January – looking backwards to go forwards.

Happy New Year! She chimes in with the rest of the bloggers, as if not shamefully aware that it’s almost February, and her attempts to blog last year fizzled out a measly 5 months into the year. It was May the last time I wrote a blog post, which means approximately 8 months have passed, but my, what an 8 months it’s been. I am excited to start writing again properly, but before divulging my plans to re-ignite this blog, here’s a variety of happenings from the last 8 months.

Shortly after the last blog I wrote, I took the plunge and had laser eye surgery. That, combined with getting a car within a few short weeks, meant that my adventures last year gave me a sense of freedom like I’d never experienced. All of the pictures below were taken with more excitement than I’d felt in many years – I still marvel at being able to see, really see, 8 months later.

Here’s me about an hour after surgery, less than impressed because it was the hottest day of the year so far, and I was stuck in a dark room for 24 hours. I couldn’t actually see the camera at this point as my eyes were streaming like the Niagara Falls behind the lenses. Between copious amounts of eye-drops I kept having to flick the goggles up to let the water out. But hey, I’m living the HD life now!

Me, after laser surgery.

Me, pouting because I couldn’t go out in the sun after getting my eyes zapped.

After my eyes had recovered (48 hours later – seriously, I was back to work and fresh as a daisy on Monday morning. Amazing what you can do in a weekend!), I decided this would be a summer of exploration (and lots of mazes, apparently), so here’s a selection of my adventures.

Mazes were a big theme last year – I got lost in several, made from corn, woodland, and walls, but the Death Star was definitely the most annoying to navigate.

 

 

As much as I could write pages and pages on my adventures last year, I’m determined to focus on this month and set myself a more realistic writing goal this year. Last year I fell behind due to what was essentially a re-shuffle of my life, where I had to adjust to a totally new pattern which threw me out of writing entirely. This year I am settled; the great shift has calmed and I am ready for new challenges, so here they are:

  • This year I pledge to myself to write a monthly blog, and not pressurise myself to post every week or bi-weekly as I did last year. That just proved stressful, so I’m taking a step back and seeing how this new, more relaxed plan works.
  • I will climb the Yorkshire Three Peaks: Ingleborough (723m), Pen-y-Ghent (694m), and Whernside (736m). These are comparatively small mountains to the big three peaks I climbed in 2016 (Scafell Pike, Snowdon, and Ben Nevis), but living in Yorkshire where they are essentially on my doorstep, it seems almost a crime that I have only climbed one of these three, so I have promised myself to complete these this year.
  • I will finish reading a book. A few years ago this would have been a ridiculous target for me, as I was reading multiple books a month. After graduating and beginning full-time work however, my reading (like my writing) has taken a major dive. Aside from the expected guilt I felt every time I glanced at my ever-growing reading list accumulating dust week after week, I was mostly just sad that I was ‘losing’ the part of myself that has got me where I am today. New books don’t seem to cut it at the moment, so I’ve gone back to basics and am re-reading some books from my childhood which played a giant part in forging my current love of fantasy and steampunk. Those books are The Mortal Engines Quartet (yes, I know they’re developing films of this series, and yes, I’m hoping and praying they don’t destroy them).

Aside from these three main goals, I took a look at my resolutions from last year, written in the post My Resolve, and discovered that I have in fact completed my challenges from 2017. It was a hell of a year – I might as well call it The Great Re-Shuffle – but through it all I managed to hit each target, a great accomplishment for me.

I was brave – I got used to driving again, a huge obstacle for me as I experienced masses of anxiety at the prospect of even getting a car. Now I drive to work every day, and my anxiety has greatly reduced. Funnily enough it was just after my last blog post in May that I got my car/Poppy, so it’s becoming more obvious why my writing took a backseat (pun intended).

explored – I took several mini road trips with my sister to force myself to overcome my driving anxiety, and those turned out to be some of the best days of the whole year. Highlights of those particular drives included driving around my first horse and rider, taking a wrong turn which resulted in stopping for a herd of sheep as they swarmed around the car (no, I didn’t end up in a field, the sheep were just being herded by farmers), and driving through the ‘Yorkshire tropics’, as I like to call them – where every weather occurs within about ten minutes.

