and also time for you to have a rest for a bit.

Back in the UK.

I’ve been back for nearly 4 weeks now. I’ve no idea where that’s gone, it’s just been one massive whirlwind. I’ve been meaning to blog before now, but I’ve just not really had the chance, or known what to write. I still don’t, so until I do, this is just a little post to say hello, yes, I’m back, it’s weird but not weird, normal but totally different and if I’m honest, I’ve found it all a little bit overwhelming. I’m not quite sure I’ve processed much in the last few weeks (although, my liver has processed quite a bit of alcohol), and it’s probably going to catch up with me soon. At the minute I’m sat in Southampton having a little bit of a holiday, and am heading to London next week to spend some time with Alex. I’m looking forward to just having a bit of downtime. You maybe can’t understand that, or think I’ve just had a year off, or four weeks of not working but, well, trust me, I need a break. I’ll try and explain it more in another post, once I get it all straight in my head.

And in the meantime, here’s a few things that I’ve noticed since I’ve been back:

  • I’ve had cold feet for the first time in a year. Even in Zambia, New Zealand and San Francisco, where it got cold at night, I never remember having cold feet like I do here. It must be that damp UK cold. Don’t particularly like it.
  • I miss plugs in bathrooms. Why don’t we have them here? Other countries manage perfectly fine and don’t seem to electrocute themselves.
  • I’m still finding it a bit weird, 4 weeks on, using plugs without an adaptor. Every plug seems tiny. I miss adaptors that hang out the wall and I had to balance on something to get to work, and that used to spark when I plugged something in.
  • The smell of oilseed rape is just so Lincolnshire. The first time I got back to my parents and got out the car I smelt it. And so, I was home.

And yep, as I (and maybe some of you) suspected, I’ve now got itchy feet. Not necessarily to go travelling again, but just to DO something. To start my life. And yep, this means getting a job (I’ve not got a bottomless bank account) and finding somewhere to live. And itchy feet means it’s probably not going to be Lincolnshire. But, I have no idea where I want it to be. And there is also a small part of me that misses travelling. That feeling of getting up and being able to do what you want. To go wherever you want, and wake up somewhere new every few days or weeks. But, I know I don’t really want to travel again. Not yet. And I don’t really know what I want to do. Not yet. So, I’ve got a few ideas in the meantime. But, at the minute, I’m going to enjoy this little holiday. And try to relax.

My Christmas Day in pictures.

I’d been meaning to do a day in pictures for a while, but not yet got round to it. So I decided, what better day to do it than Christmas Day?

My original idea for a day in pictures was actually to take a picture every hour, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stick to that. Time kind of ran away with me, and I wasn’t clock watching. So, this is my Christmas Day 2013 in pictures:

Chats with the family first thing (Christmas Eve night UK time):

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My traditional Christmas Day morning run (can’t miss that!):

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Going out for dinner so I decided to glam up a bit when getting ready. Not worn mascara for months!:

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Pre-dinner preparations, including champagne:

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CHRISTMAS DINNER! South African/Aussie mix of turkey, roasties, pumpkin, peach salad, beans, cranberry gravy and christmas pudding. YUM.

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New friends:

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Afternoon champagne after dinner:

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Later on, two bottles of champers down:

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We move onto Moscato. DELICIOUS!:

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Early evening, riding home in the sunshine:

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Chilled out evening watching National Lampoon with the cat and dog, eating pizza and Toblerone:

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Then some Google hangouts with some buddies. Karl wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken:

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Washing up. Got to be done:

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Then a mammoth FaceTime session with the family on their Christmas Morning (late Xmas Day night/early Boxing day morning here). I was in the iPad, propped up on the sofa and it was just like I was in the room for a bit. Lots of laughs and giggles. And I look orange because of THE LIGHT:

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Bedtime. Ok, so this was actually the early hours of Boxing Day morning but it still counts, as it’s the last thing I did:  

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Pretty perfect day.

