Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 29, 2016

Bold. Inspirational. Liberating.

It’s Friday afternoon and I am making my way back to London from Poole, having spent the last couple of days on the beautiful Sandbanks shores for a wedding. The bride, my friend Sally, whom I have known now for eight years, and Dan, her childhood friend from the age of five, finally got married yesterday and the sun came out to greet them for the occasion.

The wedding was a reunion of sorts, with several colleagues, past and present, amongst the guestlist. For Sally and I met in the Summer of 2008. I had resigned from my role at EMI Music, where I’d been an HR Business Partner for the prior four years and where I’d just completed the most horrendous restructuring programme of my career, following a private equity acquisition of EMI that took out 2,000 jobs in six months. Despite several carrots being dangled to keep me – including the chance to work in New York on a permanent basis – I’d made the decision to quit and travel the world instead.

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Sally

Except I didn’t just quit to travel. I was fortunate enough to be offered a consulting job with Ignite, a small consultancy firm based near Shad Thames, and somehow, and I’ll never quite know how it happened, they agreed to give me a permanent job and a sabbatical – all within the first three months of me joining them.

So as I began to work my three-month notice period and prepared for my new job at Ignite and round the world trip, little was done to find my replacement at EMI. Then, in my final week, just as I was wrapping up and embarking upon leaving party after leaving party, Sally arrived as a consultant, for a two-day handover of my job that she would pick up on an interim basis. Somehow, in the midst of my epic series of leaving dos and consequent hangovers, in what was my final two days at EMI, Sally and I became very firm friends and well, we haven’t looked back since.

As I made plans to venture around Asia and the Pacific with Cha in early 2009, Sally was tempted to join us in Thailand for a few weeks, but life got in her way somewhat, and a few months (and a divorce) later and Sal and I just didn’t quite manage to connect in Asia. But as Sal was going through her own personal transition, so was I. Our friendship strengthened. She was finding her way on her own again, and I was simply, finding me.

With each year that has passed since, our paths have further crossed. Sally covered my old role at EMI for a while, then as I got knee deep into a client at Ignite, I brought Sal in alongside me and we got to work side by side together, for some 18 months or so. Ironically, I left Sal in that client – as I quit (again) to travel across the US and Canada in 2011. Somehow, and again, how I ever managed to wangle this I will never know, my bosses at Ignite gave me a second sabbatical, so I once again waved goodbye to Sal to travel again.

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Team Macmillan

Then fast forward a couple of years and this time, I really did leave Ignite to set up consulting on an independent basis, returning to EMI for what would be its final innings, before it was broken up and sold on. As my independent contracting kicked off, so did the demand from my network for help, including an old colleague now in a leadership role at Macmillan Publishing, who asked me to work with him on a transformation programme. Unable to commit more than a day a month, I quickly called Sally, and brought her in to work full-time at Macmillan so I could carry on at EMI and provide a day a month of consultancy to help shape the programme.

Then when that wrapped up, I introduced Sal to Ignite, my ever patient past employer who put up with my regular whimsical ways and need to travel the world, and she is now working with them as an associate. So last night, I was lucky enough to see colleagues from Ignite, MacMillan and EMI, all there to celebrate Sal’s wedding.

At dinner, I sat next to Mark, my old boss. “You’re remarkable Nicola” Mark said to me. “I’ve never met someone with so much energy. It’s amazing what you’ve achieved.” I smiled. I have always been so fond of Mark, one of the best bosses I could have ever worked for. “Do you remember Mark” I ventured on “when I broke my arm, and you came round my flat and drew me a wheel of life?” Mark nodded. “It was such a turning point for me.” I told him.

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Ignite reunite

That wheel of life, Mark carved up into chunks. Everything from friendships to family to relationships to wellbeing to money to work and creative outlets. He’d sat with me, as I was drugged up to high heaven with painkillers, mapping out where I sat on the wheel. Unsurprisingly, some segments were being neglected. “The thing is Nicola, you need to keep every segment balanced” he had told me. “If one part of your life goes astray, goes off kilter, the rest will keep you in balance, the rest will keep you level and able to cope with the curveballs. You have to work to keep the wheel of life in balance.”

His inference, at that time, was that my work segment was off the chart and much of my other segments were severely neglected. The only reason I could sit and actually have this conversation with him, was because I’d slipped and broken my elbow just after New Year and consequently, for the first time in a year, I’d had to stop work – I’d had to stop working 8am until midnight.

So Mark was not just a boss. He was most definitely my life coach for a while. “Are you still working too hard Nicola?” Mark asked me yesterday. “I’m much better these days” I told him, then he asked Toby the same question, as a check and balance as if he didn’t believe my answer. Toby smiled, “Nicola always works too hard Mark, but she’s better than she used to be.” I laughed, and tried to explain that I’ve got my weekends back, and most evenings too.

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Overlooking Old Harry’s Rocks

“Are you keeping in balance Nicola?” Mark asked me. I smiled. I admitted that last year I wasn’t balanced, but that had been a choice. That my work and travel segments last year had managed to balance out the curveballs of other segments – that those opportunities had kept me level. “Just remember to focus on all segments” Mark mused, smiling ruefully at me.

We reminisced a lot last night. I mused about how I used to get this very same train down to Bournemouth, Weymouth, Brockenhurst and Poole when I was working with Further Education institutions on behalf of Ignite back in 2011 and 2012. We talked about that project and those clients.

I recalled the last time I was in Dorset, a little under two years ago. I’d walked to Old Harry’s Rocks and ventured around Swanage, remembering childhood memories of crazy golf, fish and chips and building sandcastles in Studland Bay. Just this morning, I walked along the beach of Sandbanks, and the sun was shining bright – for England, it was really quite warm. From the edge of the shoreline I could see Old Harry’s Rocks and I smiled, remembering how far I’ve come.

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Nicola and Sal

So these past two days have been perfect days. My Macmillan, Ignite and EMI family together. I realised, that I have been fortunate in my work life, to have friendships and families from colleagues. I have fond memories of all my past employers. I have strong networks and friendships I still rely upon today. I have learnt lessons from each and every role, more so about life and how to live it, than perhaps the work itself.

Ignite’s values were always to be bold, inspiring and liberating. When I signed up to work for them, they weren’t just work values, but values for me personally. Values I think I still hold with me today. Values and ways of living that seem to really resonate. That I believe in still.

So my lovely friend Sally is wed now. Her dance with her now husband wasn’t always straightforward, but it was always bold. Her actions, her risk taking, her approach, it inspired. And then of course, they got engaged. And now, with their wedding, they are liberated.

And me. I guess I am inspired. Remarkably so.

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Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 26, 2016

Dancing with life

It’s Monday evening and I am flying back to London from the Balearics after a wonderful, albeit short, long weekend in Ibiza with Jade. These past four days truly felt longer, as we crammed so much in and I’m feeling so much more rested from the warmth of the sun and the goodness of fresh seafood.

Jade and I have never travelled together before, but it’s worked really, really well. Granted, if we ventured away together too often we might just bankrupt each other, for Jade and I are each other’s bad influence when it comes to ‘what the hell’ moments and deciding to treat ourselves, but a weekend here and there never hurt anyone.

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Dancing to Formentera

I don’t know what I expected from Ibiza, but it was far prettier than I remember. I say remember – my only other visit was back when I was three years old, and all I remember then was chocolate ice cream! But that aside, it’s been beautiful and we even got to sail to Formentera on Sunday.

As I sat on the side of the catamaran with my legs dangling out to the ocean, I felt vivid memories of my Whitsundays sailing trip last year. I had the very same sense of peace and contentment wash over me, as the breeze threaded its way through my hair and I listened to music, staring out at the sea.

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Dancing with the shoreline

I love reflective journeys like that – accompanied by music and the waves. It’s fair to say I was doing a lot of reflecting. I thought about my aunt, and how quickly the last seven weeks have gone by. I thought about how hard it must be for my uncle right now. I thought about how lucky we all are to still be here, still able to dance with life.

I thought about my race for life, which is next weekend. I thought about how difficult that seemed a few months ago but how training and music in my ears have given me the chance to dance to the finish line.

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Flowers dancing in the sun

I thought about the forthcoming wedding of my friend Sally this week and how absolutely, joyously happy I am for her. Oh how we shall dance until the night is young again on the shores of Sandbanks this week. Dance like no one is looking. Dance like we’re dancing in the rain. Dance because we can.

I thought about this year, and the choice I’ve made to not make choices based on fear. I thought about needing to make hard choices, for the chance they’re the right ones. I thought about doing everything wholeheartedly, absent of doubt, fully investing and loving and living as hard as you can, even if things break along the way.  Who said dancing with life was easy?

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Dancing inside with glorious views of Mediterranean seas

I thought about how small you can feel beside and within the ocean. As I swam off the boat, treading water in the Mediterranean Sea and shouting up to Jade on the side of the boat, I thought how liberating it was to be back in the water. I thought how amazing it was, that I used to fear swimming in the depths of the ocean. I thought about how strong I felt from conquering that fear and indeed, loving the chance to jump from a boat and tread water in the seas, feeling truly free.  Dancing with the water.

