Thursday, 25 July 2019

Zombies and Sharks

Hi friends!

It's been a wee while since I've written anything on the ol' blog, or felt inspired to write anything for myself at all. The truth is I haven't felt very 'me' over the last few weeks and have been zombie-ing through life a bit by going to work, coming home, hiding in my room and watching Netflix, and not feeling much like anything. There have been some really great days where the sun has shone and I've swam in the sea and all has felt well, but overall, it's been a strange time and one that doesn't spark much inspiration, writing-wise.

I've blamed it on a lot of things - the weather up here (rainy 90% of the time), not being able to see my friends, having to live in a houseshare and not having our own space, and not feeling connected to anything or anyone here. All those factors have added to the 'meh' feeling and the more I feel that way, the less likely I am to do anything about it. It's easier and more comfortable to stay in my Netflix cave and zombie out.

Over the past couple of weeks I've been trying to get myself out of it and focus on things that make me feel like myself again. I've said yes to a couple of things I would have normally avoided, and have tried to focus on positive energy instead of getting bogged down by any negativity around me.

I also came across this blog I wrote a few months ago for a writing competition. I didn't win (HOW DARE THEY) so I didn't do anything with the post. When I re-read it this week it struck me that this was from a time where I felt absolutely empowered, inspired and happy, and truly ME. So I thought 'what the heck' and have decided to post it here. Enjoy:

We were about two minutes into our ascent, and I took a moment to take a final look below me. Two more thresher sharks were gliding smoothly back into the blue and I stopped briefly to watch them, still completely in awe of their graceful movement. As we continued upward, sunlight broke through the surface and danced around us making the water sparkle.

Pausing for our safety stop I took a moment to reflect on the last four days. A week ago, the idea of diving had made my heart palpitate with fear and I’d have laughed if someone told me I’d be able to conquer it in less than a week. Yet here I was just a few days later, ascending from a 30-metre shark dive and on a complete high. 

I looked across at the women I’d taken this journey with and could tell they were feeling the same joy. We played rock paper scissors while we counted down the minutes, and laughed through our regulators. It was surreal and wonderful, and it suddenly hit me that I’d never felt more alive or empowered as I did in this moment. My eyes brimmed with happy tears as I realised that facing my ultimate fear and learning to dive was the best decision I’d ever made.

I’ve always been a bit of a panicky person. The idea of running out of air in any setting gives me recurring nightmares and I can’t watch any films set in space or underwater in-case things go wrong (spoiler alert: they always do). I tried diving a few years ago and my instructor attempted to teach me a couple of skills. The moment I let my mask fill with water I panicked so much that he was forced to take me back up to the surface. The rest of the dive was a blur as I concentrated so hard on staying calm that I barely noticed any of the marine life around me. I wrote diving off after that – it clearly wasn’t for me.

Two years later and I’m travelling around South East Asia with Nick. He’s an experienced diver and would often go on dive adventures during our travels, whilst I did my own sightseeing on dry land. I enjoyed exploring on my own, but always wondered what I was missing out on underwater.

It was when we arrived in Malapascua, a small island in the Philippines, that the idea of learning to dive resurfaced. I would be spending the next few days here on my own as Nick was off to visit an old friend on another island. I was figuring out my plans and when he suggested getting my PADI open water, I decided on impulse to do it. I don’t know if it was being surrounded by the inviting turquoise Visayan sea that changed my mind or the fact that I was two Pina Coladas in, but it suddenly seemed like an excellent idea and excitement began to override the fear.

I signed up with Divelink Cebu and met my instructor who was wonderful and immediately put me at ease. Mariela encouraged me to let her know which parts frightened me (TAKING MY MASK OFF, DYING UNDERWATER, EVERYTHING!) and didn’t make me feel stupid when I panicked once again on our first dive. Instead, she invited me to put my trust in her, beautifully managed to convey her sense of humour underwater to calm me down, and by a couple of dives later I was filling my mask with water like it was the most normal part of my day.

