‘There are some things in life you just have to do’

When you read that sentence, how does it make you feel? What’s your gut reaction? From my experience and conversations so far this sentence is a real divider of people. The majority reply with a stance that encapsulates a certain logic, mixed with a dash of civil obedience.

‘Well you have to drink water to live, and you have to pay your bills or you’ll be homeless.’

True, to a degree. But there is still choice in even these actions. You could choose not to drink water, you’d die eventually, but in theory you can choose that deathly option. And you can certainly choose not to pay your bills. Things will get ugly and inconvenient, but again, it is an option.

So in basic terms that’s my standpoint. Everything is a choice. And in my opinion, you should never do something you don’t want to. I don’t do things I don’t want to, sometimes I push through things I don’t necessarily enjoy because I do want the end result, like working out. I don’t want to work out, after about 15 years of doing squats religiously, I’m bored of them. But I do want lower body strength and a butt that looks great in my favorite jeans – that I enjoy. So the work out is something I am willing to endure because I do want the end product.

As an adult do I allow anyone to tell me what to do or to control my choices because it’s what they believe is righht or best for me? Absolutely not. I ask for advice and guidance from people I love and trust when I want it. But like most grown ups, I make my own mind up about what I do with my life and my time. And yet, I used to think it was acceptable to tell children what to do and when, to control them as if they needed me to make their decisions because they couldn’t be trusted or simply didn’t know how to choose for themselves.

Picture this,

‘Share your toys with your friends,’ says parent to their child.

‘But I don’t want to share my toys,’ replies kid.

What do most parents do in this situation? What is the ‘socially appropriate’ response here? The parent talks their kid into sharing the toys even though they don’t want to, using phrases like, ‘it’s kind to share’ and ‘no-one will want to play with you if you don’t share your toys.’

Feeling disheartened, unheard and as if their own happiness and comfort was of lesser importance, the kid hands over their toys. The parent made the choice for them and the child just has to deal with it. Their choice, their consent, was irrelevant.

Fast forward 10 years or so. This kid, now a teenager, is being asked to share their body with someone who wants have sex with them. I wonder where the parent would stand in this scenario? Hopefully, they’d say,

‘no, you do not have to share your body with anyone unless you genuinely want to. No-one has the right to force you to do something against your will.’

Thing is though, the parent isn’t here in this scenario. Their teens at a party of a friend who lives on the other side of town. Any input the parent might have had has already been learned by their child, through the experiences they shared when the kid was younger and their parent was around to guide and advise them/instruct and control them.

Maybe the teenager holds their own, hopefully they are strong enough to know that consent is vital and that they have a right to say no. But I guarantee this isn’t the case for all who face this kind of situation. Either conciusly or sub-conciously, their is a lesson floating around in their head that was repeatedly taught to them as they grew up,

‘It’s polite to share’

‘No-one will like you if you don’t share your toys’

‘You have to go to football club, you already got signed up, so you can’t change your mind’

‘You have to wear this outfit today, I’ve picked it out for you’

‘There are some things in life you just have to do, you have to Emily’s house because it’s already arranged’

We as a society (in the UK) have a severe lack of respect for our children. I recently learned through my friend, that on a list of countries which are best at protecting children’s rights, the UK ranks 169th (according to a United Nations based study).

I don’t know about you, but this shocked me. I knew we weren’t great as a nation for our respect towards the youth, but I hoped it was not quite so drastically bad. But it is. We prioritise saving face over allowing our kids to have a say in decisions that directly impact them. As an adult this would not be tolerated in most cases. Or worse, it gets learnt and accepted as a norm, and what a sad world that is to live in right? Faint hearted and sad adults existing in a mind set where they have no choice and no control over their own lives.

You have to go to that job that makes you terribly unhappy because you already signed the contract. You stay with an abusive partner because your own parent taught you that pleasing others is more important than doing what feels right to you. You give away valuable time doing things you don’t want to because that is what is expected. You’ve been taught to sacrifice your own freewill, joy and wellbeing for the sake of pleasing others or keeping up appearances.

And yet consent is such a trendy topic. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t preach about consent to our children, whilst saying ‘there are just some things in lie you have to do’. This subject is a controversial one, because a lot of people don’t want to hand the reins over to their kids, they don’t have faith that their children will be able to make decisions for themselves, we want them to do the things that we want them to do, and it’s hard when they choose otherwise.

But the thing is, early experiences in children generally shape their perspective and the future decisions they make. So we need to think outside of what makes people comfortable and what the ‘appropriate’ thing to do is, we need to relinquish control and relax. If we want our kids growing up strong, bold and shooting for their dream occupations and lifestyles, then we need to show them that they have a choice, they have freedom, and they won’t be drummed down and undermined by a society that prioritises expectations over their wellbeing.

When my daughter shows reluctance in something, we talk. I hear her. I make it clear that she has a choice, and that she does not have to do something that she doesn’t want to. Even if it goes against what I want her to do. Because I don’t want to live in a world full of people who believe ‘there are just some things in life you have to do’. I want her to demand way more from the world than that, I want her to always have a choice, to always give consent, so that she can be happy and comfortable in her life and in herself. As a truly loving and respectful parent, could you want anything greater for your child than that?

‘It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.’ – Frederick Douglass

The (very honest) treats and challenges of a single parent

Tomorrow marks the 1,825th day of being a parent. Although it does start from the moment you know you’re pregnant in a way, or maybe that’s better titled ‘pre-parent’, like a ‘pre-teen’. Anyway, the little beasty turns five tomorrow. It’s been as challenging and beautiful as I expected it would be, and then some. I’ll be honest the small human was not planned, apparently about a third of babies in the UK aren’t, hence my confidence in admitting this totally acceptable truth. I consider my little surprise the best thing that ever happened to me, I know it’s a horrible cliche, but it’s true. I was one of those people who was missing a chunk of themselves before, part of me doesn’t like saying that because it insinuates I wasn’t a whole person myself before the kid, but it’s the only way I can describe it. I was kind of existing, rather than living, I was the embers of a fire that required some added fuel or movement, to fully ignite into flame. The two little blue lines on that test (actually four tests because apparently I needed some convincing) roused the embers, and the birth of the kid fully lit me up.  

All parents say the same generally, ‘it’s the hardest and best job in the world’, I absolutely agree. I find hearing the stories of fellow guardians good days and their not-so-successful happenings helps, knowing you’re not alone in the trials you’re experiencing and having people to relate to is like having a little dingy in a rough sea, the waters still tricky, but you’ve got some support. I listen to Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe’s podcast ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’, whether you’re a parent or not I highly recommend it, it’s outrageously funny. I listen in the evenings when I’m tidying the house and doing the washing up, and I find it can really pick me up after a challenging day. Sometimes they’ll recount a story of a difficult moment with their kids and, and in a non-arrogant way I think to myself, ‘Imagine if you were going through that on your own’. Dual parenting teams speak of their hardships and I feel total empathy, they are justified in their struggles, I know they’re not exaggerating, but I know another realm of parenthood altogether, the life of the single parent. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, consider yourself fortunate (unless you’re in a desperately unhappy relationship then maybe not so much?!). 

I’ve been a single parent for the larger majority of my parenting life. For anyone in a parenting team, think of all the jobs you do and all the jobs your partner does too, and imagine if you had to do all of them by yourself. My days are certainly busy. But like all things in life, there are positive and negatives to my circumstances. So, what are the best and, to avoid the use of overly negative terms, not so great parts of my journey?  

TREAT – We are very close 

I believe that I was the kind of kid that could have used my primary caregiver (Mum in my case) to myself for quite some time. In some cultures it’s totally normal to have five year gaps between offspring so that you can get each one to a more life-confident place and give them a quality amount of time with you, before your attention becomes divided. My little brother followed twenty months after my own arrival, so not a tiny gap no, but I was still just a toddler when he was born. The relationship my Mum and I had before I myself became a parent showed all the classic signs of a strained parent-child relationship due to lack of early attachment. As an adult I’ve had to work through a lot to get myself to a healthier place, the fact that this ‘I don’t like physical contact’ person has been able to push through and create a very affectionate kid is proof of my efforts. I’m glad to say that my Mum and I now have an incredibly strong connection, and I no longer do that teenagery thing of blaming her for all my flaws. I accept that just like me, she too is a wonderfully imperfect human doing her best.  

