Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 24, 2018

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata they say in Swahili, but most of you will know it from the Lion King. It’s pretty apt, to have spent a week in East Africa where they live by the motto of having no worries, given how wound up I was feeling pre holiday with the pace of London life. This mantra in Tanzania really does seem to mean that though. There’s a practice to what is preached, a chilled out, laid back vibe to life that seems to take each day as it comes. It’s something we can all learn from, this relaxed approach to the day-to-day grind.

I contemplate the concept of no worries, as I find myself again at 38,000 feet, this time bound for Dubai from Kilimanjaro, looking to connect for my Emirates flight back to London. It’s been the most truly wonderful week in Tanzania, with some many unexpected moments that have created memories to last a lifetime.

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Some of the Maasai tribe show us around their village

I truly don’t know where to begin with playing back the wonder of this epic country, but I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I didn’t start with the people. When I visit places around the world I am usually struck by three things; what the people are like, what the scenery is like and what the food is like, as a basic measure of the quality of a destination. So let’s start with the people, and let me say that they are the happiest, kindest, most authentic and grateful individuals. This may be a rather broad brush statement, but genuinely, these people are what you see.

There’s an innocence to everyone you meet. Children enjoy playing outside, smiling huge grins and finding pleasures in simple games of chase. There appears to be little rivalry between the young – there’s an element of true childhood here, not disrupted by technology and cultures that see people ‘adult’ before they’re ready. These children find real friendships in their siblings and neighbours, a harmonious, simple, innocent love. These children here are enamoured with the simplest things; a photograph we took and could show them, a drone that one of my fellow travellers used to film the vast scenery below, or simply someone talking to them and saying ‘jambo’ – hello.

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“Jambo!”  Maasai children check out a drone soaring about their village to take pictures

Then lets talk the scenery. It’s far greener than I expected, full and lush trees, a backdrop for fig trees, termite mounds and crops of corn, sunflowers, okra, beans and rice. The great mountains of Kilimanjaro and Mount Maroo provide a year-round flow of water, fresh from the hills. Then there’s the mighty Serengeti, for which we just scratched the surface of its vast plains, with trips to the Southern, Central and Western Serengeti. Trees that resemble large bonsai trees permeate the landscape, grasslands and savannahs yielding only to the natural wonders of wildlife that call the Serengeti their home. Giant grey rocks erect amidst the yellows and greens, home to lions, just like in the lion king.

The magnificent national parks of Arusha, Tarangire and Manyara offer a different landscape. I was lucky enough to visit Manyara, with its lake the centre piece to a park of tree climbing lions, rich fauna and dusty roads. The sun sets low over the Rift Valley, relenting only to the hills and the occasional cloud yielded by the month of July.

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Baby baboon in the Serengeti

Then there is Ngorogoro Crater, a former volcanic mountain that collapsed millions of years ago and gave respite and a home to an array of Africa’s finest wildlife. You descend deep into the crater through winding paths that grip the crater’s walls, mountainous roads that lead you to the crater’s base for the chance to spot the wildlife in the world’s most concentrated population of predators in the world.

Outside of the National Parks you’ll find a mix of highways (with maximum speed limit of 50 km per hour) and dusty dirt roads, for which a 4×4 is essential and whose drivers and passengers are rewarded with a ‘Tanzanian massage’ – in others words, it’s more than a little bumpy! But the bumps don’t matter – hakuna Matata – for as you pass every vehicle and find yourself opening and closing the window to avoid the plume of dust and smoke that each passing truck emits, you remember you’re in Tanzania, and you’re on your way to the greatest natural wildlife spectacle on earth, the Great Migration.

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Our trusted jeep that helped us navigate the ‘massages’ of the bumpy dirt roads

As you round the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater, you spot what looks like a beautiful lake, this time with herds of Zebra and Wilderbeest roaming the water’s edge, yet our guide informs us that this ‘lake’ is new, and is in fact a result of the downpours of April and May, which have given rise to a new natural lake which already attracts the attention of Ngorogoro’s wildlife. To the left of this new natural wonder lies a Maasai village, recognisable with its huts with walls made of cow pat and mud, thatched roofs and a flimsy, wooden fencing surrounding the village, to deter the hyenas and lions from paying a visit.

Beyond these places you’ll find villages with outdoor toilets, or holes in the ground, cordoned off by towels and old linen, to maintain privacy. Half finished houses, partially built, are commonplace, alongside people wearing brightly coloured clothes and slogan t-shirts, bought second-hand from the market without understanding what the slogans mean or what trend they are embracing.

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The village women drinking banana beer

Arusha even has a nightclub or two, one of which is owned by a Maasai with several wives to call his own. Maasai culture commonly grants men the privilege of at least two or three wives, and inside the huts are one or two bedrooms, darkened clay rooms and slabs of concrete to lay your head. When children hit their teenage years, the Maasai must build a hut of their own for their children.

As part of our tour we were lucky enough to meet several women, whom are trained as engineers and partnering with G-Adventures and National Geographic to deliver a local Clean Cookstove project to the village communities. The team are working to build chimneys inside these people’s huts, so that smoke from cooking and boiling water can escape into the outside world, rather than choke its inhabitants inside the hut and continue to devastate the health and lifespan of many Maasai men, women and children.

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Maasai farmers herd their goats 

After a quick demonstration of the chimney’s function inside the huts, for which we had to duck and breathe in to fit, we went outside to chat with the Maasai women and watch the Maasai children take a break from school. A fellow traveller in our group had brought along a camera drone, to film the expanse of the village from above, as part of a freelance project commissioned by G-Adventures to promote our National Geographic Journey and help raise awareness of the Clean Cookstove programme.

The drone brought much attention amidst the village, and we watched in awe as children and adults alike danced with joy, giggled and smiled as they watched it fly above their heads. A couple of children took the opportunity to run away from the drone, slightly unnerved and yet still intrigued by the arrival of modern technology in their village. Yet other children, in other villages, knew to swipe our i-phones to check the pictures we had just been permitted to take of them. Tanzania is a contradiction in that sense. There is no sign of technology in some of these villages, and yet the inhabitants all know how to use it, from the visitors and tourism they cater for.

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Crocodile meets ducks!  They disappeared on the way back (and Croc had his mouth shut!!!)

So what of the food? It’s actually pretty good. Lots of stews, stir fries, meat and rice. Spinach is a common and tasty vegetable and picnic lunch boxes reward hungry safari tourists with boiled eggs, chicken, fruit juice and sandwiches, as well as snacks of nuts, fruit (always a banana) and popcorn. We were lucky enough to eat lunch outside at the Mwo To Mah village one day, cooked by a local mother. We feasted on coconut and pilau rice, okra and beef curry, beans, aubergine, polenta, roti, fresh chilli, salad, sardines and plantain and potato stew.

Soups kicked off many an evening meal, with a bizarrely very tasty hot banana soup proving to be one of my favourites, alongside other contenders of spinach, butternut, courgette and lentil. Then breakfast would always offer bread, eggs and meat if you wanted it. Tea and coffee, excellent local coffee, always punctuated our mornings alongside fresh juice and the occasional avocado thrown in. Cheap local wine was actually quite tasty and the local beers of Kilimanjaro, Serengeti and Safari would quench thirst better than that of the local speciality, banana beer.

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Birds chase their prey too!  This unfortunate cricket succumbed to this noisy fella who woke me up each morning in Manyara

Three for three then, great landscape, great food and great people, and of course, that something extra special, the wildlife. Let’s talk then about the wildlife, and the reality of our safari experience. Let me take a moment to share one of my most amazing travel experiences, and to allow you to gain some insight into the way in which nature bestowed upon us some wonderful sights.

Our first magical moment came in Manyara, when we stumbled upon several elephants, hanging out by the side of the road. It looked like four generations from the various sizes and alliances amidst the herd. We took our time soaking up the magic of seeing these creatures up close, munching on food and sauntering slowly to greet each other, as a giraffe took a wander past the trees in the back drop of the scenery.

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Zebra – mum and child

Hippos came next, as our driver, Stefan, drove through water (in a Tanzanian duck tour like moment!) to get us close enough to spot several of these giant creatures, chilling out in the water, resembling rocks save for the emergence of pink rimmed eyes and the occasional yawn that warranted lifting a head above water for a moment. Magnificent.

Manyara also permitted us moments with monkeys, a zebra mother and its nursing child, the first of many wildebeest we’d see and of course, those truly wonderful elephants. We would learn later that in Ngorogoro, there’s an area called the Elephant Graveyard, where elderly elephants go to die. It’s a place with soft grass, which makes it easier for those elephants with few to no teeth, to munch until their last tooth leaves them and they fall victim to the graveyard.

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A vulture and an unlucky rabbit

Early on in our safari drive to the Serengeti, we came across the Dik Dik and learned of its suicidal behaviour when its mate passes away. These creatures mate for life, and when one passes on, the other is known to either starve itself or intentionally head into the path of predators.

The long grass of Serengeti’s plains at times make it hard to spot the camouflaged wildlife, but fortune and luck was bestowed upon us. Post hyena spot (which I’ll admit I initially thought was a lion, given its sandy appearance and immersion, hidden in the grass plains), and we stumbled upon four lionesses. A couple took a moment to wander down the road, right past our car, one wearing a collar, put there by rangers, to track the pride for this particular lioness was the leader of the pack.

My heart leapt into my mouth as I watched the lioness saunter slowly past our car. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” I heard myself say under my breath as others voiced it. We couldn’t believe it, how incredibly brazen this lioness was as she shimmied on, intently looking through the grass with her expert eye. A truly special moment, and unbeknownst to us at that time, the first of many in the Serengeti, rounded off nicely with a Serengeti sunset that inflamed the sky with orange and pink.

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A first glimpse of a very big cat!

Day two of our Serengeti visit and we headed out for a day-long game drive, keeping windows up initially to avoid the tsetse flies that terrorise buffalos and humans alike. Crocodiles and baboons were the first to say hi that day, hovering in and around one of Serengeti’s waterways amidst the swamp area. Our crocodile was sat still with its mouth open, next door to a bird that had precariously decided to take a moment of respite next to Mr Croc. We drove off shortly after, returning a little later to notice that the croc’s mouth was shut and the bird gone – who knows for sure what happened there.