I explored further than England as well, taking a spontaneous trip to Dublin to visit my cousins, and flew to Venice with my family for an incredible week living on the floating city.

I was happy – throughout all of the above, and because of some of those things, I had one of the happiest years of my life. It was a massive re-shuffle, but I took it in my stride and am determined to make even bigger and better things happen this year.

Here’s to 2018!

This is my dog, Jet, in the car ready for his next adventure!

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When I have writer’s block

I have only realised recently that, when I have writer’s block, it’s not because I am not focused on my story, but because I am too focused. If there is pressure to write, I simply can’t do it. The words jam in my mind like a blocked drain, with water building up and straining to bursting point. The best words come to me at the most inconvenient times; usually as I am just dropping off to sleep, out and about with friends, at work, or in the middle of doing a hundred different jobs. They come to me in a furious flurry, driving into my head until I can’t ignore them anymore, and have to write them down. Then they shimmer on the page, and my mind rages as inspiration begins to flow. Writer’s block is like a river dam, broken down only by a sudden gush of uncontrollable revelation.

When I’m away with the fairies – making up random characters in my head, giving them personalities and emotions, relationships and secrets – that’s when the cogs in my mind begin to turn. When I’m in a world of my own, daydreaming, night dreaming, half-listening whilst scribbling doodles absentmindedly, the cogs are turning, cooking up new adventures for my naïve characters. Creating enemies and lovers, trustworthy friends and unruly scallywags. When my mind begins to slip . . . ever so slightly . . . down the rabbit hole . . . that’s when everything becomes shiny and exotic. The slumbering adjectives and verbs begin to rouse, the thisckles and scillywocks awaken, and the mythical creatures and angry tyrants stretch and yawn. Myths and legends solidify to truth, the adventurers line up at the starting mark, and the story begins.

Can I get a ‘HELL YEAH!’?

Ever had that moment when you’re browsing online, perhaps trolling through social media on your phone, when suddenly something so wonderful appears that it simply cannot be ignored? It leaves your thumb hovering in mid-air like some ungainly fleshy insect that has forgotten how land. It seems to hum, or maybe that’s just your thumb beginning to shake from hanging in mid-air so long. I’m talking about a simple thumbnail image of a place unknown, glowing artificially through the screen, reflecting in your widened eyes like a beacon of starry-eyed possibility. Because the place is beautiful, exciting, entrancing, intriguing, mysterious, unknown…

 

Your senses begin to awaken. The want. The yearning. The wanderlust. You must find this place, this unknown place that has caught your eye, locked your mind, electrified your heart, and hurled your senses into overdrive. You take a hasty screenshot of the place, and flick to your contacts list. You scroll, scroll further. Who will you choose? Who will you take on this adventure? Scrolling, more scrolling. Always broke, always ill, always working.

 I don’t know… How much would it cost? How far away is it? How would we get there? When will we go? 

I don’t know. I literally have no idea. But I don’t care. We’ll make it work. We’ll take the train, the bus, a car, save up money – plan properly. But right now, I don’t care. We’ll make it work. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and all that. Let’s have a picnic in a forest! Let’s sing to the stars! Let’s get lost in a foreign city! Let’s fall in love with people, places, things, moments! Let’s run through the night and breathe, really breathe for once. Let’s just go. This is the time for excitement, anticipation, exploration!

But no. Questions, questions, questions, contaminating the excitement until it crumples into a subdued possibility. One day, we say, when we’re less busy. The image drops into the infinite backlog of photographs. Wishes and memories all bound together to peruse while sitting at home; on the bus; to sneak glances of at work; to sigh over, whilst getting ready for bed.

Memories become wisps, wishes become pangs of regret.

Just one day, I wish that someone would be spontaneous with me. It used to happen, during watery dawns and shivering twilights, star-spangled nights and sunshiney days. Then life caught up, and reality claimed us once more. We were enveloped into the rat-race and set on an ever-circling track. Round and round with no exit, other than throwing ourselves into the abyss.

