To Plan or Not to Plan?

I’ve never been very good at making plans.

Ok, so that’s not entirely true. I think I’m actually pretty decent at making plans, and usually stick to them. That’s if you take social plans, holiday plans, day to day plans into consideration.

Why is it then that I find it ridiculously difficult to make life plans and career plans?

I guess first of all we should unpick what I mean by life plans.

What I mean by this is, and I’ll refer to one of my dearest friends, who has always known what she wanted from life. All she ever dreamt of was finding a husband, buying a house, getting married and having children. And she’s achieved that.

I got as far as buying a house once. With my ex. We broke up. He brought me out. And I no longer own a house.

I’m actually quite comfortable with not having achieved the things my friend has achieved. What’s right for her, isn’t going to be right for everyone. But I guess my point is, she had life goals. She knew what she wanted, when she wanted to achieve each of these goals, and she’s just cracked on and done it. Job done.

My current life plans go as far as supporting my boyfriend through the visa process. But after that? Who knows! You could say its hard to make plans when we don’t know what’s going to happen later this month with his visa application. But the realistic part of me knows that this would just be an excuse. In reality, I am confident I wouldn’t have a plan regardless of the circumstances.

I have no plans to get married yet, and as you may’ve read in my previous blog ‘Kids’ I’m not desperate to have those either.

However, I don’t just bumble around aimlessly either. I like to visit new places, try new things, meet new people. I’m just not very good at planning these things. And maybe that’s ok.

My working life is similar. I have never had the desire to be a career person. All I ever wanted was enough money to live and enjoy the odd holiday.

Even as far back as my school days, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and which direction to go in. Up until 6 months before my A Level results, I had no desire to go to university. But I didn’t know what job I wanted to do either. So I decided that maybe I would go to university as that might help me to decide. Choosing the subjects to study was easy. I loved Human Geography and I had an interest in Africa.

So a few months later, I found myself standing at the entrance to the University of Northampton (or the University College of Northampton – UCN – as it was known back then) registering for a BA Course in Geography and Third World Development. I loved everything about my University experience. I developed an even greater love for Geography and the Third World, but I knew that my career choices in these fields were limited. It was either continue to study and become a teacher, go and work for the local council (who were making hundreds of job cuts at the time), or go and work for a third world charity. None of which set my world on fire.

Whilst at University, I had a part time job working for a gift card shop in the town centre. I loved my time there, but there was little money in it (not that I was money orientated. I’m still not today, but there were things I couldn’t do if I didn’t look for something that was a bit better paid). I increased my hours slightly after Uni, and also gained further responsibility moving up from Supervisor to Assistant Manager. Whilst there, I saw an advert in my local newspaper for a job in sport. I applied, interviewed and was called back within half an hour to say I had got the job!

I stayed with the company for 9 years, before I made the move to London. Even that move wasn’t planned. I had been comfortable in my job, but there was little opportunity for growth or promotion. So when I was effectively head hunted for the London opportunity, I grasped it with both hands.

I worked with some great people in that 9 year period. I remember one lady saying to me that if I got too comfortable there, I would never leave. I was comfortable there. 9 years comfortable.

I get a weird sense of enjoyment out of proving people wrong though.

Although I don’t have a career plan, what I do have is a burning ambition to do well in all that I do. I am constantly seeking ways to improve myself. Whether it was when I had my first ever part-time job in a supermarket, my part-time job in the card shop, or my job in sport, I have always pushed myself to learn as much as I can, so I can do the best possible job in the role I am in.

I guess my next question is, do you really need a plan to be successful?

I don’t have the answer to this question, but I would love to get your thoughts on this.

What I do know, is that for someone who had/has no plan, I seem to be doing alright at this career malarkey.

The Unknown

Having now turned the clocks back, and with November just around the corner, our uncertain future gets ever closer to becoming clearer.

When I met my boyfriend 2 years ago, I knew he was going to have to re-apply for his visa in order to stay here. What I hadn’t accounted for was how either one of us would deal with it.