Along our way, we came across a two lionesses and a male lion in the distance. The male was laying down between two bushes, chilling as the two lionesses moved slowly through the long grass. They were on the prowl, and despite binoculars and a long camera lens, it took a while to spot the object of their affections. Suddenly, there they were, two lone and vulnerable gazelle, obliviously wandering amidst the grasslands. They looked a little dazed and most definitely confused.

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At the top of the Serengeti!

“It’s the long grass” Patrick explained “they get confused about where to go.” They need not worry for long however, as within moments the gazelle had disappeared and in the distance we could see the lionesses carrying one each in their mouths, then sitting down amidst the grasslands for breakfast. The kill was swift, gone in a moment. Lions are smart and go for the neck. They are not in the sport of killing for fun and there’s a practicality to nature that despite the apparently barbarism, is somehow fitting. They hunt for food and that’s it, job done.

Our guide, Patrick, announced then that we were going on the hunt for something elusive. “Leopard!” we all shouted gleefully and he smiled wryly with a maybe. A leopard sighting was on my bucket list since Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, where there’s a 20% chance of spotting one, considered one of the highest probabilities for leopard sighting in the world. Sadly we’d been in the 80% category that day, so here in Tanzania, I was desperate for another shot at seeing a leopard, much like those ever elusive Northern Lights.

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The elusive leopard makes an appearance

Our luck was in, though our first leopard sighting was distant, and it was hard to spot in the distance as the leopard was up a tree, camouflaged with the other branches. We watched for a good while, trying to take in the fact we were lucky enough to see it, permeated however with some slight disappointment that it was far away and hard to see. We were ready to take it for what it was and move on with our hunt, when suddenly the leopard jumped down and headed into the grasslands on the other side of the tree, the wrong side. The entirely opposite side of where we were.

Frustrated that the leopard had now moved on even further away, Stefan, our driver, sprung into action and suddenly our jeep was on the move again and we were darting round as quickly as possible to the other side of the tree which wasn’t exactly near given Serengeti’s road plan. Within minutes we were the other side and one of the first jeeps to park up, trying once again to spot the elusive leopard.

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Magnificent elephants

As my 400mm lens scanned the landscape, so did our guide’s binoculars. It wasn’t very long before we had it in our sights again, and to our absolute delight, it was steadily moving towards our jeep and the road. Over the next twenty minutes or so, we watched, completely enamoured as our elusive leopard sprung out from its hide away and granted us a truly once in a lifetime moment as we spotted this rare celebrity sighting in the wild African world. Finally, in a moment almost reminiscent of the lion king, the leopard stood up on a rock and looked out upon the world, and us.

Next came a pair of vultures, feeding on a dead rabbit, then the graceful giraffes, going about their day and munching their way along a path from tree to tree. We stopped for lunch, in the middle of the Serengeti, in a picnic area and watched as tablecloths were pulled out over the stone tables, alongside a thermos of tea and one of coffee. We joked that we were surely not in a particularly safe place just because we were in the middle of the Serengeti and someone had thought to call the area ‘picnic area’ but hakuna matata – we were not to be worried.

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One of the many species of antelope in the Serengeti – sadly one of the bottom of the food chain

We went in twos down a pathway to use a restroom, and we joked that a search party with guns would be needed if we didn’t return quickly. We giggled our way to the bathrooms, laughing maddeningly at the craziness of wandering through the Serengeti to go to the restroom. We jumped back in the jeep then, and not more than 5 minutes into our drive, pretty close to our picnic space, we spotted another lioness, laying down and panting with her eyes shut, at the side of the road. She had a full tummy, and looked almost sick from overeating. But what had she eaten?

After several minutes watching her and realising she couldn’t actually move given how stuffed she was, we decided to venture on. Not more than a hundred meters or so down the road did we find her lunch, a bloodied and skeletal Eland, the largest breed of antelope in the Serengeti. Fresh prey it seemed, and we glanced up only to be completely taken back by a male lion, sat next to its prey, chilling out under a tree, guarding his lunch and moving with lethargy, as if he too, had over indulged. So here we were in the real world, witnessing this circle of life.

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Graceful giraffe

We spent a good half an hour watching the scene, which was like something out of National Geographic. A male lion, chilling under a tree, post feasting, with his prey sat beside him. The lion was alert to scavengers – hyenas and vultures that might be on the prowl, but equally he was chilled out, enjoying the sun and satisfaction of a full tummy. We learnt how lions only kill to eat, and when they are full they do not further harm, whereas other animals, like the hyena (one of the ‘ugly five’ as they say in Africa), kill for sport or harass other wildlife to steal their leftovers. These clever lions were beautiful to watch. No doubt they had hunted in a pack to be able to take down this large species of antelope.

High on a morning of the elusive leopard and an early afternoon of a male lion (whom we liked to call Mufasa) and lioness post their lunch and ours, we made our wade to the Cheetah Project and Research Centre, part of a series of institutions inside the National Park, used to track and monitor the populations of animals and support their continued survival and ability to thrive in the Serengeti. We learnt that there are estimated to be just circa 50 cheetahs in the parklands of Serengeti, with more likely in the woods, where they shy away from humans. Despite many cheetah cubs being born each year, fewer than 5% of them make it to adulthood, due to predator action and human interference.

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Hyena – one of the ugly five

With such a small number of cheetahs roaming the park, we had appropriate levels of expectation around what we might see yet once again, we struck lucky. First, a cheetah lay under a tree, chilling in the shade and welcoming trucks to come and take a look. This creature, the fastest animal on land, and the easiest of the cat family to tame, is solitary where female and moves with one or two companions if male. We found a lone female to start.

As we began our drive away from cheetah territory, we came across a second cheetah up a tree, just like you see them in photos, looking majestically out towards the savannah. We drew up closer and watched him jump down, only to realise there was a second, his brother lying on the grass below. Then we saw affection. The first cheetah went to greet his brother, and before long they were nuzzling noses and licking each others face, one stood atop the other, with humanistic expressions of love. As the greeting completed, the pair stood up and wandered off in perfect unison, out into the savannah, their spots prevalent at first but slowly merging amidst the colours of Africa’s grasslands.

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Lioness in a food coma – post lunch nap time!

From cheetahs to something altogether different. This beast however was a buffalo that bizarrely resembled Donald Trump. One horn broken, it sat with a Donald like look to his hair and horns, and we all had a good giggle at the resemblance.

Our final brush with the Serengeti’s big cats however was for that of 3 more lionesses, sat beneath a tree. One was on alert, and quickly began to move from the tree towards the jeeps that lay in wait, and across to the other side of the road and into the grasslands. She has spotted more gazelle, a couple of solitary ones, and we watched her for a good half an hour as she just slowly got a little nearer, sat, waited and watched.

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A buffalo… or Donald Trump?

In parallel to the lioness’ gazelle watch, in the distance a male lion began to saunter across the grass, towards another shaded tree. He sat himself down with a perfect view of hundreds of gazelle that had been grazing peacefully. The gazelle had speed however, where the lion has smarts, and they quickly scattered away to a safe place, save for one loan gazelle that seemed to get a little lost and confused. We watched, hearts sinking with the inevitable but also pounding at the prospect of what we might witness, as a true spectacle of nature, and at one point the gazelle was literally stood in the lion’s line of sight. “No, get out of there” we cried from our jeeps, then watched in wonder as the lion simply let him be. Perhaps still full, from an earlier dinner.

As we departed the Serengeti for our drive to Ngorogoro Crater, where we would overnight on the rim in the town of Karatu, we watched dozens of zebra move across the plains, the herd migrating towards the north of the Serenegti, as they always do. Treacherous times lay ahead for these zebra, as in a matter of days they would find themselves crossing the northern rivers, battling strong currents, rocks and crocodiles, whilst lions and hyenas lay also in wait. They shook their heads in a sign that we came to know meant they were thirsty, and one took to the ground, rolling on its back and having a sand bath. We silently wished these graceful creatures the best of luck for their journey. Not all would come home.

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A male lion guards its prey

As night fell we spent an evening as group and with our guides, laughing at stories. Patrick told of one tour group he’d been running, where a pair of twins had daily night terrors, and would wake up screaming in their tents every night out on safari. Inevitably people had been shaken, assuming an animal had gotten into the camp, but this pair simply had terrorising dreams. He laughed retrospectively at the absurdity, but clearly it had been a challenge.

He had other stories too. One of camping in a tent with a buffalo outside, and he had cut his way out of the tent as the buffalo can do real damage, charging with their horns. Another time he’d been solo camping, when a lion had decided to take respite from the rain under the same ledge as Patrick’s tent, and Patrick had sat in the corner of his tent, observing the lion’s shadow outside and listening to his heavy breathing for several hours before he had finally ventured off. Finally, there was a tale of Patrick saving a woman, who had got up from her tent in the middle of the night and totally not noticed a lion stood by the restrooms. Patrick had been forced to shout out to her, as she had half sleepily wandered towards the toilets, oblivious to her four-legged neighbour.

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Beautiful male lion

Stefan and Patrick shared other stories too, of their home town and Tanzanian dating. “You ask one woman out for dinner” Stefan said “and she brings 8 of her mates along too, and you have to pay for them all”. Patrick nodded in agreement “oh that does happen”. It seems that this is a test of male spirit, to see how they react, before a second solo date can be earned.

Dozens of wildebeest grace the Ngorogoro Crater floor, alongside ostrich, flocks of flamingos, who soar above the lake with beautiful pink tones punctuating the blue sky, and hippos hang in the water, getting out of the water save only to meander to another water hole. We watched them yawn, and spin round in the water to get themselves wet and muddy. Birds landed on their backs and the hippos took little notice at all, offering a perfect perch.

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At the top of Ngorogoro Crater

In the far, far distance we got out 5th of the big 5. A black rhino, truly a dying breed, was taking a walk amidst the grass. It was pretty far out, and difficult to spot, but looking closely enough it’s trademark rhino horn was visible and alas, alongside Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and other big 5 we got our big 5.

The near final show of the day was yet another pride of lions, this time around a dozen of them, sat on the foothills of the crater, feasting on a dead buffalo. To bring down a buffalo, these dozen or so lions would have worked together – it’s not an easy task and teamwork would have been key. They were however richly rewarded, for a buffalo offers huge portions of meat for its hunter. These lions were quick to guard their prey, sitting up and looking to the skies when vultures began to soar overhead; these lions would not give up their kill without a fight.

