Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | September 4, 2016

Little Wonders

It’s just gone 8am GMT, yet my body clock is set to midnight. In these small hours, I find myself London bound, on a night flight from Vancouver to Heathrow, the end of a ten-day trip to Canada drawing to a close. A bank holiday weekend in August extended to maximise my annual leave allowance for the chance to explore more of this world that leaves me speechless yet ironically renders me a storyteller.

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Little wonders along the sea wall of Vancouver

It’s been a phenomenal trip, and I don’t use the word phenomenal often. Once in a lifetime, several people have said to me, yet there’s this part inside me that says no, it’s not once in a lifetime, it’s once in 2016. For every year that goes by I try to better my experiences. I try new places, find new wonders, little and large, and I guess as time falls away day by day, my storytelling gets richer, my experiences more rewarding and every twist and turn of fate is navigated that bit more smoothly.

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Not so little wonders.  Big, grizzly wonders.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love coming back to London, just as much as I love to explore the world. It perhaps wasn’t always that way, but these days, there’s a clarity that defines me and an appreciation of the noise of London, it’s buzz in stark contrast to the silence of a plane and the hum of my thoughts.

I realise that it’s taken sadness for me to know happiness. It’s taken absence for me to know presence. It’s taken umpteen trips to New York to find home in London. It’s taken many, many of the wrong moments for me to know a right one. It’s taken working too hard to know how to live, how to find a better balance. It’s taken the great unknown things in life to find the known. It’s taken closing off and hibernating from the world for a while, to learn how to open up again, how to wake up to this world and its ways.

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Bella and her cubs

I am hopeful, about my return to London. It has an air of 2011 about it. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve just spent the last few days with Fi, on that five year late visit to the West Coast of Canada. Perhaps it’s the fact that back in 2011, as I returned from East Coast Canada to London, following a Summer sabbatical, that everything began to really move in the right direction. Perhaps this feels like that moment again. Perhaps 2016 is rendering me with a déjà vu in these small hours as I find myself transatlantic once again.

My 2011 trip was full of little wonders. I did a fair amount of sitting, reflecting, looking out to the water and figuring myself out back then. I was rewarded, upon my return, with a thoroughly enriching period in which I felt like honey to a bee, hope worn on my sleeve and my open book read purposefully, my prose suddenly resonating with the world around me. The little wonders of that trip, that Summer 2011 adventure, never once missing a beat, never once deterring me from landing in a place of contentment.

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Little wonders of wilderness and wildlife

So in September 2016 I am content again. My travel itch has been scratched again, for now. I need to be in London right now, just like Selina said to me a few short weeks back. My next adventure has to be London. My 2016 world is my 2011 memory. I am returning from ten days in Canada as expectant, as hopeful, as ready as I was back then, to take on London and life.

Little wonders are all around us. Transient moments, they beckon us, encouraging us to remember them, and their fleeting presence. This moment, right now, is a little wonder. 37,044 feet up, I am bound for London via Greenland.  Every time I fly across the Atlantic, some five or six times a year usually of late, I remember these little wonders. Usually there’s a glass of wine, always my blog, and often some music on my ipod. My reflections are my little wonders.

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Telegraph Cove – wondrous wilderness

Today I am listening to Matchbox Twenty and Rob Thomas, following Rob’s show in Vancouver last night. The song I am listening to reminds me that everything that’s perfect can indeed fall away at times. I realise that these past two years or so I have been learning not to fall any further. I am reminded, of how easy it is to listen to everyone telling us how to feel, how to act, what to do, what to say, but that it’s our own responsibility to take back control and not allow ourselves to merely sleep at the wheel. That it’s up to us, as individuals, to choose our path.

My sleeping at the wheel is no more. I am no longer in a daze. My moment is no longer fading. Little wonders surround me everywhere, and everything that’s perfect no longer falls away. It may feel like the last days of Summer, but my sun is shining brightly today. There’s light in my world. There are little wonders to be grateful of every single day.

