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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Jobs, houses and all that jazz.

I think this might be the last post I write on this blog. I started it back in January 2013 after my year in photos finished at the end of 2012. I missed having somewhere to write things down and share my photos. And then shortly after I started it, I decided to go travelling and then figured it was the ideal place to write about my travels, both for me and people at home following me around the world. And it served it’s purpose. But now, now I’m not sure what purpose it has. I’m not sure I feel the need to share things in the same way. Travel’s changed me, I’ve already said that. And I think one of the things that’s changed is that I don’t feel the need to (or don’t want to) live my life so openly any more. Or maybe just not right now. If you want to know what’s going on with me, you can always ask. You can always get in touch with me. You can meet up with me and I’ll tell you what’s new. I’ve spent quite a bit of time catching up with lots of different people over the last few months since I’ve been back (it’s been over 4 months now, yep, can you believe it?). And I’ve loved it. Meeting up with all of you to speak in person. To do stuff in person. So I’d like to carry on with that thank you very much. And if you don’t, well, I guess you’re not that bothered about what I’m up to, which is also always perfectly groovy.

But, right now, I’ll write one last blog post. After my last slightly rambly post, I thought it might be good to do an update. There’s lots of you that were waiting to see what kind of job I would get, or what kind of life I’d settle back into. I’m pleased to report I feel a bit less fluffy and indecisive now. Things are falling into place day by day and it’s all a bit clearer.

So, I’ve been employed for nearly two months now. Yes, two months. Blink and you’d miss it. When I went travelling I said I wanted to do something different. Not in an office, or not in front of a computer screen. I didn’t know what, and had hoped I would figure it out by the time I got back. I didn’t. I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do, although, I have a better idea. And I do kind of know what I want to do in about 10 years time, just not right now. And the couple of things I do want to do, I don’t have the experience for. Even the entry level jobs, because I tried. Quite a few times, with quite a few companies. So, I need to get that experience, which I aim to do over the next year or so through volunteering in a few different forms.

But that doesn’t help me right now.

Right now, I had to get a job. To get some cash, but also to do something. To get my brain working again, and to give me some kind of purpose. Because you see, as much as it sounds wonderful to now have to work, it’s not all that. Especially without much cash. Because you can’t do that much. And all your mates are at work. I felt a bit purposeless, and like I wasn’t really contributing to anything or anyone. To live here, in my world, there isn’t an option of ‘not getting a job’. I can’t really live without one. So, I figured that if I couldn’t get into the area that I wanted to, because I didn’t have that experience, I’d get a job and work on the experience bit. So, what job to get? I could have just gone and got any old job, but I decided to look along the same kind of lines as what I did before. Yes, it went against what I had been thinking before. But, I have to also be realistic. I need cash, and what I used to do pays a decent wage. I’m on my own, so need to be able to support myself with everything. For that, I need to be earning a fair amount. And, it’s maybe not forever, it’s part of a plan and I’m always in control of what I do. Even if I am a bit of a corporate slave again. That’s cool, I’m OK with that right now.

You see, no matter what you do in life, you’ve always got the power to change it whenever you want. So, if I want to change jobs, then I can change it. If I’m unhappy, then I’ll change it. You don’t have to get stuck in a job and feel there’s no alternative. There’s always an alternative. Or a future plan. You’re in charge.

But, I have chosen a bit of a different job. I’ve chosen a good compromise. I’m now a HR consultant for a computer software company. It’s an office job but not based in one office. It’s in front of a computer screen, but a different one every day. I’m not a project manager any more, I’m a resource that reports to a project manager. I’m back to my ‘home’ of HR systems work. I’ll be travelling around the country. It fits in so many ways with where I am right now. Keeps my itchy feet in check with a bit of travel in the UK. OK, so it’s not the same kind of travel, but it gets me out and about to explore places and make the most of it. Releases me from the office politics and never ending issues management that is the life of a PM. And gives me a bit of stability and cash to be able to start working towards whatever I want to do next. And in the meantime, gives me something new to get my teeth stuck into and enjoy the next adventure of finding somewhere to live again and building my new life.

Because that’s the next bit. I’ve got (and will hopefully keep!) the job, so next is somewhere to live. Basic stuff, but basic stuff is exciting when you’ve not had it for a while. It’s been over 18 months since I lived in my own house. And boy do I miss it. Right now I’m staying with my parents, which I never thought I’d be doing, let alone for this long (they’re probably thinking exactly the same thing). But it’s not too bad, because it’s not indefinite, I know I’ll be moving sometime soon, and can’t wait (no offence Mum/Dad, but you know what I mean).