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Brotherly (cheetah) love

Finally, a young adult male lion made his way down the hillside to be greeted by a lioness who proceeded to nuzzle his next and give him kisses, in what was a wonderfully moving moment of affection and love. With this warm feeling in our hearts from the display once again from these lions, we made our way past several huge herds of wildebeest and zebra, and onwards through the elephant graveyard. Hakuna matata.

So that is Tanzania, my first East African experience. A far richer, more amazing week than I ever could have imagined. There was little downtime, but in a sense, the pace of wildlife watching yielded plenty of opportunities to put things into perspective. Alongside the realisation of how so many people are living in Africa, happily so, plus the natural wonder of the wildlife world and its circle of life, and finally the news of not one but two deaths back home, seemed to provide a much needed point of clarity. Given everything we know of London and our lives there, really, we should indeed have no worries. Hakuna matata.

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Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 24, 2018

Destination East Africa

Dubai bound for a connecting flight, I am on my way to Africa. This trip will mark my fourth encounter with the continent, with past trips to Egypt, South Africa and Morocco each offering me great memories. Yet, Tanzania, my destination, feels like my first proper encounter with Africa, as this time I am heading out to grass plains to embrace sheer wilderness and take a moment to listen to the sounds of the wild. East Africa is a version of Africa I am yet to meet. If Northern Africa’s Egypt and Morocco assaulted my senses and South Africa made me fall in love will rolling green hills of vineyards and dramatic coastlines, then the Serengeti of the East will surely be a different kind of love.

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A previous encounter with North Africa – Marrakech, April 2015

This is the first time that I have been sat still for some while. The familiar hum of the plane silences my thoughts and I am drawn to blog again. I am sat in business class, very fortunately. I booked myself an economy fare to Africa and for the first time ever, was upgraded at the gate, my name called out and a subtle new ticket placed in my hand quietly so as not to annoy the other passengers. I’m so incredibly grateful for it after a very hectic week and rushing around to get to this vacation.

It’s my first time in business class with Emirates and I’ve heard so many good things, which all appear to be true. I have my own seat bar and I’ve been browsing the cocktail menu longingly. This is how every holiday should start.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve been airside. The peace of a plane is most welcome, following a frenetic couple of months. Work has been demanding and there are so many plates to be spun right now as we try and shift things that are overdue a shift, and I’ve been fatigued by the struggle of it all. The plates are not the most engaging kind, and so my arms have grown tired with the weight of their unrewarding spin. A holiday is most definitely needed to provide some space and reflection. Life has also been busy, a series of train journeys north and south the river, weddings, the world cup, friends, family – it all places a demand on time and I am excited at the prospect of going off grid for several days.

You cannot get much more off grid of course, than the Serengeti. My trusted SLR accompanies me and I’ve rented a spectacularly beautiful 100-400 lens. I’m hungry to get lost in the moment, to be mindful for nothing but the wildlife ahead of me as I finally get to witness the great migration. I’m armed with a blank notebook, some books and some thoughts. This trip is just for me.   It’s a selfish solo trip, to remind me that I am still in control and can do the things that I want to do, just because I want to.

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Heading up Table Mountain, South Africa, April 2014

A recent coaching session, as part of my executive leadership development programme, saw my coach challenging when the last time was that I mapped out my five year plan, both professionally and personally. It’s not something I’ve done for quite some time, but in our 90 minute session she made it clear that so many people my age, at my stage of career and life, need to take time to map it out. It’s pivotal, to see where life and career collide, to establish quickly if it’s small bump or a great collision that will disrupt our ability to obtain those things we want.

So that’s my goal, to get lost in the Serengeti.   Well, not lost in the savannah but lost in my thoughts, in my plans. To figure out what it is I am still chasing. To stop and take a moment to realise that my plans can’t always be to chase another place, another experience, but to maybe establish some actual roots. To see if I really do want to take that first rung on the property ladder and if so, where? To figure out whether the changes I’m chasing in work are going to yield the rewards I am after.

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Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park – where my thirst for an African safari began

I’ve been feeling a bit more stressed than usual of late, no doubt with a holiday being overdue but I know that I’ve also felt a little powerless at the will of work and life to come and bring something to me I’m waiting for. I’m impatient sometimes, and this trip is my way of taking the reigns again and owning my own destiny. I want to take a moment to figure out how to get back in the driving seat, how to take control of the uncontrollable and how long to wait for the wheel to fall back into my hands.

We live in an in demand world, where we are always on. It can be exciting, enthralling and yet exhausting and suffocating too. This hedonistic London life is a constant game of yin and yang and I’m excited at the prospect of just having moments to stop, empty my head and think. I can’t think of a better place to do it.

A safari has been on my list since I toured Sri Lanka and had a brief taster at Yala National Park, but mostly from the stories of those friends I made on that trip who had done their own safari. The stories of chasing leopards, sunrises and sunsets, elephants charging and lions on the prowl captured my imagination and now, here I am, on my way to East Africa.

I shall connect for my onward flight to Kilimanjaro at Dubai airport, before touching down in Tanzania on Monday morning. I will transfer to Arusha, where I get to chill for the day and hang by the pool, take a wander into the village and see the local life and the foothills of the great Mount Kilimanjaro, before the fun really starts on Tuesday morning. We’ll head out to Lake Manyara, then onwards to the Serengeti and finally, Ngorogoro Crater. Five days of safari before we round off back in Arusha.

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In Cape Town, South Africa, April 2014

I’m on a National Geographic Journeys tour, the third solo group tour I’ve taken on in the last four years, and I’m hoping for just as great an experience. Travel has made me happy for so many years, as has photography, and it’s something I won’t ever stop, but I do feel a need to balance that with other things now, with a routine and London life that’s just as rewarding, and perhaps a little less hectic, a little more grounded.

I remember when I was on my way to Cape Town, and I stopped in Johannesburg where a guy I’d been sat next to and talking to the whole flight, was transferring to Botswana for a safari in the rains, amidst the waterways there. I got some sense of the idea to head out on safari on that flight, but it felt so alien to me then, and that was only four short years ago. East Africa felt like another place entirely, so very different to everything I had learnt to know and love in London. I’m a city girl, who grew up with holidays in caravan parks and long weekends in B&Bs in Swanage, how could I end up travelling solo to East Africa?

Yet time passes by and we continue to evolve. So East Africa awaits and I’m taking another chance to experience something new in life. I’m ready for my chance at the Big Five and excited at the prospect of meeting new people on the tour and capturing new memories to last a lifetime. So destination East Africa, let’s see what you have in store for me.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | June 19, 2018

Here I Am

It’s a rare Saturday where I’ve had no plans, except the purposeful plan of not having plans today. These past few weeks have been hectic as ever, and I’ve just returned from a ten-day trip Stateside, a mix of work and pleasure. So, here I am, wine in hand and reflections to share. It’s been so long since I blogged, but I’ve felt the desire to anchor back to it these past few days, sparked by memories of things I’ve always loved.

Such a memory rang true this week, as I stood bleary eye, post red eye flight and severely jet lagged, at Wembley Arena to see Bryan Adams on Wednesday night. Stupidly, I had booked the trip before planning to head to the US, and because this is me, I decided to make the transatlantic flight back to arrive for a bit of the ‘Groover from Vancouver.’ So, here I am, or there I was, Wednesday evening when that flash of memory came back. That love of these songs, these moments, those things I don’t do enough of these days. So here I am, blogging again, inspired by Bryan and his talk of new worlds, new starts, new days and new plans.

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Jordanian desserts… no rivers in sight…

Ah, plans. That same old thing. Those expectations and ideas we generate in life, those moments when we say we’re not planning but then we find ourselves making compromises and exceptions. We delay just to see if plans come to be. We find a thousand reasons to move our plans, but we struggle to actually change them.

So here I am, thinking about the very concept of plans. Of making new ones. Of addressing that wheel of life once again, trying to bring some balance back to things that are out of kilter of late. Of trying to stop my own procrastination and recognising it as a symptom of my own fears that plans may not come to be and I may well need to mix them up again.

In contemplating the need to mix things up again, this week, I decided to take some control back again. That age old adage of if you don’t ask, you don’t get, rang true to me as I stood heavily fatigued at the gig on Wednesday and frankly, a little exhausted from a mental few months of work and life. I want a break, and to do something for me.

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Awaiting Africa…

Come Thursday, I spoke frankly with my boss and asked to take some leave, just a couple of weeks, to get me back on track, a chance to rest my body and my mind. I explained how there’s a trip I want to take, that I’ve been postponing because of other plans that hack away at my annual leave balance. I talked of the desire I’ve had to see the big five in the wild. Of photography, safari and the solace of Tanzanian plains. Of my desperate need for that quiet, technology free zone of the world. Of nature and of reflective space. She agreed, easily, and offered the wisdom that I was doing the right thing to control what I need right now.

So today I’ll admit, I’ve spent a fair chunk of time reading and researching Tanzania, figuring out do-ability for this Summer trip. In between, I took a walk around West Hampstead, my lovely North West London hideaway I call home. I ventured through streets I haven’t wandered for some time, enjoying the beauty of the day and streaming songs I haven’t played since I packed away my CD player some years ago. Taking time to sit with myself and the various conflicts I find myself swaying between, focusing on ways to ensure the yin and the yang of my world can restore.

It takes constant effort to keep yin and yang in step. To continually drive forward, taking hold of the things we want in life and being careful not to get complacent, not to allow status quo to become an excuse for not changing things for the chance of something better. I’ve held the concept of exploring dearly for a number of years now, and when I find myself conflicted and uncertain, I take moments to just explore pathways, figuratively or in practice, as exploration simply yields more insight upon which to make a decision. It’s a safe place to reconcile from.

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Costa Rican Rivers

I am exploring a little at the moment, some unexpected opportunities and some ideas of my own. I remember, so clearly, how amazing my Summer 2011 American and Canadian tour was, and I recall being sat by a lake in Ottawa, just finding a sense of calm and peace in my figurative exploration of what my return to London might bring. Perhaps the Tanzanian plains will help guide me in a similar way.

