Jibber jabbing

It seems only fair and logic to allow someone else to commit to text some thoughts and feelings surrounding the upcoming trip, so with me being such an excellent father and husband it was a difficult choice of who to speak to, however with the fact that the choice is between Sue and Zoe you will not be surprised to know that I choose my wonderful daughter to annoy with some questions.

So for the first time I would like to properly introduce Zoe “Zip / Pip / Nip“ Jude to this text. The 9 year with the world at her feet and frequently her head in an iPad.

She’s the little one in the below and I don’t mean Sue.

6

 

What follows is the transcript of an interview between us conducted around 50 days out from take-off. Although it’s yet to be fully proven I will be the Dad in the below scenario.

Dad; Firstly, many thanks for agreeing to this request, I realise I am taking up valuable time away from playing with dolls or an iPad.

Zoe; It’s OK, it’s on charge.

Dad; Nice. So, first question; What country / activity are you looking forward to the most?

Zoe; China or India I think; I just want to see and learn about the different festivals that they have.

Dad; What do you think will be the best thing about being away for a year?

Zoe; Not sure. Probably the trying new food, making new friends and it’s a new life experience for me.

Dad; That’s a very grown up thing to say, especially as most of the time you refuse to eat anything new or slightly strange looking. Anyway, would you prefer to be attacked by a duck sized horse or 5 horse sized ducks?

 

5

 

Zoe; err. A duck sized horse. No 5 horse sized ducks.

Dad; So, you would really prefer 5 horse sized ducks rather than one duck sized horse?

Zoe; Don’t know

Dad; Thanks for the logic. So do you promise to try new food, cultures and experiences?

Zoe; Yep.

Dad; These answers are great thanks for the in-depth insight into your thought patterns. Would you rather lose an arm or a leg?

Zoe; What? On travelling?

Dad; What do you mean? What difference does that make? You wouldn’t get it back again afterwards.

Zoe; This is stupid. For travelling? An arm.

Dad; What are you not looking forward to whilst away?

Zoe; Missing my friends

Dad; Not your family at all? I am sure they will all be delighted to hear that.

Zoe; Yes, I will miss my family as well, but I will have you and Mum with me.

Dad; Pupadoms or bread?

Zoe; Bread

Dad; I love the fact you answered that without hesitation. How many different animals do you think you will fall in love with whilst we are away?

Zoe; Twenty

Dad; Twenty? That seems a lot. Name them…

Zoe; What? No. I don’t want to name all of them

Dad; This is very disappointing. I was hoping for fantastic answers which showed the world how clever you were.

Zoe; Fine – dog, dog, dog, dog, maybe a cat, dog, dog, dog

Dad; You are so intelligent, you must get it from Mum. That’s a lot of dogs – no snakes?. Buddy will be jealous back home. So, would you prefer to be buried alive or eaten alive?

Zoe; Buried alive. Because I think I could get back up again by digging

Dad; Which school subject are you looking forward to not having to do when away?

Zoe; Science

Dad; You know you will have to do science when away numpty don’t you?

Zoe; Really?

Dad; Really really, you will still have to do the majority of the subjects when away, apart from Welsh because we can’t teach you that and it’s pointless anyway. Last question; how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Zoe; What?

Dad; How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Zoe; I’m confused

Dad; How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Zoe; You’re an idiot. I am going to play

Dad; How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Dad; …………………. thanks for the chat. Love you.

As you can see she is clearly terrified of going travelling.

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Boy Band bandits

As we are both 37, we have been brought up with numerous god-awful boy bands and music acts from the early 90’s, we have eclectic taste, and such will frequently listen to a arrange of completely random songs from the dim and distant past.

Absolutely none of that is even remotely interesting or relevant however for some reason I have had the idea to vaguely incorporate title songs from said period of time, into some of this writing. My brain works in mysterious (girl) ways doesn’t it.

Don’t worry I will provide answers and hopefully they will be better than that initial effort.

Lets call it a point for spotting the title and a further point for the artist….

With the clock tick tocking down towards the 1st June we have had to decide on vague future routes for the different sections to double check vaccinations and visas are aligned as much as possible before we leave.

It’s obvious that we have decided for the most part to be chasing the sun and thus will be continually heading east – an almost year in shorts and flip flops sounds amazing to me – I will get to finally wave bye bye bye to my sworn enemy; socks.

It makes perfect sense in many ways – we won’t need to be carrying round or buying winter clothes when we are way, it also feels natural to be going west to east – continually heading towards the sunrise and the sense of excitement the new dawn brings to me.

With the South Africa return flights now booked (via Germany to save as much of the budget as possible) I spent an inordinate amount of time settling on a vague route and learning that it really could (it) be magic.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the complexity of booking safaris and lodges in certain parts of Kruger national park, it was like a military exercise keeping track of the options open vs the dates we likely needed somewhere to sleep.

It does now mean that for at least the first 3 weeks the accommodation has had to be already be booked. That is a direct contradiction to what I originally wanted to happen – it’s taken a large degree of spontaneity away from the trip which was the exact opposite of what I wanted to evolve into.

With limited availability due to the fantastically remote locations and scale the national parks get booked up months in advance and as a result despite my best efforts it really was an all or nothing situation. Book early and firm up plans or wait and potentially not be able to stay in some of the key locations which we wanted to.

Due to that realisation the first 3 weeks snowballed to the point that I have now booked the key accommodation throughout Botswana (did I mention we are going to play with the elephants in Botswana 😊) Kruger national park and Eswatini.

Being a relative novice to this (I literally have no idea how I came up with my various routes in my backpacking days) I swear I have come up with a plan which will allow us the adequate time to experience the unique countryside, culture, animals and also not too tasking in regard to time spent in a baked bean sized rental car for days on end.

Despite that, we have several unavoidable long car trips. After research these long trips are likely to be even longer – in my naïve mind I didn’t realise that a journey which takes say 5hrs in the UK will likely take 7-8 hours in Botswana due to road surface conditions, some hastily and apparently forcefully enforced speed limits plus the amount of wildlife by the side of the road to stop and look at on an ad hoc basis.