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Swim stop dancing in the waves

I thought about mistakes that are worth making. I thought about how when you have the chance to sit it out or to dance, you should always dance, for you never know when you won’t be able to. I recalled in my last conversation with my aunt, as her body defied her mind, that the thing that she missed the most in the world was to dance.   So I danced at that very wedding. And she smiled.  I am trying to dance every day since.

I thought about how living is about experiencing every single iota of the joys and the heartbreaks. I thought about how we owe it to the ones we have loved and lost to make every moment count. How it’s important to be honest and true. How it’s necessary to be brave and forthright.  How we can always pick ourselves back up and move and spin until we are dancing again.

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Dancing with sunsets

Through the evenings I danced with sunsets.  I danced with the lapping of the waves against the shoreline.  I swung with the breeze and jived with the sound of leaves gently moving through the wind.  I would sway with blood-orange martinis in hand and rooftop views of Ibiza’s buzzing nightlife as Jade and I met other travellers and shared stories.

We trotted with horses and waltzed along as we sailed the Mediterranean seas, I knew I was adventuring. Adventuring and dancing with life. My very own little foxtrot with the waves of life. Swinging with revolving doors and moving with the sounds of life in my ears. Dancing to the sounds of the wind. Dancing in the right direction. Dancing, because I can.  Dancing with life in 2016.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 22, 2016

Feel the Silence

It’s a Thursday evening in July, some five years since Hesn and I visited Graceland during our expedition across America and a year since we, the Warner Music and Appirio team, got together for a series of workshops, and amazing evenings out, in midtown’s Summer. It’s crazy to look back twelve months and realise that we were right in the thick of the project then.

Little did we know how much harder we’d have to work after that crazy Tuesday evening in Manhattan, that saw us end up opening a bar tab at 1am in the morning at the Kimberley Hotel overlooking the Chrysler building. How a group of twenty or so of us made it back in for 8am workshops the next day, I will never know. The work was so much fun though, despite how very hard we did indeed work, that I almost didn’t realise that I had accrued but not taken so much annual leave last year.

So this year, having snatched just long weekends for most of 2015 – where I had to wait until Christmas to get a full week off (and even then, when I had to work on project deliverables for some of it) – I am making the most of my rolled over annual leave.

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NYC – a Tuesday in July 2015

At the beginning of the year I made a plan to use my holiday this year. To plan properly. To maximize every opportunity. It was pretty easy to begin with. Paris was organising a girls’ trip to Dubai, so that was the first week sorted. Then I had air miles, and there were bank holiday weekends to play with, so I checked out where I could get to in Europe that would be sunny in May and which my avios miles would take me to. So that’s how Bologna came to be.

Beyond Bologna, a return visit to Cyprus was quickly on the cards, to celebrate Barry’s 70th Birthday and make a return trip to the island that has served me so well in allowing me restoration and reflection over the years. It was a personal journey – for me to go back – to go back this year, in a far, far better place than my last visit. A far better place that was so noticeably visible to Barry and Julie who continued, as always, to be wonderful hosts.

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Dubai holidays

So what else? Well, on that Summer tour of the US and Canada some five years ago, I ventured to East Coast Canada with Fi, who emigrated from London to Canada some six or seven years ago now. Fi and I had an amazing ten-day trip around Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa – we shared stories, dreams and woes. We bonded and rebuilt – she from a tough time settling in Ottawa and me, from finally taking the lessons of my muse to heart, to feel its silence, and learn to bring holiday, and acceptance, into my every day life.

Fi had been living in Ottawa then, and was making plans to move to Vancouver. I promised her, back in 2011, that I’d be back to do the West Coast in 2012. It would be the next part of the journey – that exploratory journey we began on the East Coast of Canada. It was supposed to be the follow up. The next adventure. Another year older and even wiser.

But 2012 happened, and I guess my life and priorities changed a bit. Travel still was important, but as I got sucked into a non-single life, I guess I set aside some of my solo travel plans. And that was really, quite okay. At least I thought it was. So Vancouver didn’t happen. Not in 2012, not in 2013 and not in 2014. Then in 2015, I wanted to go, but was simply too busy to. My project just couldn’t release me for more than 2 or 3 working days at a time.

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Bologna

So this past Christmas, perhaps a little spur of the moment, I looked at the flights to Canada again. I was back in my 2011 place. Where I felt ready again. When it all suddenly was easier than I had expected it to be. When my brief reconnection with my muse had set me back into that good place. When all I had needed was a bite-size reminder of the work I had previously done, to set me back in the right direction. The feeling – that familiar feeling of being satisfied – happy – internally so, felt like it needed to be marked this year.

As the feeling of contentment found me over Christmas 2015, I began my search for flights to Vancouver. I messaged Fi – five years late – and she was just as excited as she’d been in 2011 for our East Coast adventure. “I am coming to the West Coast and I am bringing my sister Louisa” I told her. Fi’s response was just as I’d expected – utter enthusiasm. I quietly admonished myself for being so lame as to wait five years to make that planned visit.

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Feeling the silence of Arthur’s Seat in 2011

In no time at all, I’d booked flights into Calgary, for a brief sampling of the Rocky Mountains, then set about planning a trip that would take in some of the remotest parts of Vancouver Island, for Grizzly Bear watching and Killer Whale spotting, before finishing in Vancouver itself. By March, I could surprise Louisa with the trip, leaving her speechless on her birthday, for the second time in so many years (the first, a birthday present to New York and San Francisco to see Bon Jovi in 2010).

Then last week I caught up with my Marrakech buddies. Rich, one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met, had just returned from Vancouver. In a complete coincidence, he’d booked the exact same Grizzly Bear and Killer Whale tour as I have. His photos – of Grizzly Bears and Hummingbirds – are exemplary. He told me how the cabin – in Telegraph Cove, with its sheer wilderness – was his very favourite part of the entire trip.

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Fi and Nicola – Canada, 2011

“It’s the part I am most looking forward to” I told Rich.  He explained the silence there, save for the electricity popping. The chance to be in a log cabin – right in the middle of nowhere – population 20 or so people and a handful of tourists – with one pub and one place to eat – sounds amazing. Wilderness shall find me, with only the sounds of Hummingbirds to keep us awake. I couldn’t be more excited about this impending visit. About feeling the silence of it all.

Or at least, I thought I couldn’t be. Then Fi messaged this week, to tell Louisa and I that Rob Thomas, one of our very favourite artists, is playing Vancouver, on the last evening of our trip. For those who don’t know – Rob Thomas is the lead singer in Matchbox Twenty – whom have an album and song that I named this blog after. “How Far We’ve Come” – the apt name of their greatest hits album from a few years back and its title song, was always the perfect name for this very blog.

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Seeing Train and Maroon 5 in Toronto in 2011 with Fi

So what is “See How Far We’ve Come” really about these days? I guess it started in a more literal sense – of how far we’ve come and can go, in terms of physical travel and distance – and initially was intended to document my 2009 travels across Asia and the Pacific. Over the years though, it’s morphed a lot. It’s become my personal space to share. To process thoughts. To keep a creative hand in something juxtaposed to my corporate day job. To play with words around other arts. Of course, it’s also become about my personal journey, of how far I’ve come and how much further I want to go.

I adore reading back on past blogs sometimes, finding advice in my own words from a year, two or three back. When the world crashes down on you sometimes, it’s nice to go back and remember what it’s like to pick yourself back up, to remind yourself that it’s possible to survive, and in that in all likelihood, you’ll get stronger from it.

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Feeling the silence of water in Ottawa

Plus, it’s always fun to read back on past travel adventures and remember anecdotal points that might otherwise be forgotten. To revisit and once again feel the silence of my thoughts at a given point and place in time. To feel the silence. To not know where you’re going but to know exactly where you’ve been.

Ah, “Feel the Silence”. One of my favourite Goo Goo Dolls songs from 2006. Its relevance to me now, ten years on, just as strong as it was back that year, when it was first released. It talks of people moving through your soul like a hurricane wind. Yet unlike the song, which goes on to say how you can be so lost for so long, and that you don’t know how to get back again, I do know how to get back, and I am back. I am no longer lost.

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Feeling the silence of creativity in 2011

Occasionally, rarely in fact, do I find that people move through my soul like a hurricane wind. When they do – it’s attention grabbing and exciting. It has little to do with being lost and everything to do with finding yourself. With finding something special. Hurricane moments – that sweep through your soul, remind you how to live. No matter what currents you might be fighting, no matter how hard it seems to reach the shore, a hurricane grabs my attention. When those hurricane winds swing by I am reminded – vehemently – to never let a promise go unfulfilled. To feel the silence and hold on through every gathered storm.

