In praise of fulfilment (and flat whites).

Quite an exciting morning in the TG household. Rob’s been doing his first jury trial this week and is doing his closing speech today. And Jo flew up the M4 yesterday to crash overnight before she casually auditions for Les Miserables today (I KNOW!!)!

We were all up quite early and it was just really lovely thinking these two special people were off to do two very special, very different performances. Things that meant a huge amount to each of them, not necessarily because it would get them somewhere (Rob might not win the trial; Jo might not get the part) – it was the doing that meant the most, not the end goal.

I joked that I should really be doing something so exciting myself today – maybe I should crack out a bit of “One Day More” for my boss!? But really I was just so pleased that they were each ticking a big internal box for themselves. No matter what happens in the future, they’ve both done those things. Nobody can take that experience away from them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fulfilment recently, about getting what you really want out of life (mostly inspired by this book – more on that later). It’s more than just identifying what you want to do – it’s about then going and doing it. It’s difficult… but when you do do it, it’s THRILLING! It’s the biggest buzz.

Inspired by my two houseguests, this morning I went to the café round the corner before work, ordered myself a skinny flat white (yum) and read the aforementioned book. The cafe opens at 8, and I’m lucky to live five minutes away from my office… so why not? What would I be doing otherwise?

My New Year’s Resolution this year was to “get out what I put in”; channel my energy and use my time to Actually Do Things. This was mostly to combat finding myself down an Instagram scroll-hole where I’d been for the last half an hour, when I could have spent that half an hour reading a book. Why not go and Do Something, while it’s sunny and I’m awake anyway and all I’d be doing otherwise is watching BBC Breakfast? So yes, it started with less scrolling, more reading, but now I’m gradually turning the volume up on that philosophy.

I didn’t just read the book, I finished it this morning. And I veritably bounced into the office afterwards. I have honestly never felt so inspired, or motivated – it may have been the strength of the aforementioned flat white (lol) but I felt like I was fizzing!

I often talk about things that make me feel the most “me” – the truest version of me. Doing those things makes me feel so connected to myself. It genuinely feels like I’m plugging into myself, completing a circuit, and letting the energy and creativity flow. And it feels great!

One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from the book is that nobody is going to give me permission to go out and do what I want to do. The author, Emma Gannon (who also has a bloody brilliant podcast, btw), said people so often come up to her for advice on an idea, or a career move, or a longed-for dream… but they’re not really asking her for advice, they’re asking her for permission. I TOTALLY get that. Think about it. What are you really waiting for?

I’m also allowing myself to start small. I don’t have to suddenly go straight to the top of the tree – I want to build it up, do it because I enjoy it and see if it goes somewhere. Everyone and everything and every great idea has to start somewhere, and surely if you are only doing something because you want it to explode, and not because you love doing it… then you’re doing it wrong?

My small steps so far, inspired by the book, having included:

  • seriously curating who I follow on Twitter (the hate-follow; it’s a thing)
  • emailing a contact I worked with previously to ask for advice
  • signing up to a 75p trial for a skills platform offering literally thousands of online courses
  • asking A Life Loved, who I wrote the feature about the wedding for, if they’d be interested in some content about NZ (if you don’t ask, you don’t get!)
  • bought a ticket for a networking event at a space for creatives in Cardiff
  • scribbling down feature / blog post ideas in a notebook I carry around with me… and then Actually Writing Some Of Them too

That last one, that’s the biggest deal: I’ve wanted to do this, to be this person, for such a long time. And I’ve realised I’m the only one holding myself back. It’s just about how you use your time, how you invest your energy.

Apology in advance: I am literally a big enough nerd to end this post with a Gandalf quote. (Hey, one of the things that makes me feel the most “me” is New Zealand…). But it’s so true.

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What are you going to do with yours?

 

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30 letters long.

My new bank cards arrived this week. My name is now officially 30 letters long. I’ll admit, it looks fairly ridiculous (and it only just fits).

I already had two middle names and since we got married, I’ve got two surnames too.

While I’d never been one of those girls who has planned her wedding down to the last napkin ring by age 11, I’ve definitely turned the idea of what I’d do with my name when I got married over in my head. I wasn’t going to “just” take my husband’s surname without some serious thought.

The thought of losing my name always made me feel a bit small and sad. Because it did feel like a loss. They may describe the traditional way of doing things as “taking your husband’s name”, but really, he’s taking yours. Marriage takes it away so you don’t get to use it any more.

My surname has always been a huge part of my identity. There was another Sally in my class at school, so from Year 7 onwards I was always “Sally T”. My schoolfriends still call me that more than 15 years later. I remember realising that my dad was, quite literally, Mr T, and it tickles me to this day. I regularly refer to my bonkers band of brothers as #teamtaylor. In fact, thanks to a childhood of football teams (him) and army cadets (me) Rob probably calls me “Taylor” more than he calls me “Sally”, and he’s always “Goodwin” to me.