Resolving this drove me a little insane for a while – I had my first brief spell of ‘proper’ depression whilst this was going on and had to seek the relevant medical advice and subsequent online counselling. Which sounds like a strange attempt at humour, but was far from it at the time.

This trip was supposed to be fun not push me into a virtual pit of desire. I don’t think it was the sole reason for this short depression filled mindset but looking back (over my shoulder) it undoubtedly played a big part.

I hope to discover that it’s remarkably easier to do things like this when it has begun, compared with the often-frightening thoughts and contemplation of them when sat comfortably at home.

Fortunately, it didn’t last long, and some lifestyle changes meant that I slam dunk(ed) the funk out of some positive thoughts and emotions again.

The winds of change were felt by everyone I had been a miserable git towards, although I am generally a miserable sod at the best of times, so I doubt anyone apart from Sue ever noticed.

I am torn about what to do but this is now getting tiresome.

That will probably do.

I won’t reveal the answers just yet, I shall tease you some more – the equivalent of crap, cheap soap opera when they want you to tune in to the next episode.

 

 

However

 

 

My parents taught me it’s not nice to tease people and this is a text of sorts not a soap, so the answers in order of reference are as follows;

 

 

Mysterious girl – Peter Andre (god awful song, music video, person)

Chasing the sun – The Wanted (whatever happened to them)

Bye bye bye – NSYNC (classic hair)

Could it be magic – Take That (tax dodging gits)

All or nothing – O town (literally no idea, but it fit nicely)

I swear – All 4 one (proper early 90’s banger)

Over my shoulder – Mike & the mechanics (an old family favourite)

Slam dunk the funk – Five (so good I downloaded it again)

Winds of Change – Scorpions (guilty pleasure song)

Torn – Natalie Imbruglia (proper one hit wonder)

 

 

I hadn’t planned on it being ten, but it fits nicely doesn’t it? A nice round number. Point for spotting the title and a further point for the artist

Anyone who got over say 16 should take a long hard look at there music collection and maybe update it slightly.

If you didn’t even manage a lowly 6 then you are either to young or old or just not as cool as me.

 

 

Shilly-shallying

So, roll on several weeks and a few things have fallen into line for a variety of reasons.

Amazingly despite my assumptions and potentially not to my liking my work have agreed to allow me a loose sabbatical – claiming I am potentially some sort of semi useful asset for future abuse.

Sue’s have rubber stamped her 12 months as well and after frantic planning (whilst being half cut) we have decided on a vague route and timescale.

To maximise the opportunity of securing Zoe back into the same school we will be back in mid-May to allow her hopefully to get in after the last half term of year 5. If she doesn’t (which appears to be highly unlikely) then we will muddle through home schooling for the rest of year 5 and cross every available appendage to get her in for the start of year 6.

Zoe was especially keen to shout it from the roof tops to anyone who would listen – I still worry she is only keen as it makes her feel special and somehow superior to some of her classroom chums, this is despite her lack of willingness to read about potential destinations.

I have been less forthright in confirming things to people, for a couple of different reasons. One I haven’t in all honesty got that many people to tell, let’s just say my close friends are a small group who would have change from a tenner if I bought them a round.

The second reason which is slightly harder to put to paper is the fear factor has crept in. The happiness was all consuming when the idea first blossomed, but when it began to metamorphize into reality I have had many a moment of clarity of what the hell are we doing?

Suddenly the reality of telling people rubber stamps everything – it’s a line in the sand which to go back over would be a massive comeback or climb down.

To counter this ‘big’ announcement instead we have intentionally or otherwise drip fed the news to various people. Sometimes in extremely bizarre situations; like at a family wake or probably even less appropriately via text to my sister.

It was during the service for Sue’s grandad that I was certain that what we were doing was the right thing’ it was whilst the vicar spoke about this amazing man, some of his life adventures and his love of his family with his determination to come back while serving overseas in the second world war.

He truly was an impressive human being and held similar beliefs to me about the fact that once you are gone you are gone. He also was a cyclist and we all know that cyclists are amongst the most awesome people around.

It is largely thanks to him and everything he did for his offspring that we have this opportunity to go see of the world. As I sat there listening to my mother in law sob, watching my wife tear up and my daughter holding back tears – which would eventually fall from all of us, it hit me that I want to embrace as much of the world as possible before the same fate falls to me.

I want my service when it eventually comes to be full of amazing stories and tales of adventures; in short, I want a celebration of what the world has to offer.

As a result of that I have taken to redecorating any available wall in the house with maps of various sizes and detail. It now takes me about 10 mins to get to the kitchen from the lounge as I end up thinking of possibilities or potential routes whilst going to make another brew.

This is both brilliant and annoying – annoying as often I forget what I am going into the kitchen for – brilliant as I come up with yet another variation of ideas, which then I annoyingly forget to commit to paper.

The issue is – this will blow your mind – its quite a big world outside your front door when you stop and attempt to come up with a plan on how to see as much of it as possible in under a year, especially considering that 365-day period is now much more reduced.

Due to some pre-existing family holidays with both sets of the family we have decided to spend a month of the year in the exotic locations of……Wales, Cornwall and London…. bugger.

So, with that in mind we almost have three trips within the time out of usual life. Trip one is a stand alone 45 days of fun, before returning for some family occasions, a family holiday to Cornwall for a week, then some camping in Wales, then a week at home followed by a week away down the welsh coast.

When that’s all over we will then head off ‘properly’ for the rest of the time which will roughly be 250 days before returning to some resemblance of usual life.

So, with a bugger off date now fixed to be the 1st June we only have so long to kick the can down the road and stop the shilly-shallying for once and for all.

With the complexion of the trip now having changed we thought it important to do a 6-week trip which at least on paper will be pretty much guaranteed to be fun and different enough to heighten excitement about the future plans, rather than going gung hoe on anything properly eye opening such as India.

