Monday, 28 August 2017

What is in a Name?

Flamingo Rover started life as a travel blog, over time it morphed into a life of an expat Aussie in the UK blog, and then a life of an expat Aussie mum in the UK blog.

In time it also moved off-line and became a publishing platform as well.
With the launch impending of the new website the Flamingo Rover blog will move from blogger to wordpress and be under the Sandy Bennett-Haber umbrella. The rover identity will live on... just not as the main banner. 
The reason behind the change is to simplify my life and to forground myself as a writer/content creator/ creative etc... 

Zanzibar 2011 - the start of a journey. 

Rafa, Jon and I headed off round the world - 2013

I hope you will keep reading/following the adventure as it moves to its new home.

You can also follow along on twitter @sbennetthaber

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

How to Act like a Traveller at Home

Host travellers via Airbnb- If you have the space spruce up your spare room and create a hosting profile on airbnb – it is a great way to bring the travel vibe into your home. You can sit down to breakfast with travellers from all over the world – just like being at a backpackers – at home. And it can help you make some extra money to go towards your next holiday.

Travel Insider Tip: I love picking up little independent travel guides for my home city that are based on interviews with locals - always makes you discover new corners of your hometown!

Kathi Kamleitner - WatchMeSee

Turn off the Data on your phone - Chances are when you travel you pare your expenses down as much as possible – and paying for roaming data overseas is not cheap. Your travel self relies on wifi, paper maps, talking to your spouse over breakfast and looking out the window of the train. Give it a go at home (occasionally) and see how it feels. You will probably be a bit jittery at first – but perhaps the unconnected lifestyle will grow on you and you might just make some connections and memories offline. All the better to share on the social media of your choice later on.

Travel Insider Tip: Geocaching! Helps you discover so many hidden gems on your doorstep.

Claire Jessiman - Foodie Quine

Back up your computer, and your phone - This is a boring one, but practical.The life of a traveller is considerable less secure than your home life, and because of this travellers are better at remembering to back up their preccious memories, weather this is saving things to the cloud or a portable device no true-blue traveller would let their photo's, diaries and work be vulnerable to theft and corruption by just being saved in one location – and while you are at it check up on your anti-virus software as well.

Travel Insider Tip: Keep an eye on cheap accommodation offers and book something nice in a different part of town for a night.
 Sonja Bolger - Migrating Miss

Join a travel network- If you work in a travel industry- but don't get to travel as much as you would like join a group like Travel Massive – there are chapters all over the world and they are a great way to stay in touch with travel insiders, hear what is going on around you and sit down for a drink with some like minded travel addicts and talk about past and future travel escapades.

Travel Insider Tip: I've been doing a lot of exploring in my home city right now. Always fun to play tourist at home or to dig a little deeper and find hidden gems.

Kirstin McEwan - The Tinberry Travels

Go somewhere new that is local to you - Chances are there are plenty of amazing things to discover not far from your front door. Why not: Visit a small gallery. Stand in a forest for 10 minutes and just listen. Walk down a different street when you are coming home from work. Eat out somewhere you've never eaten before.

Travel Insider Tip: Take a walking tours, actually find out what the buildings stand for that you walk past every day!

Gemma Armit - TwoScots Abroad 

Try out minimalism- Reduce your wardrobe, remember how much simpler life is when you travel. Why not try pairing your wardrobe down to something closer to the contents of your suitcase. Sort out a seasonally appropriate wardrobe that can be mixed and matched to get you through your everyday- and put the rest into storage until the seasons change. Or try reducing other 'stuff' you keep at home - 

Travel Insider Tip: I spend most of my time in the same area, so during the weekends I like to head to a complete opposite side of town. Then I just stroll around, discover the area, find a good pub etc. I like seeing new sides of the city I live in.
Christina Sunneklep - Cava for Lunch 

Know Your Passport: When you are travelling you always make it a priority to know where your passport is, and when the expiry date is. If you make this a priority in your at home life as well you won't be sorry. Trust me you don't have to go far to find a story about a lost or expired passport and a ruined trip. Don't be the story. 

Travel Insider Tip: Find your nearest hotel concierge and chat to them to find out what they recommend in the city for tourists - it'll likely be things you've never considered, and they know all the best tips on how to get cheap/good tickets for things, and local events that are happening. 

Julia MacGregor - Fizz and Pheasant

If you have kids or babies why not try out these tips to get that travel feeling: 

Throw out your routine - I know it is a scary idea. Dinner, bath, bed is my life raft, but when you are travelling with kids you have to accommodate all sorts of changes to routine, and everyone survives, and sometimes we even have fun. So at home why not: Go for a walk after dinner, eat out, sleep on a camp bed in the lounge room - who knows some of it might get incorporated into a new routine. 