When you get engaged a lot of those “what ifs” about the future start to crystallise. I remember turning to Rob the day after he proposed and telling him how excited I was about his 40th birthday, because “I know I’ll be there”. Similarly, I knew I wasn’t going to be Sally Goodwin. I toyed with it for a couple of weeks, but… it just didn’t feel like me. It felt like trying on someone else’s coat. It felt itchy and uncomfortable. It just didn’t fit. “Mrs Goodwin”… that’s Rob’s mum, not me.

“Taylor-Goodwin”, on the other hand… Trying that on, I thought, yeah. I like that. That fits quite nicely.

Let’s stick with the faintly implausible coat metaphors – if “Goodwin” felt like a borrowed jacket, “Taylor-Goodwin” felt like a sharp new work blazer. The kind you slip on, straighten your lapels, and before you’ve even looked in the mirror you’re thinking ooh, yeah… I like that. You look and you see you… but a bit better. A bit more polished. You, but an update. That was the kind of “Mrs” I wanted to be. Sally 2.0.

I also liked the symbolism of it. A marriage is the joining of two families, and that is literally what our name looks like: two family names, with a bridge drawn between them.

Having decided what I’d do, Rob got to thinking about what he’d do. For a long time he was going to stay “Goodwin” and I’d be “Taylor-Goodwin”. And I honestly didn’t mind. The prerogative on both sides was that we would each have the name we wanted to have. I wasn’t going to force a Taylor on him and he wasn’t going to force a Goodwin on me.

I even quite liked the idea of explaining to a future daughter why our names were different: “Taylor is Mummy’s family’s name and Goodwin is Daddy’s family’s name.” I really didn’t think he’d change his, and honestly, that was cool. Until one day last December when he said he wanted to too. He’d continued that imaginary conversation with our imaginary daughter, and told me that if she asked why we didn’t have the same name… he “couldn’t think of a good enough reason.”

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It really took me by surprise. Even now, when I hear him give his name for something I have to stop myself asking him, “Are you sure?”. But equally it makes me feel really proud.

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This isn’t to say I’m anti the traditional married name. I was talking to a friend last night who is getting married next summer and is going to take her fiance’s surname. She’s not particularly bothered about her name and she quite likes his. But when she told a colleague, they said, “Oh. I thought you’d do something a bit more feminist than that.”

Not taking your husband’s name can certainly be a feminist move. But taking it doesn’t mean you’re letting the sisterhood down. Feminism = equality; it’s about choice, and specifically, about women having exactly the same choices as men. She’s chosen to take his name. I chose not to take Rob’s because I didn’t want to.

I firmly believe that the more people that do it differently, the more people will realise you can do it differently. Have the name you want to have. If you want to keep it, keep it! If you decide 10, 20, 50 years down the line you want a different name, change it then! It’s just a name. And with things (hopefully) changing to list both parents on marriage certificates, and child passports… there’s really no reason to all have the same name, unless you want to.

I must admit, I was expecting a bit of a backlash. But I’ve been really heartened by the response. It sparked an interesting discussion in the bank as to the male equivalent of “maiden name” (he’s keeping his for work purposes) – bachelor name? There isn’t one, but maybe in the future there will be. Rob works in a seriously old-school, traditional industry and that was where I thought the biggest push-back (his parents aside) would come from. But not only did they not particularly bat an eyelid, some of his more senior colleagues told him that’s what they’d like to have done when they got married, 10 or 15 years ago, but they didn’t feel it was an option at the time.

I like it. There probably aren’t that many Taylor-Goodwins knocking about, and it makes us feel like a team. Team Taylor-Goodwin! Oh Christ. The bank card’s bad enough – imagine trying to get that on the back of a football shirt…

TTG

 

Opening up.

A few weeks ago, I sat down, took a deep breath, and started writing something.

It was about everything that has happened to me, to my family and specifically to my mum this year. You can read it here.

As you might already know (and as several “private” posts on this blog document…), earlier this year, in the lead up to our wedding, Mum became very ill. While in the grand scheme of things, the fact it was the lead up to our wedding wasn’t important, in the grand scheme of my life… of course my wedding was important. In fact, one of the biggest realisations I had to teach myself during the whole experience was that I was allowed to want a wedding. That didn’t make me a terrible daughter.

I couldn’t find the advice I was looking for, when we were in the eye of the storm. So once we got back from honeymoon, I decided to write it myself.

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I’ve been thinking about whether I found it hard to write. I did and I didn’t. I was ready to write it, and found that doing so really helped me to make sense of what happened. At the time, I found it so difficult to get across to people what was going on. I found myself wanting to stop people, and shake them, and point to something – to say, “THIS. THIS is what I’m dealing with.” But I couldn’t. Writing it has really helped me to be able to articulate everything we went through. By the time I finished the piece, I felt relieved. It was cathartic.