I am glad though that my little lady won’t have to work through this attachment issue, not only does she not have any siblings (which for the record I’m not actually happy about because siblings are a gift, but that’s a post for another time!) but because I’m not partnered up she has me to herself most of the time. I can give her so much and I’m grateful for it, we have an incredible bond. I don’t want to be presumptuous enough to say that it’s more special than others, but it does feel like it is, obviously I’m biased. 

CHALLENGE – Not having support on hand can be incredibly tough 

I have learnt to utilise other people when they are around, for example the kid was purchased her first lego set by one of her uncles the other day, and they sat together for half an hour building it. Don’t get me wrong, I got the urge to go over and join them, even if just to watch, because I don’t want to miss out. However, I am aware enough to know that my relationship isn’t the only important one in little beastys life, and that especially as she gets older, it’s important she feels confident without me at her side. Plus that half an hour is incredibly valuable, honestly these days’ time is my currency. I grab that time, quickly prioritise in my head the jobs I’ve got to get done, then whizz through as much as I can in order of importance.  

Day-to-day, when we are at our house without visitors, I don’t have that half an hour quite so easily. The kid can play on her own for a bit, but she prefers company, and that’s totally fair enough. I grew up with four siblings, I never had to play much on my own, play is generally more fun with outside interaction. Couldn’t I just use good old ‘nanny TV’? Well, I certainly don’t believe that programmes and movies are the worst, like most pre-parents do before the reality of bus parenthood is realised, TV isn’t banned or even limited in our house, but it would seem I don’t have one of these little humans who is happy to watch endless episodes of some colourful show. It’s great, she chooses real life over boxed images most of the time, brilliant. But when you are a single parent and they are an only child, nanny TV would certainly be helpful! Instead I have to find ways of incorporating the kid into whatever job it is I’ve got to get done, like helping me chop veg for dinner or folding washing, and she loves this, as do I when I untense my shoulders and accept that the perfectly chopped potatoes is not a true priority. But there are times, like right now, where I can’t have her help me, I have to apologise and try and get her to understand that what I’m doing is important, and ensure I follow it with some quality time together.  

Support isn’t just important in the physical sense, mental and emotional backing is needed. I’ve got plenty of amazing people in my life to talk to in order to vent when it’s needed, and get reassurance from, but it’s not the same as having that person who’s playing in the same position on the field as you, who truly knows where you’re at and what you’re facing. Even if I had a partner who was at work all day, they could come home and be that pillar to lean against. 

TREAT – It is a lot easier in other ways 

Because it’s just the two of us, there are less people to please, it’s easier when it comes to choosing stuff like activities, meals and movies. My mum would sometimes have to make dinner for my Dad cook something completely different for us kids. When it comes to choosing trips or days out, I’ll make some suggestions that I’m up for and the kid can choose from that list, there’s just less filters for the decisions to go through, which saves on time and disagreements. Less people means less luandry too, which is definitely a bonus. 

CHALLENGE – My to-do list can be intimidating 

Most parents have a lot to do, that’s standard. In classic me style, I’m choosing the more challenging paths in virtually every way possible, so I have even more to do than most. I didn’t go to uni when I was younger, I wasn’t interested. But during the first lockdown in 2020, I found myself doing a taster course from The Open University. In February of this year, I started my part-time degree in Natural Sciences. It’s about 20 hours of time per week needed.  

Not only am I in the process of teaching myself but so too am I teaching the wee one. We are home educating, not inspired by lockdown but a decision I’ve felt confident in since pregnancy. So spending time with the beasty is very important, we do child led learning, so for example she’ll ask me a question like ‘what is this bone in my leg called?’, then I’ll get to work on setting up some resources for us to learn about the bones in our body. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a bunch of close friends/family who are teachers, so I’ve got great guidance when I feel it’s needed. This project we did on skeletons was inspired by one of my best friends resources for her class a few years back. We read Funnybone’s books, built a skeleton and labelled the pieces. It was really fun. And the bone she was asking about is the Femur, the longest bone in the body, I get to learn too, which is awesome. Plus when you’re home educating you need to make extra effort to incorporate social time into your schedule. That irritating association of home ed kids being weird an unsocialised makes me work harder to want to ensure that’s not the case.  

Renting sucks, it’s expensive and unstable, I’m keen to save for a deposit for our own house. So I also need to work and earn money, another 20 hours or so a week needs to be dedicated to this. At the moment it’s used for job hunting and interviews (eurgh it sucks so much).  

Add to the above cooking, which I do most of the time completely from scratch because I’m a self admitting food snob. Then there’s also cleaning up, emptying the bins, walking the dog, taking care of the gecko and snake, dealing with all the bills and various paperwork that always seems to need doing, probably because I move so often actually. I’m also someone who like to keep fit and I need a bit of time to do my nails and generally take care of myself. Free time? No such thing in my world anymore. Not necessarily a negative thing, busy can mean purpose, and purpose makes you live longer. But would I appreciate enough free time to watch a whole film without thinking in the back of my mind of how much I could be getting done instead? Yep. If I wasn’t parenting alone, the jobs might not be halved, but at least there’d be someone to take on a few of them, and give me a little down time. I’m at risk of burning out, as much as I don’t want to admit to it. I’m trying to get in the habit of taking a day each week where I don’t do any jobs, and instead spend the time totally dedicated to little lady, it would be easier to do if there was an extra pair of hands around. 

TREAT – I am stronger because I have to be 

Rewind six years, I had never managed bills of a property, I had never lived alone, I had never been self-sufficient. Day-to-day, I don’t have anyone to lean on. Sure, I have plenty of amazing people in my life, thank goodness, who would be at the other end of a phone call if I needed them, but to be honest asking for help and support is not one of my strong points. On the average day, I’ve got to deal with all my stuff alone. Theres’ a lot of weight on these shoulders, not in a negative sense, I try not to see it as a burden, but more as a heavy pack on a long hike. Basically I’ve got thighs of steel, because if I don’t, I’ll fall face down in the dirt, and for my kid and myself, that’s not an option. So I’m way tougher than I used to be, and I value that immensely.  

CHALLENGE – It can be lonely 

I have no problem admitting that I hope I won’t be a single parent forever. I’m so grateful for my experience so far because it has shaped me into the person I am. But I do hope that at some point, hopefully in the no-to-distant future, I will meet someone. A person who appreciates the love and laughter we have to offer as a family, and someone who can equally add to it. I even hope I might get to have another kid one day. But all the while I also accept that this may not be how my life pans out, and I have made peace with it to a degree so that I don’t feel disheartened if that’s how it goes.  

At the moment I live in a house with just us, after the little lady is asleep, and I’ve sorted the house ready for the next days busyness, I sit on the sofa, and I’m alone. It’s not that I need someone, I’m happy and fulfilled, but it would be nice to have human company. Even if we were too knackered to talk, just someone to rest my head on and wrap an arm round me (bleurgh gross), someone to laugh at something and unwind with. You can be happy alone, but we are social creatures, there’s no escaping it, and the blue zone research has shown that a happy and heathy partner relationship can add an average of 7 years to our lives. I don’t think it makes me any less strong or independent to admit that a partner is something I want. Loneliness is not pleasant, and connection is a beautiful thing.  
 

