Hiking#1: Snowdonia (Beddgelert Day 2)

Waking to the chimes of Elegia by New Order is replaced today with the chides from my inner dialogue aiming directly towards the West Country folks on the next pitch who decide to continue unabated with the excessive noise levels of the previous evening. Whilst slightly annoyed, it does at least give me the get-up-and-go to get up and go.

After donning the trusty boots that served me well the previous day, I walk towards the lake and the morning dew on the grass gets to work on removing the mud from yesterday. The lake is shrouded in fine mist and is an eerie yet beautiful sight. I perch myself on a rock next to the lake and cease all thought processes, instead tuning in to the distant roar of flowing water, gulls swooping over the lake and the nearest snores of happy campers.

The call of nature kicks off my own call of nature and I make my way over to the toilet block noticing that the sun is rising over the distant hills to create biblical campfire in the sky, the early morning mist hanging like smoke in the air.

IMG_3156

The condensation is heavy on the tent so we shake it off and pack it away in record speed. I love the simplicity of the Nova Two Hundred, up and down in minutes and only two kilograms to carry in the backpack, it will really come into its own when I go wild camping soon.

After the morning evacuations are over, we concur that the on-site toilet paper was akin to wiping ones ass on a velvet owl, so smooth was the experience, quite unlike the majority of other sites we have visited. With our gear safely packed away in the boot of the car and the day pack ready to roll, we drive off to our starting point for the day, Bethania, which sounds like a country within a country to me. Once the parking ticket had been stuck to the driver’s door, we dine on cereal bars and water and head across the road to the start of the Watkin Path, from which we will split off from to take the path to Yr Aran, which standing at 2452ft is Snowdonias’ forty-second highest mountain for those counting.

We have been to the summit of Snowdon three times before but I decide against that today as I want to start “bagging” the ninety-three “Furths” and “Hewitts” in Snowdonia. Luke has already taken the majority of the path we intend to take today as his DofE Gold Award took him through the ridge line which dissects Yr Aran and Allt Maenderyn.

IMG_3213

As we start off on the path, I hear some fellow ramblers talking in Polish nearby (using several words I recognise from my many travels to Krakow) and the party leader makes his way over to me and asks for directions to the Llanberes path which is quite some distance away on the other side of Snowdon. I tell him that I think he is in the wrong place which gets lost in translation and after he asks for directions to “the big mountain” I show him the route up to Snowdon via the Watkin Path and off the party go.

IMG_3162

In terms of preparation for hiking (and I’m only a novice starting off) but there is too much preparation, the right preparation, not enough preparation and no preparation at all and our Polish walkers sadly fall into the latter, dressing in velour tracksuits and pink Converse will likely mean they will struggle ahead.

We cut the trail through the wood which opens out now so that we see the first views of Snowdon and the free-flowing water cascading down the hillside, noting that there will be plenty of opportunities to re-use the new water filtration system today.

IMG_3171

We head off our Polish brethren at the pass and take a short cut across the grass and swampy area to leave them with their path and clean trainers and quickly reach the point at which we leave the Watkin Path and head for Yr Aran. A small path heads up slightly and we get our first glimpse of the peak in the distance, not only does it look far away but looks quite tricky too, but when proximity occurs such peaks very rarely are.

IMG_3174

After a while we glance across at the Watkin and find no evidence to suggest that our Eastern European comrades have taken the trickier part of the path and presume that they have headed back down to the comfort of both the ride to Llanberes and the train up the mountain, where on board their choice of clothing for the day is absolutely welcomed.

IMG_3177

We reach the ridge line and see that the way up Yr Aran isn’t as difficult as is looked from below.

IMG_3179

We cross a few dry stone walls and circle around a small tarn and as we start our final ascent of the weekend, the wind starts whipping up. Thanks to the Uni Qlo down jacket my sudden onset of cold is banished and I beckon Luke to crack on, only he is now spent. The activities of yesterday, the hard slog across the pathless hillside to this point and having no requirement to bag Yr Aran today, he insists on sheltering from the wind which I dutifully nod to. I ask him to look after the backpack and throw the cars key on the top and head onward.

IMG_3184

I guess like most peaks in Snowdonia, there are paths that pretty much take you to the top and Yr Aran is no exception to this. It takes about twenty minutes to peak the mountain and I take some well earned Haribo, sat strewn between a handful of soon-to-be woolly jumpers enjoying mid-morning breakfast of grass and more grass.

The view from the top is pretty good, the summit of Snowdon hidden from view by the clouds which makes it all the more mysterious as I’ve not seen it from this angle before. Off in the distance I see Llyn Gwynant where we started out this morning, a long way away now.

IMG_3187

As is now customary, I take a small rock from the top of Yr Aran to add to my growing collection back home and make my way back to Luke and the backpack. The path down is often more taxing on the knees and legs and there is no exception here. I temporarily forget where I had left both son and bag and jog right past both of them them, thankfully I am “singing” one of the tracks from the latest Royal Blood album as I trot and Luke pops his head over the wall to holler and I stop and wait for him.

We retrace our steps back towards the Watkin and as we reach the path again we see a couple on a quad bike with three sheepdogs in tow. The lady alights and puts a whistle to her and the dogs sprint off to round up several stray sheep, with a particular plump one struggling to escape, possible and sadly ending up nestling under a heap of mint jelly later on in the day.

IMG_3202

We reach the end of the path and with that, all cardiac activities cease for this weekend. Rather disappointingly, I end up with a bag full of plastic bottles collected on the way down (as I tend to do when I have space) from inconsiderate and accidental tourists.

With the car looming into sight as we make it back to the road, it hit me.

“The car keys” I scream, “I left them by the wall!”

“That’s unfortunate isn’t it” Luke replies smugly, “I’ll wait in the cafe for you, can I have some money for a coffee?”.

“Oh man, I can’t believe it.”

“Believe this.” and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the keys. The relief on my face must have been a picture, but I think it was a missed opportunity for him as if it was me, I’d have at least seen him take a few steps back up the mountain before the jangling took place.

We check back in at the Caffi Gwynant and successfully access the free wifi after several attempts of inputting the lengthy and complicated Welsh password and send our first message back home due to the total network blackout in the Beddgelert region.

I reflect on our first dedicated overnight hiking trip as we quaff some hot java and it has been a great trip for many reasons. The digital detoxification goes without saying, the test of the new equipment was a success and as for spending quality one-to-one time with Luke, priceless…

Advertisements

Hiking#1: Snowdonia (Beddgelert Day 1)

Waking to the chimes of Elegia by New Order usually heralds the start of another working day but today is different. My weekend alarm clock is rarely turned on, and my circadian rhythm gets me up at this time anyway, but the ethereal tones of one of Manchester’s finest (made famous by the hit television series Stranger Things) today brings a smile to my face.