My US trip concluded last week with the final presentation of a project I’ve been working on since January, as part of our Executive Leadership Development programme. I find myself enjoying the moment of relief – the moment of knowing that this particularly hectic phase of work is over, and that I can spend time thinking and reflecting once again. I’ve ignored the need to reflect a bit of late, getting caught up in the daily need to do, to act, to be something and someone to so many people and places, so the opportunity to stop is one I indeed cherish.

I do feel a bit out of control, right now, but past practice tells me it may need a simple nudge or two to get me back on track. That self-recognition of when I feel out of balance is in itself a huge step forward, to stop and realise when we have edged out of our natural sense of being. We need to know when we are out of step to figure out how to reconcile it.

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Searching for calm waters

So here I am, thinking about the beginning of last year, when I attended one of my friend’s workshops. We spent a weekend lost in the Peak District, finding ourselves in a hidden space. There was one particular exercise – a river – that we drew to represent our life. With each rapid and waterfall, there were also moments of tranquillity in our streams, and we took time to reflect on those moments when our ships had sunk and when someone had lent us a hand to get back ashore.

I contemplate my river today. Just a short 18 months or so ago, I’d gone zealously at the task and enjoyed every moment of playback, with a reflective lens on the currents of life. As the Goo Goo Dolls would say, “when you’re drowning in the current you forget how to live” and yet I’ve always tried so hard to keep living. So I wonder what my river looks like today – I feel it parting in different ways. I feel it speeding up and yet slowing down at the very same time, and there’s a sense of impatience for me to swim to the other side. I want to get onto that boat that sails away silently, peacefully, into a calm set of waters, yet I feel myself dragged through currents that have juxtaposed ideas.

My question of course to myself, is how do I start to paddle again? How do I start to override those currents and take control back over those things that have been slowly pulling me, letting me drift in directions the navigator in me would rather avoid. I feel a need to captain my path, to define the waters upon which I am happy to tread and to take some control back of my ship. I control the compass of my life and it’s time I levelled my intentions.

Day one of taking back control is creating space and time in a set of waters I can call my own. They have said that true healing occurs when you give permission to yourself to feel whatever feelings live below their triggers – and it’s the same for true clarity – clarity can come from space and time and permitting ourselves to actually stop and think about those things blurring our vision, creating a depth of field to our lens to see beyond the debris once again.

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The Dead Sea – like life – sinking is not an option

Space and time shall be plentiful in Tanzania. My Serengeti adventure this July is a masterful place. There will be few rivers – save for those treacherous zones that the wildebeest shall find themselves crossing. Much like life, it’s a game of obstacles, of triumph and tragedy, with crocodiles lying in wait and lions across the banks for those that make it through. There’s a cruelty to nature – to the very concept of the migration itself, driven by survival to find water, find solace, follow the sources of food, yet these creatures, they keep going. Year on year, despite setback upon setback, they keep going, keep migrating, keep swimming.

So here I am, keeping swimming. Currents may be strong and I may be drifting, but I remain above water and excited for the gift of space and time, for African desert plains and a migration that’ll remind me how to cross rivers once again.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | June 2, 2018

A Different Story…

It’s a Sunday in late November and I find myself a little under four hours from landing in Chicago where I will pick up a connecting flight to Nashville. It’s a long old day of travel, and I’m already missing London a little, but there’s a tinge of excitement too as I reminisce. It’s been some six years since Hesn and I hung out in the Honkytonks of Tennessee and I find myself twiddling with my guitar key ring and bottle opener that I picked up back in 2011, proudly emblazoned with the word Nashville. I realise that I’ve been working back in the music industry for a little over five years now, and this is my first work visit to the home of country music!

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Chicago sunsets

This is my last business trip of 2017 and with that thought I breathe a little sigh of relief. It’s been another hectic year of travel, and I realise that I’ve not had a full week off work since March this year, and even then, that was on a crazy one-week trip to Australia via Los Angeles.  Sure, there’s been some breaks, but nothing more than two or three days off at time and my mini break to the lake house in Poland this Summer was constantly interrupted by an acquisition we were working on. Suddenly, I am hankering towards Christmas a little bit on my knees, but with huge excitement for the festive period and everything 2018 has to offer.

I only got back from the States two weeks ago after a two-week trip that took in Los Angeles, San Diego and New York, mostly for work with one weekend of play in the Californian sun. My colleagues and I, “stuck” in California for a weekend in between a second week of workshops in New York, had originally planned to try for a visit to Napa Valley, but then some late Summer forest fires put paid to that idea and so San Diego beckoned us instead, via a late Friday night Amtrak train, just like our 2011 rail adventures.

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Super Bowl nights, NYC, January 2018

I realise that in the last three weeks I’ve been reliving my Summer of 2011 a little, with return visits to San Diego and now, Nashville. I think back to that Summer, to where I was in life and mindset and maturity. Back then those trips bought me freedom. They gave me time and space and perspective. They bought me an opportunity to work through a million things that seemed to creep up upon me and gravitate towards any ability I had to anchor to the ground. Looking back, I am not so sure now that they were such big things it seems after all, but I’d had to process and figure it all out. I’d had to spend time working myself out and my patterns of behaviour and triggers.

It’s a little ironic to think that back then, my process of figuring things out was sparked by an extraordinarily unhealthy work life balance. Interestingly, just this past week I realised that I’ve found a way to have work and life integrate, that maybe the need to balance is less so when the work we do is something we want to integrate into our lives. When work like this, travel and music and international colleagues, make that blend manageable, heck maybe even desirable.

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Reindeer Selfies, Dec 18, Tromso

This is the first of two work trips to Nashville for me, and sadly there are no direct flights from London to this fast growing city until Spring next year. I’ll be back then, via New York next time, in January, for the second residential part of our executive leadership programme that I’m working through with another fantastic 30 or so delegates. I’m back to doing homework for the programme, and have been working through some pretty insightful personality profiling and emotional intelligence (EQ) tools. Interestingly, all data is pointing towards a suggestion that I am resilient, and I can’t help but smile and thank my muse for that, for just six short years ago that would no doubt have been a very different story.

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Nashville nights – the ladies of WMG’s Exec Leadership Programme – Jan 2018

So what of this different story these days? Some things they remain the same, some things I guess they’re more new. I’m still travelling lots and that’s pretty much the same, but I find myself wanting more and more opportunities to sample further flung places and territories I’d never previously have contemplated. I am working through the process of ticking off some must dos, and it seems I am blogging a lot less of late, as the need to write as a means of reflection has become less so, as personal reflection has become a natural part of my day-to-day thought process.

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Honky Tonkin’t – Nashville Nights, Nov 18

I’ll be in Nashville for just three short nights, before I make the long, indirect journey home. Landing back this Thursday, I’ll be unpacking to repack, ready for a long weekend of fun and adventuring in Tromso, Norway as I make my second attempt at seeing the Northern Lights. Hopefully this time, there’ll be no hurricane (thanks Iceland!) and our decision to take on an arctic stay in the middle of the wilderness shall bring a peace and tranquillity and most importantly, I hope some clear skies for shades of green to dance in the twilight. My tripod shall be at the ready and I hope our efforts to venture north with my SLR shall be rewarded with some much desired Northern Lights dazzle. Maybe they’ll show up this time, so I can tell a different story.

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Smashville, private box, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN

So after just a few days of workshops in the US this week, I’ll be back and well and truly on the Christmas countdown. Just four short weeks lie between us all and the festive season. This year, I am rewarding myself with a 10-day holiday just after Christmas, to celebrate this New Year amidst the toucans, sloths and white-faced monkeys of Costa Rica’s jungle as I discover my 36th new country. Then next year, I’ll be swinging back to the Middle East, with a long overdue jaunt to Jordan for some Dead Sea adventures, Petra reflection, dessert sleeps in Wadi Rum and Red Sea snorkelling.

So same desire to travel, but different Middle Eastern, Nordic and Central American adventures. Same Nashville, yet it’s now one of the fastest growing cities in the US and instead of passing through alongside a trip to Graceland, I’m swinging by our offices for workshops and some ice hockey at the Bridgestone Arena this Tuesday.

So same places, different story, different me.

 

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 5, 2017

Sitting idle in wonderment of today

It’s Summer today, allegedly, though the grey skies to date have been hiding that fact. I am idly sat by a fresh log fire in a lake house about an hour south of Gdansk in Poland, watching for the first time this week blue skies and sunshine shining through the window but there’s a cold wind so I am finding respite and warmth here indoors to the smell of burning wood and the crackle of acorns.

It’s been some time since I blogged, but the peace and tranquillity of this lake house commands me to write. I don’t often make space to think and idly wonder these days, so I find myself sat mindfully enjoying the flames. There’s something uncomfortable yet comfortable about this place. As a city girl, the wilderness always pushes me to a place that is unnatural to me, yet I like to push myself into zones of discomfort from time to time.

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The slow pace of being sat here is somewhat enforced. I’ve managed to pull a muscle in my calf for the second time in three weeks, or rather, I’ve managed to set back the recovery I was making from the first injury when I pushed my calf a step or two too far yesterday by walking up a steep incline to get to this lake house. I felt my calf ping in a twist of irony that was not unlike the final snap I had felt arriving here in Poland a few short nights ago. That final snap, when after a long and tiring journey and one of the more stressful weeks I’ve had at work in a long time, was the mere fact that I couldn’t find towels in our hotel room when all I had wanted was a hot shower to wash off a stressful day and week.

It got me thinking, this week, how I used to suffer too many of those stressful weeks and how fortunate I’ve been of late for those days to have subsided. It’s been a painful reminder of the days when weekends and evenings were swallowed by work, and the ill timing of the demands upon my time this week at work with my ‘holiday’ have taken me back some years. Thankfully, it’s a rare moment these days – working on weekends I mean.

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Yet before I left for Poland on Thursday night, I literally had one of the worst days at work that I’ve had in a long time. A thumping headache and a rush to the airport to barely make my plane after getting stuck longer than planned in the office, I couldn’t wait to touchdown in Poland to chill. Two bits of dreadful news for friends had also permeated my week and when I met up with Cha, finally at Luton airport, she’d had an equally difficult few days.

