Adventure withdrawal.

It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind since I got back from Chile. I got straight stuck into celebrating my return by promptly getting pissed for most of the weekends since I’ve been back. Whilst fun, it’s not sustainable and I knew the post-adventure blues would hit a little bit once the initial excitement/hangovers had worn off. They always do, I know exactly how it works for me:

  • Stage 1: Excitement at getting home and catching up with people
  • Stage 2: Over stimulation being around people after spending weeks in limited company
  • Stage 3: Become a hermit for a while and enjoy pottering around in my own company
  • Stage 4: Run lots
  • Stage 5: Rejoin civilisation and start socialising again
  • Stage 6: Plan next adventure

I’ve now made it through all the stages! Earlier today I booked flights to New Zealand to go over Easter. This wasn’t part of a plan and was a bit of a spontaneous decision and is mainly so I can go buy my friend Mike the beer I’ve owed him for about 3 years now. I met him in Hong Kong briefly and he lent me – a complete stranger – his truck when I was in New Zealand so I could do a road trip. He was in Oz so I never got to see him again to thank him properly. So when he moved back to NZ and the option of being able to have just over two weeks off work when only taking a few days holiday (thank you Easter bank holidays!) came up, it was a no brainer.

OK, so I’m pretty skint after Chile but this is what that savings pot that I shouldn’t touch is for. Sometimes you have to grab an opportunity when it comes up.

And so that, dear readers, is how I am flying off to New Zealand in just over a month for some (in Mike’s words) “insane hiking”. And a visit to Queenstown, NZ’s alcohol/party capital to celebrate my birthday. Expect lots of pictures of mountains, adventure stories and possibly drunken photos. But hopefully this time, wearing my own pants and no bar stool incidents.

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New Zealand road trip: part two.

Queenstown and Wanaka. Two similar but wildly different places. Like they’d say in SE Asia, same same but different.

Legendary Queenstown. Home of everything adrenaline. Home to everything big. Big burgers, big mountains, big shots and big hangovers. In your face, busy and bustling.

Wanaka. Laid back, chilled and understated. A place to relax and enjoy and eat fresh cookies at the cinema.

In Queenstown I met up with Marsha again, who I’d first met in Christchurch through a mutual friend. What followed was a fuzzy week of friendship forming, non-stop alcohol, shots, hangovers, lots of laughter, hill climbing, grass sitting, food eating, film watching, sandwich cooking, men watching, life-sorting-out stuff. We met the delightful V from California too, who made us crack up laughing almost every minute with her crazy stories and theories.

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We made the rather fantastic bar Cowboys our local. It’s like the Wild West. The bar stools are saddles, there’s other table stools that have sides (perfect for me), the pumps are guns, there’s a good supply of cowboy hats to wear, a full size grizzly bear to meet you at the door and even a mechanical bull. Yep, a mechanical bull. I didn’t ride it because of my rib, but I spent many a time watching all the other drunkards have a go (when I say have a go, I mean spend ages trying to get ON the thing, only to be promptly bucked off in half a second. Especially if the guys controlling it were feeling mischievous – that happened a lot to cocky blokes who thought they’d be the one to give a good show. Fail.). It also played the same music all the time, although I only clocked onto this after a good few visits, when I realised there was only so many times I could watch Jessica Simpson strut around singing about boots made for walking and wondering what the relevance of her washing a car in a bikini was to the song.

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We drank a lot of shots and met a lot of people. Nearly every night in our hostel someone was drinking, pre-drinking or going out. Most of the nights just started innocently with a drink or two. None of our nights out were planned. The best way. An average bedtime was around 3am, after a legendary Fergburger, which, after a night out, is the BEST THING EVER. I’m sure it’s good sober too, but I never really experienced that. My hangover food of choice was Noodle Canteen.  They did wicked chicken fried rice in a little cardboard noodle takeaway box, great when eaten in the sun on the grass near the lake, chatting about life, the world and the size of men’s appendages.

