Writing is one thing, but it lacks the immediacy of being put on the spot and talking as you think.
So this is my first video blog!
Writing is one thing, but it lacks the immediacy of being put on the spot and talking as you think.
So this is my first video blog!
I’m not in the habit of quoting from films in the Harry Potter universe for one obvious reason; nobody can learn anything from them because they’re too caught up in wishing they were 11 and that letter on the carpet isn’t a reminder from HMRC but an invitation to Hogwarts.
But two days ago I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – because, frankly, it was that or Sharknado – and there was a scene that really made me think.
In this scene, a magical snake with avian somewhere in its ancestry, slipped into a room through a window and immediately grew so huge it only just fitted inside the room. Before that it had been your average grass snake size.
Well, it wasn’t really that scene that got me thinking. It was the scene where Eddie Redmayne discovers his lost snake is now dangerously large and in a pretty bad mood;
He says, ‘she expands to fill the space she’s in.’
I’m writing this from a boatyard in the Azores. For those who don’t know, that’s an island chain 900 miles west of Portugal, hanging out in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean. Aside from being a great place to buy fresh cheese, it’s also home to many transatlantic sailors, stopping off for repairs, over-wintering or, like I said, cheese.
There’s a huge boat out on the side here like us – except much bigger. Every day things appear from inside and are laid out on the concrete. By ‘things’ I mean untold quantities of stuff. It’s beginning to look like the Beaulieu Boat Jumble has relocated to the immediate area around their 50ft yacht and yet the stuff just keeps on coming.
I happen to know that the sailing couple on board have, like me, sailed around the Atlantic. However, they did it in one year and didn’t venture to Central America, thus covering significantly less distance. I’m not saying this as a woohoo look at me (they have, after all, done many other sailing voyages in different boats), I’m saying this because they did a smaller voyage and yet took 10+ times the amount of stuff.
Did they need all this stuff? No, of course not.
This has never been more apparent to me as it is now that I’m back on board my boat.
For the past seven months I’ve been living in a variety of apartments in Austria after leaving the boat in the Azores to weather the winter alone (I know, I felt like an absent mother but, to be honest, she’s older and tougher than I am anyway).
While I didn’t fill the apartments, I did fill the car. To the brim. For a 4-month ski season in which 80% of seasonnaires fly out to with 20kg of hold luggage. I definitely had more than 20kg in the car. Because I could. If there was a free space, I’d fill it.
When I returned to the UK and visited friends and relatives, I was amazed to see the sheer amount of stuff they’d accrued over their lives. One friend who’s moved to a shoebox of a studio flat (but it’s beachside so fair play) is now faced with the amount of choss he’d acquired in his family home. The decades pass by like waves, dumping unquantifiable amount of oceanic trinkets in our homes. And by trinkets, I mean rubbish.
I was even horrified at the amount of stuff I had in storage. Big plastic boxes (£3 Wilkinsons – there’s a bargain for you) containing 40 filled notebooks, paperwork I don’t know if I can throw away and clothes I’ve neither worn nor seen for years.
I immediately took three huge bags to the charity shop and a black bin liner of stuff to those men who show up at 8am once a fortnight with a line of seagulls and forlorn foxes trailing them.
Luckily, I’ve never stayed in any one house for more than 11 months since the age of 18 – so my accruage is significantly smaller than my peers who’re swinging from the first rung of the property ladder.
You know what I dislike about the ladder analogy? Ladders are increasingly dangerous the higher up you go. And the rungs are usually the same all the way up. Plus, heat may rise but once you reach a certain point, it’s only going to get colder.
And yet, the moment I boarded my beloved yacht, I was confronted with the sheer quantity of things on board. Or, rather, the sheer lack of space. I’m talking 2m2 of floor space – just to give you the gist. That’s all the floor space I have, and have had for the past 2+ years on the boat. And I don’t store anything on the floor. So you get the idea of how small the boat is.
Anyone who disputes this should go look in their garage/loft/cupboards-under-the-stairs (after all, if we were in the Harry Potter universe you’d find a small magical child in there).
Of course we all do this to varying degrees. Hoard things. And most of us are hoarders to some extent, reluctant to get rid of things that might one day be useful despite their pronounced uselessness for that past two decades. Or reluctant to rid ourselves of souvenirs from our pasts, boxes of things we haven’t looked at and, realistically, will never look at again.
I opened the glass cupboard today which also happens to be the Travel Scrabble cupboard, the sewing kit cupboard, the spare errant foreign currency cupboard and the chocolate cupboard depending on the thing I need. There were fifteen glasses.