Thankfully, Cha was my travel buddy once again. Cha, whom I’ve travelled all over the world with, literally, who knows me well and who I know well too, was the perfect buddy to offload upon and she assumed that role of offloading to me also, in equal measure. So when we sat there in our hotel room at 1.30am in the morning, and I discovered that there were no towels in the bathroom, she could laugh with me through my tears at the irony of that very straw breaking the back of that damn camel.

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“We will laugh about this one day” we mused, and with that I gave way to a burst of energy that I usually don’t have. “Let’s go out, now, and see the Sopot nightlife”. So we did, until 5am, and we watched the sun come up through gin and tonics and cocktails and we lazed with this laid back Polish vibe, chatting idly through the early hours. Maybe it was adrenaline, or the euphoria of finally escaping the office and the chance to forget some daily stresses for a few hours, but we giggled and chilled through a Polish scene that could have been any normal Saturday afternoon in any normal city.

Sopot by night, what a wonderful place. Despite the rain, the early morning rise of the sun kept the night from ever truly getting dark. There was a buzz to this place, and a slower pace of drinking amidst the different taverns, some still offering food at 4am. Cha and I sipped drinks somewhat slowly, taking in the décor and the European feel. Quiet music played through the background, interspersed with heavy, crazy Polish songs that broke up the stillness and stood juxtaposed to the ambience.

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Perhaps we were letting off steam, but it was what we needed. It was what I needed, with a good friend who knows every part of me and my history. We reminisced on travel stories and we talked about other trips. There are so many places that I still want to go. I often grapple with the temptation to leave it all behind, again, and take off on another trip around the world, but there’s a peace to my London life now and a balance I don’t want to tip, but that feeling, that urge to venture off is always there.

Come Friday, we stopped for food and had our share of Polish offerings, from beetroot soup to cabbage and mushroom pierogi, accompanied by local beers and warm welcomes. We sampled the cuisine with all the might we could muster, determined to have an authentic, local experience when it came to satisfying our appetites.

Whilst I have my SLR with me this weekend, unusually, I have not ventured out with it. I’m taking a new approach to seeing the world and its ways through my own eyes, unobstructed from my camera lens. Memories etched in my mind rather than captured on film. It’s a different way of being for these few short days.

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The door to the lake house has swung open and there’s a cold, sharp air flowing in. It awakens my thoughts, and my feet are a contradiction of warm and cold, with the flames of the log fire battling with the wind. The contradiction is metaphorical; the swings of warmth and the moments of cold. I want the warmth to envelope me, but the cold is a harsh reality and reminder to stay awake to the world and its ways.

There’s a hustle of noise around me, as people come and go through the lake house, playing games and heading out for walks amidst the woodlands. My enforced solace to recover my calf is somewhat welcome, as it gives me a stillness to stop and think and be mindful to the moments around me. It provides a place for restorative reflection. I am able to sit idle in wonderment.

There is talk around me of finding things to be grateful for and mindfulness; others talk of their five year goals. I realise how easy it is to not always stop to be thankful, so I spend some moments here, listening to the click and crack of the flames burning, being thankful for things around me. I also stop and realise that I have, to some extent, stopped planning of late, that the idea of a five year plan has become absent in my mid-thirties world.

I am thankful therefore that I have stopped planning, that I’ve started letting things evolve, but I do wonder sometimes if a bit of focus, like my twenty-something self, might render more reward. Life is easier to plan in few months to year-long bursts of late. It is rare that I find moments, like these, to sit idle with my thoughts and map out my path. Perhaps I plan less of late, so as to avoid the disappointment of plans not coming to fruition. Perhaps it is easier to sit idle in wonderment of today. Perhaps even more so, it’s easier to sit idle in the wonderment of yesterday.

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Yet as I do indeed sit idle, by the fire that still crackles on, I try to envisage tomorrow. I think that perhaps I stopped envisaging tomorrow for a good while, too cautious to hope that tomorrow might turn out the way I planned. A caution that I never had in my younger years, but which life slowly teaches you to hold. It’s that fine balance of hoping for the best but protecting ourselves in case of the worse, so the wonderment of tomorrow is a mix of excitement and caution, joy and trepidation, possibility and impossibilities. Yet tomorrow is something wonderful still, as I’ve the fortune to have a tomorrow.

The power of positive thinking, of seeing and believing, of hoping and knowing is a wonderful thing. I remember, so vividly, in my early twenties, being told by a senior HR leader that I’d make it to HR Director by the time I was thirty, if I held that belief and focused that thought. It didn’t happen when I hit thirty though, but as I hit my thirty-first birthday I secured my current global role. I guess that didn’t really happen by chance. I guess those moments I used to take, sitting idle in wonderment at my five year plan, had some degree of influence. Yet I didn’t plan for the things outside of my career so much, I didn’t plan for the travels or the relationships or the ups or the downs. I didn’t plan for the art, the photography, the blogs and the friendships along the way, they just came swinging by.

Perhaps I should have had more purposeful thought about some of those things a little earlier.  Perhaps I should have listened to inner thoughts a bit sooner, yet I am today here in wonderment at how yesterday has brought me to my today. Today, sat here, log fire burning, classical music playing on the stereo in the most mindful of ways, it’s the perfect back drop to sit idle and wonder once again, about tomorrow. Perhaps the wonderment and fortune of my world was always meant to be reflected upon this very day, sat idly by the fire.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | March 25, 2017

I Wasn’t Expecting That

I haven’t posted a blog for some six months, though that’s not to say I haven’t written them. I wasn’t expecting to slow my blogging or stall my blog publishing. Indeed, in recent months, I found myself blogging three times over, unsurprisingly each on flights, yet I just never got round to posting Own Every Second, Arabian Oceans and Breaking Taboos and Hello 2017. Until now that is.

The past six months have moved with pace, but there’s a contented and calmness to my recent days that is unexpected. I think I finally found my stride. I think I may have finally gotten into the groove that’s been tantilisingly close but somewhat out of reach. I think that I may have finally managed to tip my balance scales evenly, to hold down a successful career, busy social life, family commitments, travel adventures, a relationship and still find time for creative pursuits and passions. I am seeing how far I’ve come and smiling mid-Atlantic as I take on my usual transatlantic commute to New York.

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Stacey and I on the West Coast of the USA, November 2007 – Las Vegas

Today is the first of seven flights over the next three weeks. My touchdown into JFK this evening shall mark a brief visit to our offices in New York, to welcome new members of our HR team and get them onboarded at Warner. I am fortunate to be getting an unexpected free weekend in the States this month, with a full day to myself on Saturday to meander Manhattan and reconnect with Stefani and David on Saturday evening.

Sunday marks an early start and trip west, for my first visit to our offices in Burbank, where I am spending time with the team and being treated to dinner with a colleague and friend on Sunday and a BBQ at another’s on Tuesday evening. This, it seems, is the Californian way to be hospitable.

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Hollywood, August 2011

Jet lag will no doubt be a bitch – West Coast trips always seem to wipe me out, but I am excited at the prospect of Californian sunshine and visits to our offices in Burbank and Santa Monica. Ah, Santa Monica, my first real taste of Los Angeles some ten years ago. Stacey and I arrived on an uncharacteristically cold November’s day, severely jet-lagged (or perhaps, still hungover) following a few days in Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding. We spent an hour or so wandering the Santa Monica Pier, silently berating it for being a rather over hyped version of Brighton Pier and struggling to hold our skirts down in the gusty wind, drinking lukewarm coffee from a polystyrene cup. The Los Angeles we met that year, well, we were not quite expecting that.

That trip though, in 2007, was merely a brief two-day introduction to Los Angeles that took in Santa Monica, Hollywood and Universal Studios – we had little time to do much else. Yet my return visit, in the Summer of 2011, saw me spend some ten days in and around Los Angeles, with Hesn and her family, perfect hosts and guides to share with me their little slice of California. The place grew on me drastically second time around. I wasn’t expecting that.

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Hungover, jet lagged and freezing in Santa Monica, November 2007

So this will be my third visit to Los Angeles, though I haven’t been back for almost six years following my last visit. I am excited, and fortunate to have a Sunday to myself to enjoy the Californian way of life and recharge ahead of a busy week of meetings with our West Coast HR team and business leaders. I think I might just pitch up on a beach somewhere and soak in the very being of Californian life.

I’ll wave goodbye to Los Angeles towards the end of next week. It is then, that I will get to stick my out of office on for a while, as my adventures take me further West still. In a typical, somewhat illogical ‘Nicola’ moment, I have convinced myself that it is totally fine to swing by Australia for a mere nine day visit and holiday, as I am already ‘halfway’ there. Some ‘halfway’ might still be 14 hours from Los Angeles to Brisbane, but it remains logical and obvious to me to make a pit stop on the East Coast of Australia before I head home for the Easter weekend.

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Universal Studios, November 2007

Ah, Brisbane. It was the slice of Australia that I flew home from on my last visit, the final pit stop in a much needed three-week personal journey to gather the strength to take on London life again. I recall leaving Brisbane, and Sonya, behind as I made the epic journey home one mid-January day in early 2015. It’s a little over two years since my last visit, and I didn’t dream to return quite so soon, but stars align sometimes and opportunities arise that we simply cannot pass up. Unexpected but welcome opportunities.

The appropriateness of this return trip, in 2017, to Australia, is not lost on me. It is not something I was expecting, but it feels so very right. My 2015 self left the land down under rejuvenated and restored of hope following a rather epic three-week East Coast adventure, yet even then I was still tentative to step back upon English shores. I recall being sat in Brisbane airport, willing myself to take the strength and contentment that I had felt on that three week Aussie adventure home with me; willing myself to find a way to smile back in London and bring holiday back into my UK life once again.

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Whitsunday sailing – January 2015

It turns out, that Australia was just the kick-start that I needed. It turns out, that my fond 2009 and 2014/15 memories perhaps had more purpose back then than I could have known. How could I have expected that?

It turns out, that I am returning to the East Coast, yet again, in 2017. It turns out that the Whitsundays, where I sailed for a day back in 2009 and where that taster for the seas led me back in 2015 for my first ever dive and the chance to conquer fears amidst the depths of the waters and the corals of the barrier reef, are calling me again. It turns out that in a couple of weeks from now, I’ll be finding myself back in those Whitsundays islands, chilling in a villa, snorkeling, kayaking and mingling with the turtles once again.

