From time to time we all get a sobering reminder of our own, and our loved ones mortality. It is something I have always struggled with, and ultimately feared. Why? Because I am not ready to go! There is so much I want to say, so much I want to achieve, to see, to experience. Life is delicate and time is not guaranteed, its about time we all started maximising our dash!
by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own; the cars, the house, the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?
Live In The Present
Its part of the human condition that we are forever planning the future and working for tomorrow and neglecting the present day. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, or even if there is a tomorrow – we all need to start living in the here and now.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), John Lennon
To Plan, Or Not To Plan?
Of course it is important to make plans and to have some form of structure – to know the desired destination – but let life grow and manoeuvre organically towards that end goal. That isn’t to say we should be passive along the way, some gentle, and maybe a few firmer, steers every now and again are likely to be required.
Are you a planner? Making sure every little detail is considered and planned for, every hour of each trip has a planned activity, every event runs to pre-set fixed agendas?
Naturally, I am. Knowing when to step back and to stop planning has been difficult, but finding that balance has been so rewarding.
Plan the big things, make a list of all the things you want to do – a bucket list of sorts! Make sure your life has direction and you are moving towards you goals, but leave room for happiness and enjoyment.
Ultimately your dash, your life, is just that – YOURS.
We spend so much time these days looking to please others, seeking validation or acceptance from friends, or even strangers on social media. Forget them. Step back for a second and think…
“Am I proud of how Iam living my dash?”
We only get one dash, whether it ends up being a short story or a novel. So if the answer to the question above is no – consider what things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
I feel like I’m playing cliché bingo with these posts at times… but seriously, are you a mindful tourist? No, I am not asking if you meditate each morning, but rather are you conscious of your surroundings, mindful of your responsibilities as a guest of each location you visit, and maximising your travels?
I think it’s safe to say that when any of us go travelling, we take at least a few photos at standard tourist landmarks – like me above at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. Whenever you visit sites like this, there are countless boards and signs either at the entrance, or all around the site making clear the specific rules for that location. But are there any general rules we should always follow when travelling?
My number 1 rule is to have a cultural awareness of the city / country / region I am visiting and exploring. Taking some time to research prior to travelling benefits everyone – it means that you get a more authentic experience and you can plan your trip accordingly, and it means that the local environment is impacted as little as possible.
For example, if I am visiting a country in the middle east it is likely that the weekend will be Friday & Saturday whilst Sunday is a normal working day and I will adjust plans accordingly. The working week as we know it – Monday to Friday – is based on Christianity, with Saturday a day of rest and Sunday a day of worship. Different countries with different official religions therefore follow slightly different working weeks.
In countries where religion is still a strong part of society, holy days often see shops and restaurants close for at least part of the day with only skeleton services operating. Plan your trip with this in mind, and be respectful of religious customs.
Seek Out Authenticity
Naturally, locations with high tourist footfall cater for those tourists with standard food & drink (e.g. pizza & burgers), and souvenirs – the vast majority of which will likely be drastically over priced and poor quality.
So whilst visiting the tourist attractions is likely going to form part of any trip – they are normally tourist hot spots for a reason – I will avoid eating and drinking in these areas, and search out restaurants serving local cuisine and bars frequented by the local population. Are souvenirs a necessity? For some, yes – a magnet or a shot glass maybe – shops throughout each city / location will sell almost identical items but often far better value for money the further you get from the attraction itself.
I know the point re food is potentially a little contentious, but for me personally I cannot understand why anyone would travel to a foreign country to eat the same food they do at home. I will avoid “English” or “American” foods as much as possible, and opt for local dishes. You don’t know if you like it if you never try it!
Plan Ahead… Be Prepared To Change
This one sounds a little stupid, but it’s one of the most important to maximise the experience. I will always make plans well before I arrive in a location – from day trips & restaurant reservations to the approximate route I will walk (or at least an order of certain landmarks I will visit). Despite this, I will also be prepared to change and cancel the plans I have pre-booked… and here is why;
No matter how much research and planning goes in to a trip, until boots are on the ground and the experience is being lived, you don’t really have a genuine feel for the place. Often when you are in a location new opportunities arise – maybe you get talking to a local and get invited to a gig or for a meal, you see a day trip to a location you hadn’t considered, you get told about a must see location off the tourist trail. Whatever it is, be prepared to say YES!