On the boat heading out for our second dive, anxiety hit once again. I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the task, short of breath and downright terrified. As I sat on the edge of the rib and fought back tears, Mariela noticed that all was not well, and helped me get my breathing back to normal. She assured me she would be watching the whole time and that I ABSOLUTELY COULD do this. I eventually believed her, calmed myself down, and took the plunge.

By the time we had finished that second dive, something had clicked. Somehow in those 45 minutes the sensible part of my brain had taken over and restored calm, and the realisation had hit me out of the blue that this! It was all about breathing! Why had no one told me? Although there were some skills that took me a while to master, I was taking to diving like a…well…fish to water. By our fourth and final dive I had mastered my buoyancy and was finally able to relax, and in doing so, I was able to notice everything around me. Nudibranchs, huge brightly coloured coral, clownfish, pipefish, huge cushiony sea stars – it was a colourful world down there! I knew before we had even surfaced that I wanted more.

After qualifying as open water divers, my dive buddy Corinna and I immediately signed up to go on a thresher shark dive. It would be a dive down to 30 metres where the sharks hang out and we had to take another exam to be able to descend that far. We were both giddy with excitement (and nitrogen) at that point and couldn’t wait.

Malapascua is the only place in the world where you are almost guaranteed to see thresher sharks every day. Monad Shoal is a sunken island off Malapascua that drops down to 230 metres. The sharks live and hunt in the deep water but each morning before the sun comes up, will surface to 30 metres for a good old morning shower at the cleaning stations. It just so happens that there’s a natural ledge perfect for observers at this exact spot. Hence why hundreds of divers flock to Malapascua every day and usually can’t help but stay longer than they anticipated. This isn’t a dive you just want to do once.

Our shark dive was magnificent. We saw five thresher sharks in total and they were the most beautiful, graceful creatures I’d ever seen in the wild. Mariela seemed to be able to spot them appearing out of the blue way before my eyes had adjusted, and it was hard not to hold my breath as they’d silently glide past. I’ve never had a fear of sharks, and I felt so privileged to be in this proximity to them in their natural habitat. It was incredibly peaceful watching them doing their thing, uninterested in the divers watching them, just going about their daily business.

Our time at 30 metres was over way too quickly and soon we were back on the surface once again. On the boat back to Malapascua island, Corinna and I were absolutely buzzing, and the high lasted a good couple of weeks.

I'd completely recommend doing something that scares you. Facing my fear and learning to dive was the best thing I’ve ever done. The feeling of breathing underwater is addictive, freeing and totally exhilarating. I can’t wait to get back down there again.

Friday, 24 May 2019

What's the story in Tobermory?

Staying true to the name of this blog, Nick and I have once again uprooted and this time moved up to the Isle of Mull in Scotland. For those who don't know, Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides and lies just off the west coast of Scotland. We moved here because after a few months of sending off many, many, MANY job applications all over the country, Nick was offered a wildlife guide job for a whale and dolphin watching tour company. It is so incredibly hard to find an actual paying job in the marine conservation or marine tourism field in the UK, so it was such a relief for both of us when he was offered the position. I was then offered a role at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, working in their visitors centre in Tobermory. I'm really enjoying it so far and get to talk about whales and dolphins all day long - heaven! Both our jobs are seasonal roles and will end some time around September/October when the town quietens down for the winter months.

That's Tobermory - you may recognize it from it's television alter ego Balamory!

We've been here a month now and it's safe to say that Mull is absolutely stunning. Even when driving around the island on a rainy day, the views take my breath away. The mountains are dramatic, the lochs and beaches are beautiful and the wildlife is epic. So far I've seen minke whales, common dolphins, harbour porpoise, puffins, red deer, golden eagles and white tailed eagles. Nick saw his first basking shark of the summer this week, and has had a few encounters with bottlenose dolphins (Scotland has the biggest bottlenose beasts in the world!) I feel very lucky to be spending a summer here and will try cram as much as possible into the next few months.

It feels like a different world up here. The water is so clear and some of the rock formations are insane. I never thought I'd get excited about rock formations but here we are. We went on a boat tour to Lunga to see the colony of puffins last week and oh my GAWSH are they cute. Did you know a baby puffin is called a PUFFLING?! As if they couldn't get more adorable.