In some ways I think he has dealt with it better than I have. He just seems to carry on, and talks positively about the future. But then he’s also not great at talking about his feelings and worries, even when I try to coax it out of him.

I definitely haven’t coped with it. In any way shape or form.

From the minute he started to re-apply (which was almost a year ago now), I’ve been an emotional wreck. My head has been all over the place.

He also finds this hard to deal with. I don’t think he really understands how it impacts me. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is a bigger deal for him. But it also impacts my future too.

In addition to the uncertainty, right now, we can’t plan anything. Christmas seems hard to plan, and on top of that our birthdays fall just before and just after the date his application is due to be considered by the courts…

My coping mechanism is also screwed. I know that on the days when I think less positively, I am pushing him away. That might seem weird and unsupportive. And it probably is, but for me it’s always been my way of coping. If I start to become less attached, then it won’t hurt as much if things don’t go to plan.

I also find myself working ridiculously long hours in order to block things out at home. Work is a distraction, and because my job is constantly busy, it’s very easy to bury myself in that, spending less time at home.

Somehow, I have resigned myself to the fact this won’t have a happy ending.

The time when he needs me most, I am struggling to be there for him.

For the next 4 weeks, I need to toughen up. Whatever happens at the end of November, we need to make the most of the time we have together.

Change (Part 2)

In Change (Part 1), I wrote about the importance of living life. How life was too precious and too short to plod along, and how sometimes it takes a life changing event to give us the wake up call we so badly need.

In Change (Part 2), I want to share with you, my readers, how a heartbreaking, life changing moment has lead to to so much positive change. I hope that the next time any one of us suffers heartache, that by reading this, it gives you hope that good things can, and will, happen to you again.

Losing B triggered so many changes in my life. As much as I hate not having her by my side, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone through the heartache of losing her.

The key thing to note here, is that although I firmly know what my trigger to change was, I didn’t know that at the time. It was only when I looked back that I could see this. 

The first major change happened just over two years after B left us. My relationship with my then boyfriend had been deteriorating since B’s funeral. Shortly after we said our goodbyes to B, my now ex, asked me not to speak about her anymore. Needless to say, I was shocked and confused, especially as I was given no explanation at the time, other than ‘she’s gone and you need to move on’. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t leave there and then, or at least to try to get a better understanding of what he meant by this, but I just remember feeling too drained to argue. It upset me deeply as I knew in my heart that I still had a lot of grieving to do, or at least to try to come to terms with my loss. I wanted to talk about B, the memories I had of her, and how I felt now that the one person I hoped would be with me for every major event in my life, was no longer going to be there.

I had to find another way to ‘get by’.

So instead, I found solace in spending time on my own, It was at this time that I found comfort in my garden. I had always loved gardening, but from that moment, I would spend hours pottering around outside, lost in my own thoughts. It helped a lot. I could go out there and spend hours thinking about nothing or everything. Finding so much therapy in my garden also lead me to consider a career change. Shortly after, I signed up to an evening class in Horticulture.  It was on this course that I met two of my dearest friends, Kim and Kelly, who played an instrumental part in making me realise how unhappy I was at home, and how much shit I was putting up with. Talking to them helped me find the strength and courage to realise that I deserved better.

People often ask me why I didn’t leave him sooner. And the truth? Part of me was wrapped up in that small town mentality of thinking that by my age I should be thinking about weddings and babies (because thats what everyone else was doing), and not starting again from scratch. The other part of me knows that I had to grieve for B before I could put my own relationship back onto the radar. It wasn’t until a year had passed since her death, that I finally started to refocus on my relationship, and I suddenly realised how selfish and controlling he had become.

Further to my new found friendship with Kim and Kelly, it was a chance encounter with someone I vaguely knew, that finally made me start to rebuild some of the self-confidence I had lost over the six years I had been with my ex. Not only did he make me realise I was good at my job, but he also made me realise that I was a lovely, caring person who had a lot going for her. He gave me my sparkle back.