The theory being that everyone will get into the swing and relative comfort of life on the road in Southern Africa which will fuel the desire to head off again after the mini UK break.

All of us had a safari on the list of key activities which we wanted to do in the year and with the time of year fitting perfectly Africa stood out as having enough diverse history, culture, road tripping, animals and beaches to be first on the list.

Clearly the only thing to do was buy a bloody huge map and stick in on the wall, which I didn’t hesitate to do then start the research into the specifics of where to go and in what order. Immediately places I hadn’t heard of before became key destinations, with epic sounding round trips to get to.

I like to think I am well versed in geographical locations of countries, but just the mere glimpse of a huge African map rendered that notion foolhardy. Most names I could recognise, but I had genuine surprise at some of the locations – who knew that Botswana bordered South Africa or that Victoria falls was the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia?

Countries I hadn’t heard of before suddenly appeared as options within the adventure – the South African land locked countries of Eswatini (apparently more commonly known as Swaziland and sounds like an amazing place to spend time) and Lesotho (with the Sani pass having the highest pub in Africa) should both be explored.

Both were immediately added to the trip, so a simple 6-week 1 country trip has now turned into a 6-week 4/5/6 country trip depending on Victoria falls and the current political situation in Zimbabwe.

Within the self-induced ‘stress’ of finding a hire car which we wouldn’t all kill ourselves in due to lack of space these new options allowed comfort in the fact that whatever route we choose right now will hopefully fluctuate as and when we discover other places, activities and adventures whilst on the road.

When I wrote this we were on a 100 days away from the adventure beginning and I could’t blooming wait to get going – now its down to almost 50 days and the days are slipping past increasingly quickly.

Course It’s Worth It You Prick

The other day Zoe was designing and building her own word search on Disney princesses in a brief period of her not being super-glued to her new iPad. At least I think it was princess themed as she asked for help with the spelling of Rapunzel and a few others then she shouted to me that she wanted me to spell ‘prick’.

As I was in the kitchen and she was in her playroom (told you we are proper pretend middle class) it almost sounded like she called me a prick – second thoughts maybe she did. But you try spelling that to a 9-year-old without at least chuckling to yourself, especially if like me you have a super sense of humour.

After the self-imposed doom and gloom around the school situation I launched into pressing ahead, everything will be alright mode. I acquired some maps of South America, then Central America, then Europe and then the World.

I have numerous lists of exciting issues – like will a 10hr ferry between Bari and Dubrovnik mean I will lose my body weight in sea induced sickness, which could be a good or bad thing, or if you can camp out in the caves in Sassi (alas not it appears). Sue on the other hand has started lists of the boring, but important, issues which will need resolving – new passports, what jabs we need, what meeting with the educational boards to have etc.

Told you we were poles apart (is that a traveller’s joke?) in approaches.

Whilst planning and looking at maps, folding maps away and then unfolding them repeatedly it struck me that whilst a plan is a vaguely good thing its difficult to anticipate the unknown, especially when it involves continents which I haven’t been to and Sue hasn’t even heard of.

Whilst I am the more prominent character cajoling the entire idea, I am conscious that to many it is absurd to be doing what we are. It hasn’t taken over my thought process entirely – just when I am awake – but I seem to have a range of feelings between planning the trip to the n’th degree and enjoying the beauty of the journey of not knowing what, where or when we will end up.

Depending on which map I have battled to unfold on the lounge floor, my imagination fluctuates between a multi-coloured set of scenarios from us being on deserted palm tree shaded beaches, to cramped buses with locals, climbing volcanoes, getting caught in monsoons or standing on ancient ruins as the sunsets.

It’s strange how the world has contracted in size, whilst remaining the exact same size for the past couple of million years (estimated figures, I can’t be arsed to google the facts)

All the evolution, world wars, dinosaur destroying seismic events haven’t altered that the world is just the same size it ever was. It’s just technology which has shrunk it down to unable the masses to trundle round the world in comfort, or just stay at home and view it through an ever-thinning box in the corner.

I am sure for a price you could probably get around the world in a long weekend of flight filled fun, but that’s the opposite of what I want to do.

I want us all to experience the world and alter us as people, not to have the invisible neon sign of one-upmanship tag of being able to say we have been around the world for a year.

The world is a huge immense thing – you should see the maps, they are all bloody huge – I want to get stuck in places, I want to have sandy, dirty, dusty feet, I want to have uncomfortable bus and ferry rides and sleep in random hostels which you wouldn’t look at twice normally.

When planning is completed, and we settle on a route we will have a thin sharpie line across the world drawn – but just how much will get left unexplored or how much we can expand that line to a much broader brush will always remain to be seen.

Ultimately, I don’t think you can really fail at travel. There is no official success or failure of going travelling when you stop to think about it – no one apart from us will be able to look back and deem it worthwhile or not.

We are free to make our own path across whichever chunks of the world we choose and therefore we have no right or wrong. Every experience should be judged on the merits at the time, whilst not considering the affect we are altering as a result.

Until we are in it, experiencing it I struggle to get my thoughts into a coherent sensible pattern of what the hell to do. It is daunting and as such tiring.

I recently found a quote from esteemed writer William Arthur Ward who I think sum’s this up much more nicely than my limited brain power will ever allow when he said “To love is to risk not being loved in return, to live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair, to try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing”.

Fail to plan, plan to fail….

Benjamin Franklin apparently said something similar and he was once president and they are generally regal, clever folks with good hair and adequately non-orange skin, aren’t they?

So, like the recent incumbent of the American presidency we have grabbed something by the nether regions and attempted to get what we want with little or no regards with personnel PR.

The important issues have been investigated discussed, disagreed about and then slept on numerous times in the last weeks.

The biggest issue is the perceived safety blankets of schooling and the afore mentioned jobs we currently have. The jobs situation is an interesting conundrum which has required two distinct methods.

Sue has carefully and considerably spoken to work and entered the world of HR, this is because despite her dislike for the job she realises that she has it relatively easy regarding hours and the associated bank balance at the end of the month.