Weirdly, I’ve found it harder to read it, since it’s been published. It went online on Sunday evening, a bit earlier than expected, and I’d just got back from my friend’s hen do. We’d had a lovely, girly weekend; her other friends are fantastic, they spoiled her with love, we all bonded over silly stories and cheese boards and questionably-coloured shots. A classic hen. But there had been points where I’d had to disappear off for a quiet moment. Where I’d sat back, looked around the beautiful barn, strung with bunting (personalised bunting, made especially for her, made especially for that weekend), at everyone smiling at my friend, everyone there for my friend, and a tiny, cruel voice in my head had whispered, “You are never going to have this.”

My hen didn’t happen. For a long time, because of Mum, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it; a week after I decided I really, really did want to, that in fact, it was exactly what I needed, the Beast from the East took it away. That weekend was my lowest point, and I still find it quite painful to talk about.

I was proud of myself, though, because at the hen there was a moment when I was struggling, and I told one of the girls about it. I didn’t just jam a lid on it like I’ve done before. I took a deep breath and I said, no, actually, you know what? I’m not alright. But give me 10 minutes and I will be. It takes bravery, to open yourself up like that, to acknowledge your vulnerability. I wouldn’t have been able to do that a few weeks ago.

So. I was feeling a bit vulnerable anyway when I saw it had gone live. Reading it back, just before bed (yeah, I know, great idea), felt like peeling off a scab. It’s still there, that pain, and it was strange reliving it – poking and prodding it and seeing if it still hurt. We were going to sleep and talked about how strange it feels to think about it now. I look back on it and think, “Did that really happen?”. I know it did, but it feels so alien and so removed now that I can’t quite fathom how we made it out the other side.

I’m proud I wrote it, for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve got a record of What It Was Like. It’s been sort of overwhelming, receiving messages from friends and others. I ran it past Mum, too, and she sent me an incredible message earlier saying how proud she was of me. I just thought to myself, “I’m glad you’re here to send me that message.”

Secondly, slightly perversely I’m sure, it’s reassured me that I can actually write; that my writing’s quite good, actually. I don’t tend to share things I’ve written with People I Actually Know all that often, and it’s been really encouraging that people have said it was written well.

Lastly, I know it’s helped other people.

I shared it on a wedding planning Facebook group that I’d really enjoyed chatting with before Mum was ill (once it all started happening, it was just too painful to look at it) and have had responses from three or four other brides going through similar things. One has a brother who is ill, for one it’s their dad, for another it’s their mum. But they aren’t getting the fairytale either, and now they know they’re not alone. And that means so much. Because that was the point.

We need to talk about illness differently.

Do you ever read something that makes you want to go, “YES!”, and punch the air, and tell everyone else to read it? I read something at lunchtime that made me do that.

It was this article, by Sali Hughes, a writer for The Pool. I have loved Sali and her work for a long time – not only because she’s called Sali, or because she’s Welsh (my adopted home), or because she founded Beauty Banks (which are reason enough on their own), but because she is whip-smart, proud to stand up for what she believes in, and not afraid to write hard-hitting truths about pretty hard-hitting topics.

Today her topic was cancer. More specifically, the way we talk about cancer, and people who have it.

Have you ever noticed that people with cancer are always “fighters”? It’s not an illness, it’s “their battle”. They are never scared, never miserable, never angry or confused about why this happened to them. They are “brave”, “fearless”, “determined”, staring their illness in the eye, daring it to do its worst.

Can I just say something? It’s not like that.

Serious illness is not like that. It’s not a glamorous crusade against a tyrant oppressor. It’s not a worthy stand against an injustice. Yes, it’s incredibly unjust, but developing and being treated for (let’s be real here) a killer disease is not some kind of admirable moral activism.

Frankly, it’s shit. It’s miserable. You feel like crap. You and your family are terrified for each other. Nobody knows what to say. You have to endure endless hospital appointments, admissions, tests, anxious waits for results which, once delivered, just become anxious asking of the question “so what happens next?”

You feel guilty. You feel angry. You feel confused and alone. And did I mention, you feel pretty f*cking terrible? You’re seriously f*cking ill, after all.

And on top of it all,  you’ve got to live up to this absolutely ridiculous social construct of “your [insert serious illness] battle”.

It’s usually individualised – as if it’s your bloody fault – but your family are part of it too. They have to “be strong”, “be brave”, “be their rock”. You all have to “be strong” for each other.

That was the word that really got to me: strong.

I didn’t feel very strong.

I felt decimated. I felt broken. I felt every single edge of those million tiny pieces my world had been smashed into. I felt really f*cking angry. I wanted to throw myself off a bridge.

I remember walking around town in the lead up to Mother’s Day and staring at all these other people, going about their other-people lives, and being so confused. How were they doing that, going on living, and not feeling the pain I was feeling?

I remember sitting at home, alone, at 10 o’clock at night, after another 8 hours in the hospital, staring at the chair where she wasn’t. Our house felt empty. I felt empty.

And all I was told was that I had to “be strong”. Why?