I turn to hit the snooze button for the mandatory nine-minutes of lethargy but realise that time waits for no man (or woman) and head for the shower, knocking on my sons door first. Our aim is to get on the road for seven o clock so we can start our foot journey through several parts of Snowdonia, an area quickly turning into my second home.


We convene in the kitchen for a travellers breakfast of cereal bars and coffee and place our backpacks in the boot of the car and head for the Welsh border. Motorway travel is overly tedious and repetitive but thankfully we only need to take it for twenty miles before we start on the smaller roads, and with that the first sight of digital detoxification.

The Clwydian range is only forty minutes from home with a prevailing wind and as we pass over the border we see Jubilee Tower atop Moel Famau, a family favourite we head to each Boxing Day in an attempt to walk off the calorie overload from the day before.

The weather report for the weekend does not look great but the highly paid folks at the BBC and Met Office rarely get it right these days and as Snowdonia approaches, the dark clouds do seem to be gathering ahead so maybe they have it right this time.

One of the main things about leaving the city behind is the attention to detail returns away from the noise of everyday life and it never surprises how quickly the stress levels diminish as red blocks are replaced by green carpets. This is apparent as we pass through the small town of Llanwrst. Whilst admiring the quaintness of the village we pass by a church on the other side of a small river, a church I have seen many times before except this time I notice an ancient stone circle in the foreground, for me a sign that the complexity and noise of city living is already wearing off.

We pass through the beautiful Betws-Y-Coed without incident. The last two times I have been here has oddly put me into situations with the locals, neither of them my really fault. On the first occasion, a driver pulled out in front of me sharply and I had to slam hard on the breaks, subsequently beeping my horn in disgust. I made my way to a nearby garage to stop and check that the kids were alright, I turned to face the other driver who had me followed me, jumping out of his car to threaten me as I fixed my three year old daughters seat belt. He quickly backed down when I asked him did whether he really wanted to start a fight in front of a little girl, the situation presented to him thankfully made him stop and splutter, followed by a quick retreat to his car, put in his place rightly by his wife who calmly whispered in my ear that her husband was an idiot and the incident wasn’t my fault.

More recently when we heading over to Snowdon for an ascent with the children, I took a wrong turn down a narrow road and started to make a U-turn across what I thought to be some wasteland, which turned out to be a locals front lawn, a front lawn which was apparently being seeded at the time. As I went to pull off, the house owner threw himself in front of my car and started screaming at me, literally frothing at the mouth. I wasn’t sure whether he had recently been bitten by a rabid dog or whether he hadn’t finished brushing his teeth but either way I didn’t feel the urge to stick around so I waved an apologetic hand and got back on the road.

We arrive at Llyn Gwynant campsite at eight-thirty and check in, the clouds beginning to clear already. My son has recently finished part one of his Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Gold Award and has stayed at the site before, I did try to persuade him to wild camp but he didn’t seem overly keen and I was happy for the company so I didn’t push it this time.

IMG_3074

The site is right at the edge of the lake deep in an almost crater-like valley. I look around and notice a middle-aged man dressed in regular hiking gear sitting at the edge of the lake meditating, becoming one with his surroundings.

“Looks like a great place” I say to Luke.

“That’s why we are here” he replies, spouting wisdom beyond his years.

We decide to move all of the hiking equipment into one backpack so we can lighten the load and share the burden and start making our way around the edge of the lake, nearly losing our shoes to the mud in the process. My intent was always to park at Rhyd Ddu and hike to the campsite with all of our camping gear, but the overnight parking rules in Snowdonia prevent that so we are left with little alternative but to take the Snowdon Sherpa bus from the campsite to Beddgelert and get a connection to our starting point from there.

We arrive in Beddgelert at ten-past-ten and wonder if waiting the one-hour-ten for the next bus is the best option. I see the sign for the train station and I wonder whether it is an operable one as my research of transport in the local area yielded no results on the train network website. As we make our way over to the station we hear a loud peep and come to the conclusion that the train is in fact a steam train and we see it moving ahead, as if it was just leaving. Luckily a local couple advise that the train will stop suddenly and wait for around five minutes for passengers, so we quickly head over to the ticket office and secure two tickets to the village we were pronouncing so woefully, Rhyd Ddu is not “Rid Doo” we are politely informed but “Rith-the”. Rudimentary Welsh language lesson one complete.

As we climb aboard, we are both quietly excited, me more so, as we have never been on a steam train before. This was a new “modus iter facio” for us and as we depart for our destination, we place our heads out of the windows (right above the sign which advises us to do the contrary) and take in the alien yet strangely aromatic smells of the steam and soot mix and get an eye full of black particles in the process.

IMG_3080

An at-seat trolley service serves us both up a cup freshly brewed instant travel coffee which we quaff without a quality assurance discussion, taking in the views of nature, including free range chicken farms, fast running streams and of course the many Furths and Hewitts of Snowdonia.

The train pulls into our destination station and we gather our things. As we walk down the platform we see the First Class Pullman carriage which looks rather cosy and admire the steam engine, a fabulous machine and truly historic way to travel.

IMG_3107

Our path starts across the road from the station and as self-proclaimed leader of the pack, Luke beckons me to follow him which I dutifully do. Although he has trodden the path weeks earlier with his DofE comrades, my road today is a journey between nowhere and nowhere with a bunch of nothing in between and I kind of like that.

The trail takes us to the base of Y Garn but we don’t take the mountain path and instead head for the trees of Beddgelert Forest passing several runners, ramblers and riders as we go.

IMG-3108

It’s times like these that I value the most. Modern life is far too complicated and filled with distraction, walking through the overhanging canopy with the sun shining through the cracks seems to evaporate all remaining pockets of stress and memories of the commercial model.

Luke opens up too and quality one-to-one time with him always reveals his inner thoughts even though at times I still have to tease them out of him. Amongst the opulent foliage, a rural tapestry backdrop, our conversation quickly turns to the meta-physical concept of happiness and I ask him what truly makes him happy. A semi-closeted response reveals that travelling and reading are the main things that make him happy. He reveals his future plan to travel over land from the UK to Japan, snaking through Europe and Northern Asia swooping down through Malaysia, the country where he spent his formative years.

I concur without challenge and admire that as a sixteen year old he has such drive and ambition to see the world rather than read about it in a book. We discuss my latest blog which covers the twenty-eight countries I have been to and talk of my experiences, a lot of which he also shares, all of which seems to turn a light on in him as he subsequently rattles off all of the places he intends to visit and the reasons for doing so.

As the sun beats down I notice that his left arm is becoming slightly inflamed and I tell him to cover up. The fact that he is here on the path today is a real bonus for me, as things could have been very different.