I on the other hand am ready for a change of job and being so relaxed about things means, although I have had similar conversations with work, I am not bothered in the slightest if they are not keen on me jollying around the world for an extended period, instead of counting cakes in Stoke on Trent.

Yes, it potentially takes away a concern further down the road but to me it shouldn’t alter or deter the actual travel prospect. To me its another thing to be excited about – the prospect of when I return it will be to somewhere new almost continues the adventure aspect of the entire idea.

I also like the idea that I could seek something slightly different regarding my career, if not the counting aspect then potentially moving into contracting or temporary work in the future. Which would in theory then give the family more options to travel further in the coming years.

Like being a teacher, but whilst having an actual proper job.

Speaking of teaching, school was the big one up for discussion. We (I say we, when essentially it was me, but no I in team and all that) made a rookie mistake with the school side of things its fair to say. I think my excitement about my amazing idea got the better of me and I involved Zoe to soon in the process.

She took the news in her stride, I am pretty sure she didn’t realise what it meant, but it must have been on her mind in school and then it bubbled to the surface. Two days later kids and teachers alike are coming up to us in the playground asking about our round the world adventure at a time when literally nothing other than a vague pipe dream was on the table.

It has been pleasantly surprising to receive so much encouragement from Zoe’s actual teacher and then subsequently the headteacher. Both have left me speechless by offering help in terms of contacts of people in the know and reemphasising that it was a good idea.

The head effectively said that Zoe will benefit from the trip compared to the colouring in and seemingly needless activities she does currently. Amongst all the praise for Zoe and her wonderful parents (especially the father figure she has) she also placed a rather large spanner in the works, which didn’t leave us any further forward than we were before the meeting.

The rather appropriately school sized spanner was that they wouldn’t be able to hold a place for Zoe for when she returned to ensure that she went back into the same school. Not surprising really given the pressures on schools these days and attainment targets.

So, we had more tears regarding that and I probably could have been more sympathetic to Zoe about keeping her emotions in check, I still occasionally forget that she is such a young age.

A lot of this comes back to an individual’s outlook on life, its clear that I am more relaxed and carefree than Sue, Sue is more glass half empty and I am more couldn’t give a shit if the glass is there or not, I will just attempt to drink from the bottle.

With Zoe being at such a tender age as she currently is, I don’t think she has developed a notion surrounding optimism or permission yet, she should be carefree at this stage of her life and I would think of it as a failing on our behalf if she wasn’t.

She does like to overthink things and verge on the worst-case scenario on occasion, however typically she overcomes those feelings quickly and meets whatever challenge is in front of her.

But the safety crutch of school and social groups being uncertain is going to prove to even the most robust kid disconcerting. I a hundred percent understand that. However, to me it adds to the trip, not decreases from the fun.

We would need to give the school 3 months’ notice that we wanted a place for Zoe at whichever school we wanted. Clearly the preference would be the same school, but other schools are similar in terms of Ofsted ratings in the local area – not perfect in terms of location but nothing which would be a deal breaker to me.

It has been suggested that it would be easier to ensure she had a place if we aimed to come back in May, thus her joining the back end of year 5, as not as many children tend to be applying at that point compared to the start of the new school year.

The cascade impact of that information is that potentially we could aim to leave in May 2019, so Zoe misses the end of year 4, but would be back for the end of year 5, still getting close to 12 months.

Or we aim to go in July / August as per the vague original suggestion and cut short the trip and come back in May. 10 months is better than no months at the end of the day. July / August was originally chosen as we have a few holidays, events, social gatherings planned, plus I am supposed to be sweating around a tiny Bavarian town at the start of July in hopefully non-glorious failure.

I am no gambler, notwithstanding my occasional raiding of East European casino’s, but If I were going to hedge my bets, I think it makes sense to aim to go in late July then fill in the forms for a return to school in late May.

Plan the trip around coming home in May, then if we are not successful in getting Zoe back into the same school in the May it gives us options.

We could then continue to home / travel school her for the rest of year 5, either we could prolong the trip by another month (maybe concentrating on some of the European destinations I think we will end up missing in the first draft) or we could still come home, and I could look for a job slightly earlier than planned.

That would mean that we could then reapply for the same school for the start of year 6, giving us a second bite of the cherry, or more time to sell the idea to Zoe that she is going to a different school for a year.

It does make you wonder if any point at all to all this, if its so much hassle to organise and cajole people to get to the position to go, before we even start planning routes then maybe its not actually worth it.

Show me the £ (and the $, € and the ¥)

Time is money, unless you have no money, or I guess no time.

On the surface of it that doesn’t feel like a strong start, however it probably quite aptly describes the root of the seed which has now grown and generated this yet undefined text.

My life has been for the most part good, sometimes to good, to easy and comfortable, dragged down by the victim of my own middle class’ness and such first world problems as which destination we should go to for the next family holiday in the sun, or which pub to go for tea in.

Then due to a change in family circumstances, life got even better, the comfortable lifestyle was prepared to get even more comfortable, even more middle class, I guess. Financially we are secure, and, in a position, I never thought we would get to no matter how long I worked for.

Work is fine for us both, average office jobs but fundamentally boring and annoyingly time consuming. We are both in jobs which more than pay the bills but don’t stimulate or excite. Again, first world problems, right?

I have frequently over-come this boredom by moving jobs, regularly only staying 2 or 3 years in one business as I want a fresh challenge to stop me letting my mind wander to the bigger issues in life which no matter of annual income or genital size happens to us all.

However, as I have advanced to the ripe old age of 37, I have become more concerned with the prospect of death and its inevitability. Didn’t see that coming did you? Bet you thought this was going to be all happy clappy travelling stuff.

Despite or perhaps because of being a devote atheist (is that a legit phrase?), the whole death thing scares the hell out of me. It’s the small matter of the infinity of nothingness which gets to me.

I have never embraced religion at any level further than singing occasionally at one of Zoe’s church services she is in, which maybe is the problem. Least if I believed in one of them, I would likely have some comfort in life after death be it in the clouds or coming back as a dung beetle or something.