I was terrified I was going to lose my mum. And very aware that, nothing I personally did would affect that. It wasn’t my strength that would save her, it was the drugs and treatments and expertise of the doctors treating her. So why did I have to be strong?

“You’re so strong” equals “You’re doing so well.” But I wasn’t. Hearing people say that just made me feel like a failure. Like a fraud. Like I couldn’t even support my mum right. Like I was doing “daughter of critically ill woman” wrong. But I realise now that I only felt that way because that narrative is absolute bollocks.

Yes, positivity in the face of serious illness is a fantastic thing, and many of the plethora of doctors my family has encountered over the last few months have attributed Mum’s ongoing recovery to her sheer bloody-minded determination to get better. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t still terrified, sometimes, about what the future might hold. I know I am.

That’s not to say my friends weren’t there for me. They were, and they were brilliant, and it’s them that got me through this. I just found being praised for “being strong” so completely infuriating.

People fall back on it because they don’t know what else to say. If someone you know is going through something like cancer, or any other serious illness, don’t tell them how strong they are. Don’t stand their at a distance and admire their “strength”. Ask them how they’re feeling. Let them know you’re there for them.

We aren’t lighthouses, standing bright and resolute against a storm. We need other people to shore us up, to help us hope.

They’ll feel guilty because inside, they’re crumbling, and hearing how great you think they’re doing makes them feel they can’t ask for help, at the time they need it most. Maybe if we were all just a bit more real about it, they could.

 

Running mojo

My running mojo is back with a vengeance.

I’ve missed a couple of races the last 18 months or so. I pulled out of the Bath Half last March, didn’t run a step for a few months, then spent the summer building back up to the Cardiff 10K only for R to break his ankle literally the day before. In hindsight, I could have been a bit more sympathetic.

10K is my favourite distance; I can get up to 10K without too much fuss. A half marathon on the other hand is more of a push for me. I’ve got to really train for a half. 10K is only 6-ish miles; a half is more than double that. And the bit between 6 and 10 miles can feel a bit of a no man’s land. You’re running more than a 10K, which is a race in itself, and you’re running it just casually, on a Wednesday, in the rain, and you need to get home to put the dinner on and hang the washing out. It’s different for everyone but, for me, a half is hard!

But… since the Great North Run (2015) I’ve just felt I’ve got another half in me. I think part of it is that I know it’s something I’ve got to really prioritise, and I’m aware that next year we might well have family and kids and things on the horizon, and I’ll have less time to commit to things that are just for me, and just for fun. I’m not saying it’s now or never – just that I feel like the time is now!

So I signed up for the Cardiff Half on the 7th October. Then we decided we were going to move to New Zealand on the 5th September. Hmm.

One slightly overexcited Google search later, and I’m running the Auckland Half Marathon. On 28th October. A.k.a the day after my 30th birthday. Pretty bloody good way to celebrate, right!?!

I asked the running Facebook group I’m a member of if anyone else had run it, and what it was like. The common themes I got in response were “hot” and “undulating”. For those who haven’t been to NZ, an important thing to know is that Kiwis have a totally different definition of what constitutes a “hill”.

They understand heat though – which is why the race starts at 7am. STARTS. As in, air horn sounds, off you go. I haven’t even worked out what time that means we need to be there… or what time that means I’ll have to get up. Told you I got a bit overexcited!!

So it’s going to be hot, hilly and I’ll probably be half asleep. But hey… It’s best not to overthink things, right? There’s always a reason not to do something. I don’t need to smash it all the way round, I can even walk some of it if I need to (I tell myself this now, but I know how competitive I am with myself and I’ll want to beat my GNR time…). We’ll have a birthday weekend in Auckland, I’m going to wear a Birthday Girl badge and make friends with everyone on my way around, and generally have a blast. They have a big Expo the day before, like the London Marathon – it sounds like the city really gets involved! I have even ordered a #RunTheCity hat (running is ALL about the #merch).

I’m up to 7K (I tend to train in KM until I get up to about 8 – 9 miles; I think because it makes you feel like you’ve run further!!) and feeling good about it. I feel like I’m rediscovering how much I love Cardiff, through running – I have spent most of this year so far Not Here, and now that I’ve got a bit more time to myself, I feel like I’m falling in love with it again. And when you get views like this while you’re running, wouldn’t you?

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I’ve even started going to Parkrun on Saturdays – guys, Parkrun is ace! Why didn’t I do that before? It’s a 5K and it’s timed, so you can give it a bit of a competitive edge if you want to, but it’s just fun to run with other people. I’ve only been twice so far but I’m really loving it. I’m away this weekend and am actually a bit miffed to be missing it.

I got a bit overexcited after work today (this seems to be a bit of a theme with me and running) after spending most of the morning chatting to our photographer about running clubs and trail versus road running and running the Wales Coast Path (why haven’t I done that yet either?) and ended up doing 4.5K this evening. I don’t think my legs had quite recovered from 7K yesterday – they are pretty sore now!! I had to get the foam roller out when I got in (haven’t missed that guy). I’ve had problems with my hip before, so I need to watch it really and not go too hard too soon. But Christ it feels good to be running again.