Being a single parent is incredibly challenging, there are days where I want to curl up in a ball and not face life at all. But actually, I wouldn’t exchange my situation for anyone else’s, it’s made me who I am and I actually kind of like myself. I’ve also had time with my daughter that I might not have had if I wasn’t on my own. Would I like to meet a partner in the future and build on our little unit? Yer, I would, companionship is brilliant if it’s done right. Plus the day the little chick leaves the nest, it would be great to have a hand to hold. I think as long as I’m putting some leg work in to being out there and available, whilst knowing that I’ll be good without it, then I’ve got a healthy balance. 

I genuinely consider myself the luckiest person in the world, that’s absolutely biased I know but it’s how I feel, or at least it’s how I choose to see things. My life is very busy, and if I find the right person to share a little of the work load with whilst adding laughs and love to our little team, the that’s cool, but for now I’m a single parent, I can do it and do it well, and I feel grateful to have the life I do. 

‘I am prouder of my years as a single mother than any other part of my life.’
-J.K.Rowling

Five reasons I value being broke (admittedly ideally on a short-term basis)

  1. You appreciate everything far more.

    A few years ago I watched an interview on Youtube of Kurt Cobain, some rare footage from not long before he died.

    Interviewer: ‘You know that old saying, that you can’t buy happiness, do you think that’s true?’
    They both laugh
    ‘Well, (pauses) yer you can’t but happiness, I mean that made me happy for a little while (laughs again). But I mean I was just probably almost just as happy ….. I dunno, I look back on going to second hand stores and stuff like that, and finding a little treasure like that, and that actually meant more to me because it was more of a stab in the dark in a way, ya know? Because you didn’t know if you were going to be able to afford it, and you don’t know what you’re really looking for, and when you find it it’s more special to you. Rather than having a thousand dollars and going into a store like that and just buying the whole store, ya know? It’s not as special.’

    When you can afford the whole store, your level of appreciation falls. I know for myself if things come easy, if I can have anything, it doesn’t feel so worth while. I’ll hold much more value over buying my daughter and I a piece of cake to share from our favourite cafe when I know money is tight, we’ll sit, cut it in half and enjoy every bite. But when we have plenty of spare cash (I think I remember how that feels, just about) we’ll have a piece of cake each, it will still taste good, but I won’t appreciate it in the same way, it won’t be so special, so valuable.


  2. It’s a test of who you truly are.

    I have never been this broke before, and it’s challenging. Okay so being poor in the UK is not the same as being poor in say India or even America, in comparison I consider myself fortunate. We have the NHS and Universal credit (Universal credit is the new benefits system for anyone who doesn’t know). Because of those systems my family and I have a roof over our heads, and I’m able to pay our bills. There is a shortfall though, and without work I actually can’t afford food once the rent and bills are paid, as good as the system is, there is strong room for improvement.

    For example, our housing allowance doesn’t cover our rent. Who knows where the government pull those ‘average’ rental price figures from, but I hazard a guess that it’s not from a world I’m familiar with. I’ve filled out form after form to get any extra help available, and I am incredibly grateful for what is out there for people in my position, we’ve been granted some short-term support which hopefully will see us through until I finally find work. On top of that the local foodbanks are available and amazing, more gratitude towards these and to those who donate. I’ve made the effort to seek help and the short fall financially is lessened, still not totally adequate, but better.

    However, not being able to save any money each month can make me feel shit. I decided last year to start saving for a deposit on a house, I set a five year goal to save £15000. Which realistically by the time I get to that figure will probably be nowhere near what I’d need for a deposit with rising house prices, but it’s a goal and a good place to start. A year on, I have not banked my first £3000 as planned, in fact I’m now in debt, about eights times more debt than I was last year, with absolutely no savings to speak of. Things feel pretty bleak.

    It’s hard. Some days an unexpected bill arrives in my inbox, or the car gets a flat and I have to pay out for a new tyre, or I try on all my socks to find every pair has holes in, and I honestly want to crumble. I want to curl up in a ball in a dark room and pretend that the world doesn’t exist – some people choose alcohol as there dark room, others find solace in spending frivolously on their credit cards, or ignoring the bills altogether in the hope that they may magically disappear. But for me none of these are options. I have a kid, she needs me present and on good form. So I ‘crack on’, as my Nan used to say. I find the strength to face the circumstances we are currently in, and work hard to improve our situation. I job hunt continuously, fill out countless forms, swallow my intrinsically enforced societal given pride and visit the food bank, and all the while, well, let’s say 95% of the time because after all I’m only human and hormones can be a real bitch, I keep on smiling. Everything is temporary. And like the most marvelous sculptures ever made, struggle will carve a person into beautiful definition when the right type of stone is used. So choose to be a strong stone.


  3. You realise that money is a concept.

    My daughters Dad once said something to me which I found completely amazing, and still do.

    ‘Just think of money like tokens.’

    At some funfairs or arcades you have to change your money into tokens, then it’s so many tokens to go on each ride or to play different games. Viewing money like this changed the way I saw it from then on. Before it seemed so much more important, so much more valuable. When in actual fact it’s something we need in certain places,
    it doesn’t define our worth as a person. The number in your bank account doesn’t represent you, view it like tokens, give it less meaning, and it can’t hold so much presence over you.


  4. Finding ways to have fun for free is awesome.

    I’d like to be able to take my kid to theme parks, pottery cafes and local attractions whenever we fancied it, we’d probably do paid activities a few times a week if we could. But we can’t right now. So instead I spend time thinking of awesome ways to have fun at home, and when my brain is frazzled and I need some inspiration I ask others for ideas or hop online. Sometimes I’ll spend a lot of time thinking an idea over and planning it out, other times it will be in the moment, like using stuff in the garden to make a quick obstacle course for me and the little beasty to run off some energy if we can’t get to a park.

    The main thing quite simply though is quality time. My kid doesn’t care all that much how or where we have fun, what she wants is my time, dedicated, uninterrupted, proper eye contact, no phone checking or moments to ‘just got to do a quick job’. We can build a den, play hide-and-seek, pretend to be cats, run round the house playing chase (no ‘no running in the house’ in our home), if anything activities like these hold way more value than a day out because they are accessible all the time, and they get us using our imaginations.


  5. Gratitude becomes a regular practice

    Numerous scientific studies have proven the power of gratitude and its positive impact on our mental health. It can lower levels of depression and help us detach from negative emotions. Being faced with financial struggle can of course cause these unwanted states of mind, so I’m always looking out for ways to keep myself feeling optimistic. I’ve kept a gratitude notebook in the past but dropped the habit when I started my degree, my days are full from dusk to dawn so I have to evaluate everything and decide what’s a priority, the gratitude notebook didn’t make the cut. However, it did remind me of the many things I have in my life that I am grateful for, which are now on a sticky note in my brain, and I recall it as often as I remember to, especially when the day feels a bit tough.

    When your in a position where you seemingly have very little, you can sink, or you can grab on to anything and everything that you do have. Learning to keep yourself afloat is a skill that will always benefit you. Gratitude for me is that foam noodle kids use when they’re learning to swim, it’s the support I need when I’m treading water, in fact it means I can just lay back, head against it and float on the surface for a while.

So I’m broke. It sucks, and I’m not trying to play that down. Would my life be a lot easier if I had the income I need to cover all my bills with ease, as well as be able to build savings? Absa-fucking-lutely. Would I breathe easier if I didn’t have that financial weight pressing down on my shoulders? Of course. But can I be happy in spite of this apparent shortfall in my life? Hell yer. Everything is temporary, this will not be my situation forever, work is on the horizon and things will improve money wise. But for now, I’m focusing on the benefits of where I’m at, facing it head on, and not allowing my life or my happiness to be defined by a bunch of numbers.