So one morning, four years ago, I woke up and decided that enough was enough. On that very same day, I walked away from my ex, the house we had brought together and had lived in for the last 3 years, and temporarily, my beloved cat Wiggler.

It wasn’t plain sailing of course, but these things never are. And needless to say, things got much worse before they got better. But step by step, I started to rebuild myself, improving my self care, my self worth and rebuilding my confidence.

With new found confidence, I began throwing myself into work, improving my networks, and talking to people who genuinely cared about my wellbeing. With this new found confidence creeping in, I started to get recognised for my work, which then triggered another change…

6 months after I left my relationship, I started getting itchy feet at work. I loved my job, but there was no chance at that time of an internal promotion and as it was only a small organisation, there was nowhere else for me to go with the skillset I had.  So, I started looking around at other jobs with my industry. A chance phone call lead to me being informed that an opportunity had arisen in London, and would I fancy going there to fix some of their problems? I was terrified, but I had nothing to lose. Even if it didn’t work out, it was only an initial 6 month secondment…

A few months later, I found myself waving goodbye to my family and moving down to Surrey to begin with (the thought of commuting from Northampton to South West London on a daily basis did nothing for me, especially as back then I struggled to function until 11 in the morning! Some would argue that even after 11 was a challenge!), and another six months later, London itself.

I had never lived or worked outside of Northamptonshire. I had grown up there, gone to university there, and even brought my first home there. If truth be told, I had never really thought about leaving.

Yet, three years later, here I find myself, living and working in London, and loving every minute. Thankfully a decision I have never once regretted.

There were other life changing moments even further back that I am sure also contributed to my move to London.

I was in my mid 20s when I learnt to drive. However, being in a controlling relationship meant that I was not ‘trusted’ to drive. Because of this, I had never driven on the motorway and had become fearful of it. Once the relationship had ended, I started to panic about the fact I was restricting myself by not driving on the motorway. I gave into that panic, jumped in my car and drove myself and a friend to Birmingham to see a show. My friend commended me on my driving ability and this then gave me the courage to visit more places, forcing myself to drive on the motorway more often. This was only the start of my motorway journey. If I only I had known back then how useful the motorway would become over the next few years (with the exception of National Rail, the M25 and the M1 are my most direct roads back home to see my friends and family)…

Turning 30 had been another trigger for change. I had dreaded turning 30. I felt nowhere near ready to live a grown up life. I was nowhere near marriage, especially as a new singleton, and I couldn’t have found myself any further away from having kids.  I found myself putting so much pressure on myself to conform to the ‘norm’. Little did I know that my 30s would turn out to be a hell of a lot more liberating and exciting than I ever imagined it could be…

I hope this goes a little way to show how life changing moments can lead to positive change. Sometimes life changing moments are deemed as the norm, like learning to drive, or changing jobs. However, I think it is really important to recognise that positive life changes can also happen after loss. It can take a lot of time, self reflection, and a whole load of courage, but I truly believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

I am certain that if we hadn’t lost our B, that I may not have left my relationship when I did, which could’ve then altered the destinations I visited en-route to where I am today. And that my dear readers, is not something I would be too keen to change…

 

 

Kensington Gardens

I’ve been feeling sorry for myself for the last couple of days. I returned to London after my week off on Friday evening, full of cold, and already starting to dread what work has in store for me when I returned.

I spent Saturday in the flat catching up on naff tv, feeling sorry for myself, eating and drinking.

So yesterday, despite still feeling under the weather, I dragged myself out of the flat with Ali and headed over to Kensington Gardens. Neither of us had been before, and it wasn’t somewhere that had reached my bucket list. We didn’t want to travel far, but both fancied some fresh autumn air (although it is still ridiculously mild for this time of year) so we jumped on the bus and headed for Kensington.

Kensington Palace Gardens are one of eight Royal Parks in London, with Kensington Palace being the official home of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, as well as the Duke & Duchess of Sussex. Kensington Palace was also home to Queen Victoria, before she moved to Buckingham Palace. A statue of Queen Victoria stands in front of the Palace, whilst a Memorial for Prince Albert (Victoria’s husband) stands proudly within the Gardens itself.