A number of years back he started his own exploration of Mother Earth by commencing with the DofE program and it was whilst he was on his first mission that disaster struck.

I recall in detail the phone call I received from the DofE Leader as I was travelling back from a business trip to London. He relayed the news that Luke had been involved in an accident and “as a precaution” he was on his way to Wrexham General hospital. I remember at the time, time slowed down and something in the pit of my stomach dropped a few feet, all external sound was extinguished and my inner dialogue went into overdrive. He asked me could I get to the hospital to pick him up once discharged and I advised my current travel plans and that I would enlist the driving services of the wife.

Brokering that deal was never going to be easy and although I tried to lessen the impact and emotion I was not very successful. She drove at breakneck speeds to the hospital as I diverted my route home to meet them all there.

I got to the hospital as soon as I could, neither knowing the finer details of the injury nor how it had happened. Seeing a thirteen-year-old child with skin and blisters dripping from an arm was a tough thing to see. As he took pauses from Entonox intakes (gas and air to the uneducated) he let his unfortunate story unfold. As the group were preparing the evening meal, one of his comrades circumvented the safety procedures and filled up the stove not with the safety bottle, but from a 5 litre canister of paraffin oil. This was passed on to Luke who then proceeded to fill up the stove not knowing that the flame was not yet out. The resulting splash back engulfed him with flames and but for the quick thinking of another comrade who pushed him into a nearby stream, the injuries I saw before me that night could have been a whole lot worse.

We live in a society which mocks and ridicules those who do not look like models in glamour publications and as an aspiring actor, if it was Luke’s face that was covered in flames and not his arm, then his future career would likely be over and with that all manner of psychological problems and days like this may not have taken place. Thankfully over time he recovered and all that remains now is a tea-stain which flares up when he has had too much sun.

What does show the measure of him and his sheer determination is by taking his Silver and Gold DofE Awards and that real-life experience gives valuable insights in what not to do at times.

Running low on water supplies we stop off at a small waterfall in the forest and try out the new MSR Trailshot which is a hand-pumped filtration device for those on the move, all very successfully implemented.

IMG-3114

“So what is your favourite book?” Luke asks randomly.

“Well as you know” I say rather embarrassingly “I’m not a big reader but there are several books that come to mind.”

“Just one will do.” comes the response.

“If I had to narrow it down to one desert island book it would probably be the book I’ve never read.”

“Huh?”

“I’m currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig and I already have a feeling it will be that.”

“So what is it about?”

“So far it’s about a guy who embarks on a motorcycle journey across America with his son, and through it discusses numerous philosophical discussions around materialism, metaphysics and his own mental health after thinking far too much about the first two M’s.”

“You really are a pseudo-hippy aren’t you?” he says accompanied by that sarcastic smile he casts from time to time.

“What exactly do you mean?” I question, slightly annoyed.

“Well here we have a man who says he loathes capitalism and commercialism, burns joss sticks, takes yoga lessons and reads books on consciousness and metaphysics, who works in the oil and gas industry, drives a Jeep and owns property in the UK and USA.”

“Hey that sounds like me.” I say, trying to diffuse a potential negative vibe from occuring.

“It is you, and then there was all that Yoga Mike crap where you created an alter ego for Facebook so that people you didn’t want to connect with couldn’t find you, you do realise how hypocritical that was right?”

“Let’s just say that I had my reasons at the time, and as an intellectually enlightened youth who has obviously lived this life before” said with an equally sarcastic smile “you showed me the error of my ways and ‘It’ no longer exists.”

“Yeah right.” he smugly concludes.

We continue walking through the forest after this amusing exchange with no aftermath of bitterness, but I smile inwardly knowing that he was totally correct and possesses a very wise head on young shoulders.

As we near Beddgelert the friendliness of the passer-by diminishes as is the way with most places, the further away from humanity one gets the more humane it becomes when you do see fellow man (or woman).

Beddgelert is a lovely little town and always a vibrant place whenever I visit, full of ramblers passing through the wonder of Snowdonia, stopping off briefly to take in local ice creams and locally brewed ales.

IMG_3075.JPG

We take a slight detour to take in Gelerts’ grave, and according to legend, the stone monument in the field marks the resting place of ‘Gelert’, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. The story, as written on the tombstone reads:

“In the 13th century Llewelyn, prince of North Wales, had a palace at Beddgelert. One day he went hunting without Gelert, ‘The Faithful Hound’, who was unaccountably absent. On Llewelyn’s return the truant, stained and smeared with blood, joyfully sprang to meet his master. The prince alarmed hastened to find his son, and saw the infant’s cot empty, the bedclothes and floor covered with blood. The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound’s side, thinking it had killed his heir. The dog’s dying yell was answered by a child’s cry. Llewelyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed, but nearby lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain. The prince filled with remorse is said never to have smiled again. He buried Gelert here”.

The weather is hot today so we are not surprised to see the local “squad” bathing and swimming in the deeper parts of the Afon Colwyn and a part of Luke is eager to get back to Llyn Gwynant to the exact same.

We head out on the trail towards Llyn Dinas which follows the river and pass a delightful collection of Welsh cottages as we leave the village. As the town disappears out of view behind us, we follow the river trail and I stop a while to talk to a group of ramblers who are foraging deep in the hedgerows for wild blackberries. Our energy so far had been kept up by Luke’s mandatory sponsor for the trip, Haribo, but I quickly deselect this as the travelling snack of choice and stockpile on the delicious and free fayre served up by Mother Nature herself.

IMG_3129

We look to press on around the lake but our path is blocked by a herd of black cows, with a particularly aggressive looking bull complete with a golden ring through his nose goading us for a confrontation which he is not getting from us today.

Up ahead we see the main road again and with it a stop at the Caffi Gwynant for our second coffee of the day, a caffeine boost required for the final push, which as Luke advises, involves some scrambling.

Instead of taking the leisurely path that takes us through farms, we instead take the alternative route next to the river and nearly lose our shoes for the second time today. We cross a bridge next to the opening of the lake and proceed through the trees to the side of Gallt Y Wenallt where indeed our path up is strewn with boulders and rocks which adds to the whole experience and for me is the highlight of the hike.

IMG_3143

We reach base camp at three-thirty and set up the wild camping tent in a not so wild camping location in minutes and decide it is in our best interests to drive back into town to pick up some supplies for the evening, namely cider, a towel for Luke’s swim back at Llyn Gwynant and some joss sticks, not for the pseudo-hippy shopper, but as a deterrent to the thousands of midges and gnats that dance in the descending sunlight above our tent.