When I have been particularly down, for no discernible reason, I have questioned whether there is any point in life at all. It can seem so futile being concerned about tiny things in the workplace or personnel life when every second is counting down to essentially rotting in a box.

Bizarrely you could say bringing a child into the world is cruel on them – if they never exist then they will never feel pain. Most children end up burying the parents, so you are effectively ensuring that by dying you are ensuring that they have at least one miserable day out.

This has gone deep quite quickly hasn’t it – it’s only the first bit.

So, if I believe that once you are gone you are gone and so if you had some funds to step away from the comfortable albeit mundane life you had created then why wouldn’t you?

What would stop you from driving across Europe on a moped (poor example as I would guess lots) or camping in a wilderness or walking across a dessert or exploring the planet a little before its too late.

If you knew exactly how long you had left on this planet then how would you change your actions, how you lived your day to day life, ambitions, dreams? If a clock was ticking in your line of sight all the time, counting down the time you had left, how would you change things?

Think how people react when they are told that they have a horrible, unfair, cruel life shortening disease. After the initial horrific shock of it they seem to frequently chase the things that they have always wanted to do – cuddle a dolphin, go to see some Disney characters or the such. I guess the common example is the middle-aged man having a fling with someone younger to attempt to hold onto youthfulness or buying a leather jacket and a flash sports car.

Now I like dolphins, find age appropriate women attractive (including Rapunzel) and although not fussed about jackets or sports cars, don’t mind them. So why wait for the ticking clock to be at the forefront of my mind to chase them?

I should point out that I believe I am happily married (Sue might say otherwise) and at 37 she is not old and although I could 100% do better, I have without doubt found my partner for life, unless she gets bored of me.

This is all a bit morbid I know, and fortunately for me the next sentence is not, then I was diagnosed with x, y or z. Instead it’s the realisation that being in the current financial, social and psychological condition we are we have a unique opportunity to actually go see a large proportion of the world and chase the dreams which I (we) have.

Granted this is a massive risk for many reasons, from the practical stuff or sorting out schooling requirements to the impact on family life during and after, not forgetting the pets and vague career aspirations (of mine not the dog’s).

They say opposites attract and Sue’s attitude to this compared to mine is somewhat different shall we say. I have been able to do a decent amount of travelling – I did the middle-class thing of some travelling around my university studies and saw some of South East Asia and the bars of Australia and New Zealand.

I have caroused with a friend of suitably like minded stupidness to do the standard European cities over 10 years or so on short breaks and have as a result run with the bulls in Pamplona, been to a homosexual party boat, slept in a prison, walked across a frozen river, enjoyed a stripper limousine and attempted to drink all of Brussels 2000 different beers.

Sue likes going away but I always get the feeling she really enjoys coming home afterwards and often could do without the hassle of the actual trip beforehand. That said I have managed to drag her around Thailand twice before Zoe came on the scene and twice since for various amounts of time.

The seed of the idea was that essentially the plan that we would be financially comfortable when we were in our mid-forties, which would put Zoe at post school age. Seemingly the perfect meeting of timelines to all go off and see some more of the world.

With the change of circumstances, it means that me being the greedy sod that I am have with degrees of relentlessness dropped hints about bring this timeline forward to where it currently sits.

Ten years is along time to wait to do something and a whole myriad of potential life related things may crop up, including the grim reaper further into the family circle.

It hasn’t been undertaken lightly and the impact on Zoe is quite rightly at the forefront of Sue’s concerns. Missing a year from primary school to go around the world, whilst being schooled by two non-teachers would be a massive alteration for a little person who has just turned nine years old.

Not considering the difference styles we have on teaching and the levels of patience we have when doing so, Zoe wouldn’t be seeing her friends or family for extended periods of time. She would be giving up her routines which she enjoys and miss countless birthday parties and other important social gathering for nine-year-old girls.

She would also miss various degrees of colouring in, play rehearsals and helping teachers out at school, a gripe I won’t commit to this text.

She is a bright kid and although not flying especially high in year 4 she isn’t sat with a dunce’s hat on in the corner. We are committed to ensure that she progresses whilst we are away to a minimum of the level required to enter year 6 and hopefully, we can incorporate some of the places important to the curriculum.

I think it is the perfect opportunity to educate Zoe in the real life, giving her confidence and understanding in how the world works, rather than just learning from a book and then colouring some of it in.

Within a short period of time after having the initial discussions with her we have had tears, excitement, tears, destination requests, happiness and tears.

And that’s just the Dog.

Pickled in Estrella

What follows is the usual holiday ramblings;

It almost feels like if I don’t have Outlaw for the next couple of months as a focus I will just stop doing anything. That said the thought of doing it right now is fairly terrifying to be honest. I havent ridden my bike for longer than 60 miles in a go this yr and have stagnated after the London episode to the point where despite increase miles overall I have decreased focus. More junk miles are more miles after all, which satisfies the short term ego boost but ultimately leaves the longer term even further away or hanging on a knife edge. Going out to do a three hr session at intended comfortable pace with efforts (for me 20mph) and coming back having done low 19’s and being hammered doesn’t really appease either. 

My head still can’t get around the thought that if I do outlaw it may well, in all likelihood, be slower than when I did it the first time and that fear of being measurably slower or pulling out (let’s be honest I have form) when things either go wrong or hurt to much just pushes me closer to chickening out. If there is no likely or limited enjoyment and only a perceived increased amount of pain (with potential long term suffering) then it’s just a chubby fool chasing a medal I properly won’t look at apart from when I am drunk.

That said every time anyone asks about my tattoo I get a surge of pride, a hidden feeling rises up and makes me feel ten feet tall. The usual questions of really? Why? That’s nuts, I don’t think I could do that etc come and I admit I like people thinking I am not just some fucking finance manager for which ever company currently has the pleasure of employing me. 