‘Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.’ – Norman Vincent Peale

The quotes that guide me

I’ve always liked words. I read a lot as a kid, (honestly I read more when I was younger than I’ve ever managed in adulthood, but books were smaller and I had way more time to be fair). Little lines and stories also seem to fall through my hands and onto pages, I feel a strong connection to written language I suppose. So it makes sense that words, for me, act as a particularly stong source of guidance, I love it when I hear a quote which makes my ears prick up and gets me thinking. I’ll write it down and put it on my pin board if I find it helpful. My pin board is primarily made up of scribbled quotes on paper ripped from notebooks. It’s set up in my bedroom so that I see it every morning when I wake up, it’s verging on a shrine at this point, which I think I’m cool with actually, a shrine for things I believe in, articles about nature bathing, my bucket list, parenting points I stand by, and quote after quote after quote. Maybe that’s not really a shrine, but it’s a good space for me to spend some time each day anyway. I find it keeps focused, afloat and helps maintain progression.

Quotes are so good  because they are word bullets, short, sharp and powerful. I can be in a situation, and a quote will sprng to the forefront of my mind, and remind me how I want to deal with the moment I’m in, in order to uphold the person I want to be, whether that be positive, or kind for example, the words are there and supportive. Obviously I don’t see eye to eye with every famous phrase, but these ones listed here are those which I find myself looking to time and time again.

 

  1. ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?’ – Bernard Meltzer (the full quote ends with ‘is it helpful?’ but I feel like ‘necessary’ covers that pretty well)

    Sometimes things people say or do make me feel anger or frustration, and I want to lashout with words, snapping back at them with an insult or criticism. For example, someone I love says something that grates me, I have the perfect retort that will make them feel as irritated as they have made me feel. However, in my  (hopefully) growing emotional maturity and self awareness, I pause, and I ask myself the above, ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?’, answer ‘no’ to all three? Don’t say it, instead take a deep breath, show love, show compassion, for me at least, I feel happier for choosing this way of behaving.

    In the past I would insult someone or upset them in return, bring a flaw of theirs to the forfront in order to make them feel crappy, but I always ended up feeling angry and disappointed with myself, making some one feel like negative has never served me in a positive way. And I’m very grateful for that. Hopefully I’m a better human for it.

  2.  ‘Happines is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.’ – Mahatma Ghandi

    No-one likes hypocritical behaviour, don’t say one thing and do another, or say something and not follow through. It’s annoying. Almost all of us are guilty of it at some point, I used to be exceptionally renound for it. But the thing is, when you do think something, say it and then incorporate it into your actions, it feels great.

    Thought: I need to clean the house
    Say: ‘I’m cleaning the house today.’
    Do: Clean the house
    The outcome? You feel bloody incredible, satisfaction, achievment, reward of happy hormones released in the body.

    I’m a ‘dairy free vegetarian’. But around Christmas and a few times a year, I let myself have a few items of food that contain cows milk, usually ferrero roche or a piece of halloumi. Do I enjoy the product at the time? 65% of the time yes I do. Do I feel like I’ve trespassed on my own moral code afterwards? 100% of the time yes. I believe in something, but go against it, and it leaves me feeling a bit deflated and annoyed. I generally feel better if I follow through and stand by my beliefs and plans, whether it be my to do list or  my dietary choices.

     

  3.  ‘True love is sacrifice, anything else is affection.

    This is a new one I heard recently. I’m thinking about it a lot, I don’t fully know where I stand with it yet, but I’m quite sure I will come to appreciate it as much as the others listed here.

  4. ‘Be reckless enough to gamble all or nothing to follow your dreams’ – John Galliano 

    I believe in this more and more with each passing year. It doesn’t have to be as severe or dramtic as it sounds, maybe it means you live small for a while in order to support yourself while you make a film, write a book, or travel. Whatever your passion, your ambition, take a leap and throw yourself into it. Even if you don’t suceed, you’ll likely be glad you tried. Persoanlly, I’d always rather risk regretting what I’ve done, rather than regret not doing it. At least in risk there is a chance of positive change and achievment.

  5.  ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ – Author/speaker debated 

    Passing the buck is the easy option, ‘someone else will help that person struggling to get their heavy rubbish bag in the dumpster’, in the bible it was the story of people crossing the road to avoid someone, can’t quite remember the details but I do remember the lesson in school. Avoidance is the easy option, but it doesn’t work, not fundamentally.

    Each of us has the power to think and act, so shouldn’t we use it? If every person chose to leave a problem to the next person that comes along, then that physically challenged person trying to get their trash into the dumpster will never get the help they need, and either the rubbish will pile up by the bin or they’ll be stuck there helpless and sad. Not very happy images, and also, another perspective, that person in struggle could be any of us at some point in life. I know I’d like someone to help me if they saw me, rather than put their faith in someone else coming along. If we can, let’s, and let’s do it now, while we have the oppotunity.

  6. ‘Kindness, exercise, self care and meditation’  – Russell Brand 

    I live by this. Russell Brand has been someone I’ve followed since he did ‘The Trews’, I share a lot of beliefs with him and find great direction in his interviews and talks. (If you only remember him as a recovering addict who was a little..outlandish,in his behaviour, then I’d recommend getting on Youtube and Luminary to check out where he’s at now.)

    I watched him describe these four points in a video of his last year and have found the four staples keep me happy, and balanced and moving in what I feel is the right direction. Kindness, everything feels better with it. Someone driving badly on the road and you wanna flip out and have a spat of road ragef in the car, cursing them and getting all angry and red faced. I used to be like that a lot, but I never gained anything positive from my angry outburst. Now I say to myself, ‘maybe they are in a rush, just like I am sometimes, maybe they are unwell and can’t physically drive all that great, maybe they are not very good at driving and that’s not their fault’. I move past the moment with compassion and don’t get myself all het up, stress is damaging, there’s no need to rise to it and inflate it.

    Exercise, we know it’s good for us, if we do it, it feels great, once the muscle pains ease off obviously. My mental health is drastically better when I go for a walk, which thankfully I do every day, I have a dog, he’s a beautiful Border Collie so he really does need it. I call him my anti depressants, he encourages exercise, nature, fresh air and love, it’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship. Since lockdown I’ve made more time for more intense exercise too, like cycling. It feels great, I enjoy seeing the improvement in my stamina over time too.

    Self care might be doing yoga, reading a book, cleaning your teeth and taking care of your body. Whatever makes you feel good mentally and physically, do it. You owe yourself that. Be in your best form and so be able to deliver your best self.

    Mediation. It’s all the rage isn’t it, and I’m still working on it. For me Wim Hof breathing techniques and mantra meditation seem to work best. But it’s a working progress. I really enjoy it, when I’m in the zone, it is brilliant. My main thing I’ve picked up on, from another parent, is setting my alarm for half an hour before my daughter wakes up, so that I have some time to mediate in the morning before she’s up, I can have some ‘me time’ and find my calm. I’m a lot better at managing emotions and staying chilled for the rest of the day if I do this. It’s a new change I started just before lockdown, and I’m realy enjoying the benefits.

  7. ‘Service above self’ – J.E. Pinkham, Rotary Club 

    Again, my dog, who needs feeding and walking and affection. Also my daughter, a small being who needs consistent attention and support. These two need care, and I am able to provide it, hopefully well. They give me purpose, and there is power in purpose, people tend to be drawn to it, or suffer because they lack it. The act of helping others gives us purpose, joy, connection and meaning.

    I can’t remember what culture it is, but they have this mentality of think forward 7 generations. So rather than ‘how can this serve me, or my children?’, the thought is ‘how can I serve those of the next seven generations?’. This actually leads me to another quote,

    ‘The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.’ – Nelson Henderson

  8. ‘Sieze the day’

    I know it’s a cliche, but between having my daughter and losing two loved ones in the last four years, I’ve come to realise the reality of the finiteness of our existence, I accept, if I can comprehend it, that I will not be here forever, each day is a genuine unique moment in time that we will never get back (unless time travel becomes a thing I guess, and even then, ‘is it the same moment?’ is a challenging topic).

    Sometimes I look at DVD’s or series online I’ve watched, and I add up the hours they total.  I probably enjoyed a lot of that time, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing to spend my time like that if I want to, but for me personally, do I feel it was all time well spent? Or maybe, would I feel a bit more at peace with myself and my existence if half of that time spent watching films and series where instead spent doing something a bit more productive, maybe writing, reading, learning or volunteering?