IMG_3144

As this trip also serves as a test for my recent purchases, I fire up the impressive Coleman PCS FyreStorm stove which heats the water for our Adventure Food evening meals within a ridiculously short amount of time, the ensuing pasta the perfect accompaniment to the on-site pizza we have just purchased from the travelling trattoria, and with the quaffing of cider to wash it down against a backdrop of spiralling smoke signals from the joss sticks, it is a perfect way to round off another perfect day in Snowdonia for me, for Luke a quick swim in the lake which doubles up as his shower for the evening rounds off a perfect day for him…

IMG_3145

How To Be An Explorer Of The World…

Dating back eight years, I was given a book entitled ‘How To Be An Explorer Of The World’ as a leaving gift from my work colleagues, my wonderful time in Malaysia had come to its sad, pre-planned and inevitable end. As with a great many tomes on my bookshelf, there it sat gathering layers of dust, until today.

HTBAEOTW

The book itself is actually quite cool, acting as it where like a field journal, proposing to the reader various ways to explore our green and pleasant lands, from collecting thirty different things on the school run to documenting the textures of various tree bark in far away places.

The reason why it was dusted down was primarily due to my recent camping and hiking trips, the experiences (in what is turning out to be a great UK summer) giving me the focus and drive to get out more and leave capitalism behind (until I need it again to top up the funds for more adventures…).

I often say to people that I’ve travelled all over the world (which is not technically true as I have only visited four out of the seven continents so far) and that of all the places I’ve been to, my favourite place in the world is North Wales, more specifically Snowdonia.

The unbridled vistas from the top of Snowdon rightly crowned it ‘Best UK View 2017’ and after my last trip up there under a cloudless sky with brothers, sons, daughter and nephews in tow, it is hard, in fact impossible, to dispute.

It’s not only the views that keep me going back for more, it’s the accessibility, the scenic variability and the serenity of the place that puts me at peace with the world (both inner and outer).

People genuinely seem quite surprised when I tell them and naturally ask which other places I have been to, so this post goes some way (if not all the way) to describe my most memorable memories of the twenty-eight countries I have visited so far.

Visiting all of the wonderful places on Earth allows the traveller to experience countries and cultures first-hand, and as my previous post on Robin Williams suggested, life is experience not knowledge and if you have a choice and the financial backing, then don’t obtain knowledge about a countries and cultures from reading a book, get out there and live it.

So, in alphabetical order:

ALBANIA

butrint

(Butrint – A day trip from our child-free break to Corfu, my wife and I took the opportunity to go to Albania which was only a short and pleasant ferry ride away. Our final destination was Butrint, a majestic and vast ancient city, very picturesque under a scorching sun. Local food was nice, even though we saw a man gut a sheep hanging from a post, giblets flying in all directions…)

BELGIUM

bruges

(Bruges – Contrary to Colin Farrell’s position in the film of the same name, life “In Bruges” is great, and the city is most certainly not a ‘fookin shithole’. An historic, picture postcard of a town with the best seafood dishes (mussels) I’ve ever tasted. One peculiar thing of note was the large amount of confectionery shops displaying an even larger amount of chocolate genitalia – both men and women…)

BULGARIA

sunnybeach

(Sunny Beach – Another min-break for the wife and I, we spent a week at and on the aptly named Sunny Beach, a well deserved R&R break from the rat race…)

CAMBODIA

angkorwat

(Siem Reap – One of the highest points of my three year tour of Asia was a completing half marathon around the famous Angkor Wat temple system. A friend and I hired a local guide who was truly amazing, our day consisting of a boat trip around Lake Ton Le Sap in the morning, followed by a walking tour of Angkor Wat in the afternoon, a great warm up for the race the next day. Glad to say I completed the race, inspired by the local Cambodian children and their generous high-fives. We almost got to see the rock band Placebo who were playing the temple that night in aid of human tracking awareness, but our powers of persuasion to the local security guards as “would-be rock journos” let us down…)

CANARY ISLANDS

tenerife

(Tenerife – Another min-break for the wife and I, we spent a week in Los Christianos with 40 partying Scousers, so it was like Liverpool, just with the sun…)

DENMARK

nyhavn

(Copenhagen – Clean and courteous, there are places which are enriched by the lovely people that reside there and Copenhagen is one of them. A business trip allowed me the good fortune of three weeks of great food and company, an awesome host who wined and dined a colleague and I most nights. The trip was made even better when the wife flew over for the weekend, a weekend which saw us take in several museums, sip wine on the canals of Nyhavn and taking our own hip flasks of Johnny Walker Club Edition into Tivoli Gardens (the template for Disneyland) as we watched the show from under an April blanket…)

EGYPT

hurghada

(Hurghada – Our first family trip to the African continent was not a let down, great hotel just off the beach, taking camel rides across a desert landscape visiting a Bedouin village and rounding it all off with multiple boat trips to paradise (literally – Paradise Island) where we snorkeled for the first and second time, seeing such enchantment and vivid colours under the surface of the Red Sea…)

EIRE

lisdoonvarna

(Lisdoonvarna – You would think that a fishing club’s ideal destination would be Cavan in Eire, world famous bastion of angling. Not so. I spent many a summer as a teenage boy rod in hand with little to no chance of obtaining a prize hall of fish, instead our bi-annual dads and lads trip coincided with the annual Matchmaker Festival in Lisdoonvarna in County Clare. I’m quite certain a lot of the dads had more success in the bars and clubs of the town after the sun had gone down, using their own tackle as bait…)

ENGLAND

liverpool

(Liverpool – My home town. For all of the negativity it receives (at times) from the rest of the country, there is in my opinion no finer centre of connectivity, community, culture and cracking humour in England. Music and multiculturalism is the staple diet of all Scousers, with generous helpings of friendship for all who enter…)

FRANCE

antibes

(Antibes – The money I had saved from my eighteenth birthday was used for my first foreign holiday “sans parents”. The sun-drenched trip coincided with the 1990 World Cup, and a friend and I spent many an evening watching England progress through the rounds, notably the eleventh hour winner from David Platt against Belgium which ended up in both jubilation and septic carnage after my ecstatic man-hugs ripped off the sun blisters from his back…)

GREECE

parga

(Parga – A two week trip to this place held a special significance for me and opened my world up for future travel. This was (at twenty-four) my first plane journey and boy how nervous I was, digging my thankfully bitten nails into the arms of my girlfriend at the time. A beautiful little town on the Greek mainland, each day offering eternal sun, eternal gyros and eternal gallons of Retzina. A day trip on a boat down the River Styx on the way to a ruined city to the backdrop of Pink Floyd and Bob Marley the highlight of a great holiday, and one that gave me the drive to get on a plane again and again…)

HUNGARY

budapest

(Budapest – Four weeks in Budapest on a work assignment allowed me to wander the streets of this picturesque city, taking in all of its glorious architecture and local cuisine. My hotel sat on the hillside at Buda, giving spectacular views across the river to Pest. The local food was one thing to remember, the Hungarian broths and stews sating the pallet of any omnivore. My last night saw me getting sweaty with the locals as Placebo (the band I had missed in Cambodia) played the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, a fine end to a great trip…)