Travel Insider Tip: Regular traveller Anne Hamilton told me how she and her son keep bed time from getting boring by bringing travel home. 

Every few weeks or so when bedtime gets boring and we've no real trips planned, we 'camp out' overnight in the sitting room. The 6 yr old chooses the country, and we spend the night under a selection of bedding on the sofas. Most recently, Antarctica was the 'in' place, so we put together a pick-up tea (a picnic by any other name) of tuna, prawns and ice cream - yep, we interpret local foods very widely -and ate it in our camp with March of the Penguins as background. If you left the room, you donned your hat and scarf and waterproofs (imaginary wellies out of deference to the lady in the flat below!) and braved the polar bears (played by a giant papier mache cat and Clifford the Big Red Dog)... Next time, apparently, we're going to Denmark, but given LEGOLAND appears to be the real draw, that'll be doubly interesting! 

 Anne Hamilton - writeright editing

Again try minimalism - Get radical with how many clothes your children have – do they need that many t-shirts –are there things they never wear? Would you take that much stuff if you were travelling. The other kid area you could try to downsize is the toys - encourage the kids to help, make a pile to donate to a local charity.

Do you have any tipe to share?

Friday, 30 June 2017

...adventure, uncertainty and sheer boldness!

I am always delighted to touch base with the lovely folk who have contributed stories to You Won't Remember This. Sometimes this is in person. I managed to get a picture of myself, Helen Sheil (aka my mum) and Sarah Dyer at the opening night of the My Mother is an Artist, and you can read my overview of the evening for Lothian Life if you like.  

Helen Sheil, Sandy Bennett-Haber and Sarah Dyer

Then a few days later I received a lovely email from another contributor - Stacey Campbell, amongst other things she let me know she had finished the reading the book, and she had such a warm response I asked her if I could share her thoughts here: 

Contributor Review of You Won't Remember This- Stacey Campbell

I am delighted to say I have finished reading the collection and was completely taken by its simplicity, colour and warmth!
What a beautiful collection - filled with elements of adventure, uncertainty and sheer boldness! The diversity of inclusions make it fascinating in terms of content and tone. I loved how the experiences blended seamlessly together, united in terms of the connection and meaning behind life and parenthood. I especially enjoyed this despite the inclusions having such different contexts - not merely geographical but also cultural, social, familial, personal. The list goes on!
As someone who has travelled and who is not a parent (but who has reflected carefully on the subject), I delighted in reading it and concluded the book with complete satisfaction and a wide smile which my friend commented on while we were on holiday! It was a pleasure to read and I am so thrilled to be part of it!

Stacey Campbell
Stacey Campbell is a contributor to You Won't Remember This – travel with babies. She graduated with a degree in History from the University of Glasgow in 2015. Always a keen writer, her storytelling was sparked by a childhood love of Roald Dahl and the power of her imagination to conjure impossible things. Still a lover of Roald Dahl and all things strange, she lives her life by the motto ‘be kind, thankful and bold’. In her free time, she enjoys reading Sylvia Plath, walking her dog and planning her next adventure. She is an ardent feminist and writes on a variety of topics. 

Stacey interns for She Works. Read her recent article CV BOOST Why You Need to Volunteer and How

You can also  read her article for the FT Magazine: 7 Years Left  

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The shortcut blog about this woman writing elsewhere

So I had a plan – which was to write one blog a month this year. And now it is the 30th of May and so far no blog has appeared. There has been action aplenty in life, and even some bits of writing here and there, but none of it on the Flamingo Rover blog.  

In my defence for the non appearance of a blog Finn turned two – which means that I have a two year old and a three year old. Just think about that for a little while. Trust me it is big. In a last ditch attempt to stick to my plan I thought I would shout out about some of the non Flamingo Rover writing, book talking and writing networking I have been doing. Feel free to click through to all my brilliant thoughts!

I was recently interviewed about some of the behind the scenes of You Won't Remember This by the lovely Claire Wingfield. Claire runs a literary consultancy and it was a pleasure to talk to her about getting the job of writing done when you are a mother of small children.

That theme continued in my guest post for Hewer Text - where I wrote about my journey towards getting the book finished and how outsourcing became my best friend. 

An exciting event worth being loud about is the fact that I become a founder member of the Women Writers Network. This network is part of my ongoing efforts to push my writer self out into the world - and to raise the profile of women's writing in general. So stay tuned and check out the #women_writers hashtag - because I promise there will be more writing here and elsewhere!