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(apologies for gross #runnersfeet)

7K down. 14 to go!….

 

 

Making plans.

I think this summer’s going to run away with us.

We had a truly glorious weekend; friends, sunshine, ice cream, brunch, the best brownies I have ever made (true story). Pavement cafes and even a treasure hunt thrown in for good measure. Half of me says, “More of this, please!” and the other half wants to slow down a bit, as it’ll be September before we know it.

We’re making plans. I’ve been researching Melbourne; our first stop. We’re there for a week before we fly on to Welly and from what I can see so far, we are going to love it. We’re thinking splitting it across a couple of bases – coffee-crawling our way around the CBD then moving out to St Kilda, via a bike ride, some penguins, and a trip along the Great Ocean Road (yep, I’m still pinching myself). Great Ocean Road… just sounds like freedom, doesn’t it?! (If anyone has Melbourne tips, I wanna hear them!)

We’re making inroads with our accommodation too. A guy at Rob’s placement has a granny-flat he rents out (mostly to “visiting academics” – don’t think we’re quite his target audience, but it looks cute!). It’s light and has a front deck and I kid you not, is painted bright blue with pink window frames. I’m kind of in love – but at this point we’re not sure it has a kitchen. Priorities?…

Tomorrow evening we crack on with Operation Stop Putting Off Your Visa Application. It’s been hard to get the balance between enjoying the post-wedding bubble, and making plans for this next chapter. It’s important to give things their space, you know? But we realised that once the applications are in… we can kind of forget about it for a bit. So tomorrow is when we sit down and Just Do It.

People have been asking me what I’m going to do when I’m out there – and I’m starting to make inroads there too. Well – less inroads, more baby steps… but it counts, right!? Our friend Jo, who we stayed with last time we were in Welly, said it’ll be easier for me to try and get work once I’m out there. Which the STA Travel  lady said too (she also tried to get us to book flights with Scoot Airlines… I’m not sure we were quite her target audience either! I’ve definitely changed now that I’m a nearly-30-year-old married woman and not a desperate-to-escape 25-year-old backpacker…). I’m hoping that taking a typically Kiwi approach to it pays off. In my head, I’m going to stumble across the most perfect neighbourhood cafe, they’ll love me and give me a few shifts, in exchange for a sunny window table and steady-stream of perfect flat whites on my writing days. Don’t worry – I realise I’m probably daydreaming… but it’s a nice daydream!

Talking of my writing days. I’m doing it, this time, guys. I’ve got a feature going live next week on A Life Loved, the sister site of Love My Dress. It was… well. If you asked me how it was to write, all I’ll tell you is, the title is, “How to Plan a Wedding When Someone Is Seriously Ill”. But I’m really pleased with it overall, and when they sent me the preview seeing my words on the site gave me goosebumps. I’m really really hoping I might be able to send them some New Zealand posts too… Worth a try, right? If you don’t ask, you don’t get? My New Year’s Resolution was that you get out what you put in. So I’m putting it in. (I even saved a link called “How To Open An Etsy Shop” earlier… but that’s another story!).

So. Balls are rolling. Plans are afoot. This has already been a big year, but it’s about to get bigger.

We’re moving to New Zealand.

I can’t believe it. It’s actually happening. We’ve booked our flights. We’re moving to New Zealand.

We’re moving to New Zealand.

We’re MOVING to NEW ZEALAND!

Maybe if I keep saying it over and over, it’ll start feeling like it’s true…

NZ

When I was 14, there was an advert in The Sunday Times. The picture was of mountains and a lake in front; the sun shining. It was a place called Milford Sound. I just remember the colours: slate grey, icy blue, vivid green.

I ripped that picture out and kept it in my art folder, which was where I kept everything important when I was 14. That’s how you define yourself, isn’t it? When you’re 14 (and an art student). You wear your passions as your armour, use them to show the world your identity. Use them to understand yourself. Everyone in your class can be neatly encapsulated in a few adjectives, and you’re desperate for the world to get which yours are. I kept mine in that art folder. It’s probably still there.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it, about teenage identities. They’re an armour, a front, a projection. You’re trying them on to see which fits. A few months or years (or, let’s face it, weeks) and you try on another.

I never lost New Zealand. I sometimes think that 14-year-old me was the truest version of me I’ve ever been. These last couple of years, I’ve actively been circling back, trying to get back to that “me”. I lost her a bit, along the way.

I used to sit up late drawing cartoons and listening to shouty emo bands and desperately try to pull off a shouty emo fringe and dream about living in New Zealand. I might have lost the sketchbooks and the inky fingers, the nail polish and the eyeliner, but I never lost that dream. Living abroad. That poster started everything.

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You’ve probably guessed by now, and certainly anyone who’s met me will know it within about five minutes – I love travelling. It’s in my soul. It brings me to life. All I want to do is explore. This world is a big place, god damn it, and I am going to see as much of it as I bloody well can.