I am excited. Australia, to me, has always been a place of the greatest of memories and the most significant of recharges. The Whitsundays, in particular, triggered my love of photography once again and prompted my trip to Marrakech a couple of years ago. Getting lost in the seas and savouring the silence of the ocean is an unexpected gift that I am fortunate enough to be experiencing thrice times over.

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Brisbane – last day in Australia, January 2015

This trip, this Australian adventure to the southern hemisphere is about family and friends this time though. My brief East Coast visit shall be peppered with introductions, homestays, nights out in bars, BBQs and lazy villa days, getting to know and getting to love the nearest and dearest of my unexpected Aussie. I pinch myself that it’s actually happening. My attempts to enjoy family time in the southern hemisphere have not historically always gone to plan, yet this thing, this unexpected thing, is happening.

The sun has risen, and I wasn’t expecting it to shine a path for me back to Australia but we are where we are and I’ll be where I’ll be, and Australia, for me, is calling, once again, just like it did in 2014. Perhaps it was a sign all along, a message, however unexpected and silent, that the East Coast is a place for me to be. A place for me to frequently swing by. I place for me to unexpectedly find the balance that has been known to evade me from time to time.

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Partying in downtown Los Angeles – August 2011

I shall return to London just before Easter. An epic, three-week adventure of work and of play lies ahead of my days. And London life is pretty good these days. Work remains challenging and fun; just last week we hosted colleagues from around the world for a global HR leadership conference and just a couple of weeks prior we were treated to appearances in the office by Ed Sheeran and Stormzy.

Outside of work, the last few weeks and months have seen me recover from my second broken elbow in recent years and some awesome evenings out at supper clubs and Moulin Rouge at the Secret Cinema. Weekends are a midst of lazy days and social adventures – brunching, lunching, chilling and chatting. Of course, there’s been some holiday planning, and Australia aside I’ve adventures in Athens, Aberdeen, Toulouse, Lake Garda and the Polish countryside coming up.

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Californian beach days – Summer 2011

My dreams of Tanzanian safaris alongside Zanzibar beach adventures, Jordanian tours of Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea, Tromso for the Northern Lights and another visit to South East Asia, potentially Indonesia, Philippines or Vietnam are all on my wish list for this year, but given my holiday allowance I’m going to have to make some tough choices on how far I can go in 2017. Sometimes, of course, the places that we get to see and find ourselves visiting are manifestations of unexpected opportunities and coincidental invites. Australia, for example, was not on my list again this time last year, yet life shifts, evolves and surprises us and we find ourselves enticed to unexpected places.

So however unexpected things may be at times, for every opportunity that you were not expecting, there’s a rightfulness to their presence. There’s a reason, a message, a sign for everything. There are unexpected Australian adventures that might just pop along when you thought you and the southern hemisphere had been and gone. There are more places down under, or wherever works for you, that unexpectedly, but rightly, show up when you need reminding you’ve still so much further to go.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | March 25, 2017

Hello 2017

Written in January 2017

It may appear that I’ve had a break from blogging lately, yet the truth is, I have written, but chosen not to publish two blogs of late. The first, Own Every Second I wrote on my flight from Chicago to Newark at the end of September last year. I guess I got busy, and never got to publish it, but it was written and so today, I am pleased to share it with you.

The second blog though, Arabian Oceans and Breaking Taboos was much more personal and I guess, I was not sure whether it was the right place or time to publish it. I wrote in on a recent flight to Sri Lanka, which I toured for 11-days with a group tour company called the Flashpack. The taboo that I was, indeed am, choosing to break, was to talk about my muse, and who she really was/is.

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Sri Lanka’s hillside – November 2016

Readers of See How Far I’ve Come will recall my blogs that reference my muse, as far back as 2011. I don’t see her anymore, but she had a huge impact on my life and ability to manage every curveball and to chase every dream. Today, in 2017, it feels the right time to publish it. I am in a very good place, but can recognise when others are not, so if breaking the taboo of counseling helps someone, just one person, take time out to talk, reflect and ultimately make a change, then publishing Arabian Oceans and Breaking Taboos will have been the right thing to do.

It is January, it’s a Sunday and it’s 2017. I am, unsurprisingly, on a transatlantic flight from London to JFK, ready for a full week of work in our offices on 51st and Broadway and some lovely evenings catching up with some very dear friends whom I have not seen for the last three months. It’s a good time, right now, to reflect on 2016.

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2016 Transatlantic Commuting

For me, 2016 was a completely mixed year, with tremendous highs but some difficult lows too. I got to see and do some amazing things. My travels took me to New York (in February, April, June and October), Chicago (September), Dubai (April), Bologna in Italy (May), Hamburg (May), Cyprus (May), Ibiza (July), the Rocky Mountains, Vancouver Island and Vancouver itself in Central and West Coast Canada (August/September), Sri Lanka (November) and Copehagen in Denmark (December) for some Christmas markets. For someone juggling work and life and travel, it was a pretty perfect year.

Yet 2016 also saw us say a sad goodbye to my aunt, who lost a six-month battle with cancer in June. A race for life in her honour and a subsequent family gathering with my cousins and uncle in October however seemed to help us celebrate her life and laughter and I shall forever remember her grace through her battle.

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A brave auntie

September, however, saw a different kind of grief, when one of my nearest and dearest lost someone extraordinarily close to them to suicide. I got the news whilst Stateside on a work trip, and I wandered around in a daze for a good while that can only possibly be described as 1% of the daze that my nearest and dearest must have been, and continues to, be feeling. It is, perhaps, what prompted my (previously unpublished) blog Arabian Oceans and Breaking Taboos.

Three and a half months on, and undoubtedly it still is, and will always be, the most difficult thing in the world to have to deal with, so I can only hope (we can only hope), that people will realise that there is no shame in talking, in sharing, in seeking help. I can only hope that my broken taboo will help someone, somewhere, who may need to know that counseling is one of the best things you can do for yourself in life. That there are other options out there when it feels like there are none.

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Strong friends breaking taboos – Cyprus, May 2016

The situation for me, perhaps reinforced, the need for us all to take time to work on ourselves. For us to share ourselves with others who have got to a place of finding themselves. My muse, she used to challenge me, often. She would ask me what it would be like for me to let go and let someone else be strong for me. She would enquire what it might be like if I were to stop seeking out the complicated, stopped trying to fix things that others needed to find a way to fix themselves and to instead, stand up ready and waiting to be supported myself.

The notion, always seemed easy but in reality, it’s been hard to find. I spent much of 2016 repeating those same behaviours, finding complicated situations and continuing to expend energy on trying to unravel them; trying to unravel people that hadn’t taken a single step forward to try to help to unravel themselves. Whilst my muse and I parted two years ago, I could hear her exhaling slowly in my head, softly shaking hers in frustration at my continued chipping away at things that would never give.

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Simple intangibles – November 2016

Then September happened. My friend, she experienced the shortest, sharpest loss you can imagine. That thing I had been chasing, those complications I’d invested so much time in, suddenly felt meaningless. This situation, this god-awful situation that my friend found herself in, suddenly shone a light on the need, that real need, to give up on complicated and to let people be responsible for fixing themselves.

Thankfully, something a lot less complicated came my way and I guess, as 2016 began its final quarter, I was in a good place to accept it. I found my intangibles again. I have learnt to trust again. I have learnt to take a risk again. I found a way to allow myself to be supported and I am learning, every day, to let myself be looked after a little, which outside of my family and closest friends, is a pretty new experience for me.

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Racing for life – July 2016

So what else of 2016? Well, I did my first Race For Life in spite of a dodgy hip; I also managed to fracture my elbow and meet an amazing Aussie that didn’t seem to care that my less abled bodied was high on codeine just three days post break (I guess it made conversation flow easier!). I found my love of cooking again, properly, with the help of a former chef and great baker. I also finally got some of my artwork framed and hung up on the walls of my flat – maybe in 2017 I’ll be inspired enough to pick up that paintbrush again?

I did a lot of travel and ticked off more countries on my list (forty countries worldwide thus far, and still counting). I made some new friends in Sri Lanka on the Flashpack tour, and we’re meeting for Hoppers and cocktails in London in a couple of weeks. I did a couple of presentations/speaking events in London and Chicago, and suddenly was herald in an ‘expert’ in something I knew nothing of two years ago.

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Lake Louise, Canada – September 2016

With Tom moving back to the Midlands in the Summer to retrain as a teacher, I found myself living solely with girls for the first time ever and dating stories, cooking tips and candle shopping followed in great strides. We made it to Copenhagen for a girly Xmas shopping trip to peruse the markets in December and had an awesome Halloween evening out in Kensal Green.

Life shifted a lot, in 2016. Work slightly evened its pace, though 2015 had been quite exceptional and conveniently distracting and all encompassing for me. I ticked off some places on my wish list. Canada was breathtaking and seeing grizzly bears in the wild remains an absolute highlight. Dubai was just as glitzy, flamboyant and wild as I imagined it to be.

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Dubai Days – April 2016

There were many highlights to remember. January was dry, kicking off with a New Year’s Day walk in the Derbyshire countryside and ending with a James Bond themed night at the Kensington Roof Gardens with some fab friends.

February brought a snowy work trip to New York, with an amazing meal with great friends and colleagues at the Gramercy Tavern. It was also the month that Tom and I found a dog wandering the streets of West Hampstead, and we promptly took him to Battersea Dogs Home.

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Dubai Nights, April 2016

March arrived with birthday celebrations for Louisa and an early Easter, with a spa visit to Sopwell House and food in Hampstead at the Flask, where my grandad used to drink.

April brought trips to New York (-4 – it was chuffing freezing!) and Dubai (it was frickin’ hot!) with the girls, where we dined, drank, enjoyed shisha and screamed on the rides at Atlantis.

May brought Bologna, Hamburg and Cyprus – I was barely in the country! A family wedding topped the month off nicely. It was all about pasta, fresh seafood and white asparagus, as well as boat rides on the Thames and a lovely walk through the Peak District that will forever be cherished.

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Precious Peak District days, May 2016

June swung around and brought a day at the Polo in Putney, a Warner Music bike ride and a return to (a warmer) New York, before I came back to London and bid Tom a fond farewell to the Midlands and to pay respects to an aunt who had battled hard.