Hungry when we arrived, we had a quick walk around the part of the park closest to the Palace in search of something to eat. Whilst we stumbled across a couple of places (Kensington Palace Cafe and The Orangery), neither really floated our boat. Kensington Palace Cafe had little choice, unless you were looking for a pre-packed sandwich. Built in 1704-5, The Orangery had a lovely menu, with a selection of light lunches as well as afternoon tea. However, dressed for autumn in jeans, boots and a woolly jumper, I felt a bit underdressed for such a lovely restaurant.

Instead, we headed out of the park into Kensington High Street in search of somewhere a bit more down to earth, with a hearty autumnal menu. Just over the road we stumbled across The Goat, which is said to be the oldest pub in Kensington having been established in 1679.

They had a great range of pub food to chose from, including the good old Sunday roast. So whilst Ali feasted on Fish n Chips (£12.99) and a Peroni, I went all out with the Roast Sirloin of Beef Sunday roast (£13.99) and a Guinness. After all, they do say that you have to feed a cold, right? It was great value for money, service was quick, the staff were friendly, and we left the pub full and ready to walk off all that food with a stroll around Kensington Gardens.

Sunday Roast at The Goat, Kensington

With autumn only just starting to show in London, there were few leaves on the ground to crunch our way through, but the trees looked beautiful, their colours just starting to change. Many of the flowers were still in bloom, whilst others were fading, and others, such as the grasses were coming into their own.

The Sunken Garden, which was a favourite of Princess Diana, looked absolutely stunning. I could’ve stood taking photos of the garden for hours trying to get the perfect shot. These are just some of the photo’s I took in The Sunken Garden today…

Other highlights included The Pond which was swarming with life and looking beautiful in the autumn light, The Flower Walk, and the Albert Memorial.

Having grown up just down the road from Althorp House (I also had a summer job as a cleaner on the Estate many moons ago), the house in which Princess Diana spent much of her youth before her marriage to Prince Charles, I have always been fascinated by the Royal Family, and like much of the population, loved Princess Diana. We were therefore quite keen to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain while we were in Kensington Park. We spent ages looking for what we expected to be a glamorous fountain. We were slightly disappointed to therefore find a rather strange circular stream type attraction just over the other side of West Carriage Drive, which had been constructed in her memory. The concept is lovely though, and it is very ‘Princess Diana’. It is easily accessible for all and people have the opportunity to dip their feet into the stream. It is a lovely, peaceful spot, albeit, not entirely as grand as the fountain we were expecting to find.

Despite feeling grotty this weekend, it was lovely to get out and about today, and see yet another part of London neither of us had explored before, enjoying the beautiful sunshine as the leaves slowly start turn with the darker nights and colder days just around the corner.

Friendship

I have been thinking a lot lately about friendship and what it means to me.

I don’t have a large circle of friends. More pockets of friends whom I have met at different times in my life.

There are those I have known and still meet up with from as far back as nursery, infant and junior school, those who I grew up with in the same village, those I met at secondary school, and in sixth form. Then there are those I met at university, and whilst we struggle to meet up, we all still look out for each other and would be there at the drop of a hat if any of us needed anything. There are those I have met through work, friends of friends, evening classes. The opportunity to make and meet new friends is endless.

But what about friends we have never met?

Do you need to have met someone in person in order to claim them as one of your dearest friends? To share with them your greatest fears? For them to be amongst the first people to share  your successes with?

I have been friends with Laura since the late 90s. We met on a message board for one of our favourite bands (we were both slightly crazy for Another Level at the time!). We clicked instantly. Overtime we became closer and closer. Communications changed. We  moved from the message board to writing letters, emailing, texting, and more recently, to Whatsapp.

Laura has been there through every break up, every family drama, every huge life event (the good and the bad).

At the same time I moved to London, Laura moved to Australia. We don’t speak as often as we used to, but I still think of her a lot, and I know that if either of us needed someone to talk to, we would be there for one another.