That will remain regardless of if I do another 10 or never another long one again. Maybe my mind is a victim of its overinflated self selected success which is why I am now somewhat suck in this now massively elongated state of mind; nothing is good enough and everything leaves me further behind. 

I still resemble more of a beached whale than a Greek god on the beach, although I am finally coming round to giving less of a toss of what I perceive others to think of me.

That said having a little Spanish man, dressed in a bright green wrestling costume, wip off my top after being dragged on stage what’s exactly fun or reassuring. The video of said incident also served to hammer home that I will never look as good as I want. 

That’s not defeatist but a reality check – I was too big for too long and things are too far stretched to ever not have flabbiness on my gut. Unless I guess I choose to pay for some sort of tummy tuck; but then I am not a middle age mum from Cheshire with a rich sugar daddy.

Whilst away I found enjoyment in running in the early mornings; joined by a sunrise and an increasingly growing number of speedy fellow runners as the time edged closer to sensible o’clock. 

But I enjoyed getting out, I enjoyed fantasising I was on a hot weather training camp and the thought of how many courses I could eat for breakfast afterwards. I ran for fun, for the challenge of running to Alcudia along the main road or the challenge of attempting to keep up with the speedy multinational bastards hammering along the promenade. I didn’t run to push myself, I didn’t do it with any particular event in mind or target time. Just the process was enough – likewise when I swam. 

Twice it was Tenby esq rough and to be honest I was just glad not to drown whilst on holiday or engage Tenby vomit. Then the other times when it was mercifully calmer it was just swimming for (the little) enjoyment it brings. Chasing fish and generally just taking pleasure in what I could ogle at along the way, semi naked ladies included.

With that tactic I actually managed to do 10 hrs of decent exercise in the 8 days which I hope at least partially offsets the constant drinking and eating which I definitely enjoyed for 9 days. 

I haven’t enjoyed the daily 30 mins of knee exercises I have to do since January to keep my knees fit and functional and that’s the balance for the future.

If I keep pushing them will it result in longer term issues? I have loads of plans for life and none of them involve broken, dodgy knees from attempting long distance triathlons. 

Jacking the job in after the mortgage is paid off and the kid is no doubt travelling the world and doing something similar is more within my thoughts, which I presume will be easier with a semi functioning body. 

This is just a series of small rambles with no clear answer to the question which still remains unanswered.

I have thought of entering another smaller local tri – either an Olympic or 70.3 on the 11th June to see if it sparks something inside of me. On the back of that I would choose to either continue with the Outlaw plan or withdraw on the 11th (which is the next cut off of decreased refunds) but I can’t bring myself to even enter that, which I suppose highlights that deep down I don’t want to do either events and leads me down the path to just pulling out now.

Aside point I guess is I wonder when I decided in my head that a 70.3 was easy? It’s not like I am quick or threatening the top ten at them and it’s still a bloody long way for a fat lad. 

Is it a bigger challenge to go sub 5hr or at least get close in a 70.3 and not destroy my knees than chase an improbable sub 11hr and break them? 

Especially as I fly to Thailand two days later for 3 weeks; which will be more fun if I can walk. 

The emphasis on the next decision should be on which battle to select going forward and I think with that in mind I will pull out of outlaw this year, use the funds saved from hotel rooms and the refund back on race entry towards maybe a down payment on a nice road bike and see how I go at the 70.3 I have booked (more likely I will switch to the oly) in for the end of June.

Probably change my mind and find myself on the starting line in Nottingham…..

Double or Quits?

So let’s dissect the carnage of the London Marathon – selfishly for my benefit and hopefully to reach a conclusion about what the future potentially holds.

Granted this year hasn’t been perfect, however it has been a million times more perfect than the previous two – not having a knee op this year has been a pleasant change to tradition (although I got worryingly close again) and in general the build up to the first big day out of the year what reasonably well.

I missed one long run in the general build up and although I was cutting it fine with the original plan I was going with the conclusion that a trio of 20 mile training runs would suffice and mean that hopefully my knee wouldn’t be broken come the start line.

However that turned into a deuce of 19’s and a 15 miler (where I spectacularly melted in the heat) all completed on a pace to roughly get me to 20 miles in just under 3hrs and then leave the magic of the last 6 to race day.

The trip down was good, long and a bit boring but generally fine. The expo was smaller than I expected and I got in and out inside 10 minutes when I couldn’t find anyone I recognised and went to sit in the sunshine out the front, mindful of not wandering round aimlessly – after all I had a target to hit.

A target I thought was reasonable and achievable if I followed the plan, paced myself accordingly and held my mind together. The target was 3:59:59 – basically anything that started with a 3. I have only done one previous standalone marathon and that was Chester some 4 years ago where I hobbled over the line in 4:29 after little training and having never run further than 16 miles before.

So the goals were;

A – Go under 4 hrs

B – Beat previous PB of 4:29

C – Finish in one piece with no lasting damage

D – Enjoy it

Granted I didn’t think I could achieve D without A or B and C might and should probably have been A thinking about it.

Alphabet aside come the start line I was fit and healthy (by my standards) confident about what was going to happen, my pace for the first half, the timings of taking on gels etc. I remember sitting by the baggage drop lorry on the floor perfectly calm and relaxed – no mad dashing to the loo’s, no panic about what was to come, I was a little hungry (which has random) but other than that I felt perfect by my standards.

Maybe the confidence came from the Ironman thing of ‘it’s only a marathon’ bravado or I was over confident or just that I was happy I had made the start line after the countless hours of physio this year.

london start

I am not welsh

The weather was spot on, the atmosphere great in my blue zone 5 start area and although crowded I had plenty of room. The pro’s went off and then the walk started till we got to the corner and entered the start straight past the seating grandstand. I stupidity figured that the crowd of runners would spread out after this point, but no – everyone seemed to do the opposite and it became almost overbearing when we past through narrower streets.