And I for one am excited about that. 

Oh and three cheers for Finn for taking a nap so I could write this post. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Easter - remembering and looking forward

For me Easter will always be a special holiday. It is a holiday which smells, not like chocolate, but like boat fuel mixed with salt water. It feels like crisp mornings which will turn into sunny days.
For most of my life Easter was spent camping in Mallacoota. A seaside town on the very edge of Victoria, in Australia.

Mallacoota, Australia. With a dog.*

In her poem Blue Sarong, in the You Won't Remember This collection, my mother writes about

'the Mallacoota camping photo's
that began when you were in a bassinet
and continued 'til you left home.'

She asks what I remember, and my strongest impression is this olfactory one – the boat fuel – contained within that there are many layers of memory. One of the things I love about our Easter tradition of camping in Mallacoota is that I know so many others share them with me. They know the experience of driving slowly through the camp park on the waters edge looking out for a camp site and seeing that sparkling water for the first time since the last visit. If you are a boat owner you will have gotten in early and secured a camp sight adjacent to the moat moorings. We did not have those campsites, we simply drove past them slowly; and the smell – which might sound unpleasant to you, but is magic to me because it is the start of Easter.

I am being sentimental. This Easter is a shambolic one. I am working on Thursday, Sunday and Monday. Thursday night my eldest son Rafa and I are taking a train to stay with friends in Newcastle. I will get to do some chocolate distribution on Sunday morning before I go to work, but chances are that will be the only time the four of us will spend together. Added to this, as we host Airbnb we will have guests arriving and leaving all though Easter.

I am sentimental as well because last Easter we were in Australia. We were not in Mallacoota, we were at my mum's and we were close to our departure date to return to the UK. But our Easter Sunday was special. My brother was visiting and we put up a tent on the riverbank and lit a fire, so at least some of Rafa and Finn's Easter memories might smell of woodsmoke. The little boys ate more chocolate than they ever had in their lives, and were given special eggs to keep – I will need to find them!

Rover riverbank memories, with wood smoke - Nowa Nowa, Australia

This week on they way to nursery we saw a woman with a wheely suitcase. Rafa said 'Maybe she is going to the airport, like we will so we can go to Nanna Helen's to get Easter Egg's.' 

We will not be at Nanna Helen's this Easter, nor will we be in Mallacoota – but I am working on some new Easter memories. Our Newcastle trip is a chance for Rafa and I to have some quality time together. To form memories that will last, that we can talk about in the years to come. I don't know what shape these memories will take, but I suspect they won't smell like boat fuel. 

What do your Easter memories smell like? 

What traditions are you carrying forward? 

*When I was first posting this blog I struggled to find a picture of Mallacoota on my computer, and used one of my husband and I at Nowa Nowa. Then over Easter my brother and his girlfriend went to Mallacoota and posted some great pictures on Facebook. So I borrowed one with their dog Argie. Good to see the family tradition of going to Coota continues. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Sleep Series - Part two. The Bermuda Triangle

I am committed to writing positive sleep stories, and I will get there, but first I need to write out the Bermuda triangle of bad bed times we experienced this week – and then I will get to something positive!
Just now I am nostalgic for good bedtimes. It has been a bad week for sleep in our house. Or perhaps I should say it has been a bad week for bed times. Because we always look for explanations when things go off the rails here are the changes to our routine from which I understand the tri-parte badness to have come.

ONE: The clocks have changed – this one needs no explanation – although I admit to having gone into this change with unwarranted bravado – my husband was reading something online about managing the change and I scoffed a little and said something about winging it.

TWO: We got Rafa a new bed. The single bed Rafa sleeps in has been broken for quite awhile. Recently it became a bit more broken and we finally acknowledged that it needed to go. A skinny three and a bit year old can cope pretty well on a broken bed. But when his father or I take a shift on the single bed the brokenness becomes problematic. The only bit of the broken bed that seemed salvageable was the drawers underneath. Retaining this storage space seemed invaluable, so we looked for a bed that had the same height. Then I had a brain wave. Perhaps rather than a single bed we should get a double? Just a small double that could run wall to wall under the window? Wouldn't that make all our bed swapping more endurable? The room the boys share is small, but we measured it out and thought it could work. In the end we found a bed second hand from the British Heart Foundation. On Sunday my husband set about pulling the broken bed apart and putting up the new one.