I rediscovered jager bombs and tequila slammers, mainly thanks to Damien who would always buy a round of shots quite early on. And well, from then on, you’re committed.*

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It was in Queenstown (well firstly in Wanaka but again in QT) where I also met Johnny, an Irish guy I went on to travel with for a week. We all went out for a ‘few drinks’. Ended in a Big Night Out, lots of shots and not a lot of sleep. We all slept in hammocks in the garden in the sun the next day. He did the Nevis bungy jump. Poor bloke.

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But Queenstown wasn’t all about the drinking or nightlife (although, that’s a huge part of it for all travellers, and it sucks you in). I couldn’t do any of the adrenaline stuff (and you can do pretty much anything here. Bungy jumping, jet boats, paragliding, skydives, etc, etc) but I could appreciate the natural beauty of the place. It’s often described as one of the prettiest places to visit, and they’d be right. It’s in a great setting, on the edge of Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables and other mountain ranges surrounding it and the Queenstown Gardens jut out in the middle, full of trees. In autumn, they are all a glorious mix of red, yellows and greens and well, my eyes had a treat every day I was here. As anywhere in New Zealand, there’s a few walks dotted about, and the views from the top of Queenstown Hill and Bob’s Peak are pretty special, and worth the walk/climb (also helps sweat out the alcohol and burger from the previous night).

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Queenstown was also the place where I used a hairdryer for the first time in months. This might not sound a lot but, oh my, this was a Big Deal. Such a treat! Smooth straight hair for once. It’s the little things in life you know.

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Marsha and I also hopped across to Wanaka for a few days (pretty nice drive in/over the Crown Ranges) to have a bit of a chill out from the madness. Wanaka is like Queenstown’s more laid back cousin (and apparently is what QT was like 20 or so years ago). Just as pretty, just as many hills and mountains to climb but much less busy, less frenetic and much less drinking.

We both loved Wanaka. It was really nice and chilled and we spent a great few days walking, trundling around, eating, drinking $12 cider (Marsha), shopping (Marsha), being propositioned in the supermarket (Marsha) watching very random open mic/karaoke nights (Swedish/english rap anyone?) and visiting what is possibly the best cinema in the world (but possibly not the best film in the world – Pompeii). Cinema Paradiso is a small independent cinema, that has all kinds of seats. Couches, cinema seats, cars (yes, you can sit in a car), bus seats etc. They also sell homemade ice cream and bake cookies in the first half of the film, so at the intermission you can buy warm cookies (whose smell wafts into the cinema near to half time. Mmm freshly baked cookie smell.) for that cookie-induced sugar coma for the second half of the film. Oh, and they’re also licensed so you can buy wine and beer to take in with you, although at nearly $10 a glass it;s not cheap. Lincolnshire people, it’s like the Kinema in the Woods on steroids.

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If you’re visiting Wanaka and only do one walk, do Roy’s Peak. It’s 1578m, so just over 200m higher than Ben Nevis (1344m), the highest mountain in the British Isles. It’s a hard climb, very steep and tough, but, well, well worth it for the view. It’s just incredible. I did gasp when I saw THIS in front of me:

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Definitely a “f**k me” moment. It didn’t look real. The colours, the texture, the view. It was like a painting, stretched out in a technicolour 360 degree view. It’s the middle peak in this picture, by the way:

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We also walked to the Rob Roy Glacier (after a near miss with a cow on the way) and Mount Iron, as well as around the lake. Pretty active yet chilled out few days.

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Then of course we went back to Queenstown and hit it hard that night.

 

 

 

*Disclaimer/note to the parents, I was quite sensible and never got completely rip roaring drunk or put myself in dodgy situations. My rib is still intact and I didn’t fall over once. I think.

 

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.

Koh Jum-jumbalaya.

Island life part 2 was spent on Koh Jum, a little island on the Andaman Coast. It was recommended to Nick by some friends as somewhere small, quiet and pretty, away from the tourist crowd. Sounded right up our street so we thought we’d check it out. It’s still low season here in Thailand so a lot of places are closed on the smaller islands so we knew it was going to be pretty quiet, but that’s pretty much what we wanted so we got all packed and ready to leave Bangkok to head south.