I’m pretty much decided that I’m not going to settle back in Lincoln (To be fair, I’d already decided that before I got back, and I’ve not changed my mind), the question is just when I go. I haven’t moved yet as I’m using my first few pay packets to pay for the car I bought, and right now I’m just pondering whether to move before or after Christmas. The sensible part of me says move after Christmas and use the pay packets in between to just build up the pot a bit again. But if I do that, ideally I’d want to stay in or nearer to Lincoln for the next few months, to be closer to a bit of action and easier to get about if I’m travelling around. So, if anyone has a spare bedroom that they have going for reasonable rates I’d be interested 😉

You’re probably wondering where I’m going? The good thing about my new job is that because it is based all over the UK I’m fairly free to live where I want (within reason). Another reason I went for it. But when there’s that much choice, where do you go? Tricky one really. Well, it was pretty easy to know to head South, as I seem to have more friends and people I know down there than up North. So, that made it a bit easier. London is just too ridiculously expensive and I really, really want to live alone again. And I also realised that I didn’t really fancy living in a massive city. I absolutely love Lincoln, it’s just the right size and love the different areas and all the history stuff. It’s pretty. So somewhere a bit like that, just somewhere else.

So I’ve decided on Cheltenham. Why? Well, why not? I’ve been a couple of times, know someone there and it seems a nice place. Pretty, surrounded by the Cotswolds and hills, about the same size population as Lincoln, nice bars, restaurants and parks. Plenty to do, it has crossfit and a few running clubs. I don’t need much more really.

Very exciting, and I swing between being impatient and wanting to get on with it and being lazy and not being bothered because it means having to do stuff. At the minute, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, getting stuck into a new job without any other stuff to think about. But I also know I want to crack on and get started, as I still feel in limbo, like I don’t belong anywhere and like I can’t get involved in anything because things will all change in a few months. Either way, I’d like to have made some decisions in the next few weeks so I know what I’m doing, I’ve been floating around for a bit too long I think.

And in the meantime I’ve been upping the running and cycling. It’s been wonderful. Enjoying the countryside and feeling like me again. I’m running Nottingham half marathon in a couple of weeks and really looking forward to it. Enjoying those long runs with nothing but fresh air and Spotify. Good for the soul, although I have to say (as much as I hate running up them) it would be nice if there were a few hills. That’s what Cheltenham’s for though, right? And if you’ve never been there, then there’s the perfect excuse to come visit me. Not that you need one, right?

So there you have it. From deciding to go travelling to getting back into ‘normal’ life and everything in between, that’s my life over the last 18 months. It’s been an absolute blast, and I only know that whatever happens next will be even better. What will happen, I’ve got no idea. That’s the fun part.

And don’t forget, your life is YOUR life. Live it how you want to. If you’re not happy, then change it. If you want to do something, do it. It really is that simple, even if you think it’s not. There are always excuses, reasons or barriers to doing something, but they’re not really solid. Nothing is impossible. So you have a mortgage and a job and can’t go travelling? Bollocks. I had both and I did it. And have come back to a better/different job and my mortgage is still getting paid. Scared of doing something? Doing it and getting out of your comfort zone will only develop you in ways you might not even realise. There’s no success or failure, just different ways of dealing with things. That’s the important thing – not the outcome, but how you deal with it. I’m actually only just realising the things I’ve learnt while I’ve been away and how it’s changed me. In the little every day things I do or the situations I face. And do you know what? There’s been so many things, I can’t keep up. Sticking with the familiar may be great. it might be easy, but damn me I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the things I’ve done over the last year. And for that, I wouldn’t trade all the tea in China. I can’t put a price on it. For me, I’m just realising it’s been probably the single most important thing I’ve done in my life. Travelling isn’t for everyone, but this isn’t really about travelling, it’s about living your dreams, whatever they are. It’s about taking chances and risks and seeing what happens. It’s about challenging yourself and living for the moment. It’s about cherishing life and exploring and making the most of it. It’s about finding out who you are and what you’re made of. It’s about life beyond boundaries. Life outside those four walls.

So what are you waiting for? Every day is an adventure. Go explore.

Thanks for following. Adios.