I am at an age where I cannot ignore hurricanes. Where their presence – their impending arrival or departure, and the potential destruction in their path – remains mesmerising. When they change everything, when they change everything inside us and allow us to feel a silence where love heals pain and candles battle dimmed lights.

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Toronto, 2011

Hurricanes, with their immense presence in our lives, permeate moments infrequently. Between the storms, between the silence they leave behind, are opportunities to do the things we want to do – selfish things. To become who we want to become. To release and relax. To find ourselves amidst the shore. To listen to silence, feel its presence and gain strength from it.

So somewhat ironically, I find myself at 37,000 feet today heading to a place that will be anything but silent. Jade and I are venturing to Ibiza. Yes, the known party island. Albeit, there is another side that we are dying to experience. I am as enamored by the stunning scenery and silent seas as the nightlife, in fact more so by its natural beauty.

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Canada – 2011

Jade and I started tossing holiday ideas around a few weeks ago. I was looking for a long weekend – saving some holiday for a winter trip later this year. She asked if I’d go to Vegas, which felt a bit far for a few days. I suggested she join me somewhere in Asia later this year – to which she was less inclined. Mykonos was suggested – and was a contender, until Jade read Tatler magazine and deduced that she would find herself a Summer fling in Ibiza. So here we are – Ibiza bound.

Our accommodation is ridiculously overpriced, but does look amazing. When I agreed to it, I thought it was the price for four days – somewhat shockingly discovering later it was the per night price. I might have been sensible – had it not been for the fact my Auntie had just passed away and I had a “F**k it” moment. You live once, so live it.

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Feeling the hurricane of Niagara Falls

So in a turn of events, I’ve left Jade in charge of organising the trip. She has dusted of her planning skills and this evening, presented me with the most amazing itinerary I have seen since, well, since Jade. Amidst seafood, live music under the stars, snorkeling, horse-riding and lazy beach days, there’s cabanas and cocktails by the pool and Jade’s ever hopeful desire to meet Leo DiCaprio.  No wait, I stand corrected, she assures me it’s not a hope, but rather a future reality.  Either way, I couldn’t be more excited.

But this somewhat luxurious and indulgent weekend is a stark contrast to other trips.   I like to mix my travel experiences up. Just earlier this year I made a silent plan with myself to try and get to Asia this year, specifically Burma. One of my friends was planning to come with me for the photography trip, then she fell pregnant. Slightly in jest, when I congratulated her on the impending arrival, she instead joked she’d rather have come to Burma. She’s promised to come post baby’s arrival – but we’ll see.

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Horse riding in Ireland in 2011, before my Summer adventure

So as I was thinking about Burma still – for its photography more than anything – I remembered the Travel Photography workshop I did at the beginning of last year, where I met a girl who’d returned from Burma with amazing photos. I’ve been intent on making the trip ever since.

Not to be perturbed by the Burma ‘v’ baby boom, I began to research, a few short weeks ago, Burma tours. I came across the Flashpack. Cha and I always joked that we didn’t ever ‘back pack’ but rather ‘flash packed’ so it seemed apt. I enquired, but was somewhat disappointed to learn that the November trip was unlikely to run. Instead, they suggested Sri Lanka in October. I read the itinerary, which looked fab, but the timings simply didn’t work. Then Selina and I started talking about India. And Barbados. Then Anamaria suggested Bali. Asia was calling me.

Then an e-mail arrived from me this week from the Flashpack to say that both Burma, and Sri Lanka, are now running in November. I jumped up and down in my seat at work. I now had a choice. Wait for Selina to figure out India. Consider Bali at Christmas. Skip to Burma or try Sri Lanka. Holiday rations would not stretch everywhere.

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Memphis – 2011

Yet the Flashpack, and what it offers, has been calling me. One of the very best travel experiences of my life was Marrakech last year. Especially the project we did with the local village children. Solo travelling where I had the greatest adventure with some amazingly phenomenal people. The opportunity – to go far away – on my own – and have an experience, another real life adventure, has been tempted. There are some travel experiences in life that you need to feel the silence of alone.

As I therefore sat and felt the silence of my thoughts, of my options – I found myself committing. I found myself back in 2011. Back adventuring. Back doing something because it’s what I, solely I, want to do. Burma, you’re going to be beautiful, but you can indeed wait. If my baby booming friend does indeed want to go, we’ll go. Your temples, sunsets and long-necked women shall be there next year.

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Goodbye Party – before Summer Travels, July 2011

So this morning, in sheer contrast to my Ibiza weekend, I booked my November trip to Asia. I shall be participating in community projects in a local school and playing cricket with the local children. I shall be meeting baby turtles and taking sunset and sunrise safaris looking for jaguars and elephants. I shall be visiting the fishermen on their stilts. I shall be sampling tea. I shall be watching sunsets and recreating my Marrakech moment in 2016, in Asia.

Sri Lanka, you are booked. I know little about you except that one of my oldest friends and his wonderful Sri Lankan family, are some of the nicest people I know. I know that you’ll give me a different side of Asia. I know that I’ll be feeling your silence, with my solo travel, and that it’s going to be one of the greatest moments of my 2016 revival.

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My best and oldest Sri Lankan friend

Then there are work trips, too. There’s a good chance I’ll be in Chicago, speaking at a global event this September, and I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of events in Barcelona in November and March next year. But November clashes with Sri Lanka, so I shall soak up my Spanish sangria this weekend in Ibiza and see what March 2017 shall bring instead.

An hour and a half of blogging has passed and we are getting ready to land. So I shall say this. 2015, you brought hard work and rebalance, amidst long weekends and NYC workshops. 2016, I am making the most of you. You’ve brought me one hurricane thus far, and a promising Middle Eastern storm, but I’m feeling the silence between them. I don’t know where I am going but heck, I know where I’ve been and the silence, well, let’s just say it feels so very right.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 11, 2016

Fleeting Moments & Changing Gears

A little over 18 months ago, Sonya and I set off from Heathrow Sydney bound for New Year. For me, a 3-week vacation around Australia followed and for Sonya, well a 3-month expedition across Asia and the Pacific would ensue. The Amazing Adventure I called that blog. We set off, ready for some. One Republic’s ‘I Lived’ became our anthem, along with ‘Love Alone Is Worth The Fight’.

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Fleeting Fireworks – NYE 14/15, Sydney

It’s so odd, how fleeting moments and twisted paths can lead us down different roads. That trip nearly didn’t happen. I’d been due to spend Christmas and New Year in New Zealand. Sonya had a job she couldn’t get out of. Neither of us had planned to adventure together. Then as Winter approached and I cancelled my Christmas plans, things started to fall into place. Sonya finally got her redundancy she’d been waiting for, and a release date from work just before Christmas. “Let’s go somewhere!” we both said. “Let’s do it.”

It was the perfect recipe for us both. I was desperate to get away and find a 3-week period of respite, having completed a major acquisition in the prior 12-month period and not taken nearly enough holiday for my liking. Sonya, was keen to make a change. To shift gears in her life. To find fleeting moments and memories that could become her own. We both needed the break. The reflective space. The chance to restore, heal, learn and grow.

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Changing gears…

A fateful invitation from a former supplier to spend New Year with him in Sydney sealed the deal. We found ourselves sat in Trailfinders. Sonya was planning a big adventure. She was going on from Australia to New Zealand, then to Asia. I just needed to book a flight to and from Australia, and to somehow restrain myself from quitting my job and going with her for the whole trip.

I sat on my hands with envy. Oh how it would have been easier to just quit London and take off with her. But I knew I had to work through it this time. That quitting wasn’t always the way to deal with reality. Plus I’d just committed to a new job with a six-month notice period. I was irritated at first. I’d been a footloose and fancy-free consultant for the prior two years, and in that moment when I wanted to take off, I’d locked myself in, albeit for a role I have adored and loved ever since.

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22 Year Strong Friendships… Nothing Fleeting About That…

So I had to resist the urge to stay behind with Sonya when our 3-week adventure in Australia came to a close. I waved her goodbye at Brisbane Airport. I was choked, so genuinely so. That three-week journey was so very much needed. Yet most of all I was choked on behalf of Sonya, heading off on her own to seize the day and take life into her own hands. My friend for the past (then) 20 years was taking back control. She was taking a chance to make a change.

I recall being sat with Sonya, sailing the Whitsundays. My legs dangled from the boat, as we sailed. We sat like that for a couple of hours, talking, musing and recalling our youthful aspirations and the things that had, over the years, detracted us from our path. We sat steadily watching the ocean. I began to feel better again. The calmness of the seas restored something in me. The fleeting feeling of being out of control whilst diving the Great Barrier Reef made me feel more alive than I had felt in weeks. Sonya was inspired. She was ready to take on a New Day.

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Fleeting Sunsets – Sailing the Whitsundays

When Sonya returned from that trip in April that year, you could see the change. She was restless now back in London. She had found something greater out on the ocean road. Little did we know then just how much she had found, and just how much it would change her life. For just as was said in the wedding speech this past weekend, only she, could travel to the other side of the world, to meet someone she would marry, only to find that he grew up a mile down the road from her in London.