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Killer Whales

This holiday has had so many little wonders. The Rockies aside, we found ourselves in remote Telegraph Cove. A coach, two planes, and a hire car later and we arrived on Sunday night in the northern part of Vancouver Island. It was murky, grey and pouring with rain. Amidst the bleakness of it all, it seemed only apt that we would suffer a power cut, and our two days or so there, in the great unknown, was a little wonder of wilderness.

Telegraph Cove is lesser known than Victoria, with its array of flowers in Butschart Gardens, yet our visit there was purposeful. Research had told me that it was a gateway to wildlife; that this small inlet was the place to go to get up close and personal with grizzly bears, killer whales and bald eagles. I half expected the wildlife not to turn up, for the many reviews on trip advisor to be wrong, for there to be hopes dashed and wilderness without the wildlife, but instead we were rewarded with many little wonders.

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Granville Island in a rare moment of sunshine

Little wonders of bear cubs playing with their mother Bella. Of them swimming through the river. Of them putting on a playful show for us, amidst the pouring rain. Our tour guides called this day of bear watching, the best of the year. It’s unusual, apparently, to see the grizzlies so active. These little, precious moments of wonderment lived up to all expectations, surpassing them in fact. When I booked Canada in December, wanting to see the grizzly bears in the wild, I could never have dreamed of capturing the moment so vividly with my SLR. I could never have imagined or hoped to have seen so many bears, so active, with cubs too.

More little wonders graced us. A fox came out during the midst of the tour. The red headed beast usually shelters in the woodland, yet for us, he stood brazenly watching the activity of the bears amidst the grassland and woodlands of the inlet. Bald eagles soared overhead. Sea lions, seals and killer whales came out on mass.

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With Fi, in Horseshoe Bay

Amidst our killer whale tour, we were rewarded with a whole family of killer whales, travelling along the open sea, and in a most unusual turn of events, porpoises and dolphins partnered together to harass the killer whales in a move that our guides had never before seen.

Argonaut, a giant humpback whale decided to come out to play too. You could see his blowhole and feel his presence before he surfaced, anticipation filling the boat. This fierce creature rose and dove for us several times on the trip, his tail crashing down into the ocean, sending reverberations to our boat as he sunk under for seven or eight minutes at a time. I have never before, I don’t think, seen so much wildlife, out in the open seas, rivers, woodlands and estuaries, together, in such close proximity. Another, perhaps not so little, series of wonders.

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Vancouver nights

Our journey to and from Telegraph Cove from Port Hardy airport, a tiny airport in the north of Vancouver Island, required us to hire a car. It was my first time driving on the right hand side of the road, and it was surprisingly, a lot easier than I had imagined. Luckily, I had gotten more used to the car for our return trip the airport.

On our return to the airport, the heavens opened, and hail came crashing down on the car, my windscreen wipers working at full pelt. Amidst the downpour, I saw something black in front of me staggering across the highway, perhaps 20 feet ahead. I killed my speed quickly, reducing down in the 100km zone, bringing the car to a grinding halt, as I watched in disbelief as a black bear wandered across my path in front of me, sauntering to get to the other side. Another not so little wonder.

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Vancouver Island

As we got to Vancouver, to the city, the little wonders were less of the wildlife variety and more of reconnecting with Fi, my 2011 travel buddy and friend since 2006. Louisa met Fi in the queue for a Goo Goo Dolls gig in London that I missed to go on a last minute work trip to New York. It had been my first trip to NYC for work, a fateful trip that defined me for a considerable period afterwards. I met Fi, and Jess, shortly after I got back, and we’ve been friends ever since.

It was only apt therefore, that on this trip we would hit up a gig. Rob Thomas, one of my absolute faves, was kind enough to grace us with his presence with a solo acoustic set at the Hard Rock Casino, about thirty minutes out from downtown Vancouver.

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A little wonder

It was the second time I’ve seen Rob Thomas play a solo set, as usually he has toured the UK with Matchbox Twenty, whom we’ve seen many, many times, in both London and New York. I realised that I hadn’t seen Rob solo since 2005, when I had been in the midst of my CIPD HR exams. I queued on that baking hot summer’s day for a front row spot, with my then boyfriend, and my sister Louisa, directly following a morning Employment Law exam which I later learnt I had passed with distinction.

