In the last 12 months, I have definitely had more fun, felt more alive and been more “in the present” than in most of the previous 7 years.
It all started with a conversation at lunch on New Year’s Eve 2012. A friend of mine (Kristy) and I were talking about our working lives and our feeling that we were now struggling with feeling unfulfilled. Something needed to change. We started to imagine what we could do… Perhaps we’d go off traveling? For a long time now I’ve fancied visiting New Zealand – and Kristy suggested that a camper van would be the best way to see all of the sights. Suddenly we had something to fire our imaginations.
You see, a few years ago, Kristy had already made a life-changing decision to move from her career in design to ecology – the reasons are not mine to tell, but I do know that I admire her hugely for making that change. So she had already set a precedent for seeing positive outcomes from being intrepid. For my part, I was only semi-serious about leaving my job at that moment because it seemed to me that I would require new reserves of bravery to walk away from something I’d done for 13 years just after spending 2012 doing battle with cancer. I loved the idea of it though and over the next few days had a number of conversations about places in the world that I would see if I could.
As it turned out, the decision would come sooner than I’d originally thought during that lunch on New Year’s Eve: When I got back to work on 7th January 2013, I had a meeting to discuss my exit from my company in the morning, and a meeting with my surgeon to discuss the removal of my boobs in the afternoon! Either of those would be big milestones in anyones life, so it was interesting trying to wrap my head around having two such momentous discussions on the same day.
Eleven months, two new boobs, many new business meetings and nineteen airports later, I’ve certainly taken life by the scruff of the neck and done something a little different with my time. I feel like I’ve finally had the year out that I didn’t take after I graduated.
February last year seemed to whirl past. I was leaving work, and was sad that I would no longer be working with a lot of people I liked and respected. It helped me to know that even if I stayed though, the company was already fairly unrecognisable from the thing I’d helped to build and would continue to change radically after I left. I felt excited to have time to think about something new. I helped to organise a charity launch party, signed up for loads of courses and started to talk to friends about possible trips.
My last day working for my company was on the Friday 8th, the night before my op! Luckily I’d already had lunch with quite a few people I wanted to say goodbye to in the weeks before that, so I was able to have a “goodbye boobs” party with some friends and family that night. By early morning the next day, I was in the hospital waiting to be prepped for a fairly major operation and luckily, recovered well from that and went on to attend the Keeping Abreast launch party 2 weeks later.
In March and April I had enrolled myself on various courses in London and spent some time networking. I got involved with a startup company and created a brief for a major collaborative web project for them, which is in the process of being built at the moment. I also took my first trip of many to Brussels & Bruges on the Eurostar with “Mosschops”, my friend from Uni.
In May I took the trip of a lifetime with Martin and Guy on the Orient Express. We travelled for 2 days (overnight) via France and Austria to Venice and stayed there for 3 nights, then visited Florence for 2 nights, flying home from Pisa. It was a proper gastronomic as well as cultural exploration. We started our trip in style by staying in a hotel in London near Victoria station (where we would embark on the first part of our journey on a Pullman train). That evening, during a discussion over cocktails at the bar in the Grosvenor, I discovered that the barman was from Italy and had recommendations for places for us to visit in Venice.
The Orient Express was wonderful; we made the most of the expectation of smart dress at all times and became immersed in the experience. We were served gorgeous food from the minute we sat down on the Pullman to the coast. Once we climbed aboard the Orient Express on the other side of the channel, I walked the length of the train, taking in all of the different decor, marquetry and furniture in each one. There was a piano being played in the bar car and we had some more cocktails as the train rumbled through Europe. We found out that one of the two cabins we were staying in was the one that Agatha Christie had stayed in.
Venice was as beautiful and strange as I’d imagined, and we talked about how difficult it must be logistically to move offices there, by boat! All of the research I’d done on best places to eat paid off and we had some truly memorable food, lots of seafood and pasta and some beautiful wines. We visited Murano to have a look at the glass shops and went to the Guggenheim art gallery. Florence was also really interesting – full of strange shaped romanesque buildings faced with marble. A highlight for me was walking to the top of the Boboli gardens on the hillside to the South of the river, taking in the views across the whole city. With Guy there in full shopping mode, it’s also not entirely surprising that I came back with a nice leather jacket as my souvenir.
In June and July I took a few days to visit the coast in Norfolk. I’d heard that the Gunton Arms near Cromer had a great reputation for food, so I wanted to try it out and go to the beach. During June, July and August I developed a working relationship with another start-up company based in Nottingham. It has been really interesting and is an ongoing involvement for me now.
