Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

It’s taken me over a week to decide whether writing about my current situation for my blog is the right thing to do.  My grandma is dying.  I am 27 and have not yet lost anyone this significant to me, something I’ve always felt very lucky about.  But here it is.  And I’ve just realised exactly how much this situation links with my decisions next year – my big year of travel and adventure – which first prompted this blog:

I am currently sitting in a chair at the nursing home where Grandma was taken just over a week ago.  Her decline has been gradual over the past six months or so: first with the discovery of cancer, then the decision not to operate then the gentle loss of independence culminating in full-time carers and, eventually, a respite period in a nursing home when things really became too difficult at home.  Only this respite isn’t a respite.  Although no-one is allowed/encouraged to give exact prognoses, we think it’s days, perhaps a week.  And as Grandma’s vision dims, her speech slurs and she spends less and less time awake, the family have rallied around to spend these precious few days together with her and to keep at least one of us with her at all times.  Tonight is my first night vigil.  It’s actually rather lovely to be with Grandma alone.  I’ve found things difficult the past two days as she seems to recognise me less and less.  But now, alone, I feel perhaps she does know who I am and that I’m here for her.

I could of course continue to explore my own feelings on this sad process or about how wonderful my Grandma is and all the beautiful things I’ve learned from her but I think that belongs elsewhere.  Here, really, there is space to consider what these days have done for the family.  Grandma is my mum’s mum and mum has one brother, Martin – my uncle.  He has two children – my cousins – who despite featuring in a few memories of growing up really haven’t been the extended family that some experience.  In fact, I really grew up wondering why my parents appeared to have such an aversion to their siblings and hoping that’d never happen to me and mine.

But now things are starting to change.  For a couple of months now, Mum has said how Grandma’s illness has allowed her brother and her to talk more than they ever had as adults before.  And now my sister and I too have had the chance to spend time with him and my cousin, Tom.  And it’s really bloody good.  A few days ago, my Grandma was rather distressed and despite muddling and delirium, was repeating several messages about how we must all build houses of love and love each other and take care of each other.  I really hope it is true that the final sense to go is hearing because if Grandma can hear us all together around her bed, getting to know each other, supporting each other, everyone rallying round…well, she would be (in her words) as happy as Larry!

Now, all this brings me to what I’m feeling about next year’s travels.  Yes, it is exciting and I have a lot to be grateful for and proud of and excited about.  But part of these travels are to go and find out whether I, like my brother, want to move to Australia (where my boyfriend is currently living).  I’ve been uncertain about this since he ‘got a head start’ and moved back to Brisbane last April but now…even more so.  I’ve always known family is important and the guilt I feel about being the second child to potentially head off southward and never return has caused more than one sleepless night.  But now more than ever: surely family – and being close to them – is more important than anything else.  Sure, have an adventure, see more, meet people, learn new things…but to never return? To have an annual week with the people that are most important to me rather than being a short drive away and seeing them once every few weeks?!

So, I think Grandma’s passing is timed quite well.  It’s not that it’s made my mind up (that’ll be the day!) but it has given me one hell of a reminder about the power and strength of family and the importance of closeness and shared experience.  I guess it’s just another piece of understanding to add as I meander through 2013 and make some decisions.  And hopefully, when Grandma is finally released from this body, she can be with me too.  Only a few days ago, she was able to communicate with me and she said ‘I think we’ll always be together, won’t we’.  I’m looking forward to it.

(Back dated Friday 30th Nov-Sat 1st Dec)



One of the chief motivations for not indulging in Friday night debauchery yester eve was the lure of awakening free from the gradual crescendo of an alcohol-induced headache.  After a week including two experiments with this fasting diet malarkey and two new gym regimes, I was severely tempted by the prospect of not having to apologise repeatedly to my body for trying to annihilate it with ale and cigarettes.

I awoke half an hour ago with a smile on my face.  I mean, I was actually smiling.  I had just roused from a long and dream-filled slumber naturally: without the affronting clamour of my phone alarm rudely dragging me into the 6am darkness.  Today, it was 7.45am and a dull but evident November sunshine was at least trying to creep through my pale curtains.

The morning is now my oyster! I have a few ‘got-to-do-as-these-things-can’t-be-done-during-the-busy-week’ items on the list to get done but then it’s over to my lovely town of Dartmouth to sooth and entertain my weekend self.

Only it’s this lovely town of Dartmouth that so confuses me.  I have now 37 days until I leave to go travelling, complete with the nagging pit-of-the-stomach burn that this is the place I’ve been the happiest since I left school: it’s woods, river and sea are beautiful and it’s locals, albeit mostly alcoholic, say hello when you pass them by and are always pleased to see you when you walk in the pub.  All the things that had me move here from London four years ago.

My feelings about the place have always peaked and troughed: peaking typically in the summer with the sun-filled beer-garden days of the music festival, ale-sipping on the grass in the park, running to the beach for the afternoon and long daylight hours.  The winter months, although I often prefer the dirth of tourists cluttering our small town, come with an often unwelcome reality-check that it is just you and a handful of 40 or 50-something drunks sitting around the bar and last time you mentioned anything of interest (books, films, art, travel, food, education, society, the list goes on), the nearest person slurred a derogatory discouragement from entering into any conversation ‘so intelligent’.  Better still, if that person happens to be the famous ‘Daggers’, I’d be informed, in no uncertain terms, I had an ‘attitude problem’ and asked why I think I’m so intelligent.  Put that way, I’ve made it hard to see the charm of the place!

There is charm.  There definitely is.  I’ve have acquired a smile-inducing plethora of unforgettable experiences here! Far more fondly remembered than anything I ever took from three years at university.  Age and drinking-habits aside, there are some real gems in this town: people who themselves have travelled, who tell stories and who look after each other.