Whilst we queued for several hours, my then boyfriend surprised me with tickets to New York, for an all expenses paid treat and long weekend getaway. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was not earning well, back then. I had never flown further than Greece. The USA seemed so far away, and such a dream. Rob Thomas, and a trip to New York, all in one day. It was a little wonder. It was also the first time I’d ventured long haul, and so there’s a certain poignancy to Rob Thomas and his solo show, as it marks for me the very, very beginning of my love affair with New York and of course, travel.

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Emerald Lake

Back in 2005 Rob was touring his album, Something To Be. ‘Ever the Same’ from the album became a song that meant so very much to me. It defined many moments in my life at the time. Relationships, hopes and dreams. Today it’s still poignant. Eleven years may have gone by, but in some many ways, things are indeed ever the same. Little moments of wonderment fill my days now, just as they did then. So you can imagine my excitement, at the little wonder of last night when Rob played it, live to my ears for the first time in eleven years.

So these past ten or so days have been filled with wonderment, big and small. Wild bears, live music, the sheer natural beauty of lakes and mountains and now, as I find myself four hours from home, I see stunning shades of pink with purple hues as dusk plays havoc with my body clock. I should be readying myself for slumber, but instead I’m staring out the window, at this little wonder of morning breaking, again and again, in these small hours.

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Rob Thomas… ever the same.

I realise that I should attempt to sleep. We’ll be landing on Sunday afternoon and I return to work on Monday. West coast jet lag is the worst. Perhaps I’ll catch a little wonder of an onboard snooze for a couple of hours. Perhaps I shall dream of more little wonders. Perhaps there’s a riddle here somewhere, that I shall learn to finally fathom out upon my return to London. Perhaps the puzzle of 2016 is a little wonder to be enjoyed along the way, at least until the picture comes together. Perhaps I’ll ponder these little wonders again at some other small hour.

 

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Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | August 29, 2016

Fernweh (Wanderlust)

It’s 1pm local time, and we’ve just departed Calgary, bound for Vancouver where we’ll pick up a connecting flight to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. From Port Hardy, we’ll be picking up a car and travelling south to Telegraph Cove, for our Grizzly Bear and Killer Whale tours.

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Bow Lake 

I booked the tours back in December. It’s salmon fishing season in West Coast Canada and that means the bears are actively pursuing the streams, stocking up on food ahead of their winter hibernation. These tours get booked up months in advance but tomorrow is the day, nine months after booking, that we shall hopefully get the chance to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.

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The top of Sulphur Mountain

Telegraph Cove is tiny. There’s a café, a few places to stay, and a whole heap of fishing boats I understand. This is part two of three in our Canadian tour. This is our wilderness moment. Outside generators and grocery stores available only in the next town along. This is fernweh, as they say in German – that ache of mine for a distant place and that ongoing crave for travel. This is one of the main reasons we are here in Canada.  This is wanderlust in practice.

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The Bow River and its reflections

We have been in Canada since Wednesday evening – four nights so far. Part one of our adventure saw us venture to the Rocky Mountains, as we explored Banff and all its surroundings, from Lake Louise, to Emerald Lake, Peyto Lake, the Bow River and the Columbian Icefield. We’ve had some poutine and enjoyed some Canadian wine. The Rockies have been more stunning, more majestic, more captivating than I could ever have possibly imagined.

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Emerald Lake

This is an active holiday. Treks, horse riding, glacier walks and gondolas that rise high into the mountains, rewarding us with the most mesmerising of views. Instagram style filters seem to come to life in the Rockies; the vibrancy of colours more electric than my A Level Art colour palette, yet it’s all natural here. Every which way you turn you seem to walk into a postcard here. A snapshot of time, a vividness that feels unreal to the point that you rub your eyes and take a second look, disbelieving the beauty that descends.

It’s places like the Rocky Mountains that make me ache for distant places. I haven’t seen this much colour since Marrakech last year. Yet these colours are natural, as rock flour graces the bed of lakes, reflecting light and yielding us with emerald swathes of gloriousness, amidst snow capped mountains and the stark contrast of grey, dolomite rocks.