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Friendships…

We spoke about it upon her return. The guy from Perth. Soon he would come to London for a week or so. Then before we knew it, Sonya was packing a bag again, travelling back to Perth, for a 3-month period, or as long as her visa would allow. Life would never be the same again for her. That fateful Winter of 2014, where it all came together, where her redundancy timing and my desperate need to get away collided to form the basis for an adventure that shifted gears in a direction no one could have fathomed nor predicted.

By last Summer Sonya was engaged. By the end of Summer Sonya announced she would be emigrating. By the time she came back, planned a wedding and organised a move to the other wise of the world, it was suddenly July 2016. Just 18 months or so since that trip. A fleeting chance seized. Decisive action taken to change her life forever.

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When you travel to the other side of the road, to find something that was down the road all along…

So last weekend was the wedding. An amazing culmination of a week of celebrations. Beautiful colours. Beautiful lives. More smiles on a bride and groom than I think I have ever seen. Bittersweet tears of joy and sadness. Joyful celebrations for the wedding, silent tears for the loss of a friend to many and family member to others. For me, 22 years of friendship moving to the other side of the world in the next week. Yet I am so intensely proud of Sonya and her ability to seize her day.

Throughout the wedding, people would come up to me. “You’re the one who went to Australia with her” and “you’re the one who suggested her sabbatical”. Yes, indeed I was but it was all Sonya’s plans, all her own making. Little encouragement had been needed, as I vicariously lived through her decision to take on the world and, it seems, to take on the immense challenge of opening her heart, of wearing it on her sleeve and risking hurt for the potential reward.

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Spectacular, fleeting moments

Her reward has come through in leaps and bounds. Her reward for believing, for trying and for seeing, renders her now with this happy new start. With this happy consequence of our plans coming together, of their collision when gears shifted abruptly and forced us both to reverse, reset and drive forward again.

It seems only apt then that I again find myself driving forward. That I am exploring new roads, once again. That suddenly the world doesn’t seem so big and doors I might otherwise have shut for the sake of distance and logistics seem no longer quite as important. That perhaps everything is worth a chance. Perhaps everything is worth considering, or exploring. That life is full of surprise and maybe it’s exciting to surprise ourselves sometimes. Perhaps I should surprise myself now and again. Perhaps I should consider that less viable opportunities might indeed be viable. Perhaps head and heart don’t have to be quite so juxtaposed.

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When head and heart are no longer juxtaposed…

So I’m giving myself this Summer, to surprise myself. To tread paths I wouldn’t usually tread. To wander opportunities I would usually dismiss. To distract myself and see where distraction might lead. I don’t know how fleeting yet my Summer might be. I don’t know yet if Autumn shall find me smiling at my Summer, or whether my life might have shifted a gear or two, but I am certain it’s going to be fun. I am certain that fleeting moments this Summer shall be memorable. That doing new things shall be the nature of my July and August.

My July is proving interesting. My packed days and nights are a diary challenge, but my stories, my opportunities, are alive. I am seizing my day. I am doing new things. This week I am giving blood. Next week I head to Ibiza. The end of the month sees another wedding and a Race for Life. It’s going to be a spectacular Summer. Fun awaits. Opportunities are there to be explored. Moments, however fleeting, shall be cherished, as I find the right gear.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | July 3, 2016

This is what it feels like…  

It’s a beautiful Sunday evening in London and I smile at the chance of a quiet evening, at home, in my room, with no bag to pack or place to go. I’ve been in the country for the last two and a half weeks and I realise that it’s probably the longest stint I’ve had without an airport trip for several weeks. For once, it feels quite nice to be slowing down a little. This is what it feels like to be in London again.

Tom moved out this week, back to the Midlands, to embark on a brand new journey and career change. I blink in quiet disbelief at where the time has gone since he arrived in London, in West Hampstead, towards the end of 2014. We spent our last evening together at the flat, watching England take a beating from Iceland, talking about our Icelandic adventures last year, which seems so long ago now.

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This is what it feels like… to reminisce on Icelandic adventures

Not one for goodbyes, we had a hug and a ‘see you later’ moment, as I left for work Thursday morning. When I got home that evening, in typical Tom fashion, he’d left a bottle of prosseco and welcome card for our new flatmate, Selina and I in the kitchen. Just like the fizz and chocolates he’d leave me when I was working like a crazy person last year, not even coming up for air on weekends as I tackled a mammoth global programme and kept myself busy so I never had time to think.

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This is what it feels like… to remember working like a crazy person through 2015

Then in my room sat another card, just to me this time, perfectly titled ‘Seize the Day!’ It was Tom’s echo to the plate I painted a few weeks back and the blog I wrote that same weekend. Some lovely words inside and I was holding back tears through my smile. How apt that Tom would get me a card like this. It was the perfect finish to our time living together. The perfect symbol of how much Tom ‘gets’ how far we’ve come.

I recall the day Tom moved in. I had just arrived off of a night flight from NYC and I stood in an empty room that would become Tom’s, silently disbelieving how quickly my world had been turned upside down in the space of a week or so. Seconds later Tom and his dad arrived, with the usual moving shenanigans – boxes, suitcases etc. We stopped for a drink, and I pretty soon addressed the elephant in the room and thanked them both for being so reasonable in light of last minute changes to plans and the tenancy arrangements we’d previously made. “These things happen” said Tom, and “it’ll be alright, you’ll see. Now help me with these boxes.”

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This is what it feels like, to inspire someone to seize the day

I soon learnt that was Tom’s way to get me to deal with things. Move on. Don’t dwell. Find a way to move the needle. Find a way to shift things forward. Find a way to keep going in the right direction. Yet over the following weeks that was easier said than done, but Tom was adamant it was possible. Every time I felt a bit sorry for myself he told me I was doing just fine. “You’re good and you don’t even know it yet” Tom would say. He was right, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. “You don’t even know how good you are, do you?” he would say.

So as Tom help to build me back up, alongside many other friends and family members, our friendship grew. Then last August, I received a lovely, somewhat rambling message from Tom, telling me to chill out, take a holiday, stop working so damned hard and give myself a break. Which I did, in Dubrovnik for a few days. Thereafter, some of my balance began to come back. My year of burying myself in project work had to come to some kind of end. I needed to make some space in my life again. I needed to heed Tom’s wise words and start taking risks again. I needed to slow. I need to let myself think. To let myself feel. To let myself be ready again.

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This is what it feels like, to say farewell to a fantastic friend

My readiness took some time. In truth, the arrival of 2016 really marked my turning point. Perhaps, not so coincidentally in light of the fact that my project ended and I finally had a bit of time to breathe again. I finally had no more excuses. No more work to put in my way.

So what of 2016? Well, as we reach this mid-year point, I welcome another new flatmate. For the first time ever, I am living in a flat solely of girls. The HR Exec, the Private Banker and the Medical Consultant. It’s harmonious and fun. There are a lot more candles burning and fresh flowers in the room these days. There’s a lot more shopping, and a lot more fashion shows when our asos orders arrive. There’s also a collective sense of fun. Of making our readiness to take on the latter half of 2016 a fun experience. Of enjoying the moment. Of taking chances and never being sorry for a might-have-been.

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This is what it feels like, to inflict the Piano Bar in Kensington on Tom!

Tom rolled his eyes when Selina and I got going. That slightly exaggerated, wry commentary of women being more mental in pairs and encouraging each other. Yet as Tom was leaving, he admitted that I was anything but mental. A bit crazy and impulsive sometimes, perhaps, in a fun way, but largely, pretty sound. I laughed and joked with him. “I wasn’t always like that Tom, I’ve done a lot of work to be this sane.” He smiled, knowing that I will always want to be that person who seizes the day.

So this is what it feels like, to be looking forward to the rest of 2016. To close a chapter in my book and say see you later to Tom. To have no more ties to my old West Hampstead world. To be setting up home with two fab ladies and to be excited for the adventures and stories we can share with each other.

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This is what it feels like, to hang with a little princess in the July sunshine

This is what it feels like to wish Tom well on his way. To smile inside knowing that his new vocation, as a teacher, will serve him well. To know that so long as he supports his students the same way he has supported me, he’ll be amazing. This is what it feels like to be sad to wave adios to him but to know he is seizing his day today.

So this is what it feels like, as well, to close my project at work. To see resources that have been on this journey with me for the last two years roll off the project. This is how it feels like to come up for air again and have some time and space. This is what it feels like to wonder what my next chapter will be? To try to enjoy a more regular pace.

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This is what it feels like, to smile for the promise of tomorrow on Hampstead Heath

“You look really well” Reg said to me today “you’re radiating, really radiating”. I explained that I get more rest these days; that the hurricanes in my life are slowing to a gentle breeze. That I get pleasure from things I used to do. That this is what it feels like to look back on yesterday and know I made it to today.