There are so many times we could’ve met up before she moved to Australia, but for whatever reasons, we didn’t. I almost wonder whether we feared that meeting up in person would ruin our friendship somehow. Perhaps we feared that the bond we had on paper, wouldn’t be there in person. We will probably never know.

I met another girl on the message board too. Julie. Who lives in Taiwan. We have lost contact a number of times over the years, but we always find each other again. We shared a lot about our families and found so much happiness in talking about our different cultures. These days we mostly stay in touch on Facebook and Instagram, but it’s lovely to see what she gets up to, in a world that is very different to my own, yet it’s a world where we share the same values.

Do you have friends you have never met? Friends who know more about you than anyone else, without ever having met face to face? I would love to hear your experiences, feel free to leave comments on your friendships below.

 

Change (Part 1)

If nothing else, the last 6 years have taught me how important it is to live for today.

This doesn’t always seem possible of course, particularly when we are wrapped up in the mundane Mon-Fri regime of work, eat, sleep, repeat. There are also moments, when we become so consumed in the day to day that we simply forget to live for the now.

However, every now and again, we receive a little reminder of the importance of living life.

Sometimes it comes in the shape of a conversation with a friend; the loss of a loved one or; a major life change. Sometimes we just need that trigger to remind us that life is short. Life (and time) is too precious to simply plod along.

I spent the first 28 years of my life plodding along.

Don’t get me wrong…life wasn’t boring, or dull (ok so some of it was, but not all of the time). I certainly enjoyed life and had some great experiences. But I just found myself floating through each day. Never stopping to think about where I had been or where I was going.

6 years ago I received a phone call that changed life as I knew it, forever.

At 28 years old, my best friend had taken her own life.

Our friendship was different to others. We didn’t really have that much in common. But we both put in the effort to meet up regularly and to talk. Even when we went our separate ways to go to University, B choosing to move to the South Coast to study Medicine, and me staying in Northampton to study Geography and Third World Development. We would call each other regularly, or email each other. One of the things that meant the most to us were the letters we would write to each other. Proper letters using pens and paper and envelopes and stamps. We loved writing to each other. It’s probably the time we were most open with each other. B had suffered from mental health problems for as long as I had known her. In her letters she would often open up about her struggles. Those letters were sometimes hard to read. Face to face, it felt like B didn’t suffer at all, not that she pulled the wool over my eyes. I got pretty good at reading between the lines.

I knew when my mobile rang that day that something was wrong. My phone sprang to life and across it, it had B’s parent’s phone number…not her mobile. She never called me from her parents. Instantly I feared the worst and my fear was confirmed seconds later as her sister explained to me that B had taken an overdose. It was all perfectly planned. As a Doctor, B knew exactly how much medication she needed to take in order not to wake up.

Looking back, even the last time I saw her, I am certain she had already made up her mind. She was different that day. She was happy and seemed at peace with the world.

I knew that life wouldn’t be the same again after that day, but I had no idea what else was to come. Within the next 18 months, I also lost both my Nanna’s and my childhood best friend, Robert. Too many people were being taken from me too soon.

This horrible 18 month period changed my life. I didn’t realise back then of course how much life was going to change.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but looking back I could see a clear path had been carved out for me. So many things happened in my life in a short space of time, which lead to me saying yes to new opportunities, and eventually making the move to London.

We used to spend many a weekend meeting up in London, to go shopping, to a show, or just to walk around the wonderful food markets that grace many a London street.

I find comfort in living in London now.

In so many ways, I am grateful to B for kicking my life into second gear. I would obviously prefer her to be here, experiencing the trials and tribulations of our 30s together. But I take comfort in the fact she would be proud of the changes I have made in my life.

She would be proud of the person I have become, and even more proud that I am living life in the now, making the most of every experience that comes my way, as well as looking for new adventures with every new path I take.

Old Harry Rocks

(Old Harry Rocks – photo by me – one of the best weekends spent with B before she left us)