These things always take longer than you think they will, but eventually Jon got the new bed almost put together – then we realised the problem. Yes the bed could theoretically run wall to wall – but in order to get the very long screws in it needed to be constructed the other way around, and then moved into place. At this point my very spatially aware friend B was over with her son. While the kids ate a snack the three adults stood in the bedroom and pondered the bed problem. (This is known as a social occasion when you are a parent) B visualised and Jon and I moved the bed. In theory it should have fitted. In reality it did not. We had a lovely new bed. But it took up half the room. The remaining space somehow had to accommodate a chest of drawers, a book case and Finn's cot.

B departed while we pondered. The good news was the drawers fitted under the bed. The bad news was Finn's bed was not going to fit – so we decided he could share the big new bed with his brother.

So that's the first two Sunday two changes/ challenges- clocks changing and first night with two boys in the new bed.

THREE: 'Baby'. We have a baby staying with us. A lovely eight month old girl. Finn spends long periods of time entertaining her, she is a happy, contented girl – who has a very different sleep patterns to my sons. This baby and her mum and dad are staying with us for nine days having rented our spare room on airbnb, and although the house is full we are all managing well- in part because we use the communal parts of the house at different times. Except that just at the time when the boys are settling down for the evening the baby is having her dinner in the next room. 'Baby' Finn cries suddenly all alert and up he jumps to go and entertain her some more.

Rafa playing at bedtime.

Rafa pretending to be asleep. 

It has been a bad week of bedtimes. Long drawn out. Grumpy mummy who is all to aware of her evenings being snatched away as the kids wriggle, fidget, need one more drink of water, one more visit to the toilet (Rafa) one more nappy change (Finn) one more lap around the house, one more chat to the baby, one more look out the window to check if it is morning yet. Finn has not settled down before eight all week – and I deem six pm to be bedtime.

Here is the bit I am nostalgic for. We are a snuggle to sleep family. When there are two adults home we divide the boys up and each lie down to settle the boys. There are certain routines that play out as we move towards sleep, certain fidgets of the day that need to be gotten out, but normally as these routines play out the boys move towards sleep. I have found that time, in bed beside Rafa or Finn when they slowly wind down can be amazingly productive to me. Sometimes (like this week the extended bed times are torture) but on a good night that forced quiet time, when I am concentrating on quieting my body and my breath so that the boys will do likewise, is when my thoughts collect for the day. Just like going for a run, when the busyness subsides and ideas that have been brewing pop into being. In the intro to You Won't Remember This I wrote about how the whole idea to the book came about during that quiet time. Sometimes it's not artistic, sometimes it is just practical day to day stuff that can get lost in the chaos of the day. I have great ideas at baby bedtime.

Sometimes they get lost. Things go on a bit too long. I move from energised to strung out, or sleepy. Or I get up from the sleeping child and go straight into 'chore mode' and the zen gets lost.

But sometimes, just sometimes, there is magic in the stillness.

Do you have a sleep story you want to tell? Get in touch and add to the sleep series.

About the Sleep Series: It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever two or more parents of young babies and children meet they will have a conversation about sleep. The Flamingo Rover sleep series is not intended to provide expert advice – more to tell sleep stories in an attempt to reassure parents that there is no such thing as a 'normal' nights sleep, and there is no such thing as a parent who is doing the 'wrong' thing. 

Please please please -  If you've had a bad night's sleep - or a bad week or a bad month do make sure you tell your friends about it.  Your welcome to tell me about it if you like. If you still don't feel like yourself tell your GP and your midwife and your Health Visitor. Find a sleep clinic and talk it through. Try to take a nap.  

Look out for your sisters - If you see someone with a baby who looks like they have had a bad night's sleep - or a bad week or a bad month go and chat to them. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Sleep Series - Part one. I can't remember where I slept last night

I walked in the door this afternoon and it flashed across my mind, for no particular reason that I could not remember where I slept last night. I don't have a wild lifestyle. I just have two small children.

Sleeping Woman

For the first few weeks after going into his own bed Rafa settled down happily and put himself to sleep. Then he realised he could get out of bed by himself. Since then (nearly a year) Rafa has at some point in the night gotten out of his bed and into ours.

Back when we thought this was going to be a short lived phenomenon I struggled against it. We would try to put him back to bed in his own bed, I would toss and turn feeling claustrophobic stuck between my husbands body and my sons and lie awake waiting until I thought he had gone properly back to sleep so I could move him back to his bed.
Even worse than the feeling of claustrophobia was the feeling of him digging his long toe nails into my legs. He seemed to derive comfort from doing this. I did not.