I didn’t go on holiday growing up. But that was fine – I didn’t want to go on holiday. Sit in a hotel with 200 other Brits. Eat pizza and drink Coke and sit by a pool in some nameless resort, Costa Del Anywhere. You go somewhere, in order to be somewhere. I wanted to BE there. Feel it. Understand it. Live it.

And now, we are.

We were there four and a half years ago. We were backpacking, and drove around for a month. We had the best little bright green car called Kiwi, and we started in Christchurch and went down and around. We saw mountains and lakes and walked across volcanoes and glaciers. We watched the steam boats in Queenstown and smelt the suplhur pools in Rotorua. We ate boysenberries and hokey pokey, and a BBQ Christmas dinner. We didn’t have a map, because there aren’t enough roads to get lost.

We had Christmas in Whitianga and flew out of Auckland. And all I’ve done since is push push push Rob, saying, when are we going back? When are we going back?

I am a firm believer in the idea that things don’t just fall into your lap. You have to make things happen. And there’s never a perfect time for something. Rob… is more sensible. And I get it, I do, I really do. You can’t just sack off your life and go travelling. You have to live in the real world. But equally, if you don’t make things happen… they won’t happen. I have always dreaded waking up one day and realising life had passed me by.

We have had so many conversations and discussions and (at least) one stand-up-full-blown-in-the-street-ROW about it over the years. It was last year in Lisbon. I know the 1 Euro pints weren’t completely to blame. I probably looked completely mental. I wonder what the hell the locals thought we were arguing about?

I told him that I didn’t want Future Me to let Past Me down. If I didn’t ever do it, what had I become? What do I tell that 14-year-old lying on her bedroom floor ripping out newspaper adverts? Why did she keep that ratty-edged piece of paper all these years? Dreams are all very nice, but what’s the point of having dreams, if you never make them come true? If you just end up like everyone else?

Funnily enough, as it turns out, it’s because of him that we can go. He’s got a work placement. We’ll be in Wellington. We fly in September.

He asked me last night if I thought we’d ever do it. Honestly? …. No.

The last couple of years have been hard. Crazy hard. The last six months have been nigh-on ridiculous. March almost broke me. If things had worked out differently, I don’t think we would be going. But they didn’t. So we are.

Sometimes you have to make a window. And sometimes you have to realise there’s one in front of you. It’s all a choice.

Think about what you, the real you, really want from life. Then choose to go and do it.

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Backyard adventures

Sometimes (only sometimes) it’s not about getting away – it’s about making the most of your own back yard.

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We don’t have a back yard (yet), despite years of dreaming of one. But we do have a park next door.

All I want is a garden to have BBQs in. To sit and read the paper in the sunshine in. To have dinner al fresco in. We’ve lived in 4 different flats in the last 5 years, and I really, really hoped that by the time it came to actually buying a place, a little patch of Outside would be a non-negotioable.

Not quite. Not yet anyway. We live on the third floor. We don’t even have windowsills for me to attempt to grow herbs on. But – that doesn’t mean we can’t have the al fresco fun I dream of. We just have to think a little differently.

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Therefore: park BBQ. We weren’t 100% sure if it was technically allowed, but we didn’t scorch any grass, put all our rubbish in the bins, and were fairly reliably informed that all the rangers clock off at 5pm.

Is there anything better than the first bite of your first hot dog at your first BBQ of the year? I think not.

My travel daydreaming can leave me at risk of never living in the moment. I’m always planning and plotting and making lists that all start “One day….”. Well, I’ve realised, “today” can be “one day”. There is a way to balance long term plans with short term fun times. You just have to grab an opportunity when it arrives. For example, the hottest June day in 20-odd years, and a park next door.

I was out for a run the other day (again in said park – working part-time means I’ve pretty much lived there the last few weeks) and had another realisation. We’ve always said how nice it would be to live somewhere where there’s lots on our doorstep: coffee shops or little delis and things that we can walk to, a nice pub to make our local, nice places to go for a run, friends we can just ring up spontaneously to see if they fancy hanging out. And I realised…. We actually already have that. Right now.

I’ve spent so long waiting to move out of Cardiff, to that mythical place with all those things… that I haven’t really made the most of what I already have. So this summer, things will be different. I can have a BBQ summer, even if I don’t have a garden to put the BBQ in. Instead of waiting for things to be perfect, to move to this beautiful imaginary neighbourhood where everything will be great (and within walking distance)… I’ll just make the most of the one I already have.

I was made redundant a few months ago, from a difficult job which had left me in a difficult place. Sometimes, when you’re in that place for a little while, that becomes your normal, and it’s only really now that I’m realising life doesn’t actually have to be like that.

Instead of talking about how we should make the most of our time, and do the things that make us happy and, by extension, then I’ll be happy… I’m going to just do it. I am doing it. And I am happy 🙂

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Wanderlust: Lisbon

What’s Lisbon like? It’s hilly. Windy. Probably the most confusing place in the world to be a postman…?