I have often found the best experiences come in these spontaneous moments. Even the ones that aren’t what you expect can provide a laugh and a great memory – if I hadn’t said yes, I wouldn’t have been driven around Bucharest in an old Lada in the middle of the night, with a guy who had a photo in his wallet of him with Pablo Escobar… it’s a long story.
Make The Most Of It!
Whenever I travel to a location I know the likelihood is I will not return there – no matter how much I love it. I just have too many places on my travel bucket list – and whilst maybe a little unrealistic, I want to travel the entire world before I go back to revisit locations.
Whether or not you share that ethos, the chances of you returning to that same city or location are pretty slim. So make the most of your time there! I travel with the sole intention of exploring, so I aim to maximise every moment I have there;
Need an early start a couple of mornings to fit things in? DO IT.
Have a couple of late nights to get the full authentic experience and don’t get a full 8 hours sleep? DO IT.
Get invited to spend an evening with locals? DO IT.
Life is uncertain – as we have seen over the last couple of years – so I live each trip as if it’s my last & do everything I ever wanted to do in that city or that location. If you have planned a holiday to relax, then do just that – chill out and don’t plan anything in. It’s not something I do anymore, but each to their own! To be honest, if you are booking a holiday to chill, I doubt you have got this far through the post…
English & Irish Bars
Here we go. The only ‘negative’ rule on my list. Do not go to an English or an Irish Pub unless you are in… England or Ireland!!!
As a young kid I used to be really confused as to why English tourists had such a bad name… and then I discovered English bars, such as The George and Dragon in Prague’s famous old town square and Irish Bars, with a variety of generic Irish names and often the image of a Leprechaun or 4 leaf clover. Normally frequented by people wearing English football shirts with either St George’s cross flag or bull dog tattoos.
Just no. Under no circumstance is it ever ok to go in any bars like this. If you see one, you are probably in the wrong part of town!
What are your travel do’s and don’ts? Leave a comment and let me know!
As prices of flights continue on their upward trend, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the perfect getaway without breaking the bank. Below are the top 5 must see cities in Europe, and the best flight deals from the UK!
5. Prague, Czech Republic
With an infamous reputation in years gone by for loud & obnoxious stag do’s from the UK, Prague has understandably been given a wide birth by many holiday makers from these shores. Fear not – those days are now gone, and Prague is a destination that should be near the top of your travel list! This city has so much to offer; from history & architecture, to possibly the best lager in Europe.
The Charles Bridge (above) is one of the most famous sites in the city, along with the medieval astronomical clock – the oldest operational astronomical clock in the world – in the old town square. Vyšehrad, the old fortress of Prague offers over 1000 years of history, and some pretty awesome views. There are also countless churches to explore in the city of a hundred spires!
When it comes to lager you are spoilt for choice. The locals will tell you that the Czech lagers are the best in the world… and I am inclined to agree with them! Try one of the more common commercial lagers like Staropramen or Pilsner Urquell, or take a punt on a craft ale produced by one of the local microbreweries. There is the Staropramen museum located in the site of the historic brewery – however from my experience it wasn’t really worth it. The information is largely available online and there wasn’t too much to see.
In terms of hotels – a short distance from the main sites and attractions, 4 & 5 star hotels start at around £65 per night based on 2 adults sharing, and good quality apartments start at £30 per night. You can obviously make this far cheaper by staying in a hostel – but after the last couple of years, a little luxury is definitely justified!
Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 3 nights at the 4* Grand Hotel Praha, in the centre of the city;
£347 including breakfast
4. Budapest, Hungary
From one slightly controversial destination to another… Budapest. Unlike the Czech Republic, the controversy surrounding Hungary is not thanks to UK stag parties, but rather their of own governments making. None of this however takes away from the beautiful city that is Budapest. Split in half by the river Danube, together the old cities of Buda and Pest offer the famous spa baths, beautiful history & architecture and fantastic food!
Every review of Budapest will without doubt cover the famous Szechenyi Spa Baths – this is for good reason! They are a must for your trip to this beautiful city. Afterwards, venture down to the Danube to see the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’, a sobering memorial to the 3,500 people killed by the fascist Hungarian militia in the Second World War. In the afternoon, climb Castle Hill above Szechenyi Chain Bridge to visit Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum within Buda Castle, and watch the sunset over the amazing skyline of Budapest.
Aside from the well known tourist attractions, you can wander around the streets of Budapest and find many a hidden gem. Restaurants and bars line many a street serving a mixture of local cuisine and standard fare. For those looking for nightlife, you will find it here in abundance with parties going on long in to the early hours. The best part? It won’t cause too much damage to your bank balance!
Return flights from 10th to the 13th September from London Luton;
Cheaper flights are available, however at rather unsociable times!
For hotels in Budapest, 4 & 5 star hotels start at around £70 per night and luxury apartments start at approximately £40 per night based on 2 adults sharing. Again, you can make your stay far cheaper by opting for a budget hotel or hostel. I would recommend a little luxury and comfort after long days exploring all that Budapest has to offer.
Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 3 nights at the 4* Buda Castle Hotel with views over the city;
£327 including breakfast
3. Copenhagen, Denmark
From one side of Europe to the other – in at number 3 is the Danish capital city, Copenhagen. Full of creativity, colour and culture, Copenhagen manages to effortlessly blend class and sophistication with intrigue and creative flair. You might think you need to stuff some thermals in your hand luggage for this trip to Scandinavia – but a jumper will suffice for the cooler yet still mild September evenings.
As the vast majority of the cities on this list, Copenhagen has a whole raft of well known tourist attractions, however I think some of the lesser known parts of the city are more worthy of your time than the well trodden paths!
The one ultra touristy thing you MUST do here is visit Tivoli Gardens. It is the second oldest theme park in the world (behind Bakken, across town also in Copenhagen). Whether you want to try out the rides, to visit the beautiful gardens or simply to enjoy the charm and magic that Tivoli possesses in abundance, it is worth well worth it.
If possible, spend a couple of hours visiting Christiania – an international community and “freetown” located within the city of Copenhagen. Previously, Danish law wasn’t recognised or enforced in Christiania hence it being a freetown, however over the last 10 years or so that has changed. The objective of the anarchist community
“to build a self-governing society where each individual is free to express themselves under the authority of the community. This society shall be financially self-supporting, and the common aim must always be to show that the mental and physical contamination can be averted”
13 – 11 – 1971
Please be respectful of the residents when you visit Christiania, and abide by their rules with regards photography.
Nyhavn is a great spot to visit to get some good photos like the one above, but be careful with some of the bars and restaurants that line the waters edge – even by Danish standards some are overpriced and not the best quality!
The image that will spring to mind for a lot of you when you think of Copenhagen will be the Little Mermaid statue, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. It is a good 20 minute walk out of the city centre, and standing at 1.25m tall it isn’t the most impressive statue you will see but it is still worth a visit if you get time.
Copenhagen is a more expensive city than both Prague and Budapest, but it is full of beautiful architecture, beautiful people and a fascinating history. It is well worth the extra few pounds on hotels and spending money!
Hotels are far more expensive in Copenhagen than the previous 2 destinations on average & are the most expensive of the 5 cities in this list. For 4 & 5 star hotels, you will do well to get anything for less than £95 per night, however there are a number of 2 & 3 star options with prices starting from as little as £45 per night. The standard of hostels in Copenhagen is fantastic, so that is a real option here if you are looking to save on costs. I have stayed in the Danhostel previously and would highly recommend a stay here. Given current Covid rules, you have to book an entire room for yourself, so hostels are not as good value as normal – expect to see large reductions in prices at such hostels as rules are relaxed.
Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 3 nights at the perfectly situated 4* Absalon Hotel;
£358 including breakfast
2. Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Back over to the east of Europe we go, and this time to one of the former states of Yugoslavia – Macedonia, now known as North Macedonia. It is not a country that attracts many tourists from the UK, with only 2 direct flights a week from London Luton – on a Wednesday and a Sunday – during the peak season of April to October, and 0 direct flights at all from November to March. This is what we have been missing out on…
Lake Ohrid straddles the border between southern Macedonia and eastern Albania – now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is easy to see why. The views are breath taking, picturesque clear waters in the foreground with snowcapped mountains to the rear. It was the first time in my life I arrived at a destination and was genuinely lost for words. The reality is even better than any photograph could ever depict.
Ohrid is a popular holiday resort for Macedonian’s, however it is still relatively undiscovered by the outside world. The infrastructure isn’t set up for hundreds of thousands of tourists to descend at once, however there are many bars and restaurants along the edge of the lake offering a wonderful selection of food, cocktails & beers. The prices are unbelievably good value, and that’s without taking the view in to account!
I would recommend booking day trips through your hotel to visit places such as the Monastery of Sveti Naum, a trip over the border to Pogradec in Albania & if you are lucky enough to find a driver / tour guide like mine – ask to visit a local village such as Trpejca to sample the fresh catch of the day as it lands from the small fishing boats. The locals are incredibly friendly and love talking about their history. As not many tourists visit from outside the region, the translation is a little more challenging, but that adds to the authenticity of the experience.
Two locations to visit within walking distance of the town centre are Sveti Jovan at Kaneo pictured above, and Samuel’s Fortress – not just because I share his name, but the views are fantastic. Just make sure you take water with you – the steep walk up is rather tiring in the heat!
The hotels in Ohrid are a little unconventional – some are bed and breakfast, some are serviced apartments. There are a couple of more “traditional” hotels, but I highly recommend staying in one of the guest house / serviced apartments.
Get ready for this… the prices for accommodation based on 2 adults sharing start at around £20 per night. I recommend you pay a little more to get a lake view – this will cost somewhere in the region of £35-40 per night. Yes, £35 per night, for 2 adults. It is fantastic value. My recommendation below is a property I have personally stayed at and I highly recommend. Ana is the lovely owner, and she is fantastic for sorting our day trips and making your time in Ohrid as perfect as possible. Breakfast is not provided here, however a lakeside cafe just along the boardwalk pictured above serves breakfast for around £5 per couple.
Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 4 nights with a lake view from the balcony – Apartment Villa Dudanov;
£229 breakfast not included
1. Porto, Portugal
After an intense battle with Ohrid for top spot, in at number 1 on my top 5 must see cities in Europe, it’s Porto. A city bursting with creativity and energy, hundreds of narrow streets packed with amazing architecture, history hiding around every corner. From the port lodges to the churches decked out in the famous Porto tiles, the river side restaurants and bars and the beautiful green spaces in the middle of the city. Porto has it all.
Its hard to accurately summarise Porto in a few words. It is everything to everyone. Whatever you are looking for in your city break – Porto has it. Culture, history, shopping, amazing local food & drink both casual and fine dining. It has both a feel of a small quaint city, and yet has the buzz of a large sprawling metropolis in the same breath.
It is another city that often gets overlooked when holidays are being considered, either for the beaches of southern Portugal, or its big city rival and capital of Portugal, Lisbon.
Porto is, as the name suggests, a port town where the river Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean. The seafood is exquisite all along the banks of the river, but in particular a trip to Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos – the fresh fish market, and the restaurants that surround it is a must.
It may be a bit touristy and clichéd, but book in for a port tasting at one of the famous old port lodges! I went to Graham’s and it was absolutely amazing and incredible value for money. Take a guided tour of the lodge, see how and where the port is made, have a peek in the cellars and at the end try a mix of the ruby and tawny ports, what more could you want?