Three were free with rum bottles when I was in the Caribbean, six are from French yogurts that inexplicably come in glass jars, one is a Nutella glass cup, two are €1 wine glasses and only three are proper drinking vessels. Considering there are only two of us living on board and we’ve only ever hosted an extra four at the most, fifteen seems extravagant.
But the captain won’t let me toss any.
‘They might come in handy,’ he says.
This is the same reason why I have circa 25 pairs of thermal socks despite only owning two feet. It’s also why I have lots of lecture print-outs from my degree that finished eight years ago, y’know, in case I suddenly need to brush up on Wordsworth and the true contribution the Romantics had on modern day literature.
We’re a sentimental bunch really and we like things. We like owning and accruing things. If there is a shelf, it must be filled, a mug cupboard cannot just have two mugs, a cutlery drawer cannot just have enough cutlery for four.
We love to buy, replace, acquire. Those who don’t buy things buy food or toiletries, things that appear useful but are really only an extension of our need to fill our spaces. If you have enough food in the house to last a month, you don’t need to buy more every day. If you have four tubes of toothpaste just in case, then it’s time to reevaluate.
It’s difficult to see when you’re in it. I should know. I lived happily for years carting boxes of choss between rented rooms. It was only when I left the country for years and returned that I thought, ‘oh hang on a second, what is this parasitic lump that’s hoarding dust and sapping my energy? What is this four-box tower that demands to be housed somewhere, demands to be returned to only to be moved another hundred miles unopened, unloved, unknown.’
But what is it that makes us need to take up so much room in the world? Why do we keep furniture we don’t need, don’t like and don’t use? Why do we keep things that might be useful in an imaginary future when they aren’t earning their keep?
Only when I returned to the boat did I finally throw out the down duvet my step-mother gave to me ten years ago. It was damp, mouldy and when I picked it up, it emitted a small colony of airborne spores singing, ‘freedom!’
And still I caught myself thinking, ‘well it might come in handy as a back-up duvet…’ When in actual fact, the only thing it would come in handy for would be a spot of chemical warfare.
It had seen too much, from the squalors of university residences to the cloying jungles of Panama. I felt a little stab of sorrow as it was pushed into the marina bins. The duvet, sensing its last chance at reproducing, emitted another puff of spores.
I don’t think it’s a healthy mentality, this clinging on to relics.
We’re constantly being told that we don’t have enough of anything and here we are, holding onto belongings with our cold dead hands. Well, that might be an overstatement – or not, if you consider the ever-expanding charity shops and house-clearance companies.
It’s a myth that things aren’t made ‘like they used to be’. The only difference is the high streets and out-of-town-shopping-centres are filled with cheap shops selling cheaply made products. The good stuff is still out there, you just need to pay for it. Which lots of us aren’t willing to do when faced with the superficially glorious-looking objects in H&M/Primark/Ikea Home.
Sailors are classic hoarders. And, to be honest, they have better reasons than most. When you’re in the middle of the ocean and something goes tits-up, suddenly that locker of really useful bits of rope might actually save your life.
There have been plenty of times when something has broken in an extremely inconvenient location – i.e. hundreds if not thousands of miles from land – and the captain fixes it with something that’d been freeloading for two years.
But do we have that excuse in the UK? The land of plenty? The land of 24 hour Amazon and eBay deliveries, the land of Homebase and Lidl? I’m not saying just chuck out everything and buy new versions when you need them, but there’s got to be a line drawn somewhere.
My dad offered my an upright piano the other day and as tempted as I was to get him to hoard it for me until the time I could take possession of it, I did come to the conclusion that there are about 300 on British Heart Foundation’s eBay page for around £50 each. It might come in handy one day, but when it does, I can just go out and buy one.
Hoarding on a what-if basis in a country with a darn-fabulous logistical system seems a little cray-cray – if you catch my drift.
JK Rowling’s magical expanding (and similarly shrinking) snake-bird-creature is a good lesson to us all;
I feel like I haven’t been away. The painted shutters on windows, the low stone walls, the dairy cows, the sparrows.
She stands where I left her. I left her.
I left her here.
I touch her hull the moment I reach her. Solid. Smooth. Not neglected or damaged or weary, just her usual solid self, facing the wind, standing on concrete.
I wonder if she misses the water or is relieved to be out of it. She grew up dry every winter. She’s younger for it, no doubt about that.
Sand has gathered around her stands. The winter storms she’s seen. The sand is mixed with paint flecks. Blue. Not hers, although she is blue too. Someone else has been poisoning this ground.