I was sad to leave Bangkok again, it’s an awesome place and I was suprised how much I ended up loving it. But, new days, new adventures. I can pack my bag in about 5 minutes now; everything has a place and I know just what goes where. I could probably do it in the dark or with my eyes closed by now too. My packing has changed quite a bit since those first few days. I remember repacking a few bits in my mum and dad’s hotel room in London before I left to go to Heathrow and thinking how I had it sussed. Oh how it has changed. Some stuff I’ve ditched, loads of stuff has moved round and I have a few new bits. It’s weird how normal it is now for me to have my entire life in one bag that isn’t even full. Took a bit of getting used to but now it’s totally normal. As is wearing the same clothes all the time and constantly looking for ways to make my bag lighter. As I said to my family last night when we had a catch up, it’s going to be like Christmas when I get back having all my clothes and shoes to wear. I’ve forgotten what things I actually have. Although Dad, that doesn’t mean you can throw them out and I won’t notice. I WILL. Trust me.

So, we hopped on an overnight bus from Bangkok, and arrived in Krabi at 5am after a bumpy and [fairly] restful 11 hour ride. We had to wait an hour for the sun to come up and the Songthaews (shared taxis, like a pick up with two benches in the back – great little inventions) to start running. One songthaew later, we had another hour wait in Krabi town to get another one to drop us off in Nuea Khlong where we had a two hour wait. One last songthaew and we were ready to get the longtail boat in a place called Laem Kruat. Which we just missed by minutes. So, a one and a half hour wait before the next boat which took 45 minutes to get to Koh Jum, where we then had to get a motorbike taxi. Suffice to say, by the time we got to Woodland Lodge, we were pretty shattered and a bit fed up of travelling. A plate of fried rice, a nice cold beer and a swim in the Andaman Sea later and oh yep, we were feeling much better.

Koh Jum reminded me a lot of Koh Mak, in that it was an island, in low season but there was quite a different feel about the place. There are no cars, and the island only got electricity about 4 years ago. It’s a predominately muslim island, so there were lots of women in the most prettiest headdresses I’ve ever seen, and it felt less like a resort island and more a place where people lived and worked amongst the tourists. And speaking of tourists: there weren’t any. Well, apart from me and Nick, and a couple called Jo and Robbie who were permanent long term travellers and regulars on Kho Jum, this time staying for 6 weeks. So, for nearly a week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. No one else on the beach, in the sea or on the roads. We were the only ones staying with Ray and Sao at Woodland Lodge so it felt like staying with friends. Sao was the most amazing cook and we never ordered off the menu; we just told her what we liked and she’d cook up a storm for us. Mainly street-style food, including my favourite; Pad-ka-prow. Minced pork cooked with holy basil, garlic, chilli served with rice and a fried egg. I now know this is what I had after my second run in Bangkok. It’s amazingly delicious and I could probably eat it every day. Well, I did on Koh Jum. At least once a day. It’s so hot and spicy and tasty and….yum yum yum. Oh, and there was no wifi. Which was great. Just great to switch off for a bit.

The first day we had a few beers at night, which turned into a few more beers. Laura, my best friend, got married this day back in the UK so we had a few beers to celebrate. Ended up more than a little tipsy and so, what better thing to do than to go onto the beach to look at the stars. I decided this was a perfect place to play Twizzles. This is what me and my friends at primary school used to call spinning round in a circle, arms outstretched looking up at the sky then trying to walk straight. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, I fell over into the sea. So of course, the ONLY thing to do was to go for a swim. Fully clothed. In the bit of the sea with all the rocks. I only shredded my leg a little bit. It’s healing nicely now. It was HUGE amounts of fun, and something else I’ve never done. Until now. New experience? Check.