The local drink of choice on the warmer days is a “porto tonico”, a white port and tonic cocktail. I was initially wary, however it soon became the drink of the trip. Beautifully refreshing after a long day exploring – I can see why the locals love it so much!
This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the incredible porto tiles that adorn the walls of many a church and many a building in the city. This photo above is the inside of Porto’s main train station Estacão São Bento. The immaculately decorated blue and white tiles are a common sight, but one that never gets old. You will find many a stall selling them outside the various tourist hot spots – go a little further afield and get better quality for a lower price!
There are cheaper flight options from Manchester (as low as £40 at the time of checking), however due to unsociable hours on the return leg of the journey, I have opted for these flights as my recommended option.
Accommodation in Porto is plentiful, and competitively priced. Apartments start at around £35 per night, and 4 & 5 star hotels start at approximately £60 per night. As always, cheaper accommodation is available, however be careful not to compromise too much on quality in order to save a few pounds.
Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 5 nights at the luxurious 4* Exe Almada Porto is;
£421 (breakfast available for additional £8 per person, per night)
There you have it – my top 5 city break destinations for post lockdown European travel!
Once you make a conscious decision to change, you often get a powerful gust of wind in your sails. The excitement of what is to come bubbles inside you, and you are more motivated than you have been in months, maybe even years. It’s a new dawn, you are starting over. But as those winds of change settle down to a gentle breeze, it’s easy to feel like you are losing yourself – the person people see you as, maybe even the person you see yourself as.
Change is never easy – if it was, the human race wouldn’t struggle so much with the concept. We often see our life choices as the things that define us, that make us who we are. Making changes to these things can often be short lived as after the honeymoon period we lose momentum and motivation.
This is where I have found myself the past couple of days. I know I want to make the changes and I know its the right thing to do, but as I sit in front of this blank page I am feeling a little lost. A world full of colour and excitement feels pretty grey and drab today. In this moment, it feels far easier to go back than to sit and stare in to the abyss.
So it got me thinking, when we strip back large parts of our lives and make changes, what are we left with?
The answer for me, is essence.
…the essence of anything is the thing that stays true about them in any situation. And the essence of a penguin is similar to the essence of me… penguins need each other. They look out for the good of the colony. And once a penguin decides to do something there’s no changing her mind. Because the essence of a penguin comes down to this: penguins live in abnormally harsh conditions and they never leave. They’re one of the few species that stays, struggles and perseveres.
Sam Gardner, Atypical
Essence is another slightly clichéd term, like purpose. But then, its clichéd because we don’t understand it, or embrace it. It’s easier to laugh at than it is to consider and appreciate it.
So here goes… My Name is Sam, and I am a penguin.
Ok, so I don’t identify as a penguin. I haven’t lost the plot just yet… but in all seriousness I do feel an affinity with the above quote from my namesake, Sam in the Netflix show Atypical (which, if you haven’t already, is well worth a watch). I need to be around other people, I look out for the good of my people, and once I decide to do something – like this – there is no changing my mind.
Yes, I am starting to struggle, so it’s time to dig in and persevere.
It’s ok to struggle.
Just as life in general, the process of change can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride at times. The highs are great and things seem easy, and the lows are shit and things seem altogether pointless.
So you’re not feeling it today? That’s ok.
You feel like giving up might be easier? That’s ok too.
Take a day off. Watch your favourite TV programme, or put on your favourite film. Order some food & eat your favourite meal. Play on your favourite game. Write an entry in your journal – or start one. Talk to someone if you need to – and if you don’t have anyone to talk to, talk to me!
Having off days is perfectly normal. Don’t lose hope. You got this!
I am a strong believer that all stigmas should be challenged and debated – and in modern society we are getting far better at challenging these preconceptions. Social stigmas surrounding mental health, culture, gender, sexuality are often challenged and rightly so – but the social stigma surround change, especially from those closest to us, is rarely discussed.
disapproval or discrimination associated with a particular circumstance or characteristic, particularly those that distinguish and individual or group from the rest of society.