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Peyto Lake

I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in New Zealand these past few days. Banff and its surrounds have a most definite Queenstown feel to them. Alberta and British Colombia’s best lakes are distinctly Wanaka like and Banff and Lake Louise have a definite air of Arrowtown about them. The giant gondola that lifts you up Sulphur Mountain reminded me so very much of Queenstown’s gondola.

Equally, the colours and the mountain ranges had an air of Cape Town about them too, yet no ocean and no beach, and certainly no South African heat nor Baboons to shout about.

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Sunset over Banff

Every time I think I know beauty in this world, every time I think I have seen something I’ll never match, there’s another distant land that makes me crave for more travel, that makes me want to explore more, see more, be more.

Our lakes, mountains and waterfalls tour this past Friday was right up there with one of the very best travel days. It’s on a par for me, with Fraser Island in 2009, with the Whitsundays sailing trip, with Cape Town’s stunning scenery, with every moment of my New York adventuring and with Kefalonia’s glorious sailing around the Ionian isles. It matched the surrealism of Tokyo and the captivating island of Vanuatu, with its rugged, natural and untouched beauty and the most amazing people with hearts of gold and smiles of wonderment.

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Contemplative at Lake Louise

The Rockies, and its glacier walks, was much like the Fox Glacier, without the mountain climb this time. The weather matched my 2009 glacier experience in New Zealand, moody skies of grey, clouds that both reflected the sun and teased us with infrequent downpours of rain. Seven years on, altogether richer for the experiences that have graced me since. Altogether wiser, perhaps, altogether more excited than ever to see, do and be more in these distant, captivating lands.

People in Banff are either ‘lifers’ or transient. A mix of people making this their forever home, and people joining for a Summer or two, to experience wilderness and the outdoors. Fans of ice climbing, skiing, ice fishing and mountain climbs all congregate in the Rockies and given the stunning scenery, it’s not hard to see why they stay.

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Lake Moraine – my favourite of them all

Mountain wildlife roam the forest lands around Banff and Yolo National Parks amidst the Rockies. Locals make jokes about runners being ‘fast food’ and ‘lean cuisine’ for the hungry grizzly bears and cougars that patrol the woodlands; they joke about cyclists being ‘meals on wheels’. The jokes aside though, you’re quickly taught to make noise as you wander trails, to carry bear spray and to learn to ‘play dead’ if you ever come face to face with a grizzly bear that you so happen to accidentally disturb. If you see a black bear, “fight for your life” they say.

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Mountain goats

The Rockies have their share of avalanches too. Our tour guide on Thursday talked of getting caught up in one last year whilst skiing, and how some 32 broken bones later, a 60 foot drop and four minutes of being buried and turning purple, he was lucky to be alive to tell the tale.

Then there are the elks, and the 52 people that have been admitted to hospital with elk related injuries in the last year in Banff. The Rockies, much like Australia, has its fair share of natural hazards, to watchfully be aware of it seems. Yet people still ski amidst the avalanche zones and people still trek amidst the habitats of bears and mountain lions. Perhaps it’s possible that the sheer beauty of this region lures you to find the hidden paths and make discoveries of your own. Perhaps this is fernweh.

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Lake Louise in the sunshine

Then there are the incredible stories of mother nature. Of the importance of forest fires in yielding new habitats, fresh trees and grasslands for the entire ecosystem of the forest and its inhabitants to remain healthy. The stories of how we, as humans, upset the equilibrium of the forests when we tried to stem the flow of natural fires a few decades back, rendering trees that grew too old and which were poor habitats, yielding less carbon dioxide than the fresh trees that fires inevitably brought.

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At Takakkaw Falls

I think that the power of Mother Nature is something that will definitely stick with me from this trip. The tales of grizzly bears, who breed in the Spring but only fall pregnant in the Fall, if those potential mother to be bears have managed to indulge on enough berries, salmon and the like in time for their Winter hibernation and to carry their cubs to full term. Only if they have managed to build up enough weight shall Mother Nature determine whether these females bears should indeed fall pregnant come Fall.