Although we're incredibly grateful for these jobs, we're definitely at a point in life now where we'd quite like to stay in one place for a bit longer instead of moving from one seasonal job to the next. We both love going to new places and meeting new people, but being the 'newbies' all the time definitely takes it's toll, especially in small communities where friendships are already so tight.

It's really got me thinking about how moving around all the time affects us all and our emotional well-being. As humans we crave community, it's how our brains are wired. Once upon a time, you would be born in a certain town, grow up and get a job, marry a local, have kids and continue the cycle. Nobody would leave the place they grew up in and would therefore have a tight community of family and friends that would look out for one another. These days most of us will leave home at 18 and many won't end up going back. A lot of us will move cities, countries and even continents and won't settle down in the traditional sense, but keep moving to the next place, the next job, next adventure.

Now I'm not saying there's a right or wrong way to live out a life and there's definitely pros and cons to both. But from our own experience and talking to friends who are in the same position as us, not having that tight community of people around who know you, really know you properly, can leave you feeling out of place and a bit lost, even in the most beautiful of places. Sometimes all it takes is a connection with one or two other people and suddenly you feel a bit more at home, and sometimes it's something a lot bigger.

After the earthquake in Kaikoura our little community developed a bond so strong that I'll always feel a deep connection to the town and to everyone who went through it. We felt at home in Kaikoura much quicker than we probably would have if it wasn't for the earthquake because everybody pulled together to get through that difficult time, helping each other out and having each other's back when things were tough. It was community in the true sense of the word. I miss Kaikoura and New Zealand all the time and still feel like we're not quite done with it yet.

I'm not really sure what my point is here but it's something I've been mulling over, and a recent chat with a friend who's just moved to a new town and is struggling a bit got me thinking about it all. Saying all that, I wouldn't swap our adventures and the experiences we've had for the world!

We don't know what we're going to do when this season comes to an end in October, or where we'll end up anchoring down next, so watch this space. For now we're going to soak up as much of Mull as possible, see as much wildlife as we can, and enjoy each day of Scottish summer! The weather has been mostly lush so far, which everyone says is rare for Mull. I'm hoping it continues, but even if it doesn't, there are far worse places to be!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The F Word

On Sunday my friends and I donned suffragette sashes and rosettes, a generous amount of face glitter and a bucket load of righteous female attitude and marched our way through the rain towards Westminster Methodist Central Hall. We were joining over 1600 other folk at March4Women2019, an annual event usually in the form of a march across central London, but this year took the shape of an indoor rally.

The venue was no afterthought either. Methodist Central Hall happens to be an early meeting place of what would become the Suffragette Movement over 100 years ago. We let this fact sink in properly as we settled into our seats, and took a moment to think of all the incredibly brave women that came before and did so much for us. 

The afternoon was wonderful. A real joyful celebration of women opening with Beverley Knight singing 'I'm Every Woman'  and everybody dancing down the aisles.

There was more music and interviews with activists and badass women who have changed actual laws to improve the lives of women, men and non-binary folk. Celebrities including Helena Bonham Carter and David Tennant gave readings and Annie Lennox closed the event. It was just fantastic.

Beautiful Jayne reacting in the appropriate way as Annie Lennox arrives on stage

We left the venue inspired, empowered and full of energy, and marched off once more through the torrential rain in search of a pub where we could toast each other, and the heroines who risked everything for us a hundred years ago. 

I've wanted to write about feminism for a long time. The point of starting this blog was to give myself a blank slate to talk about all things that matter to me, instead of being restricted to travel writing. So far the posts have mostly been about travel and general life updates which is fine, but they are subjects I find easy to write about. Being a feminist is something I am proud of, but sometimes struggle to put into words.

This isn't uncommon and I know others have the same problem when it comes to talking about something that stirs up emotion. When I feel put on the spot, especially by someone with strong opposing views, I completely freeze and can't remember any of my own opinions never mind any facts. This usually results in an outburst of anger or emotional tears from myself, making any point that comes out of my mouth completely useless and just reinforces the other person's point of view.

