Monday, 28 November 2011

The Lists for Today

Today I have been waiting for:

the internet to load
my fingertip to regrow
my bank statement

Today I have been looking up:

Arabic words for my short story
nice backpackers in Vancouver
the world clock
couch surfing
at the sky

Today the things that have helped are:

friendly faces
a sneaky lunch bagel
my red hat

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Don't Worry Mum!

As of tomorrow (27th of November) I will have been travelling about the globe for six months. During that time my Mum has been incredibly restrained in her worry about me, or at least she has been very restrained in expressing her worry for me- to me.

I was on a bus near the coast in Turkey back in August when she called me to chat, during our conversation I mentioned I was thinking of going para-gliding that afternoon, there was a pause during which I cursed myself for telling her, and after a few beats of my heart she burst out with:

'Sandy, you are going to turn into a Flamingo!'
Like I said very restrained.

After I posted my Turkey Blue blog about getting up close and personal with the waters of Turkey she emailed me from Vietnam to say:

'Your story of swimming alone in the Turkish sea as you said came close to being every mothers nightmare - so it was good to know that you were safe on shore writing it!'

So I thought I would share a few other slightly hairy adventures, some recent, some a little older so she can read about them after the fact and know that I am safely tucked up at the Vancouver library.

There was the time I went in a Peace March in Jerusalem, everything was just fine, and it really did not feel any different from being in a rally in Melbourne- people were there with their kids and the worst thing that happened (apart from too much sun) was one man driving past and sticking his finger up at us. But... then in a place so riven with conflict it could have become a flashpoint. Happily all was well- though my photo with a placard might be on a list some place.

There was also my accidental hitch-hiking incident in Greece. It was going fine until the man driving me said he needed to make a quick stop and drove us into a quarry. I sat there making uncomfortable small talk to my illegal Albanian driver wondering what on earth we were doing and if I should be making a run for it. After five very long minutes a tip truck drove up and dumped a load of stones in the tray of my drivers Ute; and I realised that we were not in a quarry for a seedy assignation- but to get stones!

And then there was last week when I was road tripping about in the Rockie Mountains in Alberta, Canada. There was spectacular scenery, heaps of fun to be had in the snow and some rather scary roads. Even on the first few days of our road trip, when we had sunshine, blue sky and magic views there was always an element of danger; you can't drive along a road that has regular warnings about avalanches, and actual avalanche shelters built over sections of the road without your heart rate raising a little.

Still the newness of a snowy winter landscape dulled the reality of the danger, and even having to dig ourselves out of the snow added to our sense of adventure.

And then mother nature turned. The road between Jasper and Banff passes through the icefields, and in the right conditions you can stop off at pretty regular intervals and view glaciers; in the wrong conditions you don't drive, or you leave early before the roads close (as we did) and you grit your teeth the whole way and hope to make it through. On the first scary driving day our normally jovial driver, and boisterous passengers were both equally silent as we drove slowly along steep iced up roads drifting with powdery snow.

It was possibly ill-advised to overtake the snow- plough.
It was possibly ill-advised to stop and adventure off into the snow- but if we didn't I wouldn't have gotten to wear my new waterproof pants and really what is the point of being at the snow if you cannot get thigh deep in powder?

And we made it safely through the day.

Then we had a full day in Banff to recover and enjoy all that was good about the very cute Canadian mountain town: sparkling Christmas lights, snow shoeing, cheap drinks, slippery side walks, sulphur hot springs and of course snow galore. 

Oh and there was a also a slightly ill advised solo climb up the side of Tunnel Mountain where I thought there was a path but ended up having to hoist myself up a steep snowy slope from tree to tree. 

The next day, on a sparkling clear morning, with the pink morning light showing off just how beautiful the mountains were we had to leave. Even though the doors were iced shut we managed to get on the road. Fortunately, or unfortunately our engine had made it through the freeze.