Having never run that close to others for such a consistent period I really struggled to not let it affect me. The crowds were also fairly consistently deep throughout apart from a short stretch at the start and I struggled to remain calm. The only feeling I can equate it to was that it was similar to panic attacks I sometime get during the start of a deep water triathlon start. The sensation of not being in control, of not liking what has going on around me and the sense of something going horribly wrong.

The inner demons were already out at this point as through 5 miles I was 25 seconds ish down on where I wanted to be. I reconciled this in my head by assuring myself I would just do another mile past 13 at that pace and thus make up that difference.

Legs felt good, head a little less so.

Through the next 5 miles it went ok ish – my pace dropped a little but I felt comfortable and although I knew I was going slightly slower than I had hoped I was still on track to get close to 4hrs and still didn’t have much room around me to run much faster anyway. I focused on just ticking off the miles and not really concentrating on what was happening at the sides or around me.

It was good to run past the landmarks you always see on TV such as the Cutty Sark and passing over Tower Bridge was admittedly pretty special but it was at that point that I knew things weren’t right.

I was struggling to hold 9 min miles, sweating massively (even for me) and only managed it twice thereafter, then I couldn’t hold 9:30 min miles and managed it 3 times before everything came to a head.

This was supposed to happen at 20 miles, these issues I knew were potentially coming but I had planned for them later, much later in the no man’s land of 20-26 miles where I had hoped the crowds would magically drag me along and I would somehow finish in a blaze of glory chasing down a sub 4 finish.

Not after 14 miles, not with so far to go. The demons came back (the old school feelings about being useless, being fat, not being up to it, not being prepared enough, delusions of grandeur  etc. etc.) for the first time I admitted defeat to getting close to 4hrs and looking back now I probably gave up the will to attempt to get even in the same postcode as it.

3 miles later at 17 miles I just couldn’t keep running and thus begun the run / walk within which I managed increasingly less running and more walking through to mile 21 where I was then full on walking pace of 18 min miles.

My mind had gone at this point – if I known where I was, had my phone, some money or the ability to get back to the meeting place by pulling out I would have.

I would have taken the ignominy of not finishing over the humiliation of walking the rest.

Pacers charged by like regular steam trains with hordes of people hanging onto the back of the groups, pushing and scrambling to get past those cast to the sides or struggling. My rage at myself boiling over when pushed one too many times and pushing back verbally with a barrage of expletives that sweet innocent children offering jelly babies and orange segments shouldn’t have heard for at least another 10 years.

Head down, shoulders slumped, knees aching, feet on fire I plodded on.

The slow painful resentment of walking in an event yet again boiling inside me.

I know some people have strong feelings about people walking marathons or the run legs of ironmans – the completer vs the competitor syndrome. Some it appears set out to walk the vast majority of a large event, certainly London seemed to have a number of these (witnessed on the switch backs) and I have no problem with this if that is your plan.

Everyone has their own goals, their own agenda, battled their own demons to step up to the start line and their own plan to reach the finish. I would never berate anyone or belittle their achievement in facing personal battles.

But for me I absolutely hate it.

I hate the feeling, I hate the failure and I hate that I am not strong enough in both mind and body to push through things when everything goes tits up. At Outlaw I didn’t mind walking as I thought it would be the only way I would ever have the possibility of finishing a Ironman distance triathlon. It was what superhuman and superfit people did.

At Tenby I knew I would walk a large chunk due to my knees and I was fine with it (well not fine with when it started but generally fine), it was all about getting to the finish and closing the door on that chapter.

At Lakesman my guts (literally and figurerly) gave up and I could have kept going and walked the remaining 25k’s but I didn’t want to ‘just’ finish the event in 14+ hrs –  I wanted to do what I set out to do and it was the same principle with London.

Knowing that I was going to be nowhere near the time I wanted, meant that there was no point pushing on wards with attempting to trot to the next drinks station or the next corner.

Sod it – who cares if I come in at 5 hrs or 6 hrs, both are way below where I wanted.

Both would be failures in my head.

With that in mind I just walked, I blanked out the noise, the supporters and all the razzmatazz bits that go with the event and just limped along in my own little pissed off, grumpy world.

Previously at Outlaw and Tenby I broke into a run towards the conclusion of the event and these are special memories (especially finishing with Sue and Zoe at Outlaw) but not this time. I resolved to walk every last step to the line, no breaking into a trot, no smiling for the cameras or looking happy. No pretending I had run it all or was content with my performance.

I just plodded down the last bit with the crowds seemingly ever increasing, the posh bit by the palace, the bit you recognise from the TV, plodded towards the red arches and then through one of them. I didn’t look at my time, didn’t look around me and didn’t smile for any camera’s.

I was given a medal, which I declined the nice lady putting round my neck and stuck it straight into my pocket (where it stayed till I was told to put it on at the service station on the way home for a group picture some 6 hrs later)

london final

Spot the one not smiling

I took my shoes off and continued through the processing to get my various bags and then sat down by a fence, shaking.

Relived it was over, mind made up not to do anything so long again and full on plans killed for Outlaw and the Double Ironman or Equinox later in the year.

A big fat fucking failure.

I got changed and hobbled my way to the meeting point at the pub, through crowds of happy people smiling and joking in the post marathon glaze of glory.

I ordered a coke and then sat on the pavement outside alone on the strand and just sat there for 90 mins in a sort of daze. Not really talking to anyone and not really able to process my thoughts about the day’s events.

People regularly came up and asked if I was OK and offered words of encouragement, all of which fell on deaf ears to me.

I had finished a marathon, an iconic one at that, an event which I had worked hard to reach the start line but I hadn’t finished it in the manner I wanted.

In my head I had failed.

Maybe my target was unrealistic but the training I had done pointed to it being achievable, tough but achievable (Looking back if I had held the pace I had till mile 20 and then run the last 6 miles in the time it took me to do 14-20 I would have come in at 4:04 – that’s a big IF though)

Now I am left in a sort of post event daze.