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Colombia Icefields

As Winter comes and the bears hibernate, these amazing females sleep through their pregnancy, giving birth in their sleep, letting their cubs feed on their milk through their winter snooze, waking in the Spring to toddler cubs that they then spend the next two years teaching the ropes of life in the forest. Where to find water, where to find berries, how to catch prey. Mother Nature is amazing.

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Sulphur Mountain

So we are just ten minutes now from landing in Vancouver, and I must turn off my laptop. We are arriving on the West Coast and have just gained another hour. There’s cloud and it’s 16 degrees. Summer, it seems, has escaped this part of town today. Yet it doesn’t matter, as I’m in a distant land and my craving for travel has been fed. If the second leg of our adventure is anything like our first, we are in for a treat. Excitement, contentment and inspiration fill my heart.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | August 25, 2016

Bruises, chandeliers and bringing dusk to my day

It’s been a month since I last found myself in the air, perhaps one of the longest periods of not flying this year. I guess it’s only natural therefore that today I am indeed again at 38,000 feet. There is no work today though; this is a vacation. I am bound for Calgary, Alberta with my sister Louisa, for a few days in the Rockies before we hit the West Coast and explore Vancouver and reconnect with Fi, who last joined me on my East Coast Canadian adventure in 2011.

It’s August. A year has gone by in a flash. This time last year I had just returned from Lisbon and was about to venture to Dubrovnik. The prior year, I had been Aberdeen bound ahead of more New York adventures. I always seem to find myself in the air during the Summer. I always seem to find myself escaping London’s humid heat.

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Toronto with Fi, August 2011

I am reflective, once again. I don’t know where this year is going; I don’t know where last year went either. Two years ago, seems forever ago. It’s appropriate, oh so appropriate, that I escape this week. August bank holiday breaks – I’ve had many over the years. New York, Dubrovnik, Canada and Inter-railing across Europe. I always seem to find myself adventuring at this time of year.

I booked this trip to Canada last Christmas. I finally came up for air over the festive period, following a crazy 12 months of work, and in doing so, I had the chance to stop and think again. I had the chance to think about things I have wanted to do but delayed. I thought back to 2011, when I left Fi in Montreal and headed to New York by rail, thwarted by the tail end of Hurricane Irene. I thought about my promise then – to be back that very next year for the West Coast adventure. Yet the West Coast didn’t happen. Well, not until now.

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Paul, Fi and I in Toronto for rooftop drinks – Summer 2011

The best thing about my independent life is doing exactly the things that I want to do. This existence, it affords me opportunity. I don’t need to consult with others. I don’t need to consider other plans. I don’t need to balance any priorities save for the ones I create for myself. I imprint upon my world, only the things I want to. These past two years, and even before that to some extent, have been a kaleidoscope of opportunity. Opportunities, vibrant opportunities, smashed together in a sea of colour, in a pattern that I’ve been fortunate enough to call the canvas of my independent life. They’ve glistened, like chandeliers in daylight.

So as my canvas evolves, I find new memories to make my mark. I etch new beginnings. I paint adventures every which way I turn. So much adventuring is done overseas. Perhaps, much more focus needs to be on the adventures of my London life. Perhaps, in the midst of my escapism, in the middle of my memory making abroad, I sometimes need to focus a little more on home.

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Champagne on board at Heathrow to get the holiday started

Yet home is marked with bruises. Blemishes of a past that imprint on my today. Mementos of yesterday. Reminders of days gone by. Darkness in daylight of the past. Times that have flown by. Conversations that have halted. Investments that have suddenly ceased. The past can pull like gravity; at times, freedom has seemed to only come from travel.

But I am free today. My bruises, they make me – I don’t need to lose them. I don’t need to be fixed. I am who I am for the marks that have been made upon my life. Scars are indeed souvenirs. Every scratch is a part of me. It’s made me who I am. It’s brought me to my today.