INDONESIA

bali

(Bali – The family and I (including the soon to be princess who was safely ensconced in mum’s tum) spent five days in Kuta on the island of Bali. Out time there saw us taking a day trip to a volcano stopping off at several local arts shops on the way, taking to the waves for the first time proper at the Oakley Surf School and spending two whole days at Waterbom, currently rated as the second best water park in the world. My wife struggled with having the little one on-board and has plans in the near future to go back and experience it all over again, this time in comfort…)

LUXEMBOURG

luxembourg

(Luxembourg City – We must have spent a grand total of four hours in Luxembourg, most of that in a police station. Some of our more dubious members of our “angling club” decided in their infinite wisdom to buy some fake dollars from a dodgy American on the boat from Hull to Rotterdam, my father included. The plan was to nip over the border from Belgium where we were staying, cash the dollars in for a tidy profit and scarper back to Belgium all the more richer. Not so. The brave and not so clever lead took the hit for the entire team and suffered the consequences, as he entered the bank on his own with a pocket full of dollars and left handcuffed with two armed police officers. On seeing this, everyone split depositing their fake plastic dollars into the nearest bin. We waited for our comrade to leave the station on a charge, never to go back to Luxembourg again. Hardly the life of a member of Oceans Eleven…)

MALAYSIA

kualalumpur

(Kuala Lumpur – “KL” will always have a special place in my heart. The family and I were fortunate to live like kings (and queens) in Malaysia’s capital for three years. Although it took me a while to adjust and although my piece never really fitted in well to the ex-pat jigsaw, once settled we explored most parts of this wonderful country, coast to coast, island to island. My two sons had the best education which gave them a foundation to go on and succeed which they have done, and our time there gave us the opportunity to finish off the family unit with the daughter we had longed for. It is difficult, in fact impossible to highlight the best bits, three whole years of living and breathing this cultural melting pot and using it as a base to travel to other parts of South East Asia puts this period of my life at the top of the list without the shadow of a doubt…)

NETHERLANDS

amsterdam

(Amsterdam – The city outside of the UK that I have visited most, Amsterdam is one of those places on most peoples bucket lists, all probably for different reasons. As a member of the energy company most associated with the country, over a dozen trips to Amsterdam ensued over a period of four years, each time seeing and experiencing different things, the early days of the bars, coffee shops and sights of the red light district making way for the museums and art galleries, housing some of the worlds greatest paintings as I grew older and wiser…)

NORTHERN IRELAND

giantscauseway

(Giants Causeway – There was a time when Northern Ireland was a no-go zone for members of the UK mainland, but thankfully those days are over (here’s hoping) which gave us the opportunity to take a trip to Belfast and beyond. The beautiful people of Northern Ireland made us feel so welcomed it put the homeland to shame, such warmth and interest in fellow man (and woman). After taking a wonderfully narrated and informative open-top bus through Belfast (including Falls and Shanklin Road areas) and an awesome Titanic exhibition centre, we took a trip north to the alien landscape of the Giant’s Causeway, the oddly shaped and arranged basalt octagons is a sight to behold, just keep hold of your hats, it gets real windy up there…)

PHILIPPINES

batangas

(Batangas – Another work assignment saw me spending three weeks in Manila, capital of the Philippines. This is yet another example the people making the place, my hosts whilst there including me in Filipino life wherever possible. This also included the strangest thing I have ever tasted, the balut – a boiled duck egg/embryo topped with a salty broth, sounds disgusting but tasted quite nice. The highlight of the trip was my solo journey to Batangas on the coast, a boat ride from the mainland taking me to an island with an active volcano, the smell of sulphur at the top making me regret my choice of snack immensely. I recall getting funny looks as I “trail ran” down the side of the mountain as most folks took the donkeys, but it stood me in good stead for the 10km road race in Manila the next day where I finished an impressive twelfth in the sweltering heat. That said, it was a McDonalds fun run…)

POLAND

krakow

(Krakow – Too many visits and work assignments to remember, all that I do know is that Krakow is one of my favourite cities on mainland Europe. The architecture is stunning, the vast array of cheap food and drink leaves no two days the same and the locals are so accommodating and friendly once you get to know the Polish way. I know the street map inside out and have also travelled further afield to some of the darker corners of the country which remind us all that there are always lessons to be learned from the past and love not fear is the only way…)

PORTUGAL

lagos

(Lagos – Portugal happened as one of our “gap years” from visiting the States, bi-annually as we do. Booked as a last minute holiday (with the summer outlook in the UK being rather bleak as is mostly the case), eleven days of being sand bums was arguably the best beach holiday we’ve ever holiday. From kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding through ancient grottoes to snorkeling directly off the beach and catching fresh mackerel on a boat trip and cooking / serving it up with a fresh salad within one and a half hours of leaving the jetty all under a baking sun, it’s easy to see why…)

SCOTLAND

bennevis

(Ben Nevis – I have been to Scotland countless times, mostly in the Borders in a small town called Newton Stewart with the now famous “angling club without rods”, but the literal pinnacle of my Celtic experience was reaching the summit of Ben Nevis which was the last point of my National Three Peaks Challenge. Starting and the base of Snowdon twenty-two hours earlier and over the arduous and unseen Scaefell Pike, we rose high through the cloud layer to reveal a sight of the gods, the three cairns at the top representing what we had achieved over a single Earth day. Undeniably my most significant and proudest man vs nature moment to date…)

SINGAPORE

singapore

(Singapore City – As Singapore is only a four hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur, we spent a long weekend there as our first trip with the new born princess. Car stocked to the ceiling with wet wipes and nappies, we headed south to spend a few days in Singapore, a more sterile, clinical and cleaner version of KL. A city-scape boat trip, an adventure to the Singapore Zoo in tropical monsoon and a trip to Sentosa island was a nice way to spend a long weekend, but we were happy to return home, keen to chum gum once more…)

SOUTH AFRICA

capetown

(Cape Town – There is still part of me in Cape Town (but I’ll not go into my bout of gastric flu in great detail here) and it is a place I completely fell for. Fortunate to spend three months in South Africa on business, I had a full itinerary of the things I wanted to do before I left and although I didn’t tick everything off my list, I was not disappointed. I have always tried my best to integrate myself with the places I travel to, especially with work and my trip here was made so much easier by truly epic and wonderful hosts. Nothing was inconvenient for them, offering as it were travel guidance, food advice, taking me and my colleagues out on day trips to name but a few things. I entered the country as a stranger and left with it with a group of friends I will always keep in touch with. One of the highlights (other than helping our football team to the final of the five-a-side cup – only to lose on penalties – typical English) was when the office manager pulled me aside one day and asked me if I ran at all, which after I confirmed that I did, told me to meet him at the base of Table Mountain at five a.m. the next day armed with trainers and a hydropack. I dutifully did and still look at the photo above in awe as we ascended the Platteklip trail to look back and see the city sleeping in mist below us. Once at the top, he told me he was a practicing zen Buddhist and often contemplated the oneness of the Universe from the top of Table Mountain, as I did on that day, feeling a true connection with everyone and everything…)