I’m very sad I missed Laura’s wedding. But, I made sure she had some messages and bits from me on her special day, and I rang her in the morning for a quick chat. We’ll have another celebration together when I see her next year so all will be good. Cheers dude!SONY DSC Koh Jum was also the place where my beloved Merrell flip flops met their demise. The comfiest, most brilliant flip flops I have ever owned. Now, ok, they were on their way out, granted, but, I wanted to be the one to decide when to throw them out. Instead, a wild dog decided to take matters into it’s own hands (jaw) and chewed one of them to bits. Just one. It left the other one perfectly intact on the front step of our hut. Like some kind of Godfather-style reminder perhaps. Maybe I looked at it wrong the day before or something. It was a sad day when I had to put them in the bin. SONY DSC Koh Jum village was quaint, small and pretty. After negotiating mosquito alley (a track through the jungle where we literally got covered in thousands of mosquitoes), we had fun chatting to the locals with the small amount of Thai we’d learnt so far, and also found some kind of peanut-sugar-brittle type thing which was basically a small package of peanuty-sugar-goodness. All for about 20p. SONY DSC

But one of the best things about these few days was the sea and the beach. Now, I’m not a big beach person. I’m not a sunbather and struggle with not doing a lot. I’m not hugely fond of the sea per se (Jaws has a lot to answer for) but I do like a bit of swimming. And even better if there’s someone to help tell me what’s on the bottom and to keep an eye on me as I can’t really see much without my glasses. So, we swam every day. In some of the biggest waves I have swum in (it was a stormy, windy day), in torrential rain (amazing feeling and sounds) and bright sunshine, the sea was always warm and getting the right bit of beach meant no rocks or sharks. Always a bonus. These will be really special memories for me. And of course, the sea comes with a beach and a beach is always pretty. To look at, to walk along and to watch the sun go down. And we weren’t disappointed by the sunset one night. The whole sky lit up with oranges, reds and yellows behind big fluffy clouds, sending sunshine rays in all directions, all reflected off the ocean. I do love a good sunset. I think the African sunset is still my favourite, but this was pretty impressive, and a pretty stunning picture to sum up island life.

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Soon be time to move on.

It’s my last week in Zambia, I’ll be leaving on Monday. Now it feels like the last 3 weeks have gone so quick. I’ll be so sad to leave, I know I will. I know I’m not leaving quite yet, so I’m trying to not think about it too much, but as it’s my last week there are lots of ‘lasts’ happening now. Like Monday, when it was my last time teaching the Grade 5’s at Tawbuka school. And tomorrow, when it will be my last Conservation Club. So it’s hard not to think about it.

Some guys left on Monday too, it’s not the same without them. We miss you Andrew, Ally, Sarah and Melissa! 😦 Although we got some newbies (hello Ciaran, Max2 and Maria). One of which is a fireman. #justsaying

Last Saturday we went out for some drinks because those guys were leaving. And because it was the weekend. Who needs any other excuse? Started at a bar/restaurant called The Spot for some drinks and shots. I had a Pink Pussy, some others had a Banana Blow Job, others a Liquid Cocaine. Classy place, haha. Next we moved next door to Fez Bar which, as we’re walking up to it, was playing Michael Jackson. Approved. Cue much cocktails, dancing and a bit of hip wiggling. I didn’t get to bed until around 3.30am that night. Luckily, Sunday is my day off so I spent it hanging. Just a little bit.

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Sunday night we went to see a lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls. It’s a ‘moonbow’ that occurs at the Falls when there is a Full Moon. Something to do with the spray and the light from the moon. Regardless of the scientifics, I know that it is very pretty. And very difficult to photograph. I got a half decent picture, but, like a lot of pictures, it really doesn’t do it justice. And, there, it’s all about the atmosphere. The sound of the water and the feel of the spray against your face in the pitch black, lit up by a rainbow. Incredible. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, I feel very lucky to have been able to see it.