    Seize the day however you want, just be sure you’ll feel satisfied when you look back at how your days have been used.

  9. ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’ – Neale Donald Walsch 

    Maybe not for all, but this is true for me. I put myself on the other side of the world to get out of my comfort zone, and it worked. Forcing myself to integrate with people who’s language I didn’t speak, in a culture so different to the one I’d been raised in. Experiencing the unfamiliar makes you feel very alive.

    ‘A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships where made for’ – John A. Shedd

    Another quote which I feel instills this point. Safety and security and wonderful things, and if we live in a socienty where those things are much more likely than in other parts of the world, then we are increibly fortunate. However, no great change in humans has ever come out of safety and security.


  10. ‘Trust your instincts’

    If your gut says no, listen. Animal instincts reside within us still, we depend on them less and less in our modern world, but if you listen hard enough you can hear it. I know for myself at least, that I can hear that voice, that inner compass, even when I don’t want to. I can try and ignore it or reason with it, accuse it of being fearful and irrational, but I’m wrong. That voice knows, somehow, and like it or not I believe I’m better off follwing it rather than going against it.

  11. ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’ – Mahatma Gandhi 

    If you don’t believe people should where purple anymore, stop wearing purple yourself. If you want to stop seeing litter lining the motorways and beaches, stop dropping litter. If you want a new type of art in the Wolrd, go and create it.I want kindness amongst all beings, I want a cleaner planet, I want people to stop fighting and instead to love and support one another. And so I constantly work to upkeep behaviours in myself that will help these things to happen.


  12. ‘Anger is the punishment we give ourselves for someone else’s mistake’
    Another one that geuinely helps me almost every day. For me nothing good has ever come from anger, it builds a negativity within me that I really don’t enjoy. I can link this back to the story of the road rage. You can get angry at that driver for forgetting to indicate, causing you to almost have a collision, but what’s the point? Is it going to make you feel any better, or might it even make you feel worse and exacerbate the incident? Stress is bad for the body, better to avoid it, especially if we can choose to walk away from it.

    My brother and I regularly use gentle words or comical points to calm our Dad down. He’s a brilliant man, the kind of guy who stops and helps someone with a flat tyre on the side of the road, he’s lovely, he does also suffer with what  I like to refer to as ‘unecessary anger’. Road rage, he’s big on that. Drop a mayonnaise bottle and have a dash of it zip across the carpet? That will for sure set him off on a pointless flurry of redfacedness and muttered swear words. But to be fair to him, we offer little points to say, ‘maybe calm down, is it really something to get stressed and angry over?’, and he generally listens, and we all end up laughing at the fact that it made him so frustrated for a moment. Anger can be powerful, but not necessarily in a positive way.

  13. ‘Tolerence, compassion, respect’ (acceptance) 

    I used to struggle with different types of parenting styles, then I realised something which totally changed my outlook, by raising kids in different ways, we create different humans, various types of people able to help solve the various problems of the world. Also, most people are doing what they feel is best, and so who am I to judge them for their choices? They may feel the way I parent, or live my life are wrong, even though I whole heartedly belive in what I do.

    It’s easy to judge eachother, condemn each other, but actually tolerating, feeling compassion, empathy and respecting that we all have our own paths to carve, and choices to make, will get us a lot further. If nothing else it will at least give us the civility to communicate with one another, listen and share thoughts and ideas. Knowledge is great, and so the more we can exchange, the better.


  14. ‘Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional’ – Chili Davis

    I realise how often I use my daughter as a reason for being a certain way, sorry to be boring and repetitive, it just is what it is. And this holds firm in my final guiding quote. When I was first a mum, I honestly couldn’t read that tiny baby a story in our own flat without feeling embarrassed, which in hindsight is highly ridiculous, but that is the person I was at the time, lacking in confidence and caring far too much about other peoples opinions of me. Now, almost four years on, I dance whenever I want, I run up grassy hills and scream ‘wahoo’ all the way down, I play hide and seek, I jump in puddles, I colour and draw, I ask more questions and learn about the World around me and I make daisy chains in the Spring. Frankly, I’m more alive than I have ever been, and it all stems from the influence of a child.

    Kids have a natural curiosity, zero filters and an honourable lack of embarrassment that is utterly liberating. I watch her freedom and fun and am faced with two choices, tell her to be quiet and refuse to join in, making her question her own, wonderful, natural enjoyment and exploration of the world and herself, or, I can stop giving a sh*t about what people think, and play too. Thankfully the second is the route I’ve chosen, and it has brouht fun and freedom that we often forget as we grow up.

    I may not be able to control the number of years I’ve logged in this life, but I can refuset to let it shape me in a negtive way. Let’s play and laugh and think like kids, they are known for being generally happier little beings for a reason.

    We all need tools to help us through life, for me words work, for someone else it maybe fishing or marathon running, playing music, or building stuff. It’s about finding what works for you and developing that tool as a habit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for visiting Hoi An

In total we spent 11 days in Hoi an, four nights in a beautiful hotel which was a five minute walk from the Ancient town, and the rest in a hotel two minutes from the beach. From our experience there, these are my little pieces of knowledge that I would share with anyone planning to go themselves.

1. If you go shopping in the Ancient Town, haggle hard 

The staff at the first hotel were so amazing, in general the people.of Vietnam and their customer service is above and beyond brilliance anyway, but at Cozy Hoi an Boutique Villas, they just had a little extra of something special. When we arrived they gave me a whole load of helpful advice. This included instructions to not actually buy any thing in the Old Town at all, ‘they will charge you double the price of anywhere else’. For the first few days I did very little shopping anyway, it’s not really my thing, I tend to just have a few bits that I like to get on my list, such as a magnet for me and a keyring for Stormey.I purchased a few bits from the shops outside of Hoi Ans most popular area initially, so when I did decide to brave the many shops in Ancient town, I had an idea of what the general price was for things. 

When someone quoted me 250.000 dong for a pair of elephant pants (you probably know the ones I mean, the standard baggy trousers covered in a print and a few rows of elephant stencils, brought and worn by pretty much everyone who visits Vietnam, Thailand and this general area of Asia. They are a particular favourite of hipsters backpackers. I’m no exception, I got myself three new pairs to add to those already gifted to me, a couple for Stormey too. But to be fair, they are so darn comfy!), I knew I was being hugely ripped off, I’d paid 150.000 dong elsewhere. I very politely said ‘no thank you’, and began to walk away. The sales lady then called out to ask how much I’d pay. She wasn’t impressed with getting 100.000 less than she’d asked for, but I was happy to walk the extra 10 minutes to the other shop I’d originally purchased at if she wouldn’t agree, and seeing that I wasn’t budging she eventually did. I brought about 6 things from her in the end too so she made a good sale.

I would have only been paying about an extra £1.50 or so if I hadn’t of haggled the price down, which is obviously not a huge loss. But as I was buying so much I wanted the right price, I’m travelling on a budget at the end of the day so I can’t afford to overpay too often.  

2. Go shopping in the day to avoid crowds

You could argue that going shopping during the day will mean you face the worst of the heat, but to be honest Hoi An barely got any cooler in the evenings. Quite simply it is extremely hot most of the time. I found out from my brother that I’d visited during the school holidays, which affects my view of things a bit, but as it’s a well known tourist sweet spot, I imagine it’s pretty busy throughout the year. I went out during the days and the evenings, and found there to be significantly fewer people during the day. This meant I could meander around easily and let Stormey do some walking too. Plus if you want to be able to window shop or get some peopleless photos, you’ve got a far better chance.