We both took a walk on Hampstead Heath today, meandering our Sunday afternoon away and reflecting on old times, old stories. I would stop to pat the many dogs out on their runs. We would sit and look at the water, lying on the grass and pondering the ripple effect.

I told Reg that I painted last Sunday afternoon, just because I felt like it. I told her that I have a tendency to slow down and get bored, but that I know I need to enjoy a slower speed for a while.

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This is what it feels like to feel to be home

I told her about today, when a reminder of yesterday swung by my street.  I told her how this is what it feels like then, for that moment to happen.  For that encounter to be okay.  For that reminder to simply draw a smile and an appreciation for a friendship that had to be distanced.

So this is what it feels like then, to be blogging at home, and not at 36,000 feet.  This is what it feels like to do so in what feels like a new home.  In a new month of the year.  In what feels like, a new start.

 

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | June 23, 2016

Enchanting, Sweet, Solitude

For once, I am not on a journey. I sit, simply at home, blogging away with a glass of wine in hand and candles burning in my room. I bought fresh flowers yesterday and in a true sign of age, I am enjoying looking at them. I’m finding my evenings peaceful again, with the recent more manageable work pace and sweetness I can find in solitude.

I have always been someone who gets their energy from other people – I’ve always been that on the go person. It takes real effort for me to slow down, to steady my pace and to find a rhythm that doesn’t exhaust me. I used to crash on weekends, from long work days and social evenings, but recently I’ve found a renewed energy to wake early on weekends, go for a swim, take a jog, and make the most of my days.

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July is beckoning me. Two very good friends of mine get married this month, both weekday weddings. I just spoke with one of them, and we laughed and joked and remembered some seven years ago, when her story, with her groom to be, was a little more challenging. “Nothing good gets away” I told Sal tonight, ruefully sharing another friend’s recent words of wisdom with me. Sal laughed at me on the phone, for in her case, that something good did not get away, despite several curveballs coming at them both for the first year or two.

Sal and I were transported back tonight, to seven years ago. She was in a hotel room in Warwick, I was in a hotel room in Leeds, both consultants, living on the road – both sharing a sweetness to our solitude in those quiet evenings alone in a city for work. We would chat most evenings on the phone – sharing our stories, of crushes and of being crushed. Today it’s wonderful to see how that perseverance, and willingness to not let good things get away, brought her to an enchanting today.

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My world is enchanting too. “Perhaps” a colleague said to me this week “you should take a trip somewhere”. This may seem silly, as I am constantly travelling, but there’s a real difference between a break and full blown travel expedition – an all encompassing experience. There’s a part of me that wants to do another sabbatical, but I am truly torn for I am genuinely loving my London life and my great work. I know that finding great work isn’t always easy, and I’m not sure I want to give that up.

“What about at Christmas?” my colleague said, and of course perhaps another 3-week Australian style trip would be perfect, but I’ve a thirst to do something sooner. To do something differently. I found myself looking again at Burma this week, and a flashpack tour for November. There’s a part of me on the verge of booking, but another part trying to balance with saving holiday to do something else over the Christmas period.

There are a few other options on the cards too. Selina and I are discussing a trip to India. There’s a possible girl’s trip to Barbados on the cards too. Barcelona has been mentioned. I am struggling to plan it all in with my holiday rations. Gone are my consulting days where I could finish a project, take off for three months, then walk back into another project. I have responsibilities now. I have a permanent job.

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It was last year that I went away with a group of strangers to Morocco, and it was one of the very best experiences of my life. Perhaps I want to capture that again and push myself out of my comfort zone further, by disappearing with no one I know, sweet in solitude. Morocco of course rendered me with tremendous payback and insight into solo travelling. New friends, who all share the very same passion for travel and photography. Friends who we can go to the theatre with, pop to dinners with randomly and those who we can while away a few hours and few cocktails any night of the week.

Perhaps I want to recapture that sweet, solitude of travelling alone but with people. Of knowing nobody, but becoming somebody to them. Of having a passion unite strangers. Of feeling the world and its ways.

Maybe I’m thinking more about it all, as today I took the decision to start the process to dissolution my company, HappenCreate Ltd. The end of my consultancy business perhaps marks a real recognition that I’m happy now, in a permanent role, in a place that rewards me with great work. It’s almost four years old, but I haven’t traded for the last 20 months or so. It is definitely time to close it down.

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There is always, of course, the prospect to start again. To find new, creative pursuits and business opportunities. I think though, that the next company, if indeed there is one, might be an altogether more creative pursuit. Perhaps artistic endeavours are my way forward. Perhaps there’s a sweeter solitude in painting, writing, making photos. Perhaps that’s great work too. Perhaps that’s just as enchanting.

So as I contemplate options and opportunities, I think of a quote by Warsan Shire that reads, “my alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.” So perhaps that goes for many things. Perhaps my art, my solo travel experiences, my nights in with candles and flowers, my time swimming mindfully in the pool, perhaps these are all such sweet, moments of solitude. Perhaps it can be sweeter. But perhaps, right now, I don’t need it to be.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | June 16, 2016

The Canvas of Life

I am above Boston, at 37,000 feet, flying on a 787 Dreamliner for the first time, its hum more silent than usual. We left New York a little under an hour ago, London bound after a week on the East Coast. The time has flown. Between full days of meetings with the team in New York, we’ve been making the most of our time in Manhattan.   These past seven days have been a perfect distraction. A colourful reprieve.

It feels odd to be flying back mid-week, but I have a place to be tomorrow. In stark contrast to New York’s sun, London and surrounds is battling wind and rain. Tomorrow, there will be clouds in Bedfordshire, so I hope to bring a bit of colour back to the grey. To celebrate a life of colour and remember every hue. No doubt there will be tears, but amidst them will be a defiance to never forget, to continue on painting this canvas of life in honour of those gone, and to see beauty in every turn of head and moment of light.

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I felt extra sad leaving New York today. As we left in the car and departed Manhattan, that all so familiar skyline came into view from the bridge. I looked around over my shoulder, watching the skyscrapers disappear in the background, just like I did on my first trip, some eleven years ago. I couldn’t quite capture where the sadness came from, except perhaps the reality of what tomorrow shall bring.

Fields of Gold is beating into my ears. Sting’s version being my favourite. It brings so many connotations to me, from so many years ago. Vivid moments are recalled, of my grandparents, of that song playing, of that point in time. There’s a level of comfort that it serves me with. A level of contentment. Songs, they can take you back so quickly, to a place and point in time.

Every second of personal time in New York was maximised this trip. Seemingly, more so than normal. I was fortunate enough to catch up with all of my closest New York friends. I was working hard to paint my canvas. Perhaps it was extra important to this trip. Perhaps I needed to be around them. I needed to celebrate living. I needed to keep adventuring, just like I promised to. I needed to bring colour back to this world.

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We interspersed restaurants of old with new samplings. The rooftops were perfect, so much warmer than April. We watched an amazing sunset at the Standard Hotel. The wind up there was rife, our dresses tried to dance away with the breeze, beautiful, unfinished dancing with New York, but we managed to still them enough to retain our modesty.

On Friday we unwound with the team in the office. Rooftop drinks in the heart of Manhattan, fighting jet-lag’s onslaught with team chatter and nibbles in the office. From there we headed to the Upper East Side to visit my old boss David, and his wife Julia, now living in New York. I’d last seem them in Miami last November, when in a random coincidence they were staying down the road for Thanksgiving, just as I was delivering a workshop with our Latin American team.

We met David and Julia’s labradoodle, Tilley, who was perhaps more excited than I. “I’m sorry she jumps” David said, as I gleefully encouraged her to play, remembering Benji and Toby, our wonderful golden retrievers who we grew up with as children and teenagers. Tilley brought us her tennis ball, and a game of throw and chase ensued. It was a perfect Friday evening. I got my doggy kicks.

Between games with Tilley, David was kind enough to make us fresh blueberry mojitos, as we caught up on his life in New York. We exchanged stories and got caught up. More mojitos followed. Somewhere, amidst the conversation, we ran out of time, and so we had to say our farewells, so that I could meet another friend for dinner, a Greek, fish restaurant this time permeating our catch up.

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Come Saturday morning, jet lag awoke us with a jolt. I made the most of it. Feeling motivated, a 7.30am jog around Central Park followed. 5k later, dodging an actual 10k race that was going on, and Rhiannon and I staggered back to the hotel. Jogging around Central Park was amazing. We made our way around the various sights. Before long, I had jogged to my fountain, where I sat and had a picture, like so many times before. Another year gone by, for the past two visits have been too cold to venture there.

Having reconnected with my fountain, I stopped to pause. Things feel good right now. I feel, perhaps, more me than I have felt for so long. Selfishly, I am not willing to entertain disrupting that right now, unless it’s for something amazing. I have my life back a little. My two year project is steadying now. My health and wellbeing is being replenished. My spirit, my desire to try, is restored. My recognition that life is short, that it can change so rapidly, has been so recently and rapidly reminded.  My desire to paint my canvas of life again, restored.