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.

Great things.

Over the time I’ve been away I’ve been pondering the things that I think are great about travelling.

The main one is time. Having loads of it. It’s not until I started travelling that I realised how much time is taken up by work, having a house and other general life stuff. Although, I’m a person that generally likes to be busy. It’s not that I can’t be (remember my 10 day silent retreat in India?) but it’s just how I like my life. So, when you have all the time in the world, sometimes it’s hard to fill it, or feel guilty at just having so much time to relax. But, it’s something I know is precious, and I know I’m lucky to have the chance to experience it, so I’m making the most of it while I have it.

Then of course there’s the obvious. No having to work! No having to get up at a certain time every day and put on those clothes that define you as being part of the corporate rat race. No having to deal with office life, politics or just the mundane day-to-day. No bits of challenging stuff to think about or have to deal with and no stuff to get stressed over. OK, granted, travel brings it’s own challenges and stresses but, well, they just don’t feel like work. Oh, and yes, no work does also mean no money but can’t have one without the other…!

So no work generally means no routine, as I guess so much of daily life is structured around work. What time you get up, what time you have your lunch, what time you go home etc. Travelling means you can pretty much do what you want when you want. All the time. Maybe not when there is a bus/plane/rickshaw to catch, or an event to go see though 😉

One of the best things for me is to not have an alarm clock. I can probably count on one hand (OK, maybe two) the amount of times I’ve had to set my alarm. The rest of the time, I just wake up when I wake up. Do not underestimate how great this is. It means that generally, even if I’ve had a crappy nights sleep (which, is most nights – I can’t actually remember the last night that I slept the whole way through without waking up) I wake up feeling quite refreshed, and don’t really get that mega-tired feeling during the day. Must be because I don’t wake up during a deep sleep cycle. And of course hand in hand with this is the fact that when travelling, you can always have an afternoon nap if you want (circumstances permitting). Not that I do very often, but every now and then, usually after either a night out or a particularly shit nights sleep.

Freedom and flexibility. When you travel you have it in spades. Especially when travelling alone. If I want to do something, I do it. If I want to change my plans, I do it. If I want to spend all day surfing the internet eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon then I can do it.*

Doing/seeing/experiencing Cool Stuff. Well, goes without saying really. And by this I mean generally everything. The sights, the people and the little things. Pretty much everything is Cool Stuff when you’re travelling. You have time to really see and experience it all. So, from the big sights like the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal, to the people watching in a coffee shop in suburban Melbourne. Or the cooking with a local family in India, and experiencing life with a local family in rural Zambia.

The people. I can’t not mention the people, because that’s made a lot of my trip. All the people I’ve met along the way. From the brief encounters to the friendships made, they’re all great. Even just people watching. Watching how they interact with each other, watching how real life is lived right in front of your eyes. I think I’m a naturally chatty people person, so for me it’s been awesome to meet all these wonderful people and see what life is like in so many different places. It’s opened up my mind and I’ve seen how other people live, which has inspired me and made me think about how I want to live my life. And yes, it’s not quite the same as before.

And last for now, but not least, there’s the education. I’ve learnt so much in these last 9 months than I have over god knows how many years before. About so many different things. About history, war, culture, religion, countries and people. About myself, who I am, how I deal with things and how I view life. I’ve learnt about life and living in general, sport, nature, children, kindness and generosity.  Whoever said that travel was the best life education was spot on. At least for me. I could never have learnt these things from books or TV or the internet.

There’s probably loads more great things, in fact I know there is, but these the main ones on my mind right now. I really didn’t know what to expect when I started my trip. I’d read travel blogs, and read posts similar to what I’ve just written, but it’s hard to relate if you hadn’t done it yourself. And now I have. And now I agree. But everyone will be different.

And yes, of course there are downsides to travel. It can be stressful and a hassle. Busy and exhausting. Hot and grubby. There are times when I miss home, friends and family. But they’re few and far between. The great things rule above all.

I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. I can safely say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve only got a couple of months left now, and I’m going to make the most of it. Make the most of all these great things.

But one last thing. By writing all the above, I don’t mean that there aren’t great things about not travelling. Life, however it is lived, is by it’s very nature, great. So, when I get back and settle in one place once again, I still will have a life filled with Great Things. They might not be the same, but I know that however I live my life, it will be awesome. Because I will make it so.

 

 

*Not that this actually happened, oh no