THAILAND

kanchanaburi

(Kanchanaburi – I have been fortunate enough to visit Thailand on many occasions, with family, football team and friends. There was one trip that sticks out though, when my friend from the UK visited us on the way through his six month tour of South East Asia and Australia. We spent two days in Bangkok and one day (which turned into two) on a trip to Kanchanaburi – the location where The Bridge Over The River Kwai actually took place. Our trip didn’t start off too well but ended up being a trip we always mention whenever we meet up. Our driver for the day got “lost” several times on the way, arriving at our destination too late, thus missing entrance to the Tiger Temple, trying to check into a hotel when it was a brothel, asking locals for directions the next day to the Tiger Temple by raising my clawed hands and growling as everything was in Thai and ending up on the right bus, our trip back to Bangkok resulting in being offered a threesome with a bride on her honeymoon and being attacked by a rabid dog (not the aforementioned bride). In all, one of the most memorable adventures of my forty-five year existence thus far…)

TURKEY

istanbul

(Istanbul – I have been fortunate enough to visit Istanbul on business several times now and like Cape Town, Manila and Krakow, I left knowing I had friends for life. My Turkish friends are some of the most honest, friendly and spiritual people I know and once again their generosity in the past has been second to none. Probably for several reasons, my last trip will stay with me forever. Our host (known as “The Fixer”) was our friend and tour guide, chaperoning us to various locations in the city and beyond, a day trip to the Princes Islands I’ll never forget, dragon boat racing and multiple Turkish barbecues. As Turkey is going through somewhat of a transition period at the moment, relations with several sections of the population are strained. The day after our successful project go-live, we celebrated on the Friday overlooking the city with our new champion cocktail maker friend who served up Long Island Ice Teas whilst narrating the history of the city atop the hotel as the tanks and army took to the streets below us in what we believed to be a staged military coup by the president. Our party, whilst concerned, felt quite safe until the F14 Strike Eagles started to swarm the sky. As quickly as it arrived it had gone, “victory” to the president and by Sunday morning we were once again eating breakfast on the shore of the Bospheros. A tale to tell the grandchildren down the ages, but one thing is for sure, Istanbul is one of the most culturally exciting and vibrant places on the planet…)

UNITED STATES

grandcanyon

(Grand Canyon – Our love affair (the wife and I) with the United States came when we booked our honeymoon in Vegas. Everything in America is turned up to eleven, and Vegas takes it up a notch to twelve. We ended up buying a part of the U.S as we liked it so much and return to the land of Uncle Sam every twenty-four months. If I had to pick one highlight out from the many, our honeymoon helicopter flight over and into the Grand Canyon was it. Reaching the canyon wall and diving down into it was one of those unforgettable experiences, the scene rich with vibrant colours and geological orgasms, followed up by dinner at a Native American Reservation and a fly by down the strip as the sun went down…)

VIETNAM

halongbay

(Ha Long Bay – As our last family vacation in the Far East, we had the choice of Australia or Vietnam, the latter winning by a unanimous decision. Three days in Hanoi gave us enough insight into the history of the country, visiting several historical monuments, seeing a traditional puppet show and sampling the finest food and cheap ales from the various eating emporiums and beer hoi, our Dong sure went a long way. The highlight for all was an overnight trip around Ha Long Bay. As we departed the misty harbour, we ate our seafood smorgasbords with gusto (not easy with prawns the size of small children) and once finished we ascended the staircase to reveal a cloudless sky, turquoise blue seas and thousands of limestone outcroppings, a jaw dropping sight similar to that of Grand Canyon years earlier. We stopped at fishing villages, took a row boat ride with two “oarsladies” who instantly fell in love with our princess, swam in the purest of oceans and visited an ancient cavern, from where my ultimate picture postcard vista was taken. This trip had such an impact on the boys that it is still their most favourable travel destination so far…)

WALES

snowdon

(Snowdon – Like I said at the start of this post, proximity to home, the variability of the natural landscapes and the overall serenity of the place puts me at a peace with the world I have hitherto found elsewhere, and it was the ascent of Snowdon for the first time that solidified my love for the place. There are so many things to explore here, worlds largest man-made surfing lake, Europe’s fastest zip line, trampolining in disused slate mines, the list goes on and on. I would challenge anyone not to get bored in Gwynedd and as long as the weather is fair to fine, there is no better place on Earth…)

So in response to the question ‘How To Be An Explorer Of The World’, the answer is quite simple.

Just do it…

Champagne Super Nova…

To paraphrase the mono-browed Gallagher Brothers of South Manchester “Crack open champagne on’t super Nova”.

I took ownership of my first piece of my wild camping kit this week and was very keen to test drive it asap.

One thing was for sure as I headed down to the local park, it sure weighted a hell of a lot less than the Vango 500 Icarus with optional awning, footprint and carpet I use for family and friends camping trips these days.

Weighing in at just 2.85kg, this lightweight beauty would not be putting too much strain on my ageing frame in a few weeks time, who knows there may still be some weight allowance for hair products…

I think the lump hammer I was carrying to hammer home the tent pegs (which I never ended up using) was in fact heavier than the tent itself, but as that was soon to be replaced by either a lightweight plastic effort or left out altogether replaced by the heel of a hiking boot, I worried not about my future weight allowance and cracked on with opening this (hopefully) bag of delight (or should I see de-lite [not the pop band]).