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Calgary bound – 8 hours and counting

My today happens to be here, 38,000 feet above Greenland, bound for a tremendous 12-day trip to Canada. 2016, is not so bad after all it seems. It’s been a year of learning to want again. 2015 was just a distraction. Travel aside, anything I wanted last year was nothing more than a distraction, a recovery to help my bruises fade. Yet 2016 has shown me that I can wear my bruises with pride. That I can learn to want things again. That I can be ready to risk more bruises. That bruises make, break and shape us. That chandeliers can shine again.

So in the same way that we rise and retreat amongst mountain peaks and flights in the sky, I am seeing now how my bruises, once prominent scars, can indeed fade but still have a presence that somehow reminds me of the journey I’ve been upon. They serve to remind me to be more aware to the world and its ways. They peak through the skin of my world to hint at the past, but they never break through the skin of my future. Their presence is purposeful, but not indicative of my future path.

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Niagara Falls, August 2011

My future path is here, it is now. It is 38,000 feet up, pending four days in Banff, three in Vancouver Island and four days in Vancouver itself. It is the reminder that Selina, my flatmate, gives me daily. It is her suggestion that perhaps, after this trip, and the next (Chicago and New York), and after that (Sri Lanka), that perhaps, just perhaps, my next trip should be London. My future is London. My life is London. Maybe, just maybe I need to be there a little longer to build something, to risk knocks to my skin, bruises to my world. Maybe it’s the potential promise of something that fails to imprint on my life in any other way than leaving that illusive, amazing mark I’ve been looking for.

The habitual escapism of my world, of my international travel adventures, has become so very embedded in my today. Every passport stamp blocks my bruises from resurfacing. Every immigration form deters any sense of reality back home. It’s an amazing existence. It’s a phenomenal way to live each day. Yet it’s not always reality. It’s not always accepting of bruises. It’s not always rendering me the chance to wear them with pride. It’s not always affording me the chance to go for another round, to prepare for another belting, to end up the one standing, one day.

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Stunning Greenland through the Dreamliner’s tinted windows

Travel makes me stand tall. Home can do that too. The world, can make me feel small, yet a few hours in a plane and some distant, entirely different landscape and an altered body clock, is mesmerising. Right now, I am looking out of my plane window, drawn to the rugged landscape of Greenland. Clouds disperse and jagged formations of rocks bruise through the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

I am reminded, of a travel photography workshop I ventured to this past January, at Olympia. One of the talks had centered on a visit to Greenland. An amazing expedition, with sleds pulled by huskies and seal skin rugs. Vivid photographs of an endless snow, an unblemished skin of landscape, bruised only by the seasoned travellers who chose to tour this distant land. Snow encased highways with no one on them. Chandeliers of sunlight glistening upon flakes of white.

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Seeing Maroon 5 and Train in Toronto in Summer 2011

I smile. This trip is the biggest adventure since Australia last year. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow I shall awake in the mountains of Banff National Park, before venturing on horseback alongside the Bow River. Our evening shall see us rise to the mountain top on an 11 minute gondola journey. My fear of gondolas it seems, has dissipated, a faded bruise of my past.

Come Friday, we shall explore the lakes and waterfalls of the Rocky Mountains. Lake Louise and majestic rivers with cascading falls that imprint memories that need never fade. Saturday is Glacier day. I haven’t set foot upon a Glacier since New Zealand in 2009. The Fox Glacier, rose menacingly amidst fog, rain and the gloomiest skies. We hiked to the top of the mountain, some two hours upwards, before finally venturing onto the glacier itself, our moods grey like the sky. Dim chandeliers amidst dark clouds.

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Approaching Calgary.  Dusk again.

Come Saturday we shall travel further West. Calgary to Vancouver, then transferring again by plane to Port Hardy in the north of Vancouver Island. We are picking up a car there, and another first shall follow as I drive on the right-hand side for the first time. Something, I am reminded, I wouldn’t have chosen to do some two years ago. It seems, ironically so perhaps, that bruises make us stronger, braver, more willing to break the surface with new experiences.

Speaking of new experiences, our arrival into Telegraph Cove shall afford us a rare, once in a lifetime opportunity, to see grizzly bears in their natural habitat, as they salmon fish ahead of their hibernation. Our full day adventure out on the seas and into the rivers shall no doubt be a once in a lifetime imprint on our world.