What to do going forward. In the past after events it’s been quite easy to formulate a plan and dig up the resolve to go after something else;

After Tenby round 1; book Tenby round 2 and finish it

After Tenby round 2; book a flatter one (Lakesman) to beat my PB

After Lakesman; book Outlaw aim for PB and right the wrongs from Lakesman

After London;…………Who knows

During the long walk and later the long bus ride home I resolved that having done 2 marathons and 2 Ironmans, alongside 10 x 70.3’s and countless half marathons it is probably a good haul for someone who not so long ago was 22 stone.

I am still fairly chunky and that doesn’t seem to be changing, my knees are still fairly ropey and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Seeing other people’s reaction to me finishing the event is heart-warming – I don’t agree with some of the comments I have got and think a lot of it is praise I certainly don’t deserve.

Seeing my daughters face when I came home was amazing and the fact that she has taken the medal into school today to show everyone does give me a twinge of pride. She doesn’t care if it didn’t go to plan – she just cares that I came home again, brought her a present and was fit enough to take her to gymnastics last night.

But……….

A feel like a gambler who is slightly addicted to things.

I always want to roll the dice again.

I always want to place a bet on the next event.

I always want to see.

I always think afterwards – it wasn’t so bad, why didn’t you push through it, next time you will don’t worry.

Next time you will achieve what you think is possible – next time you will run that sub 4hr marathon, next time you will go under 12hrs at an Ironman.

Do I think I have a (what I consider a) decent marathon in me? Yes but I don’t know if that’s just bravado talking or wishful thinking.

Do I want to put myself through it again?

london middle

What Goes Around Comes Around

So a month after I didn’t know what to do about all things tri in my little bubble I have come to the realisation that most of what I wrote was a little out of context.

Its easier now to say, with a bit of perspective  that coming on the back of completing the Monster middle in 5:27 I shouldn’t have actually been to disheartened with the result. Given the lack of focus, training or stable eating pattern (all my own doing) and some prolong health issues, I was never going to be pulling up any trees or troubling a time closer to the 5hr mark which I have developed an unhealthy desire for.

Granted the course is deemed fast (wind aside) but now I look back, knowing how utterly drained I was at the end with a more rounded view of the result, in what turned out to be my last triathlon of the year. Its fair to say I havent been much of a triathlete this year as i think I have only done 4 (leeds, chlom, keswick, monster) which is probably my lowest since I started.

Perspective is a wonderful thing, as is expectation and desire. Often they work together hand in hand to propel you to do things you never thought possible, sometimes they fight like little caped superheros for control – maybe a version of the angel and devil on the shoulder, a fine balance between meaning you do something amazing or failing spectacularly at something that, looking back, you would never be able to do.

I have settled on the notion that I struggle to keep them all in control in a perfect 33.33% balance. An example being watching from afar the craziness that goes on at the brutal triathlon events in Snowdonia a couple of weeks ago.

If you asked me, when I was in a good positive mood if I wanted to do it (no one has asked, my wife would kill me if I entered that) I would have said yes. I would judge that being perspective 10%, expectation 10%, desire 80%. In other words my caped superhero called desire (dressed I imagine in some sort of sexy castelli esq lryca) would trance the other two into submission despite me clearly lacking the basic requirements to finish such an event.

After time when I pondered the thought of doing the double ironman, voted one of the toughest in the world, that percentage would have been more like perspective 80%, expectation 10%, desire 10%, with perspective making a WWE style come back from the floor to take control, in just some ill fitting pants. Utterly crushing my desire or expectation to take up the challenge.

Granted I would assume a reasonable person would say that given a year of focused training and a proper build up to it, losing more weight, hitting the hills all the time, I might just about be able to complete the event at a push in an appalling time.

But I think that’s the problem isn’t it – if you overthink things you would never try. Like entering my first 10k or my first baby etape or my first sprint tri – all seemed utterly crazy when I set out to do them, but for some reason desire took over, i stepped off the cliff so to speak and I gave a nondescript website my credit card details.

The same thing has happened since the monster. In-fact it has happened twice in terms of events and once in terms of long term support. With a few ideas for something completely new to me and completely out of my comfort zone.

I wont bore you with my plans for next year, but like a phoenix rising from the sweaty ashes of a failed ironman attempt I am planning on 2017 to be the best yet and this bad boy bike is going to see alot more miles and alot more smiles.

img_6714

Perspective 100%, Desire 100%, Expectation 100% – on the assumption that an overpaid footballer who doesn’t really care gives 110% I figure I can give 300%

(One thing perspective is good for is looking back though;

https://budjude17.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/progress-%f0%9f%98-2/

alot can happen in 4 years)

img_6698

Put up or shut up

Most will be familiar with my grumblings this year, the same old excuses the same old issues and the same old fairly crappy results. 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; another year older, another knee operation at the start of the year, no fitter and certainly no smarter than I was in 2013 when I did my first local sprint tri. 

No structured plan, no build up, rest, build again phases and certainly no taper before the main event in the lakes. Rushing from pillar to post to cram training in to fit shortern timescales and then being disappointed at the unsurprising results. No doubt something which will be repeated at least twice more this year (chillswim coniston and Chester marathon) 

Which begs the question of just what the hell should I do about it?

Clearly one option is to get a coach to prepare me a plan and (hopefully) bully me into some sort of routine which would improve results and general happiness. Also manage my races and tell me when I am being an idiot and booking to many events. 

But will an improvement in my times equal an improve of my happiness or general well being. Is it value for money at £40-£50 a month? Does it make more sense to employ a coach and not spend as much on races in 2017? 

The other options are to keep going as I am or stop completely. I do from time to time really really not enjoy triathlons; the mild panic attacks in the swim are still occurring and my knees mean that the ‘run’ leg is frequently painful and slow. 

Would achieving a PB at Olympic, 70.3 or ironman decrease this unhappiness? I would assume so but is it worth £600 a yr to do so? 

Anyone who has bothered to read this and has had experiences of using coaches feel free to drop me a message about the subject; I welcome both good and bad comments as at the moment I feel quite close to walking away from my hobby.

I will leave you with a suitably gormless picture of the swim exit at the weekend where I struggled throughout