But also arty, young, buzzing – and delicious.

I’ve just got back from five days in the Portuguese capital, a place that’s been on my list for a couple of years – even more so since a Portugese bakery opened at the end of our road.

I love going somewhere new and finding out it’s different. I thought Portugal would just feel broadly Mediterranean, a bit like Spain, a bit like Italy. And on paper it is – sun, seafood, super-cheap Sangria. But it’s different too.

Visually, it’s a city of two halves. An enormous earthquake pretty much flattened half of the place in the 1700s, reducing a huge number of beautiful azulejo-tiled buildings to dust. It was rebuilt, of course, but in sensible straight lines, compared to the rambling, warren-like old district, Alfama (where we stayed). Much less confusing to navigate, but you’ll quickly resign yourself to the fact that you’re just going to get a bit lost.

It’s old, but it’s new, and not just the bit that was rebuilt. Creaky yellow trams rattle up and down the streets, regularly facing-off to cars and vans that are simply too big for the roads these days. We had a few near misses ourselves thanks to the dangerously skinny pavements. None of this health and safety nonsense! The world’s grown up, grown bigger around it. You hear traditional fado music wafting out of houses and restuarants in the early evening, and feel like you’ve gone back in time a bit.

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But then those same streets are scribbled and scrawled with all kinds of street art, which I’d love to know more about. It felt like a young person’s city, and not just because of the 1 Euro beers! We went to one of the coolest bars I have ever been to (so good we went back again the next day) on top of a multistorey car park, with an incredible view. Instagram central. When the funicular closes, the Elevador da Bica turns into the steepest pub crawl of all time. We sat on the pavement right next to the tracks (with those 1 Euro beers) and talked about moving to Australia. Alfama was decked out in coloured tinsel and fairy lights and booming music almost every evening as part of Festas de Lisboa (another reason to go in June). And Bairro Alto was still waiting to get going at midnight – it’s a good night out, but not for the faint hearted!

I liked the city’s spirit. Lisbon is the home of the explorer. We cycled from Lisbon to Belem to see the tower, where people waved off the great voyagers on their great voyages. The next day, we caught the train to Cascais and cycled up the coast (I liked the idea that we were cycling up the edge of a map) and saw the Cabo da Roca, the lighthouse marking the most Westerly point in Europe. The edge of the world!

Boca da Inferno

Also in Belem, we saw the Monument to the Discoveries, a truly enormous (I was not expecting it to be as massive as it was) tower with statues of navigators, explorers and kings lining the crest of a wave. You can go up to the top and look down on a similarly massive mosaic of the world, which when you look closer, shows you some of Portugal’s discoveries. Brazil, Cape Verde, Melaka, India… I liked being somewhere that was the starting point for so many great journies. These are my people, I thought!

The other reason we cycled to Belem (let’s face it, it was the only reason…) was to visit Pasteis de Belem, a café serving the original recipe Pasteis de Nata. Ok, I’ll be honest, it was the only reason we went to Belem. And maybe the driving force in going to Lisbon. I mentioned the bakery on our street, right?

We had at least one of these gorgeous, silky, gooey, custard tarts a day, in the name of research of course. I can confirm that the Belem ones were, of course, the best. The monks at the Monastery of St Jeronimo came up with the recipe, which is still a closely-guarded secret – I overheard a tour guide saying that only a couple of people know the whole recipe today, and that they never travel together. There’s a film in that, surely?…

We ordered three. We were fools. We quickly ordered two more. And would have happily kept on going, if calories didn’t count (oh, if only)…! You dust them with icing sugar and cinnamon (I like more cinnamon than sugar, Rob is the other way round), then they’re gone in two bites, three if you can restrain yourself. Yum yum. I think it was the fact these were warm and fresh (you can watch them being made through the glass, like some weird custardy maternity ward…) that made them the winners… Oh, and a tip from the guy at the bike shop. Ignore the queue. Just go in and sit down. They’re queueing for takeaway (and let’s face it, for the carrier bag).

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I’d like to say we sampled more of the Portugeuse baking tradition (it’s clearly extensive – there were some amazing looking things on offer!) but I’ll be real with you –  you’ve got your whole life to eat croissants. In Lisbon, it’s all about those tarts.

So what else was good? Or unexpected? Weirdly, it’s full of tuk tuks (a much better size to navigate those roads); we’ve been to Melaka, and I never expected somewhere so (ostensibly) Western to remind me of South East Asia. I love a culture clash!

On our first night, despite being a bit tired and travel-weary we decided to dive head first into Alfama and stumbled upon some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. It makes sense that the seafood is so good, being right on the coast, but it was even better than we thought. I was going to go for the seafood spaghetti but… I’d seen bowl after bowl of the “seafood rice” waft past, and knew it was the one for me. Well, for us (it said it served two, and we’re greedy – you could definitely have fed 3!). Enormous, buttery prawns, a multitude of mussels, sweet and meaty clams…. Why is it that in the UK when you order seafood, you might get a handful of prawns, if you’re lucky? It was spilling over with the good stuff, and I could have licked the bowl clean.