Rhiannon and I wandered Manhattan most of Saturday. We meandered through streets, popped into shops, stopped for brunch and in and impromptu moment, decided to get tickets for an American in Paris, one of the latest Tony award winning Broadway shows. Through the theatre on Saturday evening, we could barely stay awake.

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Sunday I rose early again. I repeated my jog in Central Park. Another 5k down. I couldn’t have done that several weeks ago. The scenery was stunning. It was warm, even at 8am in the morning. I felt invigorated jogging through the park, this special place in New York and my heart. Central Park has always been my favourite part of the city. It brings a stark contrasting silence to the rest of the city. I’ll forever remember climbing the boulders on my first visit. I’ll always love my fountain.

From my jog to another brunch in the East Village, at a Moroccan place Ingrid recommended as a reminder of our wonderful trip to Marrakech last year. I caught up with David, wonderful Scottish David, who will have lived in New York for three years this coming winter. He asked me about the last couple of months, of updates since we last connected face-to-face in April. I updated him and, like always, he listened, offering sound advice and reflection.

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We updated each other on our lives. On our interactions. On the endless pursuit of the amazing. An ocean apart but journeys colliding, as always. We laughed our way through brunch, through stories. We shared travel adventures. We talked of travel plans. I paused, remembering how great he has always been, but how he particularly managed to pull me through my 2014’s end. Of how fortunate I had been to vacate London to New York every 2-3 weeks or so back then. Of how lucky I had been to have David there, guiding me every step of the way.

I recalled wandering with David through Colombus Circus that autumn. I recalled dancing around the fountains, putting on a brave face, yet as I walked through Colombus Circle this time, this trip, my smiles were real.

“What do you think, David?” I asked him, valuing his opinion as always. He gave me an answer I have been looking for. He gave me a balanced view. He gave me David’s view. He gave me advice and counsel that only David can give. Only David, knowing everything, knowing me so very well, can share. Only David, with his equally demanding list, can understand.

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So from brunch with David we wandered the Lower East Side. I had my SLR out, and I took full advantage of that fact, snapping away some photographs. Making photos. Observing buildings. Capturing flowers. Walking around in the sun and looking, really looking, at everything around me, at the world and its ways.

As the day unfolded we connected with Stefani, in a bar beneath her friend Danny’s apartment. A couple of drinks was all it took to catch up, before we adventured on to our planned evening, of rooftop, sunset drinks at the Standard Hotel, and a meal at Buddakan, my favourite restaurant in New York.

We ventured to the terrace at the Standard. We sat, nursing a drink as the sun began to set over downtown New York. The views were, as always, beyond stunning, and we whiled away an hour or so, watching out over the skyline. Manhattan’s buzz rang out beneath us, and we looked out at one of the most iconic views in the world, soaking it up to be just as surreal as it always is.

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As Monday swung by, so did work. Meetings from 8.30am to 7pm permeated each day, with afternoon caffeine giving us the kick we needed to get through the final meetings of the day. Budgets compiled, workshops run and 1:1 catch ups with the team were the nature of our days. We paused for lunch, heading out for tuna salad with some suppliers who had heard we were in New York, and who took the moment to demonstrate some cutting edge thinking in learning and development technology and the demands of today’s millennials.

As our evening swung by, we sampled more food, hanging this time in the Flatiron District. We wandered by Madison Square Park, and it reminded me of my EMI Music days, when I used to visit our offices on 5th Avenue at 20th St, where I first met Stefani, some ten years ago. I remember not wanting to leave New York on that trip in October 2016. I recall speaking to my mum on the phone, as I walked through the park, telling her I’d like to stay, that I had found my sanctuary in New York. Little did I know then, how fortunate I would be to frequent it so regularly.

So as our evening came to a close food-wise, we ventured to 230 Fifth, another rooftop bar, that I first visited in 2011 with Stefani after dinner at Eleven Madison, and again in 2012 with Cha, on a day-time visit. So on this, our third visit, we were greeted to time with Steve and his wife Vicky, celebrating their anniversary in New York.

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I met Steve through World of Rock, the website I ran with my sister, so many moons ago. The website started in 2002, so I surmise that I’ve known Steve for nearly as long. People these days know Steve as one of the ‘undateables’ – from the Channel 4 show, but he’s married now, and seems to have it all figured out. We took advantage of our colliding visits, sharing New York stories, Goo Goo Dolls stories and, yes, World of Rock stories, of the ‘Resident Rock Chicks’ as Louisa and I became known in online communities for a while.

As Tuesday came, so did more meetings. By evening, we took it leisurely. Some food, good company and rooftop drinks at our hotel at the Hudson by Colombus Circle. We caught up with Scott, my Nashville peer in the Talent team, and Terra, who visited us in London just last month and whom I last saw for an evening in the city when we ventured out one Thursday night.

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So today brought the trip to a close. I took the team out for lunch and continued on in some meetings we had scheduled, but by 3pm, when our car came to pick us up, I was suddenly beat. It’s been a busy, wonderful week in New York, but it’s been fast paced and tiring too. Its distraction has been timely, but it’s time to slow down and absorb the last couple of weeks. To pause and feel the moment.

And once I’ve paused, and I’ve sketched out a frame, I’ll looking forward to painting some colour again, to bringing my canvas alive and finding light in the grey, and summer to the rain.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | June 10, 2016

The Bells of Freedom

It’s been just ten days since my last flight and today I head west towards the US, in that all too familiar transatlantic commute to New York. We managed to get upgraded at check-in, so are fortunate enough to be enjoying Virgin’s upper class service today. Someone must have been looking out for me today. Fortune is on my side.

A lot can happen in ten days. A lot can happen in a day. A lot can happen in six months. Life never ceases to render us with curveballs. Seasons never fail to come and go, life changes and evolves with the warmth of the sun and the passing and arrival of winters, summers, autumns and spring.

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It was -4 degrees in New York on my last visit – an unseasonably cold April.  “Chuffing freezing” Rhiannon called it. Yet today it is June. June and the weather is warm – some 80 degrees or so. The rooftops bars will be swinging. The Highline’s stalls will be selling ice-cream. Central Park will be packed with sunbathing tourists and locals relaxing on Sheep Meadow. Open air cinemas and theatre shows shall permeate the evenings and the humidity of the city will have set in once again with mosquitos out in force and children playing in the fountains.

The weather can change in an instant in New York. April’s winter juxtaposed to June’s sun. Life can change in a moment too. Lives can be altered forever. Brave battles can be lost. Days you knew would come but hoped would be delayed can suddenly arrive, in a moment when you least expect them to. Disbelief can render us paused, stalled and reflective. How can the world shift so suddenly, in such a short space of time?

So once again I am on my way to dance with New York. This forever beautiful, forever unfinished dance. Close friends and colleagues await my arrival. They have all reached out to me over the last few days, all offering their respective words of support. For there is nothing like brave battles ending suddenly, to make you stop, think and appreciate those around you. There is nothing like a stubborn fight no longer being something you can compete with, to abruptly halt you in your tracks.

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There will be plenty to see and do in New York of course, as there always is. Besides work, my evenings and weekend shall be crammed with people to see, things to do, places to wander. Yet the one place I absolutely must visit this trip is St Patrick’s Cathedral. This beautiful, newly renovated building in the heart of mid-town Manhattan never fails to choke me.

I have a candle that I need to light on this trip. A ray of warmth and a flicker of amber to burn bright. A life to be acknowledged. A memory to be made. A brave soul to be honoured. A person who didn’t want to be forgotten shall be thought about. A moment of reflection shall be had in this stunning Cathedral.

I wasn’t supposed to be flying today. I was due to leave for New York on the weekend and had planned to work next week, then to spend the following weekend at Fire Island, hanging at the beach with the best of friends. Yet life can turn upside down in a moment, and I find myself heading out early, so that I can be back next week, ready to pay respects to a beautiful and brave auntie who held on for the most perfect wedding, then promptly let go of her borrowed time.

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I had my SLR at the wedding and as usual, I snapped away. Precious memories captured to my SD card. Some wonderful photos, wonderful moments to treasure. My favourite photographs being the unexpected. The moments I observed and captured unbeknownst to the object of my observations – those natural moments that would otherwise be fleeting. They are so wonderful to look back upon now, just two weeks or so since those moments graced us.

Ironically, I ran my first 5k outdoors in under 40 minutes last Saturday and it was an exact 8 weeks until my Hyde Park race, so I spent Sunday afternoon putting together my Race for Life page, to fundraise for Cancer Research in honour of my aunt, still at that moment battling through. Just five minutes after putting the page live and gaining my first sponsorship, the bells of her freedom rang out.