July arrived with a trip with Jade to Ibiza – food, cocktails, sun and sea, the perfect four day respite from London life. A Race for Life in Hyde Park with a celebratory roast dinner and a couple of weddings too, with a visit to Sandbanks. Some nice walks on Hampstead Heath and a fab Andy Murray Wimbledon win watched with pimms from the St Pancras viewing platform.

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Summer Days – Wimbledon Final, St Pancras, June 2016

August arrived with trips to the Isle of Wight and the start of a Canadian adventure. That aside, there was a fab charity ‘blag it’ challenge that our HR team participated in across London in aid of Centrepoint.

September and the Grizzly Bears came to see us in Canada and we got to hang with Fi in Vancouver (and Rob Thomas). The annual Warner Music UK Mainstage event saw the arrival of Biffy Clyro, Jesse Glynne, Busted, Rumer and Liam Gallagher just before a work trip to Chicago. An Aussie arrived on the scene and the worst kind of news for a dear friend shook us all at the end of the month’s close.

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New York nights – June 2016

October and it was adios Chicago and hello again New York to close out a two week work trip. The Goo Goo Dolls returned to Europe and a fab Halloween closed out the month.

November and it was time for a Flashpack trip to Sri Lanka and a visit to Derbyshire to check out the Chatsworth House Christmas Market.

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Christmas with the family – December 2016

December was full of festivities. Warner Music Christmas parties, birthday celebrations and a trip to Copenhagen. A Polish Christmas Eve (Vigilia) with some amazing food and some much need rest and relaxation over the festive period.

So what is next? Well, aside from my New York business trip, I have a trip to Los Angeles in the calendar for work, then an onward trip to Australia (yup, time to head down under again). I’ll be Brisbane bound then onwards to the wonderful Whitsundays for a few days of snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. Athens is in the diary for a couple of special family birthdays and I’m heading to a music festival in Poland in June. My heart is set on a safari in Tanzania and a trip to Vietnam, Jordan and Tromso, but I’ll be making some tough choices with that wish list given my 2017 annual leave allowance.

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New Year, new intangibles

2016 was a year of loss and gain for me. Tremendous, amazing step forwards in life counterbalanced by grief, yet those that have passed continue to teach us to live. So here we are 2017, hello. New York bound, onwards to my second home. I’m excited to see it, to see my friends. Yet I know how far I have come and how much now, London, really, really feels like home.

 

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | March 25, 2017

Arabian Oceans and Breaking Taboos

Written November 2016

I am over the Arabian Sea, just a couple of hours to go before I reach Sri Lanka ready for a 10 day adventure around the very best of what the island has to offer. It’s been a few years since I made it to Asia, aside from a connecting flight or two in Bangkok, and I’m excited at the prospect of discovering more of this Eastern world.

I am travelling solo today, just like Marrakech last year. I’m joining a group tour – The Flashpack – in Colombo later today. My photography tour of Morocco last year was one of my favourite ever travel experiences, so perhaps there’s a part of me looking to recreate that, albeit in a different sense, in Sri Lanka this year.

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Locals walking on the train tracks near the train station in the hills surrounding Ella, Sri Lanka – November 2016

Marrakech graced me with some new friendships in a period where I was rediscovering myself. It gave me the formidable opportunity to share a passion for making photos with others who held equal passion for travel. The chance to travel solo – to just head out into this world with my passport and lots of goodwill to get along with people, remains one of my most cherished memories.

It will come as no surprise then, that I want to recapture that a bit. Sure, I’ve had chances to travel with friends and family a few times already this year, but there is something liberating, something empowering and cleansing about doing it on your own from time to time. This is my space, my chance to be with myself and my thoughts and to allow the experience of it all to take me on a ride.

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With my fellow Flashpackers on our final stop in Sri Lanka

When I booked the trip earlier this year, I guess I was trying to tick off another country, trying to get back to Asia which I’d made one of my goals all along this year from the turn of the clock at midnight on 1st January. I was trying to fill time with adventures, with memories, with experiences that will last a lifetime and which I’ll look back on someday, remembering the freedom and independence of it all.

So here I am. Adventuring. Smiling. Content and happy. I have only been back in London the past month, since landing back from my two week work visit to Chicago and New York in October. But a lot can happen in a month and a lot can indeed happen in a year. We have to take moments when they swing by. We have to take opportunities when they knock. We have to encourage others to do so too. We have to make each second count, and we have to just live. We have to do things because they feel right and not be held back by fear of our own vulnerability.

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Ready to climb Sigiriya Rock

Living has become so much more than a slogan or whim. It’s more than an existence. It’s a toolkit. It’s a special set of behaviours. It’s a positive outlook. It’s about exercising our minds as much as our bodies. It’s about realising that it’s okay to talk, to share experiences, hopes, fears and dreams. It’s about knowing that in the darkest of days there can be an inner strength that pulls us through, if we just remember that living is what it is indeed about.

These past few weeks have been particularly juxtaposed. I’ve watched a very close friend battle with news that is incomprehensible to digest. That is so sudden and shocking that the mere act of standing, of existing, becomes a daily hardship. But she has learnt lessons over the years, to live. She has learnt to tap in to an inner strength. She has learnt tools. She has learnt that it’s okay to talk. It’s okay to just be with feelings. That it’s okay to go through the motions and it is in fact necessary to heal and grieve.

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The famous fishermen on stilts in Sri Lanka

She continues to stand, even when it’s the most difficult thing in the world to do. To just stand in this world again, is the greatest of challenges for her right now. It will be difficult for a good while yet, but she’s willing to try. She knows it is necessary to pull herself forward again. I know that I, and many around her, are there to help her with that. That hopefully we might one day find a way to make the incomprehensible something comprehensible. That someday, we’ll find a message from this. It may be fundraising, or simply raising awareness. Perhaps we’ll share our own stories in a bid to make people realise that it’s fine to talk and there need be no taboo.

So as I approach Sri Lanka, for an amazing solo adventure, I am contented, truly. I have taken lessons from my muse over the years. I am trying something new. I am taking different decisions, applying a new tact, adopting a different approach. It’s more carefree. It’s fun. It’s allowing me to let go. It’s a pattern of behaviour that I am breaking. Complexity, it seems, is a thing of the past. Straightforward is the only way to go.

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Bird watching in Yala National Park

And what of my muse? Well perhaps it’s time I break that taboo, as it’s okay to talk. I met my muse in 2011, and spent a couple of years working with her. A blip took me back to her at the end of 2014, but this time, my prior lessons were quick to kick in and I simply touched based with her, knowing the tools that I needed to pull myself through, to live again.

I told someone recently of my muse. “You are the last person in the world I would have expected to have been through counseling; you’re so sorted” they said. That’s right – my muse – my then counselor, helped me to help myself to not just find a path but to find the right path for me. “That’s because I went to counseling” I explained. That’s because I took a chance to make a change, even if on the surface, it didn’t seem like much needed to change.

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Releasing baby turtles in the Indian Ocean

But those days, with my muse, have shaped my life and allowed me to understand myself, my actions and my wants and needs so very, very well. I am suspicious as to whether I would have got to that level of understanding alone. Recent events, that I was reflecting on just last weekend, suggest that not everyone around us realises that even the most sorted people in life may have had past battles to get to that place.

So I’m breaking that taboo today, in the hope of inspiring others that it’s okay to talk. I am breaking a taboo and sharing the fact that my muse was my counselor, my confidante with whom I shared my thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams and whom I believe, quite firmly, helped me realise how far I’ve come and how much further I can go.

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Flashpackers on tour

And what better way than to break that taboo than to feel myself descending for Colombo airport, on another far flung journey that’ll take me far in life, growth and air miles. Computers must shortly be turned off. So see, if breaking taboos means people can realise that even the most sorted people in life have had a helping hand, then I hope it inspires them to find a muse of their own, and maybe book an adventure. To maybe talk to someone. To blog. To paint. To find a way to be with feelings, manage, nuture and share them. Our mind, like our bodies, need exercise and training to see how far we can indeed go.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | March 25, 2017

Own Every Second

Written 29th September 2016

It’s the last day of September and Summer has disappeared. A few days of sunshine in Chicago have been replaced by rain and New York’s forecast is looking distinctively grey. My flight to New York this time is short-haul, and after an hour and 45 minutes delay I am bound for my second home, heading East for Newark and we are just passing over Detroit.

The last few days have whizzed by in a blur, and much like last time, I didn’t really get to explore the city. My arrival into Chicago last Sunday kicked off with a baseball game with the Cubs. I was lucky enough to be treated to drinks and food in the VIP area, which helped enormously in keeping my jet lag at bay as the game got underway. I reminisced on my previous baseball experiences seeing the dodgers play in Los Angeles a few years back.

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By the time Monday rolled around and jet lag woke me with a start, a series of meetings, videos and welcome key note speeches kicked off the conference and my week. I reconnected with partners from the US who have been on my work journey with me the past two and a half years or so.   Dinner was rounded off with a meal in a charcuterie in the Loop of Chicago’s downtown.

Tuesday saw the event really kick off, and by lunchtime I had delivered my Q&A session, as part of a panel of ‘experts’ on leveraging value from a global HR system rollout. Marta arrived shortly afterwards and we got caught up on work and life in no time, London and New York catching up in Chicago. We skipped a couple of evening invites to head for some local Mexican food, feasting on guacamole and shrimp before hitting a supplier party in the evening.

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At the Cubs game

The party, held at the Underground nightclub in Chicago, was really swinging, with a violinist playing over the top of the DJ. Cheesy music filled the airwaves, and canapés and wine flowed freely amidst the crowd. Friends, partners and colleagues joined us on the dance floor and my one arm and I managed to enjoy the evening’s festivities. It was a welcome break from juggling day job with conference, throughout the day.

As Wednesday rolled around, so did another early start to clear down European and Asian workload. Come evening, Marta and I scooted off to sample a fish restaurant, first stopping for a glass of wine in a local bar. We reflected, as we often do, sharing stories of life and remembering how far we’ve come. An air of contentment surrounded us, almost exactly a year since Marta, Toby, Kirsty and I took a Sunday walk on the highline in New York, all perhaps in very different places back then.