We’re all guilty of it. There’s a reason why nothing grows on her hull while she’s in the water.
A motorboat is being lifted out as I arrive. Soon they start pressure washing the little boat’s hull, dislodging stubborn creatures. Barnacles, weed.
The blue anti-foul washes off in torrents of toxins. It washes over the concrete and I have to leap over it as I visit the bathrooms. Don’t want that stuff on your shoes. Or your skin.
The motorboat has blue anti-foul but my boat has red. When we washed her off she let a river of blood. It flowed across the ground and wept into drains. Like I said, poison.
She looks pale on deck. We took everything off and stored it inside when we left. Boom, covers, lines, outboard, wheel, everything. So there’s nothing to break up the paleness. It doesn’t take long to get it all back out though and underneath spots of mould have been growing.
I clean every surface, finding the debris of spiders’ meals. Tiny crumpled flies litter the forepeak having got in but never gotten out. I find the remains of an onion in the rack. How could I have left an onion here? That must’ve smelt for a while. Now it’s just ashes, time having done its work.
There’s one metre squared of floor space. Two when the bags have been moved. That’s it. How have I lived here for three years? Every inch of space is taken and I haven’t even unpacked. There’s no room, not for anything.
The next few weeks will be work on top of work. Except that to even get into the tool cupboards I’ll have to move about 80 things. It’s a strange way of life. So free in that I can, and have, sailed anywhere – but also so wantonly limiting.
I look around and I don’t know where to start. The captain will tackle the huge jobs, the sanding, the painting, the epoxy work. And me? I’ll start on the thousand tiny things.
Travel writing….a bizarre type of work that has a very stark difference between what other people think it is, and what it actually is.
Before I began travel writing, or even really travelling, I thought it was the most romantic job in the world.
After all, what could be better than travelling through dusty towns, eating street food and writing about the people you pass and the lands you traverse?
Of course, that’s really the travelling part. It’s the writing part and, increasingly, the photography part, that’s the actual work.
Writing for me takes place after. Sometimes quite a long time after. You don’t get much looking, tasting and adventuring done if you’re constantly tapping away at your laptop.
And while writing about travel can easily be done after the fact, photography absolutely cannot. Now that magazines don’t have the money to send a photograph along with you, it’s frequently up to the writer to take the photographs. And yes, most travel writers probably do have an SLR handy. But photography is a lot more than a nice camera.
Even if you do happen to have a great camera and take some great photographs, you’ve only got the core materials of your piece. Photography and writing is the easy part.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only person to think travel writing sounded like a nice job. Everybody else did too.
90% of the time I spend on a piece will probably be researching outlets, pitching, waiting, re-pitching and then corresponding with editors and reading lengthy style guidelines. And that’s not including the time spent tracking down the right editor’s name and making sure they’re not on maternity leave or sabbatical.
So when I manage to forge a new relationship with a travel editor and, shock horror, actually get something published, it makes for a delirious day.
Here are my latest two pieces (plus next month will be a new Yachting Monthly article published in the magazine):
Not hugely ill, not I-need-a-doctor ill. Just ill with a cold.
I’m going through three packs of tissues a day, feel like my head is clamped in a high pressure chamber and have little to no energy. And you know what I did in this state?
I went skiing.
I clipped into my skis, headed down a crowded, mixed condition piste at around 40mph and had to stop halfway done. I just needed a moment to let the dizziness pass.
A helicopter whirred in the distance, on its way to rescue an unfortunate tourist.
As I looked around the snowy landscape and out across the cloud below to the next peaks I thought, what the hell am I doing up here?
I was clearly not in a good enough state of health to be whooshing down slippery slopes on two sticks while navigating ski schools, invisible moguls and slushy patches. So why exactly did I find it necessary to crawl out of bed a 7:30am, down some coffee and head up the mountain, despite feeling terrible?
This is not just a case for being on holiday – or in my case, on a ski season – people go to work while ill, go to events while ill, work out while ill and consistently give their time and effort to others, while ill.
But dragging myself up the mountain, to expose myself to harsh physical exertion in sub-zero temperatures, is not making the most of my ski season. I am instead sacrificing my health just so I can feel like I ticked a box that day, that I went skiing because I could and therefore should.
This is madness. There is nothing more important than health, because without health, there is nothing else. So why do we think self-care is just a buzzword, when it should be our number one priority?
How many injuries have I seen on the mountain because people are on their last day and pushing it too hard?
How many people break something so severely that their ability to ski any time in the future is compromised?
Making the most of something does not mean doing it despite what your body is telling you. Being ill and putting undue pressure on your body when it is not in a fit state to do so, isn’t something to be proud of.