I have so much admiration for friends who always seem to know what to say in these situations. My best friend Kate has always been incredible at debating, ever since we met aged 11. I remember watching her in awe during high school debates and marveling at how well she remembered key points, listened carefully to her opponent and gave amazing answers. I would sit silently at the back avoiding the teacher and praying I wasn't called on next! Kate says she suffers with emotional brain freeze all the time too, but to me it seems like she's always nailing it. 

I used to think 'Feminist' was a dirty word. Up until I was about 21 I was the type of person who would claim to 'just get on more easily with boys' despite having had solid female friendship groups my entire life. I thought being a feminist meant I had to HATE men, which obviously didn't sound appealing at all. My only obvious point of reference was an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch where she went back in time to the 60's and the women were talking about being feminists and burning their bras. I genuinely thought being a feminist meant I had to burn my bras, stop shaving my legs and throw away my hair straighteners and make up. To sum up...I WAS CLUELESS. Good job I had Kate as a best friend!

Kate has improved my life in many ways over the past 20 years but one of the things I will thank her for to the end of my days was when she lent me her copy of Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman. This book completely changed my life. I learned that being a feminist didn't mean any of the things I had previously thought. In the first chapter she breaks it down into such a simple definition even my tiny ignorant brain could handle it:

She wrote that all it means is the belief that everybody should be equal. That is all. No bra burning. No leg hair growing (unless you want to, which is absolutely fine too), no hair straightener binning (luckily I did this on my own anyway a few years later). Just the belief in equality for all, focusing on addressing the imbalance between men and women.

The way she wrote about feminism made it sound exciting and fun, a club that I wanted to be a part of. She made me realise I already WAS a feminist, I just hadn't noticed yet. It also stirred something in my heart that had been lying dormant for years but was more than ready to wake up. I cried a lot whilst reading the book, realising that so many things that had happened to me and my friends in the past that I thought were normal and fine, were absolutely not. That the way my gender was treated by male friends, boyfriends, strangers and the media was wrong and 'boys being boys' wasn't an excuse that sat with me well anymore. I realised that we live in a patriarchal society whose expectations of men and women continuously lead to serious problems for all genders.

After I finished the book I read it again from the start to finish. I was angry that it had taken me so long to have this epiphany, but I was excited and ready to start living as a baby feminist. I began to notice inequality everywhere I turned. It may have been more comfortable living in my previous bubble but I was so glad to have finally woken up to this new way of looking at life. 

I realised feminist heroes had been there all along quietly pushing me in the right direction. As an eight year old Disney Princess obsessive convinced that once you find your 'prince' and get married everything will be OK, the Spice Girls were the heroines I didn't know I needed. My parents may have been shocked at my abrupt change of music taste (and clothes) but they taught me that girls could have fun and support each other without a prince in sight. I spent most of my 13th year singing along with Destiny's Child about how "I pay my own fun and I pay my own bills, always fifty fifty in relationships" (spoiler alert readers: I had no bills and had never been in a relationship) but was SOLD on the idea of being an Independent Woman. Leia was there too, showing me that princesses can save themselves and be total bad-asses even when it seems like you're the only woman in a galaxy full of men.

There were the women in my real life too of course. My Mum, starting her own business from scratch and generally being the most loving, kind and amazing person I know. My Granny, always doing exactly what she wanted and never settling. All of my Aunties and my female cousins, all inspirational women who have fought their own tough battles. And of course Kate - my best friend and soul sister. Thank you for sticking by me when I declared myself 'not a feminist'. For patiently explaining what it actually meant. For showing me unconditional love and support all the time. For lending me 'How To Be A Woman.' For fighting every day for women and our equality. You're a radical feminist babe!

Annie Lennox closed the March4Women event by encouraging us all to be 'Global Feminists'. To believe in the ‘equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available to every woman and girl in every corner of the world".This is something I want to take seriously and use my privilege as a white western woman to be an advocate for those who's voices aren't heard. You can read more about Annie's work here and how to get involved.

There's a lot more I want to say. This post is just the start, an introduction really. I hope to focus on and write about specific issues, interview women about their stories, and hopefully report back on a lot more marches and rallies. 

Peace, Love and Girl Power x