Then I had one of those inevitable conversations with another mum. I was complaining about this interruption to my sleep, and wondering why he couldn't just stay in his own bed, my friend, in her quiet, generous way pointed out how – during the daytime a child of his age – 2.5 -3 years old will not manage to spend long periods without being in either verbal or physical contact with their parents, so why she asked would this be different at night?
This realisation of his need to be close to us through the night did not solve the 'problem' of Rafa coming into bed with us, but it did allow me to stop thinking of it as a something I could 'solve'. Instead I made some adjustments to help me to cope better.

Now when he comes in I guide him to the centre of the bed. This way I have some air on one side. To lessen the impact of the digging toenails I now sleep in leggings (it is Scotland, this is mostly a good idea anyway).
Sometimes I kick my husband out of the bed, and sometimes when the male snoring, wriggling, toe nail digging is all to much I quietly slip out of my bed, and go and sleep in Rafa's bed.

Then there are the nights when the baby wakes up as well. At 17 -19months We are gradually transitioning way from me feeding the baby at night. So I can sometimes send my husband to settle the baby, give him a drink of water (tsa in Finn-ese) and snuggle down with him. Sometimes he wants 'mulck' (said with an amazing gutterul ckkk). And the musical beds move around once again.

It can be:

All four of us in one bed.
Rafa and mummy in the big bed -Finn and daddy in the little bed.
Rafa and daddy in the big bed – mummy in the little bed, Finn in his cot.
Finn and mummy in the little bed, Rafa and daddy in the big bed.

Do you have a sleep story you want to tell? Get in touch and add to the sleep series. 

About the Sleep Series: It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever two or more parents of young babies and children meet they will have a conversation about sleep. The Flamingo Rover sleep series is not intended to provide expert advice – more to tell sleep stories in an attempt to reassure parents that there is no such thing as a 'normal' nights sleep, and there is no such thing as a parent who is doing the 'wrong' thing. 

Please please please -  If you've had a bad night's sleep - or a bad week or a bad month do make sure you tell your friends about it.  Your welcome to tell me about it if you like. If you still don't feel like yourself tell your GP and your midwife and your Health Visitor. Find a sleep clinic and talk it through. Try to take a nap.  

Look out for your sisters - If you see someone with a baby who looks like they have had a bad night's sleep - or a bad week or a bad month go and chat to them. 

Image credit: The Met Odilon Redon (French, Bordeaux 1840-1916) Reproduced under a CC Licence. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

I will teach my children lies

Winter, Jean Antoine Houdon, 1787

I will teach my children lies

I will teach them that a mothers love and a fathers love can protect them from everything.

That by treating others with respect they in turn will be respected.

That by doing their bit to protect the environment, conserving resources and treading lightly on the earth they can make a difference.

I will teach my children the lie that hard work and determination equals success.

That the world is safe.

That Art matters

That love conquers all

That their opinions count and so do other peoples.

That laughter is the best medicine.

That anything is possible.

That there is a happily ever after.

That the people we love never truly leave us.

That we are all winners.

That superman will always come to the rescue (or Paw Patrol or Octonauts or whatever next weeks obsession is).

That villains always get what they deserve.

That love will find a way.

That I will always catch them when they fall.

I will teach them the lie that character, loyalty, friendship and generosity are more important than where they go to school and how much money their father earns.

That a persons gender, race, choice of lifestyle and life partner makes no difference whatsoever to their worth as a human being.

I will teach them that we can all live in peace.

I will teach my children lies 

and perhaps in doing so

my lies will become the truth.  

Charity after Reni, John Keyse Sherwin

What Lies do you teach your children? Are there any you would like to add? 

Monday, 23 January 2017

How To Feed Your Soul

Have you already lost that New Year glow? That warm fuzzy feeling that this year things will go OK, things will be accomplished. You will be calm, intelligent and accomplished?

I reached a proper low around the middle of January. The bottom out involved words like: stomach bug, medical fasting, colonoscopy*, husband projectile vomiting, two small children, no family nearby, vandalism to the car, nobody going to bed on time, spilt milk, tears over spilt milk. So that was last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.Our climbing Finn and the spilt milk, January 2017

Our climbing Finn and the spilt milk, January 2017

Thankfully, this week there has been some soul food to replenish my very empty tank.

A child free catch up. My friend B is from New Zealand and we have only known each other as 'mums in Scotland.' Most of the time we have snatched conversations amidst the chaos of small children. This week we managed a late afternoon glass of wine and a chat without the babies. Just sitting down to an uninterrupted chat with another mum is a special occasion. But B has been been on a soul food gathering project of her own. She has been asking each of her good friends to come up with two adjectives which describe her- and giving out two in return. For me she had 'non-judgemental' and 'worldly'. I am still working on my return words. 