3. Choices of restaurants are plentiful 

I had just one bad meal during our time in Hoi an, and it was a sudden restaurant choice made from fear of the hungry toddler (and if I’m honest myself too) losing it if we didn’t get some grub in asap. Other than that one experience, all the places we ate at were amazing. We sat down at the not so great eatery when  walking up and down An Bang beach trying to find a restaurant I’d seen on Tripadvisor, called ‘The vegan fisherman restaurant’. Yer it’s a bit of an odd name isn’t, but the food, the people and the place itself, absolutely brilliant. The smoothies alone are a reason to visit. Plus being on the beachfront, with some extremely cool decor, a big screen, and at sunset, the vibe was great. Some people had a little dance, some just relaxed on their beanbag with a drink, there were  a couple of other kids on occasion too, which was ideal for little S. Also if you are a vegan, it’s great to have the option of somewhere solely catering for those foody requirements sometimes, to give you a break from asking 20 questions before you order a meal.

‘Morning glory’ (another fantastic restaurant name, and the name of a great Vietnamese veggie, which is water spinach and usually stir fried with garlic, delicious) is my second recommendation. I’ve discovered I love fresh spring rolls and this place does the best ones of anywhere I tried. If you’ve got a hankering for an Indian, ‘Baba’s Kitchen’ on the outskirts of Old Town is the one, totally sorted my cravings for a good curry. I also found a little French bakery near to where I was staying by the beach, ‘La Petite Patisserie’, if you fancy a coffee and a sweet treat, go, they make everything on site fresh (you can actually see them at work through the window behind the till area) and it is total French excellence. Their lemon meringue tart is dangerously delicious.

4. Hit the sand if you want some time to relax 

I intentionally booked a hotel with a private beach as I’d be warned that people selling almost everything from keyrings to suncream, would be quite prominent. As it turned out the hotel beach wasn’t really private at all and people were free to come and go, so we still got hassled a few times. Thankfully I’m a lot better at saying no than I used to be, when your choices are between being overly polite to someone trying to sell you something you don’t want, or dealing with the screaming small person who needs to be fed, you learn to say no pretty quickly. There are other hotels with more strict private beaches if that’s what you’re looking for, just make sure the complex is located literally on the beachfront and not across the main road, have a look on Google maps to be sure.

If you prefer the hustle and bustle of busy beaches, then An Bang is great. Loads of people, shops, cafes and restaurants. There’s also a taxi rank and street food vendors in the evening. If you prefer a slightly quieter Sandy spot then Cua Dai Beach is ideal.

5. There’s a tonne of different trips to do 

From city walking tours, coach trips up to the marble mountains, and riding around in old American army jeeps, there’s a lot of different activities you can do to see what Hoi An has to offer. Most tours try to set off either in early morning or late afternoon, in a bid to avoid the hottest part of the day, but ultimately just take plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. Most hotels and hostels will have plenty of leaflets for various trips and will be happy to help you book it too. If ever in doubt, have a look on Tripadvisor, people’s reviews have helped me so much when it comes to choosing what to do and what companies are best.

The one thing I was super keen to do was hiking in the national jungle. A company called Pure Paths offer two treks, The national park programme, and the Family trek. I felt it would be pushing Stormey just a bit too far to have her in the carrier for three hours, seeing as I’m already putting her well outside of her comfort zone, so I decided it wouldn’t be the best day out for us right now. But it looks great so we will definitely be coming back when she’s older and can enjoy it more. 

6. When in Hoi An, have clothes made 

Rather than feel a bit down about being slightly limited in what we were able to do, I decided to make the most of Hoi Ans more accessible benefits, and have a dress made. With  tailors making up as much as half of the shops here, it is really hard to choose where to go. Best thing is to ask where you’re staying for a recommendation, I also advise against visiting the chains, they rush you through a conveyor belt system among many other tourists. If you go somewhere independent and local, you’re far more likely to have a nicer experience, better quality clothes and even save around $30.

I took a photo of a dress I liked on my phone in to the store, the customer service lady drew it up, and I said what I wanted changed. Then I picked from a few catalogues the material and colour I wanted it made in. The next day I went back for a first fitting, they asked me to return in two hours for a final fitting, and I took the dress home that evening. It was incredibly quick. They tend to give you a price in American dollars so be aware of the exchange rate. Stupidly I was still going on the exchange rates from ten years ago, so I thought I was getting a hand made dress for £65, not quite so. In the end, with card charges, it was £112, I rarely spend this amount of money on clothes, but it is intended for an occasion and was a memorable experience, plus I’ve paid the same for store brought dresses in the past, and then I’ve had to pay extra to have them tailored separately (being just under 5’4 comes with its shortcomings, pun fully intended). A lot of guys were having suits made too, both for work and for weddings, a great shout if you want a tailored suit to keep and use again. 

7. Enjoy the beautiful lanterns 

Walking around Hoi Ans Ancient town after sunset is pretty magical, lanterns illuminate the river, with tourists paying to light one and lower it onto the steady water to float amongst hundreds more. Other lights come in the form of brilliant Dragon statues and other animals, relating to the yearly celebrations. As you stroll down the little streets of yellow buildings, colourful lanterns zig zag over head too. It really does make a lovely picture. People take over the riverside pathways to sit on little red stools on which they eat their evening meals, and the open plan restaurants fill with customers too, the atmosphere is super friendly and relaxed and yet the busyness creates an exciting and happy buzz around it all. Not only did I love going out in the evenings to take all this in, but Stormey enjoyed it too. It’s definitely a part of Hoi An that you should experience.
I would absolutely go back to Hoi An, next time for between 4 days to a week, as I think that’s plenty of time to get a full and valuable experience of it. It’s a lovely place with a lot to offer, and doable with a little person too. 

Happy travels

‘Less comfort, more life’

So we are three weeks into our trip, I’ve seen things I never really believed I’d get to see in the flesh, I’ve witnessed different ways of life up close, and I’ve met lots of people, with totally unfamiliar worlds to mine and yet similar life priorities. Frankly, it’s still simply blowing my mind that I’ve been to Asia. Something I keep thinking about (mainly because I’ve been reminded to do so by family/friends, thankfully) is my accomplishment. This sounds a bit self proclaimed and ridiculous, but I’ve never done anything like this before. The last few years really have been pretty quiet for me (minus the sound of a new born).

To give a bit of background, the dinner Stormey and I ate in a restaurant at Gatwick airport at the beginning of our trip was the first time we have ever eaten a meal out together. Seriously, that’s not the kind of thing I can usually do on my own, I find it all too intimidating and stressful. It’s not that I’m scared of people, I’m not, I love it when I have a little chat with someone in a shop or with a fellow dog walker at the park. But the process of walking into somewhere, choosing a table, ordering food, I just get nervous and flustered if things dont go smoothly and then I’m even more self conscious because I’m nervous.

Going by the fact that I’ve never eaten out alone before, it’s probably obvious that I’d also never flown on my own, and certainly not gone abroad. I’m not alone of course, I have Srormey as a travel buddy, and she’s a wonderful conversation starter, and is actually causing me to meet more people than I would if I were alone I think. But she is also two, so I am the acting grown up (still a weird thought, but other parents whisper to me that they feel it’s strange  too, so I think it’s pretty normal) and I’m having to make the decisions for us both. Not only to ensure that we survive, but also have a great time filled with stories and photos to show little S when she’s grown.

I remember when I had the trip virtually all booked, and people would ask me, ‘how are you feeling about it? Are you scared? Are you excited?’ I was both and more. But other than occasionally trying to picture myself out there doing it, I didnt really feel like any of it was happening. It kind of just seemed too unreal to happen. I’ve wanted to visit New Zealand since I watched the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ film in 2001, so to finally go after 17 years of wanting to really is a dream come true, as lame as that sounds.