We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, on both sides of this coin. Either the one on the receiving end, or the one of those people dishing it out. It’s often put forward as a joke, or banter (I will do a future post on my disdain for this word). Sometimes it is even badged as life guidance or advice. In rarer and more extreme circumstances it can even be manipulation or an intervention.
It’s that moment when you, or a friend / family member announces they are making a life change. Whether it be a new hobby, a change of career, becoming vegan, a new partner, moving home, moving country, and so on. In that moment, many supportive friends and family members will provide neutral or positive responses, some will offer encouragement, however there are always those dissenting voices. As I mention above, it will often be delivered as a joke aimed to belittle your decision or take the piss (poking fun, for any readers from across the Atlantic). Sometimes its instantaneous, other times its behind your back, or later down the line, but it always seems to crop up, and it always seems to be those people closest to us that deliver the gut punch.
When challenged on this, the defences will range from “come on, it’s a joke” to “well you’ve brought this on yourself, its a silly decision” to “look, all I am saying is, you might want to rethink this”.
But why the hell do they do it? To maintain the status quo. No, not the band… but rather the maintaining of the current situation. Although now I mention it, the lyrics to one of their greatest hits – Down, Down are rather fitting;
I want all the world to see
To see you’re laughing, and you’re laughing at me
See, if you change then it impacts the equilibrium for others. You aren’t the same person you were, and that is too much for some people to accept. Forget that you might be happier & healthier, the important factor for these people is that you aren’t the person you are today… and that prospect frightens some people.
Does this change mean you won’t see them as much? Potentially make new friends? Live further away? Do things they wish they could do? Be more successful? Find true happiness?
For some, those questions will strike fear in to their hearts. They look to a future where you are no longer giving them what you currently do, rather than thinking about how amazing the change could be for you.
Stand And Deliver
These attitudes and the stigma it has created are exactly what we need to challenge. Trying something new, whether we fail or succeed, is crucial to our happiness. We need to stand and deliver a robust response when people decide to joke about our life choices or belittle them in anyway, whether its our parents, siblings, our best friends, colleagues or anyone else for that matter.
If following challenge they aren’t prepared to provide support and take it seriously, then ultimately they don’t deserve to be a part of the future you. Who needs negativity and nastiness in their lives?
Also, shout out to those who noticed me take my musical references from the 70’s through to the 80’s here with Adam and The Ants…
A Little Respect
I’ve started, so I am going to have to continue… In to the late 80’s with Erasure. I may be a 90’s kid, but you’ve got to appreciate the classics!
To be clear, the above is not suggesting that we should have tunnel vision and be ignorant to everyone and everything around us. It is really important to have respect for those closest to us and their views. Healthy debate and challenge is great and helps us focus and make solid and informed decisions. But that respect needs to go both ways. There will be people around you whose views and advice you may want to consider, so engage with them, have that open and honest debate… but also set the ground rules.
It isn’t a chance to belittle you or your vision, but a chance to help you shape it. If they want to input in to your future, and you are happy for them to do it, make it an investment.
Who Do You Believe In?
I believe in you. You should too. Ultimately we either have to be prepared to take some risks, albeit calculated wherever possible, or accept the current situation. Whatever your decision is, back yourself. If you don’t, you can’t expect those around you to invest in your vision either.
It’s ok to stay where you are if that’s what makes you happy, just as it’s ok to make wholesale changes. Society seems to have an unwritten rulebook when it comes to these things. It’s time to tear that work of fiction up, throw it out of the window and write your own future.
Lets see who is on the ball with their musical references – for this last one its a song released in 1999. If you know the artist, drop the answer in the comments!
It is prime time summer, the pubs and bars are finally opening up properly again in post lockdown UK, the weather has been unusually warm, and the Euros are in full swing. Football may well be coming home, after 55 years away… so why on earth would I choose now to quite drinking? Why quit drinking at all?