Christmas from the outside.

This is kind of how I feel the run up to Christmas has been for me. Like I’m outside, looking in through a window. Not taking part, just watching everyone else.

Because obviously I’m not having a normal Christmas this year. I don’t have to do any of the normal festive stuff that I would be doing at this time of year. I’ve not been in the UK where the run up starts ludicrously early, like August. There has been no present shopping, no card sending, no Christmas partying, no food shopping, no need to get a tree. No thinking about to do lists or having a million and one things to get done ‘before Christmas’. Things this year don’t fall in the ‘before Christmas’ or ‘after Christmas’ time frames.

It’s made a nice change.

I’ve enjoyed the last couple of months without all the Christmas run up crap. Enjoyed SE Asia without any Christmas trees, products or adverts for stuff I don’t need. Even when I got to Australia it’s not rammed down your throat like it seems to be in the UK.

I’ve been able to sit back and watch everyone else ‘get ready’. Get ready for this one big day (or a few days if you’re lucky to have some time off work). And blimey, I’m exhausted from watching.

There seems to be this need for perfection. To have the perfect day and nothing can go wrong. A need to over do things. To buy presents that people don’t really want or need, just so they have a present. To buy food like it’s not available for weeks. The stress at trying to make everyone happy. To spend weeks preparing for such a small amount of time. To panic that there’s not enough food, or enough presents, or enough drink. It goes on.

Has the real meaning behind Christmas been forgotten? I guess in some ways it depends what the real meaning behind Christmas is for you. For some, it’s the religious aspect. For others, it’s just getting together with family and friends. For some, it’s a chance to get great presents. And of course for others it’s to eat and drink shit loads of great food and booze. Have all of these been overridden by commercial idealism? Do you feel guilt, pressure or just like there’s too much to do?

Is it really the most wonderful time of year?

For me, it seems to start too early. I’ve always thought this, and I think that’s why this year it’s been nice being away from it for a bit. There seems to be a huge build up for just a few days. It’s a special time of year, but there just seems to be so much…well, guff around it.

For some, it can be a reminder of what’s not great. People that have lost relatives or people dear to them. Missing places at the dinner table. People who feel under pressure to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas when they aren’t able to, for whatever reason. People forced to spend time with people they don’t get on with, just because ‘it’s Christmas’.

I know that soon though, I’ll watch and see all the lovely things. The good stuff about Christmas. The result of the hard work and preparation. People having fun, relaxed and happy. The excitement and joy at getting gifts. Kids excited about Santa Claus. People spending time with their favourite people. All the amazing food being eaten. So is it all worth it? Only you can answer that I guess.

For me, I love Christmas. I like nice food, spending time with some of my favourite people, twinkly lights, trees and Christmas parties. This year is different though, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. That’s because there’s nothing familiar really. I’m on the other side of the world to the people I normally spend it with and it’s warm here. The sun is out and it’s light until well into the evening. Very odd.

I’m not sad though. It’s not the first time I’ve not seen my family on Christmas Day, and I know I’ll speak to them at some point. And I’ll see them soon enough, so although I will miss them a little bit, I know they’ll have a fab time whether I’m there or not, just as I know I’ll have a fab time here. I’m not bothered about not getting any presents; this has never been a big thing for me. I will miss my sister-in-law’s 5 puddings though. They were fab last year.

I wanted to find somewhere to volunteer here in Melbourne, but all the places I contacted were either full or were only taking on regular volunteers. It’s something I want to do next year though, wherever I end up. Helping others who aren’t so fortunate. Those people that won’t have that perfect Christmas, for whatever reason. Those people who get forgotten, in the midst of all the jollity. I’d like to help make someone else’s Christmas just that little bit better. That little bit special.

So this year I’m going to go for my usual Christmas morning run tomorrow as it’s a tradition of mine, then I’ve been invited to a Christmas dinner feast by some friends of Bob and La’s here in Melbourne. The food they’re cooking sounds amazing and it’s a chance to make some new friends. So I’m looking forward to it; new experiences and a chance to see how other people do Christmas. Boxing Day might be spent at the beach, or on the bike. Something outdoors in any case.