Kid time: We were watching some vintage Wiggles and Rafa was dancing, but became concerned that he was 'not very good.' We reassured him that he was good, and also that perhaps if he practised more he would get even better. A moment later Rafa asked Jon and I to leave the room so that he could 'practice'.

We dutifully let the room and had a brief chat (and a chuckle) in the kitchen, before being called back in to join Rafa (with his new and improved dance moves) in a wags the dog dance party.

For the first time in years I went to a writing workshop. It was an Ekphrastic (using visual art as a prompt) group led by Helen Boden. We spent the morning at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery with Helen taking us through the landscape photography exhibition - The View From Here. Two hours with no phone and no children were soul food in themselves, but I took real energy and joy from the guided viewing, stretching my writer muscles and listening to others read their work (especially those who wrote and read in Scots).  I admit it was also a bit of a buzz having people chuckle at the occasional line of my own. Here are some of my scribbles:

On viewing Mer de Glace  – Francis Bedford French Alps, 1860, and 'View from Baluchiston' Fred Bremnr India, 1899.

Humans in Landscapes
The leisure Class.
Explore, conquer.
What monster is there that needs out-run up a mountain?
Icy passage, Oh the air up there is fine.
But I wonder who is at home cooking the dinner?
The hot rock under bare feet .
Man stands in a landscape and he thinks himself large.
Stands tall. Knows of the photographers click,
but does he think about what comes after?

Watches on, listens while friends tell a tale,
a romance perhaps,
Or a stubbed toe and lingering pain.
The small details they carry in their pockets are not captured here.
Just their deeds. Just a moment gathering water.
Geological landscape and man.

Does it make a poem? Hmm.

Inspired by the title: 'Late Afternoon – Remembering Lost Holidays'
Photograph by Thomas Joshua Cooper and other Highlands landscapes.

These Scottish landscapes, especially the bald hills- Denuded long past set my teeth on edge today. Yes there is adventure there and beauty and majesty. But Oh please just give me a tree! No actually give me a forest and a stream and a child naked squatting to examine a stone rubbed smooth by river water. With bare feet tough from a summers wandering.

Late December at the Green Lochen my son asked to take off his boots. He paddled a moment and then asked to have his boots put back on. The long dark days just now. I'm over them.
'Is it morning?' He asks everyday.

And there I was back writing about the children, and daydreaming about the contrast between Scotland, where I find myself today, bringing up small children, and Australia of my youth. I also loved the contrast between my piece, and other readings based on the same images. You can read some of the other work inspired by the morning here - Sam Dounis.

'Can I take my boots off.' Paddling in Scotland in December 2016

Over a bowl of soup after the workshop one of the women commented that she finds her other writing flows better afterwards. I like the notion that what you produce is not necessarily the goal. It is free-ing because you are not setting yourself up to fail - or to worry if you don't 'produce' something. When I go back (which I hope to next month) I will try to remind myself of that. 

Still even having occasionally sunk into that mum habit of fretting over the need to make the most of every valuable second, I came away from the workshop with a bounce in my step. 

Some other soul food moments this week have been starting 'The Buried Giant, the Kazuo Ishiguro book I bought in December, Skyping with my brother, getting new twitter followers, going to the gym with my husband and having a family swim. 

So here's hoping New Year Fuzzy Feelings- the reboot- lasts longer than the original... or perhaps I just need to factor in soul food all year round?  

*edited 25/1/2017 - talking with a friend last night I realised I should explain, I have a first degree relative who died from bowel cancer (my father) as such the advice is to have a colonoscopy every five years - happy to say I am symptom free. If you have any concerns about your health don't be shy to seek medical advice. 

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Five Tips from a One Time Group Travel Virgin

On 'that' trip. Scotland 2011

In I my pre-mum, pre-writing about travel with babies life I was often to be found curled up with a good book. On occasion I got myself out of the house and had an adventure or two. If you read until the end of my rather long tale of group travel virgin blog you will know that I married my tour guide. That fact basically makes me an expert in small group travel. Between the Kimberly trip which was my first time and the trip with Walkabout Scotland where I met my husband I also went by myself on small group tours to:

USA - epic road trip from California to New York -2008

Ayre Peninsula- South Australia -2009

Borneo  - 2010

On Safari in Tanzania -2011

A sail boat adventure in Turkey - 2011

A snowy road trip from Vancouver to Banff- 2011

A road trip/pub crawl in Ireland -2011

Here are some things I have learnt along the way:

Tip 1: 
When selecting the type of group travel to go for always choose something you love: ie if you go on a trip that involves camping, or trekking – because you love those things, you will meet like minded fellow travellers. 