On our second and third scary driving days things got a little better and a little worse, we were back on the Trans-Canadian Highway, more traffic, more regular snow- ploughs, but this meant the iced roads were even more chewed up, plus we had big trucks to contend with and dirt galore. I was sitting up front on the second scary driving day and was a close witness to the constant bombardment of filth being thrown up at us; our windscreen wipers failed absolutely and the attempt to fix them using paper bags from the doughnut shop only helped for a short time.

The last day was a repeat of the day before, clear patches followed by slippery, dirty conditions, only this time we ran out of water for the broken windscreen wipers and we saw the wreckage of far more vehicles than we had on any previous days. 

But we made it out of the mountains and back to rainy Vancouver safe and sound on our snow tyres.  So... Don't worry Mum! 

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Quiet Life

Not long after I arrived in the UK, with the fatigue of travel weighing heavily on me I started plotting to find myself a house sitting gig. House sitting was attractive for a few reasons:
  • it was a cheap accommodation option,
  • it would mean I could stay put in one place after months of frenetic travel,
  • I could cook for myself and do laundry!
  • it meant the opportunity to have a place all to myself (which anyone who has been sharing dorms for months knows is a pretty attractive notion).
Most of all though it was a chance to get some of writing done.

I have loved snatching time to write my blog as I've travelled around, but have found it difficult to focus on bigger projects- such as my fiction. I have scratched out few ideas as I have travelled along but haven't found time to make real progress. I started a story when I was at a home stay in Jordan (maybe July) and then did not get a chance to work on it until my farm stay in Umbria (August) and I have not returned to it until now.

Whenever I get upset at my lack of time to write I immediately remember that ( for possibly the first time in my life) I am the only one who is in charge of how I spend my time, so if I am too busy (with travel) to write it is nobodies fault but my own. Which leads me to another little self lecture -if I have this freedom to choose exactly how I spend my time and I don't prioritise writing, then perhaps I need to question whether it is something that I am really passionate about doing, and if writing is not the thing that I am passionate about doing then what exactly am I passionate about?

At this point in the lecture to myself  I usually re-commit to the writer ambition and vow to get words on paper no matter what- at least until the next distraction.

All of which meant that I was very excited when the universe provided and a lady in Derbyshire contacted me to see if I would come and look after her home and cats for three weeks.

My house sitting home is in the county where Mr Darcy himself had his residence, and my village consists of one lane, a scattering of houses and farms, a church and a bright red postbox. There are no shops and it is 25min walk to the bus stop and the pub.

So I stocked myself up with food, determined on no distractions other than walks and runs in the surrounding countryside and hunkered down to write.

After a few days of pottering about, chatting on Skype, doing laundry and letting my favourite vices get the better of me (watching way too much TV and eating too much) I actually started some writing. I worked on my short story, I wrote a blog and then I worked on my story again; but I also read, walked, cooked, did my embroidery, watched more TV, checked Facebook (a lot) and went slightly stir-crazy.   

I soon began to realise that as much as I enjoyed the treat of having a place all to myself I was missing having company. Decent internet meant that I could start my day having a breakfast Skype chat with family and friends in Australia- a total treat.  In my isolation from the rest of the world (and in an attempt not to become the lady who just talks to her cats) I used my distant loved ones as my company. Which was fantastic, but not really the same as having actual people to hang out with.

The view from Great Orme, Wales
Returning to my solo little cottage life refreshed after the weekend away I am pleased to say that I regained my writing hat relatively quickly and have actually managed to finish some semblance of a first draft of my story (and this blog).

In my first week of house sitting I was reading a biography of Jane Austen; she saw the women around her forced to marry without affection in order to gain financial security and be rewarded by being turned into baby machines, bearing a child a year until their bodies and minds gave out. In her struggles to write, and to live her life true to herself she chose a different path- which left her unmarried, childless, financially unstable, but able to write.

She would perhaps have envied the dilemma's I face when trying to be a writer today.

Finding the right balance to keep me writing, and keep me sane is, I suspect a lifelong quest, but it is a quest that I am pleased to have the chance to be on.