So, Merry Christmas to you all. Whatever you do, wherever you are, I hope you have the most wonderful, magical and joyful few days. Don’t stress, enjoy the little moments and eat, drink and be merry.

Oh, and one last thing. The world has this way of making it look like everyone else is having the most perfect, wonderful time. Chances are, they’re all not. My thoughts go out to anyone missing someone this year, or not having a great time. You won’t be alone, even if you feel it. Do your own thing, whatever that is, to make it special for you, or just to be able to get through it. Tomorrow is another day, and 2014 is just round the corner.

Adios England.

So I’m sat in Heathrow departure lounge, eating a ham and cheese baguette ready to jet off on an overnight flight to Johannesburg. The time has come. Shit. It’s real now. Ha, no going back.

I’m all on my own. I’ve spent the day with the parentals in London and said bye to them a while ago. That goodbye was ok; mainly because I didn’t look at them, gave them a quick hug, promised to keep myself safe and ran out the door. Literally.

I’m a bit weary now; I’ve had such a busy week doing all the last minute stuff, being in millions of different places and getting a leetle bit drunk. I’m ready to get on that plane and sleep. Sweet sleep.

I’ve had so many messages today, it’s been a bit overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who’s been in touch, I will miss you all lots and lots. I promise to take care, blog loads and take lots of photos.

My mum said on the way down she’s most worried about me being stalked by pygmys with poision darts in the jungle. I’m not quite sure where she thinks I’m going or what I’ll be up to. I told her I’ll watch out for them.

Please keep in touch while I’m away. There’s loads of different ways:
Email
Facebook
Twitter
This blog
Whatsapp
Viber
Google Hangouts

Etc.

I’m starting my travel photo of the day tomorrow when I get to Joburg. And so it starts.

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Farewells.

Gah I’m a bit behind on my blogging this weekend. It’s been a bit busy. So time for me to cram a few things into one blog post.

It’s been a weekend of farewells.

On Saturday I saw Alex for the last time; he was moving out of the flat and down to London on Sunday. I know he’s been looking forward to it for a while. He’s so excited to be starting his new adventure. I was sad to say goodbye, he’s been a great friend to me over the last 18 months or so. Ever since he came to my house and cooked me tea when I had just moved to Lincoln and he was off work with gammy eyes. We got drunk on red wine. It was the start of it all. A brill friendship. Which was made up of West End tea visits, rooms for the night/week(s)/month(s), sushi, champagne, food, cake, red wine, sex stories, hangovers, fish and chips and secrets. I’m not sure whether you read this blog Alex, but if you do, don’t forget: bets are ON. I give it a week. 😉

I said goodbye to The Marine on Sunday, we spent a last sunny weekend together. He didn’t make me run up any hills this time though. In fact, we’ve not been running together for AGES. Probably a good job, he’s about a million times fitter than I am. It’s been a happy few months and we’ve had a couple of most merry weekends away. It’s been fun; but we always knew this was happening. I don’t think he reads this blog either, but if you do, I’ll miss my visits to the crack den and looking at the sky. Thank you for my picnic 🙂 Xx

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I also spent bit of time with the family. Sunday I had the most awesome Sunday lunch cooked by my sister-in-law. She does the BEST Sunday lunches. I’d said a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t want to go out with the family, I wanted to spend it at home (well, their house) because that’s what I said I’ll miss. And I’ll certainly miss Tanya’s cooking. And baking. Because she made me my own cake too. They named it the Crap Cupboard Cake; due to me raiding their Crap Cupboard every time I visit. So I had a cake topped with all kinds of different chocolate and biscuits. YUM.