 Tip 2: 
If your already out of your comfort zone - go even further and break the ice with everyone in your group, because...

Tip 3:
When you travel with an organised small group tour you are never on your own for very long. You may not know it yet - but you are about to become part of a new tribe!

Tip 4:
When reading a tour itinerary it is a good idea to keep in mind what is an 'included' item in the itinerary and what is an extra – that way you know what you are paying for before you go and can budget for any extras you might want to do.

Tip 5:
Beware - group travel is a gateway drug. Before you know it you will be jumping off the tour bus and into a solo travel adventure.

Flying solo in Israel -2011

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Tale of a Group Travel Virgin

I wrote a travel story recently that saw me looking back to a trip that I took ten years ago. Writing it was quite an interesting journey in itself – funny how when you look back patterns reveal themselves. That's one of the reasons I love writing. The story did not get chosen for the project I sent it off to- so I thought I would post it here.

Slow Starter
Darwin to Broome

On the first morning I woke up in Darwin with human faeces in the hallway of my hotel. I am someone who once returned the gift of a mystery flight because the idea of going somewhere new, by myself made me uncomfortable. And there I was, by myself in a very unpleasant hallway about to spend two weeks on a 4WD bus travelling though the remote Kimberly wilderness with a group of strangers.

Why, I asked myself, did you give up the comfort of your couch and your knitting to come here?

Booking myself onto this holiday had been a convoluted sort of process. With my first almost full time job I had a little bit of disposable income, and paid holiday time, but there was nobody to go on holiday with. A much more well travelled cousin encouraged me to visit her in Thailand, use her home as a base and look into some group travel as a way to explore Asia. Reading trip itinerary's got me excited, but Asia semi-alone seemed a little scary. Fear of the unknown held me back. But the seed of the idea of group travel had been planted. Perhaps I could see more of my own backyard? I switched from brochures about Asia to brochures about small group travel closer to home, and a trip caught my attention: travelling from Darwin to Broome, along the Gibb River Road, camping, swimming in fresh water gorges, visiting El Questro and the Bungle Bungles.

Now it turns out that travel agents have this great skill – you make an enquiry, they hold something – say a tour and some flights provisionally, and then they tell you you have so many days to pay or you will loose the booking- they give the reluctant, pondering traveller such as myself a deadline and a fear of missing out. Which is I suppose how I went from enquiring about availability and flights to being alone in a fetid hallway.

That day we travelled out of Darwin, and after a swim beneath sun drenched rocky escarpments at Edith Falls and a long drive, we camped on lush grass at Timber Creek under strange, majestic upside down looking boab trees. On the second morning there was only kangaroo poo outside my tent. Big improvement, but I missed being amongst my people.

In early photos from the trip everyone is standing up very straight with their hands tucked behind their backs or in their pockets. We are travelling together, but we were not together. Those first days I dwelt on the contrast of how much more comfortable I was on camping holidays with friends or family. I was hyper aware of the little groups that existed within our 'small group' – I was not part of any group. There were two brothers travelling with their wives who spoke minimal English and were easily thirty years older than me; other couples travelling together, two friends who had come together, and an assortment of other solo travellers like myself. I felt lonely amongst this group of strangers.

My tent mate was a British doctor,

the start of everyday was a struggle for us- as we were both equally poor at functioning without coffee 

and the itinerary most days demanded we pack up our tent before breakfast. After breakfast we would be on the road again. The Northern Territory and Western Australia have properly Australian distances. We drove, and drove the next day, and the day after that and the day after that. We often drove through the hottest part of the day, arriving at our camp-site in time for a bit of an explore and a swim. Sometimes staying in one place for a night or two before moving on.

I have done a couple of road trips up and down the eastern coast of Australia with my family. Between Melbourne and the Sunshine coast the landscape is dotted with towns and cities. Between Darwin and Broome there are remote indigenous communities, farms that get managed via helicopter they are so huge, wild rivers, a few small towns and rough roads. The most spectacular locations, within the wide open land of the outback that is the Kimberly, can only be accessed via roads such as the notorious Gibb River Road – and its smaller, rougher off shoots.

Even in the dry season, robust, high clearance 4WD vehicles are the only way to attempt the journey if you want to see any of the countryside not immediately adjacent to the Great Northern Highway. There are river crossings, big remote distances without street signs or easy landmarks and changeable conditions. The road can be closed completely during the wet season, and vehicles even contemplating travel in the wet must have a snorkel! The debris stranded high up in the trees marked the height of the water in the wet season. As we covered those big distances I realised how challenging it would be for me, and my townie friends and family to ever embark on this type of journey. Going with a driver who know the terrain, and with an organised group – so someone else took care of all the preparations – gear, food, water etc. was a perfect way to experience this wild corner of outback Australia.