So, ladies and gentleman (or as the London Underground now says in its new politically correct and gender neutral parlance “So, everybody”) please allow me to introduce to you to the Vango Nova 200:

Nova 200 - 1

So here we have the Nova 200 in all of it’s minimalist glory, super lightweight and super compact. Let the unpacking commence (Christmas in July)…

Nova 200 - 2

Left to Right: Rods, Pegs and Entrance Groundsheet; Outer Tent; Inner Tent (as you’ll see I didn’t RTFM in great detail as I thought the Entrance Groundsheet was some sort of inner curtain, it was only after watching the official Vango You Tube channel when I got back did I find out what it was, glad I hadn’t ordered a footprint from eBay at the park)…

Nova 200 - 3

Super lightweight pegs and spares (I haven’t quite worked out what the tent pegs with the round hoops are yet – anyone shed any light on those?)…

Nova 200 - 4

Super lightweight rods, taking just a few seconds to set up…

Nova 200 - 5

In go the rods, again super quick…

Nova 200 - 6

The Nova 200 beginning to take shape…

Nova 200 - 7

As this was a quick erection (story of my life) I didn’t hammer the pegs in all of the way (again story of my life). Outer tent is up…

Nova 200 - 8

Orange is the new green. Inner tent is in and on go the clips…

Nova 200 - 9

Inner tent is up and relatively roomy, could be a bit snug if there were two lard arses in there though…

Nova 200 - 10

Door closed, sleeping…

Nova 200 - 11

Porch erected (Wot No Groundsheet?)…

Nova 200 - 12

Not a bad space to store 1 – 2 rucksacks…

Nova 200 - 13

The view from the crack of my arse…

Nova 200 - 14

All done. As this was the first time I had put it up it took me about fifteen minutes, but next time it should be up in around half the time…

Nova 200 - 15

It took most of the 7 minutes I took to dismantle the tent getting these fiddly little clips apart (anyone have any tips of doing this the easy way, I tried using a tent peg to for the clasp open with little difference?)…

All in all I was impressed with the new purchase, super lightweight, super compact, super Nova! Of course time will tell whether it is truly any good, but as things stand I’m a happy (to-be) camper…

Into The Wild…

I have probably spent more nights out under the stars this year than in any other of my forty-five year tenure as the 3,838,266,373rd homo sapien (and is there any coincidence that when I add all of those digits up it comes to forty-nine [seven x seven year chakra cycles according to the Buddhists] probably not).

As a result of several forays into the semi-wild (camp sites versus wild camping), a great many things have become apparent.

My children have a love for the great outdoors and appear happiest when safely ensconced in our part-time origami homestead surrounded by a sea of greenery and fresh air. When we are at home, like most post-nuclear families, we suffer from gizmo overload and frequently experience what I term “Technology Tourette’s”; that moment when you ask for a small piece of someone’s time and are confronted with snarls, jerks and abusive language due to the IT interruption.

I have a love for the great outdoors and appear happiest when safely ensconced in my part-time origami homestead surrounded by a sea of greenery and fresh air. I have travelled all over the world, experiencing a wide range of vistas, cultures and biospheres, but in my honest opinion there is no place quite like Snowdonia in North Wales. When the weather is fine, the majestic beauty and accessibility to nature and peace is second to none. Mountains, rivers, forests and trails are in abject abundance and with that comes a complete divorce from the internal noise generated from the rat race.

As a tinnitus sufferer, one would think that camping in the middle of nowhere in areas devoid of noise would drive one insane, but no. There is noise, the right noise, the noise of nature. No electric or traffic hum, no noisy neighbours or revellers, just trickling streams, bleating animals, rain, wind and the rustling of tent walls. These are all welcomed white noise sounds which allow anyone with tinnitus near perfect conditions for a silent slumber. External noise is one thing, internal noise is another. Being disconnected from both the connected world and the commercial world dissolves (albeit for a shorter time than I would currently like) all responsibility and associated stress.

Camping at official campsites with on-site facilities and a car boot full convenience is a bloody good start to get back to basics. Some of the sites I have visited this year have had a fair share of commercialism about them, whilst others are quite literally “a field with a loo”.

The next step I am about to take is wild camping, being somewhat inspired to do so by the writings and photography of “R.P”, also known as the UK Backpacker; a recent acquisition to my growing WordPress family, as well as the film Into The Wild, my all time favourite road trip / voyage of discovery movie. Thankfully “R.P” has already given me some sage kit, food and supply advice and his most recent trip to Snowdonia is similar to my planned inaugural hike and wild camping expedition with my son “L” from LLanfairfechan to Betws-Y-Coed over a few nights.

I guess ones takes inspiration where one can and I need look no further than my children. “J” in his focus and dedication to fitness and nutrition is a model of bodily perfection, even though it is seriously out of my grasp (at present) due to the pressures of modern life. “L” in his focus and dedication to creativity, with acting and public speaking turning him into a supremely confident and competent young man. “K” in her focus and dedication to absolute kindness towards humans and animals, with a wanting to commune with nature and the outdoors whenever possible.

If I had their combined strengths, if I had a portmanteau of their individual skills and drive, then this future gestalt state of mind, body and soul will help me to succeed at wild camping, I just need to work on that over the coming weeks in preparation for the trip.

As I contemplate what may be some turbulent waters on the job front over the next six months and with it potential financial precariousness, I take solace in the fact that I am not only surrounded by a wonderful family but also a realm of greenery that is within a short journey from the non-origami homestead in Wirral. If further contemplation is required, I will of course refer to the photos below…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Game Of Life…

The Human. The Man/Woman. The Husband/Wife. The Father/Mother. The Son/Daughter. The Brother/Sister. The Uncle/Aunt. The Friend. The Citizen. The Worker. These are but a few of the roles we act out on the world stage but are they a true reflection of who we really are? Have we been coerced into such archetypes by others, too afraid to change and reveal who we really are? If we were to strip all of the roles away until only the basic elements of existence was left, bound by no rules or expectations, what would be revealed?

life1

The more roles we adopt (choice or otherwise) the more complex our game of life becomes. With added complexity comes conflict and conformity; conflict in terms of competing requests from others and conformity in terms of abiding by the rules that come with the roles we play. Gluing all of our roles and rules together presents the outward facing “I” to others; an amalgam of all of the various parts that make up our personality.

However, what we present on the outside is invariably not what we are at the core, our true self often remains hidden because at times it is easier to play by the rules of the game of life and adopt a path of least resistance. If we were to truly function from our inner self rather than the multi-faceted ego we have created over time, it would reveal who we really are.

I recently questioned my role of “The Worker”. I have been forced to change roles recently and whilst I have always welcomed change in the workplace, this temporary downwards step has revealed a certain unhappiness in me which has brought into question (not for the first time) my “being” within the company. It’s safe to say my journey over the last thirteen years has been somewhat bi-polar in that my one-hundred-and-fifty-seven month tenure thus far has seen incredible highs and ridiculous lows. I know that in all likelihood I will be leaving the company at the end of this year yet felt somewhat reluctant to tread water presently as the role is bringing boredom and value-less activities to a whole new level.

Here’s is where the “roles rules” kick in. Do I speak up now declaring a vocational epiphany and risk being kicked out of the company earlier than I would have liked? Do I pretend to like the job I’m doing on the off chance I may get a stay of execution beyond the planned leaving date? Do I tread water until the end of the year and take the money and go and find something beyond which may enrich my game?

Here’s is where the “roles complexity” kicks in. Do I do what the inner self is guiding me to do or do I let the influence of characters within the game of life (some of which listed above) dictate and influence what should happen next?