It’s taking the single most important thing, and placing it below the ephemeral.
I’ve spent this morning feeling guilty. I’m sat on the sofa, looking at the mountains yet not skiing. It’s a sunny day and, out of the four months I’m here for, I only have 9 days left. So I feel like I should be skiing.
But one of my best friends is flying out here on Saturday and if I ski for the next three days, I won’t have recovered properly. I will be too tired and possibly still ill, thus cheating her out of an energetic host and myself out of a full week of all-day skiing with my friend.
Why have 9 tired, half-arsed days on the mountain when I could have 3 days of lounging around eating blood oranges and drinking green tea, followed by 6 days of non-stop ski holiday fun? Why do I find it so hard to put my health first?
By sacrificing our health to ‘make the most’ of something, we’re doing ourselves and others a huge disservice. If you’re ill, you can’t give your best to someone, whether that’s work or play. So if you go out and do something while you’re feeling crappy, then you’re sacrificing the effort you’re giving to others and the effort you’re giving yourself. Everybody loses. In fact, you might even be passing on your illness to others.
A word that has ‘self’ in it doesn’t mean it’s a synonym for ‘selfish’. If you cannot care for yourself above anything else, then you cannot perform at your best. It’s simple.
It takes an incredibly small amount of sleep deprivation to start affecting brain function. So when people say, ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’, it makes me want to say, ‘well then you’ll be sleeping sooner than you think’.
Pushing yourself to the point of illness, injury or some form of physical deprivation, does not make you better or stronger. It makes you weaker and less effective. It might not look as cool in the short term, but people in their 60s who are in full health and are achieving high levels of personal and professional success probably exercise a good level of self-care.
There are lots of books around these days about the power of saying no. Ariana Huffington has been extremely vocal about the importance of sleep and looking after yourself before doing anything else. It’s really a no-brainer – and I hate that term.
If you don’t look after yourself, you’re not just sacrificing yourself. You’re sacrificing so many opportunities, better results, relationships and almost everything else. Doing a presentation while blowing your nose every minute isn’t going to impress anyone.
So instead of wrestling between the desire to go up the mountain and be guilt free, and the desire to just rest here in my apartment – I’m going to put my health first. Because there is literally no downside to doing that.
*If you want to know what self-care looks like, just look at the nearest cat.
Having lived on a boat for 2.5 years in places with little to no internet, now that I’m on land, I’m thoroughly addicted to Youtube.
And I’m floored.
Anything you want to know, you can learn on YouTube.
Now this isn’t news to the majority of people, YouTube after all, is huge. But as with a lot of abundant resources, we can start to take it for granted. Forget that it’s full of wisdom and instead use it only for videos of baby pandas hugging the legs of enclosure cleanings.
You know what I’m talking about.
But YouTube is a library. Possibly the world’s most comprehensible and accessible library. It’s free, it’s designed to retain your attention and it contains bite-size chunks of knowledge from thousands of the world’s experts.
I’ve compiled a short list of YouTube videos that will change the way you think about your life, maybe even change your life – in under 20 minutes.
That’s while you’re eating breakfast, or sat on the train to work.
And while YouTube isn’t just about pandas and deep life-changing knowledge (I used it to fix a zip, fix a car and improve my powder skiing), I believe the following videos will immediately inspire you. And inspiration is sometimes all it takes.
FightMediocrity is a YouTube channel that takes concepts or self-help books and breaks them down in cartoon form. The videos are ingenious.
Marissa Peer is a leading psychologist and in this particular talk she explains how we are self-limiting and how to change that.
Thanks to our smartphones and laptops, we’re getting collectively worse at conversation. But a good conversation lift our spirits, connect us more deeply to other people and make us happier. Celeste isolates the key points that make a great conversation and no, there’s none of that ‘mimic body language’ or ‘nod often to show you’re listening’ bollocks.
Chances are you’ve heard that sitting down is the new smoking. But how many of us remember it on a daily basis? This video might inspire you to get up and do a bit of butt-clenching….watch it, you’ll see what I mean.
Okay so I lied, this one is actually 30 minutes. Understanding the economy might sound like it should be left up to experts but…well….really? Understanding money is one of the most important aspects of having money.
I could continue this list for days but luckily I don’t have to.
YouTube suggests videos matched to your YouTube history so chances are, if you’re watching interesting TedTalks and such like, you’ll be recommended even more.
I can’t be the only one who loves scrolling through the more informative parts of Youtube. If you know of more amazing YouTube videos then let me know!