Kristy and I decided that we would take a week’s trip somewhere so I suggested Seville, as although it would be very hot that time of year, I’d heard it was a very beautiful city. I wasn’t sure whether there would be a week’s worth of things to see so I booked a hotel with a pool. As it turned out, we got the best of both because there was so much to see; such a mixture of architectural styles and colourful tiles and gardens everywhere. Each day, we were able to go back to the hotel pool to cool off between 4pm and 8-9pm when the sun finally set, with dinner eaten at about 10pm. I had the best tapas I’ve ever eaten, and also the cheapest… €32 for a meal for 2 people including 4 dishes, 4 glasses of wine and 2 coffees. What a bargain!
July was packed with trips. I was only home for a few days before racing off up to Lancashire to pick up Liz, and fly from Liverpool to Lisbon this time to spend a few days on the windswept and rugged coast of Portugal, at an old fort in Cascais. We had time to really relax and catch up properly and our trip to Lisbon was pretty epic, I think we covered most of the centre of it on foot – the most steps that I’ve done in a day since I went to Paris in 2012. That brought the total number of airports to 9 so far…
In August I went to France for 10 days with Curt, seeing the sights in Lyon for 3 days, meeting some French friends of his and then venturing out into the countryside to a small town (Riorges, near Roanne) where we stayed and attended a French language and cooking course. I’d heartily recommend L’école des Trois Ponts. This language school teaches French in the mornings and cooking in the afternoons (all in French of course), the people are lovely and really supportive, everybody learned something and improved – some people didn’t speak a word of French before they arrived and were talking French at dinner by the second day! I really felt like I enriched my life and my education with that holiday and met some really interesting people from all around the world who had some great stories.
Not having yet had enough nights away from home that month (haha), I then went camping at the End Of The Road festival down in Dorset until early September. May I recommend that buying sleeping bags by their weight and ability to pack down misses the essential point of them keeping you warm enough. I cannot express how cold I was even in two of those bloody pack-down-small sleeping bags, all of my clothes and another sleeping bag over the top of me! I won’t make that mistake again! 😉
By September I was fully into the swing of traveling – this time to Chicago & New York! Guy and I went as stowaways on Martin, Richard, Haydn and Tom’s business trip, spending our days wandering round and nattering to each other and then meeting up with the others in the evening for meals. Both cities were amazing and inspiring and I plan to visit them both again, though I think Chicago won in terms of atmosphere as it was more relaxed and more friendly as a city than New York, where people barge you out of the way in their rush to get anywhere. I got the chance to see LOADS of famous sights in both places as well as spend time with the boys in some fun places in the evenings, including drinking 18 inch cocktails in “Howl At The Moon Chicago”, sitting under a rather distracting painting in “Raoul’s” in New York, and watching Michael Bay direct the next Transformers movie right outside my hotel.
October brought the wedding of Natalie, a dear friend of mine, in the New Forest. I was so happy and proud to be asked to do the reading! The weather was still warm then luckily, and we got some great photos. I then went travelling via Lancashire and the Lakes where I caught up with Mosschops again. From there, I carried on up into Scotland and to the Isles of Mull and Skye. Scotland was fantastic. We were really lucky with the weather which had been rotten until about a day before we arrived. I clambered some hillsides and visited some castles, captured some dramatic skylines and enjoyed the bright colours of Tobermory and the amazing light for taking photos.
In November? I turned 40… what better excuse to PARTY! It was a pretty epic do with everyone making huge efforts with their fancy dress for a pop time tunnel theme, and the band and DJ were awesome. I’m tempted to do a smaller version again this year. 😉 By December I was busy preparing for Christmas and signing myself up for loads more interesting events, gigs, courses and travels in 2014.
On a serious note – I do realise how very lucky I am to have been able to do all of the things I’ve done in 2013. Were it not for my health scare in 2012, I wonder if I would have got around to doing all of the new things I’ve tried doing? Probably not! Having a brush with serious illness changes your perspective on life, grabs your head and shakes you and says “HELLO! You might not be around forever… so make the most of it.”
This year and onwards, I pledge to try to be more fun, more enterprising and more audacious than ever before. I still haven’t driven the camper van around New Zealand… or got around to hang-gliding yet… but I hope to at some point in the next year or so!
Some boys take a beautiful girl,
and hide her away from the rest of the world.
I want to be the one to walk in the sun,
oh girls, they want to have fun.
Oh girls just want to have…
That’s all they really want.
When the working day is done
Girls, they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have FUN.