But perhaps you just outgrow a place? Previous visits to London and Bristol (over the last five or six years) have always had be clamouring to return to my lovely Dartmouth.  I’d wake up on the Saturday morning and wonder where my river was and what I was doing in this unfriendly smoke-filled urban hell.  I visited London four weeks ago and Bristol last weekend.  I had the usual feeling.  But far less evident.  And what really got me was how much I loved being in both cities.  How exciting the endless possibilities to soak up and revel in culture, to speak to people who might be excited as I am about a book or a film or travel or art or anything!

Naturally, I’ve always known this is supposed to be one of the lures of the city. But never felt it before.  There’s one thing for sure: I owe Dartmouth a lot.  I came here from London quite depleted after three years in a university I disliked and two years in London which I liked but on first-year-teacher wages simply couldn’t enjoy.  My first year in Dartmouth was by far the best year I have had so far.  Dartmouth gave me back my confidence, sense of adventure and creativity.  But perhaps you do just outgrow a place.

I’m three hours into my second 24 hour fast of the week and I’m desperately trying to create distractions from the fact that it is clearly dinner time; it is all too mind-preoccupyingly (nope, not a word but I’m having it) evident that what I should be doing is preparing something scrumptious and looking forward to my stable pudding of raspberry yoghurt, peppered with crunched up cereal and chocolate drops.

So I’ve taken to doing a bit of writing: I leave my town in five weeks and I’m keen to finish a little ‘livealogue’ (can’t be a travelogue as I’m not travelling anywhere so figured…) about this town as I think it’s pretty interesting – in as much as it’s filled to the brim with eccentrics.  In doing so, I’ve stumbled across an old diary of the time I first arrived here and a second diary of my travels last summer to Kyrgyzstan.

It was in Kyrgyzstan, trekking up glacial mountains with a translator/trek guide named Vlad (actually Vadim but that only transpired two weeks after everyone had been calling him so Vlad so Vlad it was) that I began to question the ‘wisdom’ I’d be consuming from dietary and exercise books back in the West since an early age.

It was one blue-skied, dewy morning camping at a hot springs in the foothills of the Ala Archa National Park that I managed to grab an hour – and crucially a coffee (albeit packet) – with Vlad as he lay in his one-man tent, boiling water on his camping stove.  I spotted an old Fanta bottle filled with what looked like little stones and questioned Vlad as to what it was.  I was particularly intrigued as people had started to notice how little Vlad appeared to eat…and yet how impressively strong he appeared to be.

As an example, one day when crossing a shallow but reasonably fast-moving river, I was the first in the line and, looking what I imagine to be somewhat dubious, Vlad had reached out his hand.  Not wanting to fall too heavily into the bracket of ‘pathetic female’ but having a similar distaste for becoming a drowned rat, I reached out my hand to gain the balance-support I assumed Vlad was offering.  Only he wasn’t offering merely support. No.  Instead, he whisked me (all 167k of me) and my bag (pushing 17k) onto his shoulder, balancing this entire load with just one hand and trotted across the river, depositing me effortlessly on the other bank before returning to do the same with those behind me.  It’d be fair to say, there was somewhat of an aura of mystical wonder about this character.

So I’d asked Vlad what was in the bottle and he’d told me it was buckwheat – the only food he consumed on his average hiking day, bar a couple of bush/tree picked fruits and flowers and an orange drink at lunchtime.  I was frankly horrified.  How on earth could this embodiment of strength and fitness be the way he was without following the precise protein-carbohydrate-fat-fitness regime I’d come to measure out my daily log by? Unbelievable.

And so slowly (probably a little late at aged 27), I started to realise not everything I’ve been told and read to date is necessarily the best advice.  Not to say it’s all to be dismissed but there are clearly other ways of achieving similar (or even better) effects.  This tiny seed continued to blossom throughout the summer and ever since and has lead to all sorts of new discoveries.  But for now, I’m fasting and thinking of Vlad – if he could essentially fast whilst rocketing up 5000 metre mountains in flip-flops, surely I can battle through another hour or two of lolling on my bed reading plus a couple of lessons teaching before 4pm tomorrow arrives… and I EAT.

Firstly (short aside) I’m very much a newcomer to blogging and have spent much of my 27 years actively avoiding technological advances.  Afraid so, I’m one of them.  If anyone ever indulges in the 80s brilliance that was ‘The Young Ones’ and recalls Neil’s bewildered cries of technophobia…well, I’m pretty close to that.  So…I’m not entirely sure I’m even ‘publishing’ these here ‘posts’ accurately or whether there are additional things I should be doing – any advice (if anyone can even read this!) would be great.

I have read a bit about targeting a clear audience – something I really should know as an English teacher who speaks about purpose and audience an irritating minimum of at least twice a day. And indeed an English teacher that teaches lessons on blogging believe it or not! I’m not sure I’ve really made my ‘point’ of blogging clear as of yet – probably as it isn’t too clear.  It’s a sort of mixture between keeping a record, and hopefully getting a bit of a conversation going, about my current situation of being a teacher and living in Devon and my prospects come 2013 when I travel to Brisbane to study a CELTA (English language teaching course) and then try out CELTA teaching as well as try to find some tiiiiimmme to read and write (a little known luxury) and travel about the world a little more.

For the next six weeks, as I draw together my time at my current school, I’d like really to be able to converse about education in England at the moment – with its many changes and controversies – as well as hear from teachers elsewhere and perhaps those who have studied CELTA themselves or travelled abroad as a teacher.

And, whilst I’m outlining the plans, I’d also love to learn Spanish, walk the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain, walk in the mountains and hills of England to get a little closer to gaining my Mountain Leader qualification and much, much more…hopefully an exciting time and I figured it was time to seek the advice and company of the international online community.  Here’s hoping… x