Tom took me straight out for a walk. It was the best thing I could do. It was early evening and the sun was setting. The most beautiful, orange hue lit up the sky. The air was crisp and we wandered my local streets, walking and talking. It was going to be sunny on Monday. It was going to be a beautiful day in London. The sun was going to shine. Freedom could be bright. Everyone around me carried on. My world slowed oddly for a while. I noticed people around me. I noticed the breeze. I felt the sun on my skin.

So now I shall be running in memory, and my training shall continue in New York. My jogging kit is with me, and Central Park is just steps from my hotel. I haven’t jogged in the park since 2011, when I was away for an epic two and a half months, travelling across the US and East Coast Canada. I remember the freedom of jogging in the park – music in my ears and smiles in my heart. That trip began and ended in New York – like all good stories seem to do.

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I recall my blogs from that summer of travel in 2011. I recall my auntie commenting on them, urging me to continue on with my adventures. So continue I have, and continue I will. Each day is a gift, each adventure a memory. I burst towards tomorrow. I breathe in today. I smile at yesterday.

The bells of freedom say we can do whatever we want to do. Be wherever we want to be. Be with whomever we want to be with. Spend time with those whom we want to connect with. We can afford to be brave. We can travel freely. We can hold adventures in our heart and hands and never cease to move forward. We can choose to live rather than merely exist.

In choosing to live I have to do things. I am an activist at heart. I have to be on the go. I have to be acting upon ideas. I have to make happen every dream I think of. I cope by doing. I live by being. I act on instinct. I can be, occasionally, spontaneous. I find myself making quick, gut decisions at times. Spur of the moment going with it. You only live once, it is true. So living with regret is not for me. Doing because it feels right is the way forward.

So I shall jog in memory. I shall light a candle and feel its warmth surround me. I shall continue my adventures. I shall remember an amazing wedding. I shall cherish the gift of time. I shall dance with New York in these coming days, and dance with London upon my return. I shall strive to ring my own bells of freedom each day. To live life for each moment.

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I wonder about my next adventure. I have just booked a weekend in Ibiza. I have my Rocky Mountains and Vancouver trip coming up. I am saving holiday for a winter escape and New Year adventure. I am still thinking about Burma. I am tempted by Belize. I am thankful for a job that sends me abroad so frequently to scratch my travel itch so often. Travelling the world has become my favourite pastime. I cannot imagine life without that opportunity – without those regular adventures.

I am crystal clear on what’s important to me these days. There’s a clarity to what I want. A definitive understanding of how far I can go. A reluctance to ever settle for less. A thirst to experience the world and its ways. A desire to share the world and its ways. An appreciation of anyone that is willing to live and not merely exist. An admiration for the other adventurers out there. A respect for anyone that can be positive in the wake of difficult circumstances.

So at 38,000 feet and three hours from New York, I smile at the clouds. My beautiful and brave auntie promised to be sat on one, so I shall give her a wave from my next adventure. I shall say hi from my next beautifully unfinished dance with New York. I shall listen to the bells of her freedom ring out to the beat of my smiling heart. I promised her I shall never forget – and I won’t. Remembrance shall partner every adventure. I need only look to the clouds.

 

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | May 30, 2016

Listening to the Sounds of Life & Willfully Seeing

My departure from Paphos today was poignant. We found ourselves sat in the outside bar in the departures area, a glass of wine in hand, overlooking the blood orange sunset amidst the arriving aircraft. I was transported back twenty months, sat in that same area, albeit then on a day flight, a beer in hand and sat with Stacey, slightly sickened at the thought of returning to London. Yet not today. Today was a healthy reminder of how far we’ve come.

Everywhere in Cyprus this past week, I’ve trodden paths I’ve previously wandered, but with a different sight, a new method to listen to the sounds of Cypriot life. Yes, routines may have been, in part, the same. The oh so familiar early evening ritual of wine on the verandah. The ease of being sat with friends and their family, in relaxed understanding and knowledge of yesterday, its impact on today and the promise of tomorrow.

Cyprus – May 2016

The same sun loungers on the same grass at Vardas Beach. The same rocks protruding from the ocean, with new but habitual waves crashing into them. The same lookout spots, the same churches and the same Blazing Saddles, with its rainbow coloured cocktails and cheese. The same cat park, with new incumbents and new paving. Everything the same yet so different twenty months on. A renewed ability to see again, to feel again, to wonder again, to listen to the sounds of life.

So at 36,000 feet, I again blog. I’ve just finished editing my photographs from Cyprus, and I’m back in my routine of writing and listening to music, 90 minutes from London. A fellow passenger who I was sat next to on the outbound flight just wandered by to say hello. He and his wife are retired, and he sat watching me edit the wedding photographs on my way out, as well as blog.

Cyprus – July/August 2008

“You’re very creative” he commented to me as we were landing in Paphos. “It’s lovely to see, photos, writing. I’ve just been sat here watching you through the flight.” He went on to tell me how he and his wife never go back to the same place twice. How there’s always a new path to walk. I told him how I like to explore new places, but how sometimes, re-exploring a place you already know, or learning to see a place differently a second time around, can be equally as rewarding. He seemed reflective at my comments.

“Blogging again I see” he just wandered by, on this, the return leg. Indeed I am I explain, sharing my enthusiasm for today’s blog, inspired by a week in the sun, lots of conversations and a book I just read on my holiday. “Photos too?” he asks. “Of course” I reply. We exchange smiles and he tells me to keep it up, that it’s rare to see such inspiration and creativity. I smile and thank him.

Agios Georgios – in 2010, and 2016

So here I am now pondering the paths trodden once, twice and three or four times. Like New York and Kefalonia, Cyprus has beckoned me several times over the years. New York, for both fun and for work. Kefalonia, always for the way it warms my heart. Cyprus, for its reflective space and ability to re-charge me, as much to do with the company of friends and their family, as the island itself. It’s an easy holiday. A place of guaranteed respite that I always associate with renewed sense of purpose. These are the same paths but these are very different steps upon them. For each time that I walk a path, the way I walk upon it, the way that the next level of my life unfolds, it demands a different version of me.

And what of a different version of me? How can I continually evolve and learn from prior steps? Perhaps the first step is to willfully look, to not allow myself to be blinded. The concept of willful blindness is again fresh in my mind, as I recall a blog last year that talked of the principle. Yet I wrote that blog based upon a synopsis of what willful blindness was, and of what perhaps I wanted it then to be. However, I have just finished reading the book of the same name and better understand it now.

A cruise to Egypt from Cyprus – Summer 2008

The book was richer than I had expected, based upon human behaviours, psychological and scientific research and shining a light on many corporate, historical and political events and those that were willfully – or willingly – blinded by circumstances. It speaks of people knowing, intellectually that confronting an issue is the only way to resolve it, however it states, obviously I guess, that confrontation and resolution can so often disrupt the status quo.

So given the choice, to disrupt the status quo, and choose between conflict and change on one hand, and the merits on the other, so few people make the choice, to make a change. We find it easier to stay as we are. To not rock any boats. To not place ourselves in any vulnerable place. To not lay our hearts, lives and minds out for further knocks. Indeed, the book calls it the ‘Ostrich Effect’ – whereby the ostrich position – of our heads being in the sand – can become so very attractive. In other words, it’s easy to stay blinded and care not to see, for seeing can lead to change, and change makes us vulnerable, change is a risk.

Cat Park – Sept 2014 and May 2016

Now in the book, this manifests itself, or rather is illustrated by, major events and in some cases, disasters. From greedy corporations that put the health and safety of workers at risk, to sub-contracted firms whose practices become invisible to their clients, as they are so far removed from the daily operations of the business. From whole towns suffering from asbestosis, under the knowing glance of everyone, but where the mining firms triggering the epidemic have historically gone untouched. From the phenomenal period of time that it took for research to be corroborated and endorsed to finally reduce the exposure of x-rays on pregnant mothers, as the link with leukemia was finally recognised, some years after it was known – amongst the medical and scientific elite, to be an issue.

These many examples of willful blindness, where multiple people knew, on some level, what was going on, is fascinating. There are multiple explanations, and a great deal of insight into human behaviour.

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Barry and Julie – May 2016

The book serves to highlight the potential impact of willful blindness on our lives. Of how we should try to become people that live our own lives. That we should aspire to build individuals with opinions, voices, an ability to challenge the status quo. That our teaching should deliver this, that our parenting should encourage critical thought. That we would all, at times, be richer for individuals who are able to think for themselves. That we shouldn’t lose ourselves trying to please everyone else. That we should take some risks and go against the tide from time to time.

So how is it possible that we can learn to see, acknowledge and react to signs, to facts even? To learn to get our heads out of the sand and see situations, people and circumstances for what they actually are? Why is it so difficult at times to see that which is so blindly obvious? Perhaps we are all trying to embrace complexity, in the hope of something simple? Perhaps when we over explain, over understand, over empathise, or indeed, when we do none of these things, it can be easier to stay blinded than to acknowledge a simple truth.