A lot of these kinds of post can get very preachy and self righteous, so I will preface this post with a quick point of clarification – I am not writing this to try and make other people stop drinking. Neither will I be suggesting that people who do not drink are in some way enlightened or more intelligent than those who do, that simply isn’t true.
Why Quit Drinking?
In the UK, as I am sure in other nations, we seem to have this belief that there is an intrinsic link between fun, happiness and alcohol.
So over the last 18 months, I have completed 2 charity challenges to raise money for mental health charity, Andy’s Man Club and The Trussell Trust supporting a nationwide network of foodbanks across the UK. On both occasions, part of the charity challenge has been no drinking of any alcohol – for a combined total of 190 days. And I haven’t felt as good in years! Having an elongated period with no alcohol was amazing;
getting better quality of sleep – rising earlier, more refreshed
eating far healthier – lack of cravings for junk food / take out
increased energy – no energy dips later in the day
productivity through the roof – clarity of thought and output significantly increased
Yet on both occasions, following the end of the charity challenges, I slipped back in to old habits and found myself drinking on the weekends (or when the football is on). In more recent times, with lockdown restrictions lifting, I have been hosting BBQ’s for birthday parties, friend meet ups and so on… and who grills without a beer in their hand?!
In the past, I have genuinely enjoyed drinking, but having seen the positive impact it has on me when I stop, I no longer get any pleasure from it. If it’s not bringing any happiness, and it is having a net negative impact on my life, the only sensible option in my opinion is to get rid!
The Recovery Period
One of the key characteristics of my drinking habits in the last few years has been to not drink through the week, but then drink with the intention of getting drunk most weekends. It’s a habit a lot of people have, and one I am sure many of you can relate to. I was always the annoying one – never suffering from hangovers, and always fresh and spritely the next day. However what my friends couldn’t see, and what I didn’t want to admit was that whilst the after effects of the alcohol hadn’t left my clutching the toilet or unable to function, it would often have a huge impact on my mental health.
Alcohol is a depressant, and when its exiting your body and your brain is more conscious of its surroundings, it can wreak havoc. For me, that could manifest itself in a few ways, but often would lead to 2 or 3 days of feeling incredibly low. Beating myself up for wasting my weekend being drunk rather than doing something productive, feeling like I was was wasting my life. By day 4 I would be starting to level out, understand it was the after effects of the beer talking and looking back at the last weekend with rose tinted specs. By day 5 it was Friday and time to go again. And so the cycle continues…
Some people reading this may think that drinking to get a bit merry with your friends every weekend is absolutely fine & it may bring you ultimate happiness. I respect that. It’s just that for me personally, I no longer gain that happiness from it – it doesn’t give me purpose or fulfilment.
Why Quit Now Though?
Why not? If something like this isn’t bringing you happiness, it should be removed from your life as soon as possible. Yes, I am sure I will feel slightly gutted I am not drinking with my friends should football come home, as England win Euro 2020(1) – but I will feel a damn sight better the next day when I can remember each and every moment of the game.
As I embark on this journey, I need to clear the decks of distractions, remove anything that will hinder my progress. It’s time to focus on the goal.
Yes, you will still see the occasional post from me on my travels with a glass of wine with a meal or trying a local speciality drink – but the casual consumption is no more.
So here’s to weekends full of activities and memories, to watching the football with a can of Coke Zero, and to grilling with no beer!
I’m very serious about no alcohol, no drugs. Life is too beautiful.
– Jim Carrey
I have reached my limit. I have had some fun times, and some not so fun times along the way with it, but now its time to go our separate ways.
Sounds a little silly, right? I am in pursuit of something that I am yet to properly define. It is really important to understand the journey we are looking to embark upon, and where / what we are aiming for before we take those first strides.
the intention, aim or function of something; the thing that something is supposed to achieve
The Oxford English Dictionary definition seemed a good place to start, but it leaves me with more questions than answers…
What am I supposed to achieve? How do I measure achievement?
What is my function / aim? How do I know when I have found my ‘function’?
What are my intentions? Are they sufficiently challenging and yet still realistic?
At what point does challenge become unrealistic?