I prepared for the whole trip of course, I’m big on preparing properly. From stocking a small pharmacy to cater for almost any ailment, to writing a list of clothes we needed to pack (which was more complicated than it sounds as New Zealand will be in Winter season when we visit and quite cold, whereas South Vietnam has two seasons, hot and hotter). Anyway, I spent the best part of four months arranging everything from hotels to car rentals. Honestly as soon as Stormey was down for a nap or in bed asleep, I’d be organising stuff for the trip. But even in the midst of its organisation and creation, it never felt real. I think maybe three times I had the excited rush where you feel like a little kid in a shop being told you can have a bag of pic’n’mix, when you really thought your parent was going to say you weren’t allowed. A surge of over excitement and laughter and a little jump around on the spot. That happened a few times. But it was saying goodbye to family and furry friends and driving to the airport when it all started to feel real.

‘F***, this is actually happening. I’m doing it, we’re going travelling.’

Was what went through my head a lot on the short 45minute ride to Gatwick. Once we arrived, my parents hung around and helped with Stormey while the baggage was all checked in, then we said goodbye once more, before me and little S went off through security on our own. From that point, where I’m looking after Stormey without any spare hands, I get a lot less time to think, because keeping S alive and well is no easy mission. She’s as quick as a mouse and as strong willed and stealthy as a cat. I can’t afford to stray from the job, she’s just too precious. So all my time is made up of action and movement, whether it be grabbing her before she climbs on to the baggage belt or removing a tissue that she’s, not so wisely, decided to eat. There is no time left to over think things or worry about much else.

That’s precisely one of the reasons that Stormeyhas been such a good influence in my life. Naturally I am a worrier, and I’ll over think things til the sun rises. It’s a very bad habit and it rarely leads to a positive end point. With Stormey around, there’s simply no time for it. When it does come to thinking, it will be about what time to do lunch and whether to get her to nap before or after, I might get five minutes to message someone about plans for the weekend. By the time the evening comes, which always seem to be so quickly, I’ll have some jobs I need to get done which will take an hour or two, then I let myself have the same amount of time to actually try and chill. I’ll watch a film or do some reading or writing. I always end up doing that for way longer than I should if I want to actually get a good length of time to sleep. (I wake up virtually every morning saying ‘tonight I will get an early night’, and it actually happens once a month at the most.), but I’m human so I so need that bit of down time, to me it is worth sacrificing some sleep over.

So by the time I do get into bed, I’m knackered, with a brain only capable of listening to some gentle music or natures sounds. Therefore my habit of over thinking and worrying has greatly decreased in the last two years since becoming responsible for the life of another, and I’m super grateful for it. Over thinking and time to worry brought me down a lot and gave me the chance to become uncertain of things, I’m so much better off now.

After going through security, I got us to a restaurant and ordered us dinner. I actually had an embarrassing incident, a person from the table behind asked if I could put the blind down a bit further, this meant I had to stand on the bench of the booth we were sitting in. As I did the moveable table (I did not know at this point that it was a moveable table) slid suddenly when I learned on it and Stormeys chips went all over the floor. It was pretty loud and a lot of people looked over. This is a nightmarish situation for me usually, but I smiled and talked to Stormey, just reminding myself that I’m unlikely to ever see any of these people again so it doesn’t matter. The more I live, the more I adopt the ‘f*** it’ mentality, and for me that is very much needed.

So three weeks in, for someone who had never eaten a meal out on their own, this is how I’m getting through what is, to be fair, a pretty big trip. Firstly, was making the flight bookings. Once they were booked I would still pay over £500 if I were to cancel them. That’s far too much money for me to lose, especially to lose over fear. I also couldn’t allow the damage I would have had to my pride if I’d have had to tell people that I’d called it all off. Between lots of cash down and not wanting to lose face, I gave myself no choice but to leave my comfortable nest and jump into the deep end of life

Coping skills from then onwards are not allowing or having time to over think or worry, instead just taking things step by step, i.e., pack, airport, plane, get a taxi. Small steps are much easier to tackle. Adding to that, the reinforcement of not caring if you look silly sometimes, and not wasting time worrying what people think. Just being in the moment with Stormey and deep breathing when there are the inevitable trickier times.

In as little as three weeks, things that I once found daunting or even undoable, are now everyday activities I do without question. Whether it be stopping in at a cafe, getting a taxi or getting on a plane even. Everything  is so much easier already, and it feels brilliant. It’s okay to celebrate your achievements, in fact it’s important. It’s another thing I’m not very good at, but I’m learning to give myself more credit. We all deserve to feel proud when we work on stuff or face fears.

Not everyone needs to do something big to push themselves, some people wouldn’t even think of going away alone as a big deal, and most certainly wouldn’t think twice about going for a coffee on their own. But for me this trip is so important, I needed to throw myself into the world, have less comfort, less easy familiarity, and get more life in return. So far, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, after having little S of course.

Happy travels

5 Things I’ve learnt in Vietnam so far

Minus travelling, we had four full days in Ho Chi Minh so far, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But being immersed into a totally foreign place means the experience of even one day is so much more than what it would be back home, there’s nothing familiar about it, and so you take it all in.

There’s a whole load of things that I’ve seen and learnt already, so I’ve picked the ones that I feel best summarise our trip up to this point.

1. There is a stronger sense of community

Of course you get good people and bad people wherever you go in the world, we all have personalities and some are more inclined towards one over the other. But in the U.K., particularly the South, we often have a barrier up as we go around public places and amongst people we don’t know. That barrier begins with a face that simply says ‘stay the f*** away’. I’m guilty of it too, I used to be worse a few years back, until people I’d become friends with told me that for months they thought I was horrible, purely because of the look on my face and the angry vibe I was giving out. It doesn’t mean we’re not actually kind or good people, because most are I think, but it just seems to be the attitude we’ve adopted.

In Vietnam, people don’t seem to have that defence up, that barrier we use, maybe, to stop being vulnerable in any way. Here, people just seem to be very real. Which I think makes it a lot easier to be caring and nice towards each other, because you’re much more open to seeing that we are all quite similar beings with the same ideas of living happy lives.

For instance, back home I’ve dropped stuff when I’m totally overloaded with holding Stormey and too many bags. Then as I scurry round trying to gather things, whilst also clinging onto little S, I’ve had people walk right past and clearly move their gaze to the other side of the street, in avoidance of helping me, even just for as little as 30 seconds of their time. When moments like that happen, I don’t just feel a little embarrassed because I’ve been avoided as if there’s something wrong with me, but I also feel pretty disheartened that this is the way we are to each other.

I struggle to choose one particular moment on this trip so far which best demonstrates how helpful and kind people have been, because there have been so many of them. From someone who didn’t even speak English (or work at the airport), managing to tell me that I was waiting at the wrong baggage collection area, to someone else telling me that Stormey had put her a hair tie in her mouth. Numerous acts that could be seen as almost insignificant, but they have made my life easier and more positive than it would have been otherwise.

Thankfully I have experienced friendly and helpful gestures in the UK, they are however, much harder to come by. I decided a few years ago that I needed to stand up and do my bit when opportunities presented themselves. Most recently, I helped an elder lady in Boots get a shopping basket. They were all jammed together and she wasn’t able to loosen one on her own. I stepped up, and not only did that make things easier and less potentially embarrassing for her, but I also felt great to have been able to help.

‘No such thing as a selfless act’. So what?! Someone in need of help gets it, and someone else gets to justifiably feel good because they made the effort to do a good deed. I’m more than happy to live in that world. Plus if it creates the kind of community feeling and human connection that I’ve experienced in Vietnam so far, I think it would benefit us all.

2. Vietnamese people love kids

Stormey isn’t necessarily the best example, as she gets extra attention because of her uncommon light skin and curly blonde hair, but they love kids here. Not just women either, but the men too. I’ve had guys my age and younger making a huge fuss of little S, it’s really lovely.

Following on from the point above too, people are super helpful with her. I had to put her down to quickly grab our mammoth suitcase off the baggage belt at the airport, and in that time speedy little S started trying to climb onto the conveyor belt! Thankfully, a Vietnamese guy was right by, he hesitated for a moment, I think unsure of how I might react. But seeing that she could get hurt, he reached out and took her off. I was so grateful.