Cyprus – Flowers, Sunsets & Banana Plantations – May 2016

Perhaps it takes strong individuals to automatically stop trying when they feel unwanted, unappreciated, not recognised nor listened to. Perhaps in those circumstances those individuals will not try any longer to fix nor to beg. Perhaps they will remove their head from the sand, willfully see, and instead, just walk away, along another path.

So I wonder what I can learn from this. Perhaps that it is important to listen, to look, to pay attention to the sounds of life. That we should seize opportunities. We should take chances. We should willfully see what’s around us. We should be prepared for these things to change our lives and indeed, we should let them. We should risk what is safe for the uncertain. We should perhaps, more than once in our lifetimes, run away from sensible advice, from the status quo, from the collective norm, and do the opposite. Willfully. But not blindly.

 

 

 

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | May 23, 2016

Beautiful, Brave People, Do Actually Happen

The Alps shine in sunlight below as our delayed flight from Stansted heads east towards Cyprus for a week of sunshine and restoration, snorkeling, horse riding and general chilling. This is my fifth visit to Cyprus in the last eight or so years, since Stacey’s dad moved out to Paphos and kindly offered us a welcome respite from London, any time we want.

It follows a family wedding, just yesterday in Godalming. Only the second time I’ve visited this countryside town in Surrey, and it was much the way I remembered, though so very different this time around. The wedding, a proper family wedding on my Dad’s side, was extra poignant this year, for the presence of family, and one particular member, whom we never anticipated would make it this far. Yet sheer will and determination can go a very long way it seems.

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A beautiful and brave Auntie.

It’s a side of the family we don’t always see so often, yet recent events have brought us all ever closer together. We were able to smile, to celebrate, and to make the most of every precious memory on a day like yesterday, knowing that these borrowed times are special and a gift to be treasured. So treasure them we did. We laughed. We reminisced. We smiled. We brought into sharp contrast the reality of what is worth worrying about, and what is not.

This past day showed me how beautiful, brave people do in fact happen. How news of the worst kind can bring the very best out in individuals. How it’s possible to know love, know loss, know that time is ticking away menacingly and yet still be smiling, laughing and making each moment count. How to be brave you sometimes must show how vulnerable you are, and smile through it.

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Cousins, aunts and uncles

So in an altogether familiar way, I find myself blogging once again, at 38,000 feet. The last time I did the trip to Cyprus was some 20 or so months ago. I find it hard to believe where that time has gone. I was in a so very different place then. My last visit to Cyprus was booked last minute, in a desperate, longing bid to be anywhere except London. In a purposeful journey to get away, have some space and fathom the unfathomable. I couldn’t, wouldn’t stay in London. I had simply needed to be anywhere but there.

Stacey’s family offered me that space, without question, at a moment’s notice. They took me to the cat park, so I could cuddle kittens and take a moment to soothe. They let me talk, for hours, sat on a balcony with 2 euro wine, then swam with me, allowing me to use exercise as a chance to still my mind. They told me what I didn’t want to hear, but what I needed to hear. They took us to a village, to wander for hours, making photographs with my SLR and allowing us to stop and swing on the swings.   They allowed me every distraction that I needed in a few short days in Paphos.

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Beautiful couple.  Beautiful wedding.

On that trip I wrote of beautiful, brave people and frivolous searches for unicorns. It was one of my most popular ever blogs. I don’t know what it was that captured people so, but it did. I was writing to heal myself. I was reflecting with every word I blogged. I was trying to figure out and fathom things that couldn’t be fathomed. I was trying to find a solution to a problem that I didn’t own. I was trying to fix something I was not obligated to fix. I was trying to find peace in moments where I couldn’t silence my thoughts.

So I am excited to be heading back this time, altogether clearer, happier, calmer. I know now that I am better off. That beautiful, brave people do happen. That I had more strength than I realised. That a long weekend in Cyprus and reconnection with my muse was the best kick start to manage the unmanageable. That it’s possible to come out the other side again.

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Beautiful moments

Here I am, standing the other side of twenty months, excited to be returning to this place that, much like New York and Kefalonia, seems to permeate key moments in my journey, in my life. We have no plans, except to do things. Stacey and I both have our jogging kits with us, and having now broken the 5k barrier I’m looking forward to training in the heat of Cyprus, ready for July.

It follows a hectic week at work. Meetings permeate my days, and there’s little time to actually do any work. That aside, I had the fortune of spending an evening at the Ham Yard Hotel on Tuesday, in good company, with great food and wine. The last time I’d been to that very hotel was our Christmas party in 2014. I had been so very ill, and had lost my voice, my body exhausted and fatigued by the months that led up to December. I’d left the party early as I felt so unwell, around 10pm, and managed to stop by to congratulate a friend on her engagement. A couple of hours passed, the clock struck midnight and suddenly it was my birthday and there I was, trying to get my drunken friend home in a taxi, in the middle of Piccadilly on a Thursday before Christmas.

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Beautiful barn yard surroundings in Godalming

But Tuesday was an altogether more sedate affair. It was fun. Inspiring. Chilled. Then Wednesday came, and I went to Victoria, a guest speaker with some 20 or so senior HR professionals in the civil service. I spent a couple of hours sharing insight on HR, and HR strategy, to a captive audience with such similar yet entirely different challenges. I felt like I was back in my consulting days, back working with the Children’s Workforce Development Council on Workforce Reform initiatives, and back with further education colleges on leveraging opportunities across a portfolio of different educational institutions.

This work, with the civil service, felt rewarding, for very different reasons than my day job. It felt purposeful, meaningful, much like the public sector work I did a few years back. I remember, wholeheartedly, the moment my then boss came into work with tears in his eyes for the work we’d been awarded to perform around integrated working and the team around the child, in the wake of Baby P. That following summer, I spent two to three days a week in Leeds, working with a bunch of inspiring people keen to instill new approaches to safeguard children.

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I began jogging that summer, along the canals of Leeds. I got rather swept up in Leeds life. Wandering along the Calls, dining and drinking with colleagues and friends. I will always have a fondness for that time. It seems so long ago now, yet so recent as well. It was truly meaningful work. With great people.

So Thursday came and we had the annual Salesforce Boat Party. Anamaria and I ventured there last year, when we knew so few people, yet this year, we were surrounded by Appirio friends and spent our evening talking, gambling and laughing, soaking up the amazing views of the River Thames during sunset. It was certainly more of a meat market than last year. Our efforts to gamble were interrupted several times by suited men, somewhat confused by the presence of women at such a male dominated event.

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Friday went by in a flurry of e-mails, meetings and deliverables I had to complete before my holiday. My boss, just back from two weeks in New York and Los Angeles, spoke briefly in a handover exchange before I headed out the door at business close, off to pack and get ready not only for the wedding but this very trip to Cyprus. I was anything but organised for this trip – truly leaving things until the last minute, though not packing quite as hastily as my trip to Dubai.

So everything has been a blur the last 24 hours or so. I’ve been on fast forward through the wedding. Fast forward through packing. Fast forward making a not entirely convenient journey from Godalming to Stansted and now, here I am, finally slowing as I make my way to Paphos.

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Sisters

We shall arrive, be greeted by Julie and Barry, then make our way to Paphos. Our evening, I already know, shall consist of sitting on the balcony, catching up, reflecting and drinking cheap but oh so good two euro cartons of wine. There will be cheetos, I am sure, and I shall sleep more soundly than I have in London for months, for the air in Cyprus seems to encourage it. Then it’s a blank page for the rest of the week.

So what do I want to do with this blank page? Well, I’d like to horse ride. To read. To paint. To blog. To jog. To swim. To snorkel. But most importantly, I’d like to remind myself that Cyprus is always a place for me to rebaseline, to reset, to restart. I’d like to leverage this chance, again, to figure out the next step. To take the procedure out of the project and to somewhat remind myself to go with the flow. To take comfort in the fact that every trip to the Eastern Mediterranean has always somehow, managed to give me a kick-start back in London.

Yet my start is already kicking in London town, but it is fatigued from time to time, by those less authentic than we originally credit them to be. By lives that prove to be more complicated and uncertain than we ever desire them to be. But I know that I shall sit there, at least once this week, and Stacey’s dad will at some point say something simple, yet profound, as he did on my last visit. “You don’t need that in your life” he told me on that last visit.  I had listened, but wanted to disagree momentarily, yet twenty months of reflection tell me he was right.

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Family

I wonder what wise words I will take with me this visit. I don’t feel so much like I need advice. I feel like, for the first time in a long time and in fact, perhaps for the first time I’ve ever visited Cyprus, that I don’t so much need advice. That things are going okay. That I know where there are pockets to be realigned, but like I know how to do that myself. Like I know what I need to do.

Like being a beautiful brave person is possible after all. Like there are others like that out there. Like maybe timing doesn’t always work but it is indeed possible.  That the beautiful and the brave might be easier to find after all.

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