And there you have it, an insight in to my thought process. Inquisitive and critical, methodical and frantic.
But if there is one thing I have learnt in recent times, it’s that it is ok to not have all the answers. If we did, life would be pretty damn boring! Part of this process is about discovery and learning.
Iam the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.
– Socrates (via Plato)
Just to be clear, I am not professing to be the wisest of humans – but I do think this quote is an important one to keep in mind. The thirst for knowledge, information and answers can lead to us feeling inadequate when faced with questions about ourselves, and our purpose. When the internal google search returns no results, it’s hard to feel anything but inadequate and incredibly frustrated.
It is ok to not have the answers to internal questions, but it is also important we keep asking them!
Can I define my purpose?
Yes! It isn’t always about knowing exactly where you are going to end up or even the precise journey you are going to undertake. All I need to define at this stage are the traits that will define success for me.
The chances are throughout this journey I will take several detours and the final destination will move more than once! So no, I don’t know where I want to end up, but I do know the traits I am looking for;
Happiness – to wake up each day looking forward to the upcoming 24 hours, either because I am doing something I love, or because I am moving towards doing something I love.
Pride – to have a deep sense of pride in my work and in myself as a human being & to know that I am being the best version of me that I can be.
Achievement – to be able to see the tangible output of my efforts in both work and life.
Fulfilment – to combine happiness, pride and achievement will deliver a sense of fulfilment.
It all sounds a bit cheesy & clichéd, doesn’t it? Well sometimes it’s good to be a bit cheesy! I said at the start of this post;
It is really important to understand the journey we are looking to embark upon, and where / what we are aiming for before we take those first strides.
I might not know the exact co-ordinates of the destination, nor the route or method of transport, but I certainly do understand the journey I am embarking upon, and what I am aiming for.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
The last 18 months have been really difficult for millions of us all around the world. Life seemed good… until a global pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt. Life hasn’t been the same for anyone since February 2020.
Having fallen in to a dangerous cycle of working harder than ever, alongside consuming more of everything, I found myself in a downward spiral. I wasn’t sure where the spiral would end, but I seemed to be hurtling towards the final destination.
Whilst this spiral was exacerbated by the ongoing situation, it felt all too familiar. Somewhere I had been several times over recent years – a place always lurking in the shadows of my life. I had, like many others, avoided answering the difficult questions, content to drift through life, scared of what I would find if I strayed from the path well trodden.
It was time to shine a light on the shadows.
As the light crept in, the shadows melted away and left me with my greatest fear. My inability to answer one of life’s oldest questions. Instead of confronting it, I have continually pushed to the back of my mind. The catalyst for this had been the sudden passing of my Grandma in 2015. Intertwined with the deep sense of pain and loss was the reminder of my mortality. Despite working through my grief, there is one part I have been unable to reconcile. One itch I have failed to scratch. Answering one question…
What is my purpose?
Its so easy to ask, and yet so hard to answer. I have spent the last 5 years avoiding this question, for fear of not having an answer. Would that mean my life was pointless?
I threw myself in to my work, and reaped the benefits for my efforts. I spent the weekends with a packed social life, from meals out with friends to partying. But now I was forced to stop and spend time on my own with my own thoughts.
“Is this it? Is this my life?”
I have been incredibly successful in my career at a young age. It’s a line of work I have a talent for, but it certainly stops a long way short of being my purpose. My social life became non-existent, but even at its height – it was an enjoyable distraction. Was this combination my purpose in life; work long hours, and then party the weekends away, rinse and repeat?
With the answer resoundingly clear, it’s time to make some changes, and focus on my passions.
Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing written posts here, photos on my Instagram page and videos on my new YouTube channel later in the year. The focus will be on travel, food & nature. My content will focus on mental health, and the ups and downs throughout this journey of discovery.
We all believe on some level that our life need purpose. Whether that is following artistic talent, being a parent, playing your favourite sport, following your favourite team(s), or partying the long in to the night with your friends.
For it to be our purpose, it has to be our passion.