Except our minds remain our own. Our hearts and hopes beat in a unique drumbeat of curiosity. We know it’s not enough, this endless cycle of grey travel to grey offices with grey people. We know. Deep down, we all know. Yet still nobody will be spontaneous with me. First come work, house, money, time. Then adventure, if we’re lucky.

That’s just not good enough for me. I feel restless, so restless. I need spontaneity sometimes. Not constantly, but sometimes it’s good to rock the boat a little. I don’t want all those exciting images to go to waste, I want to live and breathe them, and inspire others to do the same. Problem is, I don’t want to do it alone. I could go by myself, as so many others do. But I don’t want to, as I thrive so much more in company. Just one person would do; a security, a buffer, a friendly face to share the experience. But no, once more I am forced to add the enticing picture to the hundreds of other backlog images, gathering dust until they themselves turn grey.

What can I do? What can I say? Let’s just go! Let’s just stay…

All I want is one person who, instead of dragging up anxieties, will say ‘Hell yeah! Let’s go!’ It might take days to plan, it might take months, but all I want – all I yearn for – is someone to really feel that adrenaline rush of wanderlust, same as me.

I live in England, let’s face it, in a couple of years travel abroad will be a whole lot more difficult… So why wait, why settle now? Why not take the chance while it’s there? I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so if anyone does crave an adventure like me, please get in touch. Everyone needs an adventure sometimes, whether or not they realise!

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Fine Dining in the Black Forest

As I sit here, on the first properly sunny day of this year, I can’t help thinking that today would be perfect for a picnic. I have always loved the idea of picnics, perhaps from my eternal fascination with the Mad Hatter’s tea party, or maybe the idea of conjoining one thing I love (food), with another (being outdoors). Either way, this thought took me to one of the most special picnics I’ve ever had – I would even go so far as to describe it as ‘breath-taking’ – in the Black Forest, Germany.

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Driving through the Black Forest

This was my first trip to Germany, and was quite the flying visit, given that the whole trip involved traversing five countries in two weeks. I like to call it a ‘sneak preview of Europe’, because those two weeks were definitely not enough to sate my wanderlust. I will write about all of those experiences in time, not necessarily in order, but when the time feels right to rediscover those memories. To be frank, it may be several years before I can bear to stomach some of the more uncomfortable and downright cringe-worthy experiences (I’m talking motorway breakdowns and minor sunstroke, alongside ‘ga-ga’ Satnav and misplacing the odd thousand euros). But all will come in time, I promise.

So, here we were in the Black Forest, trekking along a fantastic route filled with waterfalls, zig-zagging back and forth around the great expanse of leafy green; being dazzled every few steps by sunshine, which resolutely broke through the thick layer of foliage to throw a golden hue over the ecosystem below.

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A proper cascade!

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It flowed in rivulets from the top of the mountain to the floor below

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This is where we were. If anyone would like to enlighten me, feel free to translate the phrases for the ignorant English girl!

Having reached the top of the zig-zag path, I decided we were high enough to have a decent view whilst picnicking. Our diet for the two weeks was a rich supply of ham and cheese sandwiches, which we varied daily by choosing an assortment of meats and cheeses. (Since then, suffice to say, I could probably count the amount of said sandwiches I’ve consumed on one hand, but when you’re trekking through forest and mountainous regions all day, believe me, it becomes quite a delicacy to have almost all major food groups in one meal!) The important aspect of the picnic of course had little to do with the food here, but rather the environment and view! That said, I do sort of wish I’d taken just one snap of those oh so faithful ham and cheese sarnies…

Anyway, stomachs grumbling, we found ourselves on a slightly less beaten track. Of course we followed this, treading with a newfound, strange expectation. A few minutes later, I saw a break in the trees ahead – a clearing – good, I thought. I sped up, something other than the yearning for today’s salami and edam concoction urging me forward. Then the path ended. That was it, we couldn’t walk another step. Not because we were content with the spacious clearing we had found, or because we were simply too hungry to wait any more, but because ahead of us lay nothing except a gaping drop and a deep valley basin, crammed to the brim and overflowing with forest. And, like some wondrous mirage sent as an offering from the trekking overlord, right smack bang in the middle of the clearing, lay none other than a picnic bench.