Every destination was absolutely worth the chunk of driving that it took to get there. The contrast of hot, hot days relieved by swimming opportunities in spectacular locations like Bell Gorge was without a doubt a highlight for me. On one of our hiking/swimming adventures we made a non-vehicular deep river crossing. Some strong swimmers (myself included) pushed inner tubes across, floating our boots, camera's etc. to keep them dry. As I gained the far bank, with the kit safely ashore I looked back to see that one of the men in our group was loosing confidence. The water was slow moving, but dark, chest high and the river bed was slippery bottomed. Within a moment one of the tanned and barrel chested German brothers had taken his hand and supported him for the rest of the crossing. The moment: these two men, previously strangers to each other, holding hands as they emerged from the river was not captured by my camera, but the memory is one of my strongest from the trip.

Bell Gorge, Western Australia 2007

There were great reminders that the driving itself was part of the destination. When we drove the 50km 4WD only track into the Bungle Bungles I sat up the front with our guide.

In the truck I could feel every bump, taste the dust and see the blind corners coming – I truly felt like I was in the Kimberly. 

The vast glory of the Bungle Bungles was a great reward for surviving that terrain without the air-conditioning and good suspension of the cabin. We hiked through dry river beds at the base of ancient canyons in temperatures above 40.C and picnicked in the shade of Cathedral Gorge. You can see the evolution of friendships in those Bungle Bungles pictures, we are all a little wilted, very exuberant and our arms are interlocking in the foreground of images capturing a fragment of that majestic Martian landscape of orange beehive domes thrusting up from the earth's crust.

And somewhere along those hot dusty roads, and in between swimming, walking, sweating and wildlife spotting I found I was not travelling with a group of strangers anymore. Perhaps it was Pip and I laughing together everyday in exasperation at our own continued inability to pack up our tent; perhaps it was those helpers who came along and sorted out our tent mess; perhaps it was conversations unfolding along dusty walking trails, by camp-fires and over card games on long drives; perhaps it was sharing snacks and beers at sunset over-looking the Bungle Bungles, watching the colours change on those ancient masterpieces in the cool of early evening. Somehow the alchemy of heat, dust, shared exploration and discovery, bumpy roads, river crossings, the minimal comforts of camping, spectacular locations; combined with cold beer, starry evenings and being away from everyone you know came to equal friendship. I don't recall exactly when the cross over happened – but I do remember looking around at our group scattered about the camp-site one evening and realising that these were my people. I was not on the outside looking in anymore.

Bell Gorge, Western Australia 2007

On the last day I woke up in a tent pitched with a view Roebuck Bay in Broome, Western Australia. I was part of a group formed from people from all over the world who had shared the adventure of travelling through the Kimberly. I was soon to discover the main draw back of small group travel - that hollow feeling you get when the trip is over and everyone disperses back to their real lives.
But you carry those memories with you. And if you are lucky – like me, you will keep some of those friendships going. I caught up with one of my trip mates for a beer a few weeks later in Melbourne – she had continued on from Broome to Perth along the coast – and as I heard her highlights I began planning for my next small group trip. It turned out to be a road trip across America, but that is another story.

Cable Beach - Broome, Western Australia 2007

Many years later I went to visit my old tent mate in her home in Devon. I spent an idyllic few days walking forest and beach trails with Pip and her dog Finn before heading to Scotland to go on another small group trip - hiking in the highlands. I had been travelling in Africa, the Middle East and Europe – doing some small group trips, a family visit with my cousin in Egypt, (I never got around to visiting her in Thailand) and some completely solo travel, again that is another story.

The part that connects to my Kimberly trip, is where that Australian girl, who was a slow starter to solo travel, but was converted by spending two weeks driving through the outback with a group of strangers, found herself on the other side of the world,

trekking through bogs, up and down rain pelted mountains, making more friends from around the world and falling in love with her tour guide.

Four years later I am still here in Scotland, married to the man who led us up to the misty top of Ben Nevis. We have had plenty of adventures together, some of the travel variety, and some involving the birth of our two sons. Lately I have been reflecting that if I had never taken the plunge, gotten out of my comfort zone and gone on that first trip, perhaps I wouldn't be living the life that I am now. And oh what a pity that would be.

Rover mum, Rafa and Finn, Cairngorms, Scotland late 2016