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Partying in Chicago – fractured elbow or not

Then came the part of the evening I had looked forward to the most. We got to see One Republic play live and close the conference in a customer appreciation party. I had hoped, since I heard that they were playing, that they would play ‘I Lived’. The song, that ‘anthem/’ for Sonya and my Australia trip at the end of 2014/early 2015, continues to be held in a special place. The irony of the lyrics talking of still living with every broken bone, was not lost on me.

I could barely contain my excitement when they played ‘I Lived’. Sonya and I had listened to it endlessly just a little under 20 months ago. We had used it as a theme to our Australia trip – doing it all, or as much as we could. From diving to goat mustering to holding snakes and kayaking the Whitsundays. Yet doing it all hasn’t ended there, the anthem to do it all and to live, to really live and to own every second, continues on.

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Reunion dinner in NYC, October 2016

So as I find myself Eastbound for Newark, I am looking forward to a weekend in my second home. After a day of work tomorrow, I will get to kick back with David. We’ve a simple, London style evening planned, of dinner, wine and a movie, Bridget Jones’ Baby in fact. It’ll have been a hectic week, so the chance to chill with a movie, wine and one of my best friends, shall be perfect.

I have few plans then this weekend, other than to hang with some New York friends and to take it a bit easy after a hectic few days in Chicago, before another hectic week of work kicks off, mixing meetings and workshops with the best of New York’s offerings.

I realise it’s been a year since our Global HR Leadership Update in New York, and since the end of a hurricane almost swept Stefani and I off of our feet in the East Village as we hit up Miss Lily’s for some amazing jerk chicken. How has it been a year, already, I wonder? Yet it’s been an amazing year. Another year of lessons, growth and evolution, and another fractured elbow.

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One armed at my fountain, NYC – October 2016

Marta and I reflected on the last year. A project that was so hectic it perhaps nearly broke us, and several others, but which we have come out smiling from. Personal lessons too. People who have disappointed. People who have surprised us. Ways in which we’ve owned every second and chosen to take every risk.

“I’ve slowed down a bit this year” I ruefully told Marta, and was met by skepticism and raised eyebrows. “I have, I honestly have” I exclaimed, and Marta smiled at me. Perhaps, it seems, that my slowing is relative to the last 18 months or so, for which I had good reasons, career and personal, to dive headfirst into operating at 110 miles an hour.

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At the One Republic Gig – “I Lived”

I own every second perhaps, but slowing at times, to maybe let some seconds go by without a plan, wouldn’t go amiss. So perhaps, that is my challenge for next year. To let some seconds go by without a plan. To not have to own every second, but to let every second unfold, naturally.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | September 25, 2016

Déjà Vu and Lemonade

It’s eight years today since I left EMI Music, which means it’s also approaching eight years since I started work at Ignite, kicking off with a business trip to Chicago. In an odd déjà vu moment then, I am Chicago bound today, eight years on, returning to the windy city for the Workday Rising conference. I am a guest speaker at the event, which seems surreal given that it was just two short years ago that we began to research Workday – now it seems, we are considered the experts!

My first and last visit to Chicago was for work also, but on that trip I had just a couple of hours in downtown Chicago, instead working at a client in the suburbs of Chicago, a good 45 mins or so from the main city area. This time though, I am staying in the heart of the city, but much like that 2008 visit, I won’t have much time to see the sights. My agenda is full, and my day job (and my life) has picked up pace again. I have just spent the last four hours of my journey working, clearing down actions I’ve had no time to take these past couple of weeks.

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Navy Pier – Oct 2008

It’s not the only sense of déjà vu that I’ve had in recent weeks. Just as I tempted fate in my last blog and said that recent weeks had an air of 2011 about them, I found myself with the same injury that I managed to inflict upon myself back in January 2011. My second elbow fracture in five years, much like 2011, came entirely out of the blue. Back in 2011, I convinced myself that my fracture was a sign to slow down, to stop working so hard and take a slower pace. In 2016, I think perhaps it’s once again telling me to do the same.

Yet 2016’s need to slow my pace is less so about lacking balance in life, less so about needing to manage my office hours better. It’s instead so much more so about perhaps needing to commit to things a little less. I’ve become an absolute yes person for all diary invitations. My evenings, weekends and breakfast windows are full through to the beginning of 2017. This is not a normal way to operate. Down-time, personal chill time, is not something I tend to book in.

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Navy Pier – Sept 2016

Having such a hectic diary is a thrill. I get to see, do and be so many things. Yet perhaps it gets in the way at times. Perhaps I have needed to start to say no a little, and to sit with moments with no plans. Perhaps I have needed to learn to have a weekend when nothing exists except waking up and deciding how to spend the day. Perhaps I have needed to make the space for me to create something again.

So the universe, it seems, has once again interfered. Its left-field attempt to slow me down with an avulsion elbow fracture has indeed been met with a need for me to slow it. This past week and a half, since I found myself in A&E, has been frustrating at times, as basic things become difficult, but it’s also been a timely reminder to heed some of my 2011 lessons.

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Leaving EMI Music – 25 September 2008

I laughed to myself when I fractured my elbow, which is perhaps a slightly odd reaction, yet the irony of the situation didn’t escape me. I could hear my muse laughing too. She would no doubt have raised an eyebrow at the irony of the universe’s interference in my need to slow it down again. I know she’d equally be commenting on the parallels between 2011 and 2016, albeit knowing that the nature of my need to slow down is more on a personal than professional level this time.

Fractured elbows aside though, there was another dose of déjà vu that hit me last Thursday when we had our annual Warner Music UK ‘Mainstage’ Company event. Like the prior two years, the entire UK business got together in a local auditorium to talk strategy, new music and people. This year, we were treated to live appearances and performances by Rumer, Liam Gallagher, new signing the Manor, Biffy Clyro, Jess Glynne and Busted. What an absolute treat!

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I had been hoping for ages that one day, our Mainstage event might include Jess Glynne in the line up. Ever since I sat in the auditorium last year, listening to a preview play of ‘Take Me Home’, I have had her album on replay. I even wrote a blog titled ‘Take Me Home’ – inspired by the track. My déjà vu moment last Thursday therefore was of that very song – though this time, Jess was live in the Warner office and I was a couple of rows back, watching her perform.

The hairs on my neck stood up. I recalled, even as little ago as 12 months, listening to that track and feeling choked. Mainstage, a bit like my NYC fountain, has become a bit of milestone for me. The first, in September 2014, came at a point of upheaval in my life, and the event, which is truly superb, gave me a much needed spring in my step and need to feel grateful again for the opportunities that have landed with me. People told me then that I just needed time, but it was hard to believe in that moment.

Then last year, September 2015’s Mainstage, was equally as commemorative and powerful. This time, I was no doubt in a much, much better place, yet when that song came on, when ‘Take Me Home’ blared from the speakers, I was once again choked in a way that I thought I could no longer be. Space had indeed made things better and time indeed had helped to heal, but somehow the song’s lyrics jut captured me, and everything that I continued to feel at periodic intervals.

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So this year, when Jess came on and played the song, her metaphorical view of life was not lost on me. This time, in 2016, I recognised my readiness to let someone take the wheel from me. I noted how I am ready now to be caught before I hit the ground. I am ready to be home.

Déjà vu has appeared even on this flight today. I recognise one of the air stewardesses; I suppose given my frequent transatlantic commutes that is going to happen eventually, but it’s still always a surprise. I don’t remember which flight I was on, but there’s a reflective part of me that wonders what I was blogging about when I last encountered her, and a part of me that wonders if I was in a better place and blogging to inspire, or whether I was still blogging at that point to nurse my then broken soul.

Like any long journey that I do of late, blogging is a great way to pause in a quiet space and blogging in the air seems to really ignite my creative juices, as well, of course, as being a great way to kill time on the flight. My efficient, and perhaps also effective, way to pass time in travel has become a ritual of sorts that I eagerly look forward to as part of any journey I engage upon.

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Partying with a fractured elbow at Mainstage 2016

The more of course, that I blog, and the more that I see, do, feel, learn and grow, the more I recognise these days that my journey is less so about becoming anything or seeing something. These days, it feels more about unbecoming those things that were never really me, such that I can begin to really be who I was meant to be in the first place.

That feeling, of unpicking who I’ve become to revert to who I should be, I hold close. I have been thinking more and more about it, actually. I’ve been thinking more about the things I think I should have and the people that I think I should be with, but the truth is, in some ways, that they are worlds apart from who I used to be. Getting back to the basics of me, it’s been about music. Art. Family. Friends. Being happy. Being optimistic. Being positive. Bringing people up and not down. Having a buzz about life. Having a sense of fun and adventure.

Perhaps, it isn’t really actually about travel. Perhaps travel has become an easy but ill effective way to connect with people. Perhaps, and I include myself in this, those that travel relentlessly are in search of finding something out about themselves, tirelessly pursuing answers on a journey that in fact, should be in reverse. Perhaps in reality, that escapism to places overseas, to figure out the journey, is anything but effective and in fact, we should each ‘unjourney’ and find what we need from who we used to be.

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It might, in fact be so much simpler than I ever thought it could be. It might in fact, boil down to having fun. To having a positive outlook. To sharing an excitement for life, which can be as exciting at home as it is overseas. Perhaps there needs to be no escape, but rather a grounding in basic laughter.

A friend of mine recently commented that he loved my ability to make lemonade from lemons. To find the good in the bad. His comment, was shortly after I cracked a joke or two in jest about my fractured arm and history of elbow incidents. Yet it resonated with me. It’s perhaps that simple. It’s perhaps the number one thing that I need around me. Perhaps it’s really just as simple as needing to find other people who have that amazing ability to make lemonade from lemons. To find those with that zest for life that enriches our experiences and ripens any hardened scenarios, who are brave enough to face the squeeze.

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It’s easy to surround ourselves with lemons, never finding a way to sweeten the bitterness that they naturally exude. It’s easy to sometimes confuse passion for travel with a passion for life. It’s easy to sometimes overlook those who stay in one place, who perhaps are less tireless in their overseas adventures but who in turn, have a way of attracting greatness, simply from their attitude.

So with the many déjà vu moments this past couple of weeks, and with my impending arrival into Chicago, I wonder if this time, fractures aside, I have indeed cracked it. If perhaps, just perhaps, my 2011 moment is here again in 2016 and actually, this time there’s lemonade to make.

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