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View: 100/10, space: 10/10, privacy: 10/10, food: 4/10

I was stunned. This was it, the picnic place of all picnic places, the place where I could eat my sandwich and forgot the somewhat samey flavour, whilst surveying the dark, foreboding grandeur at my feet. So that was what I did. I munched and overlooked the kingdom below, pretending it was all mine, and that every leaf and branch, every pebble and stream, every waterfall and river was mine to appreciate and protect from civilisation.

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I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to create a new habitat and live in the forest forever, with or without my ham and cheese sandwiches.

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Unfortunately, such reveries are ephemeral, allowing only a glimpse of euphoria before reality drags us back and forces us to return to daily life. To our commutes, our offices, and the tantalising, bittersweet countryside views; the air blowing the fresh scents, heavy with pollen, on waves of summer air which glide through the window, remaining just out of reach…

…Until next time, when we will load up the car, pack the ham and cheese sandwiches, and hit the road in search of the next picnic spot. For what is life, but a series of intermittent distractions between meals. It all depends on how we make the most of those stretches, to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to the whole forest, as well as the individual trees.

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I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend, and I hope this post lends some inspiration to the upcoming picnic season!

The World Is Your Oyster!*

 *Evenings and Weekends Only.

On Monday 27th February, my life changed. On that day, I simultaneously gained and lost my freedom. I lost the privilege of time, but reached a milestone which will open up a wealth of opportunity. In a nutshell, I joined the 9am-5pm crew. I began a full-time job in a sector related to my degree – something I feel very proud to have achieved, considering my subject was based in the arts. For the foreseeable future my life will now roll along in unison with commuters all over the world; rising at 7am to begin the hour plus commute to work, before returning nine hours later to eat, shower, and crash until the next day. Then replay. Over and over. I am content with this arrangement, yet I have begun to wonder… When will I have time for my other passions? Reading, writing, hiking, exploring, travelling, all time consuming activities which will have to be sidelined.

I’m 23, everyone I talk to tells me ‘The world is your oyster! Get out there!’ Except it’s not now, is it? I can’t get out there because first I must eat, wear clothes, buy bus and train passes, pay for ordinary things like dentist and optician appointments, vet bills, phone contracts, etc. The list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying my new role, but being fresh out of the sanctuary of the university bubble I realise there are several fun aspects of my life which will have to reduce, or at least be restricted to weekends and evenings. How do people balance work and play? Seriously, how should I do it? Staring at computers all day makes me reluctant to use my laptop later, which will affect my blog and writing. Getting home at 6pm means no leisurely woodland walks, no excitable planning for day trips away, and definitely no extended holidays. So what should I do? The world is supposed to be open for me to explore at this age, yet when will I have time?

So, there is some serious thinking to be done. I need to balance my two types of freedom, and simply make the world my oyster on evenings and weekends. I can plan for the weekend on my daily commutes, and read books instead of watching screens at home. And hey, of course I can still daydream. I doubt I could stop daydreaming if I tried. I will embrace my new job, and use my new salary to pay for trips to more exciting places! I’ve barely travelled to a handful of places on my wishlist, so I must find a way. I would love to hear how everyone else balances their work life with their personal interests, so any advice would be much appreciated!

Now go have an adventure!

Eternally Walking

She walks and walks, tirelessly, endlessly, eternally. The places she walks differ, but her stride never breaks. Through forests she treks, leaves brushing her face with every step. They caress her skin, smooth and moist, invigorating her, energising her, replenishing her. She breathes in, inhaling the musky scents of the flowers; sniffs the fragrances of the other plants further away, bringing with them pleasant whiffs of ecstasy.

Only there for a second, leaving her wishing for more, but more pleasurable with each return. The hum of insects and twitter of birds is the sweetest music, and when she opens her mouth and sings with them, her voice is just as sweet to the ear, and equally as powerful. The wildlife stops, listens, and joins in; it is a Forestry Orchestra. She only sees the participants in glimpses, as they dart among the trees in flashes of electric blue, deep red, bright yellow and vivid orange.