As if that isn’t enough, we shall venture back again to the open seas, whale spotting amidst the migration season. If we are lucky, bald headed eagles shall soar above and sea otters may inquisitively approach us in wonderment. The wildlife opportunities of Vancouver, with its hummingbirds, moose and black bears too, shall mark my world in a way that will no doubt be unforgettable.

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The flat landscape of Calgary

So our final few days in Canada shall take us to Vancouver itself, and to Fi. Five years late it may be, but our four days in Vancouver, perhaps the most iconic part of British Columbia, can only leave bruises that I’ll hope to savour for life. The culmination of our adventure, fantastically, shall be an evening with Rob Thomas, to see how far we’ve come and no doubt, how much further we can go.

I am aware suddenly that daylight is following me. Our 6.40pm departure from London Heathrow, and forthcoming 8.03pm arrival into Calgary, affords us a flight path of daylight. An endlessly long, but wonderful day. The light is fragile like chandeliers, a constant path of dusk. So as dusk is brought to my day, and I learn to celebrate the bruises below the surface of my skin, I know that I am ready to take on another Canadian adventure, but I’m also ready to come home afterwards. To come home, celebrate my bruises and swing like a chandelier, once again.

Posted by: seehowfarwevecome | August 14, 2016

Imperfectly Beautiful

August has swung around again, though this time we seem to be treated here in the UK to some actual Summer. Imperfect Summers, with the odd week or two of rain, can still be beautiful it seems.

I find myself heading back to London, following a gloriously sunny weekend in the Isle of Wight with some dear friends and their gorgeous Labradors, Bollo and Boo. We’ve spent the last 48 hours eating food, cooking on the BBQ, walking along the countryside and wandering the beaches, letting the dogs play in the sand and the sea, stopping for the occasional larger shandy. We have whiled away our evenings in the garden watching shooting stars and fireworks with a glass of wine in hand.

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Bollo and Boo – simple, perfect pleasures

It’s been a perfect respite for my Summer cold. London has been hectic of late and I’ve needed a chance to rest a bit. Travel, evenings out and busy days in the office have been tiring me and so a recipe of doggy cuddles, fresh sea and country air and home cooked food has been just what I ordered to offer myself a little respite.

I am choosing to slow down my exploration for a bit. I have found myself growing physically tired of continual re-investment and effort in new people and places and I need a bit of time with myself and my nearest and dearest for a while to just be again. Imperfect, yet beautiful encounters, permeate my weeks. So a weekend on the Isle of Wight has been the perfect launch to just connect with long-held friends and enjoy basic things again. Walks in the country and meanderings amidst the sand dunes have somehow reconnected me with simple pleasures. Beautiful ones.

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Race for Life – at the starting point

My Race for Life was just two weeks ago and I’m so pleased to say that we made it around. I had been training hard for the race, then just a week or so after returning from my last trip to New York in June, I managed to trigger off a problem with my hip that I have had since I was born.  My imperfect hip. I found myself having to cease all jogging, indeed I could barely walk for several days, and I was only able to start swimming again a month or so ago. But the moment I could swim again, was indeed beautiful.

When the race day came, I hadn’t been able to jog for some five weeks, and so I was nervous, and irritated, that I wouldn’t make it around. My imperfect hip, still feeling slightly dodgy, would need to hold up for the race, the race that perhaps I never should have done knowing my condition in the first place but which, given my aunt’s diagnosis and subsequent passing, felt absolutely the right thing to do. A beautiful thing to do that raised more than £700 thanks to generous family and friends.

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Our Race for Life mascot – Tomos – with Louise and I

So race day arrived and the buzz was immense. Several thousand women in pink – setting off with their own purpose and own fund-raising efforts. Kathryn, Louise, Stacey and I all enrolled and the buzz when we all made it through the finishing line was so very worth it. It was a baking hot day, but Hyde Park looked beautiful and I wondered about all those who have passed, no doubt looking down smiling and gracing London with the gift of sun. This imperfect hip of mine had made it around the park beautifully.