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We sat outside and ate, drank champagne and chatted. My ace, quirky, funny little family. It’s not the last time I’ll see all of them but it was nice to have a little ‘official’ farewell lunch. I know Tanya reads this blog so, THANK YOU. You know I will miss you, Matt and your cooking and I hope you know how appreciative I am of everything you and Matt are doing for me, both now and while I’m away. I’ll miss being the wayward child for a year 😉

Last night I walked round the corner to see my lovely, lovely friend Laura for the last time. My best friend. Friend I’ve known since I was 11 and we started QEGS. She’s been there for me so much over the last 18 months (remember the rush visit to Martin you had to make when the proverbial hit the fan? So grateful) and our friendship has just got stronger since then. I took a bottle of champagne with me, she had a bottle of Asti in the fridge. We polished both of them off. This did not lead to an easy goodbye. She cried. I cried.

I think you read my blog Laura. Maybe just sporadically. So if you’re reading, thank you for being such a top mate, and I’m so sorry I’ll not be there in person in September. But you know I’ll be there in spirit. And I’m sorry I won’t be there for your hen do, but I’ve no doubt the girls will do you proud. And if I was there, I’d probably make you drink tequila. So it’s maybe for the best. Just so you know, I’ve not opened the card yet. I’m not sure I’m ready at the moment.

It’s strange saying goodbye. I’ve never really gone anywhere for this length of time. Only just longer holidays. But this trip is also different. There is a possibility I won’t come back. It’s not just a long holiday and I’ll come back and live the same life. I want to do something different. Live a bit of a different life. And I know that I WILL do something different, as long as I still feel the same about life during my travels. Because I’m the only person to be able to do something about it and I’m not waiting for something to just happen. I just don’t know what or where it will be yet.

I guess it’s like saying goodbye to my old life. Which, I have done once before, in November 2011. But, the people were still around. This time, I’m on my own. But, I know I can do it. I’ll be alreet.

Work? What work?

It has been a busy weekendings so far. It’s already Sunday night and I’m sat watching the Grand Prix at my brother’s house thinking about the last few days and wondering where the chuff they’ve gone. Blink-and-you’d-miss-it.

Friday was my last day at work. My last day as an IT Project Manager. My last day working for the University of Lincoln. Technically I’m still employed until the 31st but in my head I’m now unemployed. No job. I’ve had a job since I was about 14 so it feels a bit weird. Just a bit like I’m on holiday and I’ll be going back at some point. Although it did hit me yesterday that I didn’t have to think in weekends and weeks any more. And that it didn’t matter when it might be nice weather because I’ll have chance to enjoy it however I want.

I had a brilliant last day. Did a bit of work and a had a last meeting in the morning, then two fab speeches from both my bosses. Although a bit embarrassing.  I like other people’s leaving speeches but when it’s your own its a bit different. I’m not that keen on being the centre of attention, especially when people have just said lots of nice things about me. Was wondering whether they were actually talking about the right person. After that we headed to the pub for a little lunchtime drink before finishing up a last few bits and saying goodbye to everyone who wasn’t going out later. Oh, and of course making sure the office window got updated:

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Lots of people had asked for my blog address so I sent an email round to everyone before I left. I decided to add in a cheeky RickRoll to see who I could get. Don’t know what RickRolling is? Shame on you. Tis an internet phenomenon. Learn here. I got quite a few people, but I am most pleased with the reaction from my boss Matt. I wish I had caught it on camera. It was a classic. My work there was done; a most pleasant exit bow.

We then went and drank beer. Fun. Lots of people out; it was really nice to get to chat and say goodbye to everyone. I did get drunk; that was inevitable. BUT. I managed to stay a little bit sensible and call it a fairly early night, meaning only a small hangover on Saturday. Win.

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As excited as I am to be starting a new adventure, I’m sad to be leaving the Uni. I’ve had some great times there and met some brill people. It’s been life changing. Literally. My life is very different now than when I joined. I’m very different. There are some special people there that have had an impact on my life and me in different ways and I’m very grateful to them. And I will miss them. A lot.