She is entering a clearing now, and walks towards a pool of water in the centre. She stops singing, and the Orchestra ceases. Closing her eyes, she balances, her toes on the edge of the pool, pivoting on her heels but retaining her balance. Her arms are outstretched gracefully, and with a deep breath she opens her eyes and stares at the crystal clear water. Sky blue eyes stare straight back at her, determinedly, forcefully, daringly. She blinks, the reflection blinks too. She smiles, and the reflection follows suit. She laughs and waits… the smile falters, disappears. She is alone. Eternally alone in Paradise.

***

He walks and walks, determinedly, unceasingly, and everlastingly. For as long as he can remember he has walked; through icy realms with blustery mountain ledges, jagged spikes of cobalt glacial ice lurking a foot away from where he struggles. The wind makes his face red and raw, then blue and numb. He hears nothing but the howling wind, screaming and wailing in anguish. He makes no sound, never opens his mouth for fear that the icy tendrils will enter and consume him. Onward he treads, slowly but steadily, always walking, never pausing, his eyes squinted against the ferocious gales.

He meets no one; he has not met anyone in many years. Time is nothing but a concept now, eating and sleeping are mere fantasies. His road is treacherous, but he never thinks about turning around. He must continue, through the lashing daggers of rain, the blinding blizzards and the perilous drop over the edge… He is beginning to feel tired; he has never felt tired before, and it scares him that he should feel weaker. But something urges him on; he senses something ahead, something good. He is not sure what he will find at the end of his journey, but he knows it is good.

Then through the suffocating snowstorm he glimpses something. A faint light, but a light nonetheless, shining through the storm. Wrapping his arms closer to his chest he speeds up, determined to reach the light. He turns a corner on the mountain, and the blizzard is gone. In shock, he stops for the first time in forever, and looks up, confused. Ahead is a great plain of dry land, and beyond that a great forest towering high in the sky. He squints at it for a second in the brightness, before raising his hand to block the dazzling sunlight and, never looking back, begins to walk.

***

They walk and walk; she through miles of moist, tangled jungle, him over miles of dust-coated, cracked earth. They have walked for hundreds of miles, never stopping, never looking behind, never wondering what lay at the end of their journeys. Only the feeling deep within, urging them on through any dangers they face, helping them find extra strength when they feel weak, and most importantly, giving them hope and ensuring that they are constantly moving. Days stretch into nights which stretch into days which are once more enveloped by night. Onward they tread, unknowingly and unsuspectingly, but hopefully.

***

Many suns and moons pass and suddenly it is a day like every other. The forest is alive and humid and the sun is up and burning. The two are still walking; her treading daintily over a carpet of grass, moss, and roots, searching for another crystal clear pool. Maybe this time she will find what she has been looking for. The hopeful feeling inside her is growing, and she smiles as she walks.

Him trudging heavily over the sun baked and deadened desert soil. Not even sparing a glance at the tempting shadow-infusing boulders. He is lagging, more now than ever. But he is not far from the wall of greenery; his pores are straining for the damp air between the trees, the elongated shadows of the towering trees, the refreshing spring water he senses, tantalisingly close now, after a lifetime of a journey.

***

The walk is coming to a close. They both feel it, know it. But they do not know what will end their journeys. Another feeling has begun to grow alongside the hope now; apprehension. The climax has begun. She walks faster now, tiptoeing no longer, pacing sure-footedly over bark and pebbles. She is near the next pool. The last pool.

***

He steps into the forest and breathes a sigh of relief, his skin absorbing the damp, hydrating air. He shed his furs and coats weeks ago, at the beginning of the desert. Now he strips off another layer, dropping it where he stands, and walking barefoot and bare-chested, disappears into the beckoning forest.