When we went to Corfu last year, I loved being able to stay in a bar or restaurant for a few hours after dinner. Stormey could be awake and playing, or I could get her to sleep in her stroller, and it was more than acceptable. It’s the same here, children are much more involved in all aspects of life. Whereas back home, we are asked to leave even our favourite, regularly visited pub by 8.30pm, due to licensing laws. I do understand the reasons behind it, most alcohol selling venues in the U.K. get a bit boisterous as the evening goes on. But it sucks that we have to miss out on a part of normal social life because of it, particularly as a younger parent who has few friends with kids.

3. The French left their mark

I knew that going on a trip like this, with a 6 hour time difference to the Uk, would throw Stormey out of sorts. But I underestimated just how badly affected she would be. Normally she eats pretty well, and she certainly has a massively varied diet. Some of her favourite foods are olives, red cabbage and garlic (not together, although she would probably love that). But she’s developed an extreme fussiness over food, not even willing to eat porridge, which she eats very happily five days a week usually.

To make it extra challenging, we eat a vegan diet. But with Stormey turning away so much of her usual, yummy and healthy food, I’m being more flexible about what she’s having. Normally she’d only have crisps as a treat on the weekends, but she’s basically having them everyday here. I don’t like it, but I’d much rather that than worry about her losing weight or being hangry (a trait which runs strong on my side of the family).

Thankfully she’s still eating most of her usual fruits, passion fruit, strawberries, apples, we have managed to find olives too! So I’m not letting myself worry about it. We’re both enjoying pineapple in particular, which is a whole new level of tasty here! They also cut it beautifully and often serve it on a stick, which is pretty cool. I do ask them to hold the pink powder though, which the locals enjoy shaken onto a lot of their fruit, it’s a mixture of salt, other flavourings and often prawn.

The French left Vietnam in 1954, after 100 years of colonial rule. But they left behind their signature of great coffee alongside beautiful bread and pastry. The Vietnamese have taken these things and made it their own. ‘Ca phe’ here comes in many varieties, often wth super sweet condensed milk, or sometimes even fruit or yoghurt. As a coffee lover and someone who doesn’t sleep overly well, I’m very happy. Stormey benefits from the pastry, favouring almond croissants. Thankfully these things are helping to keep us both going, especially in that first two/three days, when you’re physically trying to adjust to the new time zone and different environment.

4. Rules of the road are completely different

Travelling in the taxi from the airport to my brothers home in District (Quan) 7, I’m mesmerised by the seemingly chaotic flow of bikes, cars and people. Horns are heard constantly and I think I’m bout to witness a collision at any moment. But my brother explains that the use of the horn is not aggressive, as it usually is back home. In fact, here it is used for its intended purpose, to make others aware of your presence. A few light taps of it will tell another vehicle that you are there, and they will move over in response.

My brother goes on to explain how to cross the road. ‘Do not step in front of buses or trucks, they will not stop. Cars may do so, but if they flash their head lights, that means they won’t stop (opposite to home). Bikes will go around you, providing you make it easy for them to predict your movement by staying at a medium and most importantly, consistent pace. Also, don’t make eye contact with them, it makes them unsure of what you’re going to do. Just look straight ahead.’

I’ll be honest, I was too scared to cross any proper roads in the first two days, which meant I didn’t do all that much. But on the third day, my brother took us into the centre for a casual walking tour, which totally improved my confidence. It’s still intimidating at times, but I just follow the instructions and try to cross when there is a quieter patch of traffic.

5. The money conversion can make you a millionaire

When we return from our travels, I’m planning to get a large van on finance, so that I can convert it into a home for me and Stormey. After doing calculations, speaking with the council about housing, and unsuccessfully trying to find properties to rent, I’ve realised vanlife will be our best option.

The wait for a more affordable council house is 3-5 years. After doing the maths on private rentals, I worked out that even with working full time, we would have no money left after rent, bills and food to have any decent quality of life, let alone build any savings which would allow us to get into a better position in the future, or go travelling again.

So it would be easy for me to feel pretty sorry for myself, being on the ‘poorer’ end of society. However, Vietnam gives me a very different perspective on things.

I went to the cashpoint to get out money for our 11 days in Hoi an. I took out £100, which is a lot of money to me. The ATM gives me 3.000.000 Vietnamese dong (it is a great name for their currency, they pronounce it as ‘dum’, but we can say ‘dong’ because it’s more fun). So in my hand I have three million dong, which is also about half of the average yearly household income, and I’ve got it out to get us by for 11 days or so.

I’ve watched some Vietnamese guys fishing in the Mekong River, and saw one pull a catfish out. That will have gone on to be dinner for him and his family later that day. He was so happy, understandable when you think of what he probably earns, and that the same fish would have cost him about 23.000 dong to buy in a shop or market.

I may not be in a great financial position back home, but it’s even harder for people here. I love that my brother and sister-in-law, although they aren’t rolling in money, earn enough to always tip, and are passionate about doing so, as a way of distributing the money to those on lesser wages than themselves. It’s only about 60p or so each time, but to people here, that’s almost the cost of a fish, and it goes a long way.

Why I’m travelling with a toddler

I’ve wanted to see the world since I was about 12 years old, when I realised just how much there is out there to see. Documentaries and films have shown me various environments and cultures, so different to the one I was raised in. The prospect of experiencing it in real life has always been enticing to me. But even though I would talk about all the places I planned to visit, I never actually went. I think in five years I went abroad just twice, to Venice and Amsterdam. I loved both trips, but they were short weekends away, and I dreamed of travelling for a longer period of time.

In September 2015, I sat in the bathroom looking at three little white sticks, displaying markings that meant… I was pregnant.

Shit.

At that time, I wasn’t even employed, and was known amongst friends for being terrible at holding down a job. (Quite simply, I don’t like being told what to do.)

But thankfully, knowing I needed to provide for this kid I was going to have, all of a sudden I had the motivation to not only get a job, but keep it. I was really ill over the Christmas holidays when the kids were off school (I work as a nanny), but I didn’t even take any sick days. For me that really is a big deal.

Anyway, a few month later, in May 2016, I became a parent. I had just under a year to spend looking after my daughter before it was time to renter the working world. My occupation choice is very handy as it means Stormey can come to work with me. Eight months into a job which frankly, nearly destroyed my soul, I decided it was time to do something to reignite my love for life.

My eldest brother and sister in law live in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnams capital. I also had a friend at the time who was going to be housesitting in New Zealand (this changed, I’ll explain further along). These two circumstances plus the money I’d saved from working and the need to do something big, lead me to a phone call with STA travel. A lovely chap from Ealing helped me out, and within half an hour, I had booked tickets for both me and Stormey to visit both countries. Seven flights and just under 8 weeks worth of travelling were now logged into our upcoming itinerary.

That was 110 days ago, I remember the app counting down for me, today is the day we go. In three hours we’ll be heading to the airport!

We are now booked in on 11 flights in total and three countries. As I mentioned, my friends plans changed, so we no longer had free accommodation for New Zealand. Initially this concerned me greatly, as I am doing this on a budget. But I basically took the sometimes necessary attitude of ‘I will find a way’, and so far it’s working for us, I’m glad to say.

I didn’t fancy being in New Zealand for a whole month as originally planned, purely as it will be their Winter season when we go. So I booked two weeks in Rarotonga, the biggest of the Cook Islands. To be frank, it was the cheapest South Pacific Island to fly to from New Zealand. I needed to spend as little as possible but also get a couple of weeks of Sun. After a lot of Googling I’m chuffed with my decision, it looks like paradise.

So Vietnam, the Cook Islands and New Zealand are the places we’re heading too. I’m nervous, excited and grateful, as I look at Stormey currently napping next to me, that her unexpected arrival into the world gave me the motivation to actually achieve my ambitions. I’m finally going travelling, even with a toddler at my side.

I’ve done a whole lot of preparation to make things go as smooth as possible, but ultimately, we’ll just take it one day/journey/flight at a time.

Happy travels!