See also: the fruit. WHY can’t we get this in the UK? Fresh, juicy, TASTY. Not messed with. This is just the norm. *sigh* Needless to say, when on the continent I go a bit nuts for the fruit markets. In Lisbon, cherries, apricots, figs and peaches were on the menu for breakfast every day!

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We like to make sure we tick off the foodie list when we go somewhere knew, and thankfully the Time Out Market was there to help on day 2. It’s Time Out’s first permanent foodie venture (as in, not a pop-up) and basically, everything is delicious. About two-thirds of the stalls are Portugeuse or local specialities, but they also have plenty of international options – the pad thai looked pretty good, but I knew it wouldn’t beat the ones I lived on in actual Thailand, so sardines on toast it was. Yum and yum. It gets busy, but running around trying to find a table before our stash of buzzers went off was actually pretty fun. You’ve just got to time it right. The first time we went it was definitely lunchtime, and packed for it. When we went back we went later, but it just meant the stalls were in the lull between lunch and dinner service. A lot was sold out (boooo) and service took a lot longer as a result – not good when you did not realise how STARVING you were til you sat down….

We also loved the guacamole with crab, and whenever he spotted it on a menu Rob ordered the flaming chorizo sausage (literally brought over to you aflame – hold on to your eyebrows). Another one to check off the list was the pasteis de bacalhau – as well as sardines, Lisbon has a cod obsession. Glad I tried one (and there’s a hugely overblown shop in Baixa which tries to be to the cod cake what Belem is to the custard tart – hilarious), but a bit too potato-ey for me.

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The best thing about the whole trip was our truly INCREDIBLE Airbnb. We easily got the metro into the city, and after conquering our first hill we eventually found the right door. It  very unassuming sight, from the outside at least. A faded wooden door in a wall opposite a church, the green paint peeling, opened into a dark hallway with steps careering pretty steeply down. Luckily our place was straight ahead – and door number two opened to reveal the most beautiful apartment I think we’ve ever stayed in. And we’ve stayed in a lot!

Bright, modern, really nicely decorated – I’d go as far as saying it was fancy. That doesn’t usually bother us (as long as it’s clean and comfy, we’re good; we’re not there to spend time in the apartment, after all), but it had definite wow factor. And the balcony… we’ve learnt from experience that one thing we need is a place to chillax when we’re away. We aren’t very good at chilling out – if there’s stuff to do, we’ll go and do it – so we’ve started to build in some time (and space) to recover from the heat and the hills and just sit and read our books, or to have a breezy breakfast in the mornings. That balcony was the best thing about the apartment, with a view out over Alfama’s rooftops that I’ll never forget.  We had to leave super early on the last morning, and seeing it in that funny blue light just before dawn was a real treat.

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I think if I had to rate them, Dubrovnik just edges Lisbon for me… But we both have a soft spot for Croatia, and the wind-bashed beaches we went to couldn’t quite compete with our day in Mljet. But I’d definitely go back to Portugal, and not just for those custard tarts. Maybe Porto next time?

 

 

For whom it may concern

Some days I want to be a travel writer, and some days I just want to travel and then write about it. I think they’re different things.

When you are a writer, you are always writing for someone. And that means, you’ve got to think about writing something that someone will want to read. That in turn, changes what you might write about.

When I travel, it’s not so I can tell other people about it. It’s for me. It’s entirely selfish. I want to see as much of the world as I can, I want to feel it, experience it, know what it’s like, for me. So that I won’t regret it. It’s not so I can tell people back home, or my mum, or my grandkids what such and such a place was like. It’s so that I’ll know.

I think that’s why I don’t read a huge amount of travel writing. That and the fact I’d probably end up raging with jealousy, wishing I could just sack off my life and move to Brazil. But if I read someone else’s account, that isn’t real enough. That’s their opinion. That was their thoughts and feelings. That isn’t what it’s like. It’s them telling you about it.

Maybe it’s because I am a writer. I communicate for a living, and communication is all construct. Even writing a novel, something creative. It’s all been constructed, written that way on purpose, and I can’t help myself but read between the lines.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a cynic too. I can’t help but think, “I wonder if that hotel has paid to be mentioned here?”. l might be on the bright side of PR (these days at least), but you can’t have light without the dark.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a bit selfish. We only get one life, and that life is ours alone. It’s perfectly valid to write something just because we want to write it . Even when we’re writing it on the internet.

I sometimes feel like everything has to be a moment, an opportunity, a chance to turn your life into your brand. And what do you do with moments? You capture them. You step back from them. Why can’t we just enjoy them?

So, when I’m travelling, and when I’m writing, it’s not to capture anything, to prepare and preserve and present it to anyone. It’s just because I love those moments. And I want to keep them for me.