Kathryn ran for Julia, her childhood friend who lost her cancer battle just a short while ago. A young woman, in her thirties, leaving behind two children and a husband. We ran for her, and we ran for my aunt. Somehow, my hip put up a fight and let me finish, though now I return to swims and in all likelihood, shall abandon any future jogging pursuits.

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Kathryn and I – racing for life for Julia and Mavis

So with the race for life out of the way, I am wondering about other challenges. I already gave blood this year for the first time, and I’ve booked myself time in Sri Lanka to volunteer with a turtle sanctuary and spend time with some school children. Next week, my team at work and I shall volunteer for Centrepoint, spending an afternoon around London, collecting items and delivering them to the hostels around Soho. Yet still, I feel like I want to do more.

Just this past Monday, I caught up with a former colleague who I haven’t seen for four or five years. Ketan and I worked so closely together for four years at EMI when I first worked there. A lot of the work was tough – it was imperfect – but each day was still beautiful. We did trips to New York together and somehow, lived through several crazy periods of restructuring.

Ketan and I managed to while away several hours last Monday night, and I found myself getting home at 1am having chatted to him as if the last few years were yesterday. I set myself up to feel exhausted all week, but the catch up was so worth it.

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Beautiful August weather on the Isle of Wight

We reminisced and we caught each other up on our lives the last few years. His children are grown up now, and spending their Summer volunteering in Peru. He retold the story of his childhood, the child from India who came to England as a young boy, unable to speak English but who today is a very successful CFO. He volunteers as a School Governor, and told me how powerless he can feel at times to help vulnerable teenagers. He mused about being able to make a difference to some though, and of how much that matters. Imperfect volunteering that still yields perfect, beautiful moments.

I left my Monday evening inspired. The family man with the successful career who balances friendships and voluntary work to lead a fulfilling and rounded life. He’s done his share of travels too. Perhaps, there is even more that I can do. Perhaps I need to think more on that again.

Yet the next few weeks are going to be hectic. Hectic and fun. I fly to Canada next week, for an incredible 11-day trip that I’ve been planning for eight months. Then I am home for a little under three weeks, before I fly to Chicago to speak at a Global HR Conference. From Chicago I shall head back to New York, to see my team and spend a weekend with friends. Things may calm down again around October, or at least I am going to try and let them calm, before my November adventure to Sri Lanka.

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Bollo and Boo enjoy the sea!

Speaking of Sri Lanka, just last weekend I spent an afternoon drinking iced coffee and sitting outside in the sun with one of my oldest friends Kavan, and his heavily pregnant wife Anna. Kavan and I bonded when we were around six years old, and his parents still live down the road from my parents. Incredibly, despite him leaving my primary school when he was eleven years old, we have stayed friends for the last 28 years. Sometimes a year will go by before we catch up, as was the case the last week, but our reconnection is always effortless and full of news in bite-size chunks.

Kavan gave me many tips for Sri Lanka, and we shared stories of the last year or so. He could tell I was in a better place than our last reconnection last Summer. He could tell there was a contentment within me again that had been lost for a while. He could tell that I was ready to explore again, but that I needed a break from it, to just perhaps enjoy my Summer a bit more and go a little more with the flow. He could tell I was getting comfortable with imperfect, that I could find this imperfect year beautiful still.

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Imperfectly beautiful August days

So what of going with the flow? Well, perhaps there are some things in life that are not meant to be perfect. Perhaps the imperfect is the most beautiful. Like beautiful disasters. Perhaps I need to enjoy things less than perfect for a while. Perhaps I am not meant to have everything completely sorted right now. Perhaps I am supposed to be exactly where I am, in my slightly imperfect, yet beautiful existence. Perhaps my imperfect is some other person’s perfect. Perhaps my travel adventures and weekends away are beautiful, even if on some level, I do them to fulfill other imperfect moments in my life.

So all in all, perhaps it’s perfectly fine to explore a little less for a while. Perhaps it’s imperfect, but beautiful to slow. Perhaps a world where I am not running at 100 miles an hour, where imperfect moments are the most beautiful, could indeed be the most perfect place for me to be this August.

 

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.

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.

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