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TPAD Day 1 – 1st June 2013

So, today is Day 1 of my Travel Photo A Day. I wasn’t quite sure what photo to use today to start with. I landed at about 9am this morning (8am British Summer Time) and got to my hostel mid morning. I’ve not really been out with my camera; or really been out that much. I went for a stroll to Pick n Pay (like SA Tesco) to get some food to eat after my run. I had a little nap because I was still shattered after the 11 hour night flight where, although I slept, it wasn’t great sleep. I can’t complain about the flight though; good service, decent food and I got two seats to myself. I went for a run this afternoon (see Runs Around the World #4) then came back and had a shower, food and read my book for a bit.

It was weird, sat reading my book in the garden in the sun. I felt guilty. Like I should have been doing something. It hit me as I was sat there that I am going to have to get used to this. Relaxing. No work. Plenty of time to chill out. I have to admit I felt a bit panicked. What would I do? How will I fill my time? Can I do it? I don’t sit down that much. I like to have stuff on. This might be a challenge. I’m sure I’ll get used to it but it’s a little bit weird. My next 4 weeks will be like having a job because I’m doing an internship which will be Mon-Fri. So like work, I’m just not getting paid. This might help me with the transition. And where I am today is just a transition; there’s not that much to do or see really, unless I venture out a bit further for longer.

So, today’s photo was what happened this afternoon/evening. I had said I was going to have a break from drinking for a bit. Well, that hasn’t happened. I got forced persuaded to have a brandy and coke by some guys staying in the hostel. We went out to get pizza and beer, and have had interesting discussions about apartheid and Marcus was showing us lots of videos of spiders and bungee jumps gone wrong. He has an unhealthy obsession with YouTube. I’ve been sensible and stopped drinking though, it’s not a session, rather just a couple of beers. I’ve even had water. Get me. Well, I do have to be at the airport at half 8 tomorrow morning too.

It was alright brandy though. So, have I started as I mean to go on? Only time will tell. And yep, all you lot who said I wouldn’t last, you win. Only one out of the two though 😛

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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.

Nessun Dorma.

I listened to Nessun Dorma this afternoon. It appeared on a friend’s playlist on Spotify and I’d not heard it for a while so decided to play it. I don’t usually listen to classical music (find it a bit boring) and really only know of Nessun Dorma from a drunken night on a training course from years ago. As I was listening it made me remember that training course. It wasn’t your usual training course. It was a Research Skills course for people working for Police Forces. Sounds innocent enough. A two week course held at a MOD camp in Essex. Our accommodation was old married quarter houses for all of us, split into a few houses for ladies and gents.

It basically ended up a two week drinking and partying binge. One day the trainer finished the day really early because we were all so hungover. I’m sure some stuff got learnt. It was one of the best courses I went on, but not really for the right reasons. Some of the things that I [can] remember about it:

  • The pool car I was given had a leak and so the footwells were about 2 inches deep in water. Not pleasant when spending 3 hours driving down to Essex and I spent quite a lot of time using a paper cup bailing the water out during the week (as it pretty much rained the whole time), much to other people’s amusement.
  • Very cheap drinks in the on-site bar.
  • The long walk to the canteen where we had all our meals. The food was OK, but a lot of people went to the local supermarket to avoid the long walk. Lazy arses.
  • The party we threw in one of the houses where we drank a shed load of alcohol, played charades and the trainer sung Nessun Dorma at the top of his lungs at about 3am in the morning (it was the day after this that he ended the day early because we were all so battered, him included).
  • That because of this party they stopped people staying in the houses and put them in single rooms on future courses.
  • Hanging out my bedroom window to smoke (shows how long ago it was now).
  • The affair that started between a [married] guy and a woman (it actually turned into a proper relationship and lasted a few years).
  • The guy who got a bit obsessed with one of the girls on the course.
  • Having to do ‘homework’ with dice which took aaaages.
  • Coming home to find the ex had decorated the bathroom while I’d been away. Bonus.
  • Learning to live with strangers for two weeks.
  • Making lots of new friends and keeping in touch with at least 2 people for a good couple of years afterwards.

I’m sure there was more but it was so long ago now I can’t remember everything. Suffice to say, I had a ball.