***

She is hurrying now, gliding through the bushes, paying no attention to the direction she flies, only knowing that it is the right way. Right then left then straight then left again; leaving the Forestry Orchestra behind. An unknown force propels her forwards, and perspiration explodes from her pores as she pushes forwards through a great curtain of leaves. Then she sees it; a shimmering, glistening, iridescent blue. It seems to call to her, summoning her to its calming presence.

He has sped up now, the forest air revitalising him, giving him the last strength he needs to complete his journey. Suddenly, out of the myriad of green he spies a flash of silver. His breath catches in his parched throat and he almost stops in shock. An overwhelming feeling of something unnameable is overpowering him. Perhaps it is the feeling of completion. Cautiously, he slows to a walk, picking his way through the undergrowth, never taking his eyes from the snatch of silver. The shining beacon of hope.

***

She is so close to the pool now, all she has to do is step forward one last time. She stands almost on the edge, but still she cannot see her reflection. One more step. But she does not dare, she cannot be disappointed again. So she stands motionless, tears falling down her cheeks, unsure for the first time in her life.

He can see the pool now, in all its sparkling splendour. Licking his broken lips he pushes aside the final branches of the surrounding trees and steps into the clearing. The pool is there, metres away, but instead of rushing forwards, he stops. His eyes widen, someone is there already.

***

Her back is to him, her shoulders hunched and shaking slightly. She feels the dooming sensation of loss begin to overcome her all over again.

He watches her silently for a minute. Why does she not take that last step? Then he realises what he must do. Padding into the clearing, he moves to her side, not looking at her face, and holds out his hand.

***

She feels his presence immediately as he stands by her side, but she does not look up. She waits, the feeling of loss being taken over by a new feeling of anticipation. His hand moves from his side, angles towards her, and stops, waiting. As if on its own, her hand begins to tilt, palm outwards, and moves away from her side towards him. His hand reacts, and as their fingertips touch, the feeling of anticipation is replaced by a feeling of reassurance. Hands locked together, they take a simultaneous deep breath, and step forwards.

***

Two faces greet them, as they stand looking into the pool. One with bright blue eyes, peering out of a pale, tear-streaked face. The other, sunburned and chapped. Their toes balance on the edge of the pool, millimetres away from the life-giving liquid beneath them. The toes wiggle, and the reflections blink together. Two smiles begin to appear, transforming the life-weathered faces. Their pasts are gone, their journeys forgotten; they have the rest of eternity to live for, together.

The Day The Seasons Converged

You know some days when you go outside and the air smells slightly different to usual? There’s either a sudden chill or a cosy warmth, seemingly materialised from nowhere… But something in your mind acknowledges the change, whether consciously or subconsciously. Many people don’t notice the shift in the airwaves, but I always do. I try so hard to express what I can smell, taste, on the air, but mostly I get blank responses. I have come to realise the changes over the years, and now recognise them as the seasonal shifts. Sure, we all see Spring morph into Summer, which then turns golden as Autumn arrives, and finally the ground crisps up and the greenery melts away into a dormant state. Then buds begin to appear, and lo and behold the process begins anew.

I notice more than that though. Once, twice, maybe three times a year I leave the house and my senses are hit by a sudden rush of change. I can smell the seasons changing and, once caught for the first time, the scent remains for the whole season. Over the next few days I might get a whiff of change as I step outdoors, but it won’t hit as abruptly as that first time. Does anybody else have this strange sense? I don’t know but I hope so, because it’s so exciting to experience. It’s special, a special moment between your senses and nature, and it never gets old.

One day I went for a walk, and not only did I smell the change of seasons, but as I stepped outside, I saw that the seasons had quite literally converged one over the other. Of course then I had to grab my camera. I thought i’d share the photographs with you, as I think they are special and deserve to be preserved in some way, as the occurrence was so ephemeral.

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A bubble of Autumn preserved in a blanket of Winter

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A light sweeping of snow creeps over the autumnal carpet

The ground was a patchwork of seasons, each surprising and refreshing in turn…

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A sprinkling of snowflakes makes the apples extra rosy

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A Winter wonderland beyond an Autumn snug

 

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A softened woodland

 

The starkness of seasonal boundaries was incredible. I had never witnessed any such weather clashes before, but to me it was magical.