So last week I made that decision and told my manager to release me as soon as possible. I have grown very tired of life within this fractured organisation satisfying the needs of a few people with tasks that have no benefit to me or my “career”. People tread water and put up with things for far too long in life, too afraid that change may be bad and maintaining the status quo is the right thing to do. The right thing to do, those words when put together are seldom subjective, they always seem loaded in favour of external influence. What is truly the right thing to do, only we can decide that for ourselves and we should not follow blindly what society has programmed us to believe in its version of the right thing to do.

So I have taken a leap of faith that will change my situation for the better or worse. Financially I will owe “the man” a lot less after paying off a major chunk of my mortgage and with that comes a freedom to explore opportunities which may not pay as well, but may be far more enjoyable than what I am currently doing.

Remember folks, it’s just a ride:

hicks-3

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while.

Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family.

This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride.

And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.

Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride.

Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.” – R.I.P Bill Hicks…

Headspace…

There is a term often used in Buddhism called “mind monkey” which attempts to describe times of unsettled, restless or uncontrollable states of conscious awareness; those periods of self-generating noises and voices inside one’s own head which are difficult to turn off.

I only came across this phrase last week which my seventy five year old yoga teacher very accurately described monkey mind as those subconscious thoughts which surface and compete for primary attention during times when we least want them to; as we drift off to sleep or in this case the fifteen minutes of meditation time at the end of the session. 

She gave the very clear and accurate advice on how to clear our “headspace” as she called it, a technique which would act as a sort of mind enema.

Last weekend, I attended a philosophy / yoga talk with her eighty five year old husband entitled “Awaken Your Healing Potential”, the pair of them are a true inspiration to others and an incredible advertisement for yoga (and he himself is recovering from a broken back using only yoga breathing techniques for pain relief rather than the prescribed morphine tablets from his doctor).

After sharing some of his decades of accrued wisdom, he instructed us to take in a full breath (a breath which represented an action in the physical realm). As we approached full lung capacity, he asked us to focus our thoughts on the “headspace” between the brows (the location of the pineal gland / third eye) and try to activate a connection with the meta-physical realm / universal prana field (also the location of the higher mind). Our instruction was to hold the breath and stay in that state for as long as we could before becoming aware of the physical realm once again by breathing out and channeling the tapped-in energy to areas of the body which required any healing attention. 

This action was to be repeated until we reached a state of pure relaxation and deep meditation, and as a bi-product the total annihilation and expulsion of the monkey mind.

I have been doing yoga on and off for the last four years yet this simple explanation and exact instruction gave me the instant ability to find a place hitherto unreachable within the space of a few minutes. I have connected with the prana field on many occasions previously through kundalini reiki but found the practice too strong for me, literally riding the lightning and wreaking havoc on my tinnitus. This approach was different, a calmer and more effective approach for inner peace and well-being.

As I am not working away at the moment, some focus has rightly turned to getting my house in order (physically and mentally) and part of that was to tackle the attic space. I had grand designs last year to build a “meditation loft” but decided in my infinite wisdom to erect a outside bar and seating area.

So I sat down and discussed my plans with the wife and she stated that the attic was currently a metaphorical and physical representation of my “headspace” in that it too  was loaded with junk making things that much more difficult to gain access to when required (trying not to take it too personally of course).

Whilst agreeing with her completely, there was one word that stood out immediately; headspace. Not only had my yoga teacher and husband mentioned this on separate occasions recently, not only had I downloaded the Headspace mindfulness / meditation app recently, but here was my wife giving me yet another subliminal message to go create that yoga suite upstairs and once I had finished it, to use the space to connect with my inner self and beyond and cleanse the system.

If minimalism has taught me one thing over the past few weeks it’s be ruthless. Pulling down the ladder and peering over the ledge revealed the truly mammoth task that lied ahead. Bin bags, boxes, books, board games and everything else beginning with the letter B (plus every other letter in the alphabet) was looking at me head on as if to say “I dare you to take me to the tip”.

Mindful that if I threw any of the wife’s stuff away without having her explicit permission beforehand would end up with me sleeping on the dogs blanket for a few nights, I was nevertheless very successful in my first cleansing exercise, and with the resulting twelve bags full of crap safely ensconced in the local recycling centre, I can once again see the exposed floor beams and fiberglass insulation goading me to cover them immediately with floor panels, laminate, Persian rugs and zabutons…

Minimalism for Children…

I see the value in living with less. Everything I now own (with the exception of family items like TV’s etc) can be found in my triple wardrobe. All clothes, shoes, bags and gizmos can fit inside a solitary piece of IKEA furniture and I like it.

However, if you took a side swipe to the right and my wife’s wardrobe, chest of drawers, bedside table and under the bed space, that revealed a very different picture.

She came home from work a few weeks ago to see her bedroom rather tidy and rather roomy. My bedside table was missing. My chest of drawers was missing. All of the items previously on top of wardrobes were missing. She smiled and I knew in that split second that without explaining to her anything about minimalism, I had a fair to medium chance of persuading her to do likewise, and likewise (albeit to a lesser extent) she did.

I took a further side swipe to the further right and opened my daughters bedroom door on Monday morning which revealed (to me at least) total and utter chaos. As I have been travelling around our “little blue dot” for the last seven months, I have accrued a lot of annual leave so for the next two months I will not have to work any Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.

My goal over the coming eight weeks is to minimalise the house, decluttering and touching up the paintwork as I go.

As with all miniature princesses, my daughter has accrued a lot of stuff of the course of her nine year existence and previous attempts to cull teddies and dollies have been met with a river of infants tears.

So this time, I tried a different approach. She came home from school on Monday and I beckoned her into the office / dining room and sat her down. I asked her what she thought of my new bedroom and she said she liked it a lot. I then got out my scrap pad and pen and drew the following:

unnamed

This was my attempt at minimalism for children. Kid A (nice reference for all you Radiohead fans out there) was unhappy, she only had one toy in the world and could only have so much fun with a single item, but she loved that toy more than any “thing” in the world, 100% in fact.

Kid B had a larger number of toys than Kid A and was happy, although she did not play with everything at all times, she did play with them all from time to time and loves them all, 75% each in fact (with “Blanky” still firmly rooted at 100%).

Kid C had way too much, box upon box of dusty dolls, tired teddies and very bored board games. She only played with half of the stuff and didn’t really need all of the things she had, so she only really played with and loved a smaller amount, 50% in fact.

So after explaining all of this to her, I turned to look at her and her eyes were filling up, chin quivering. She said that I was going to throw all of her toys away so that she would become Kid A. Not so I said, all I was trying to say was lets go upstairs and see if she was Kid B or Kid C (and in truth she was at that point somewhere in the middle).

So we spent the next couple of hours evaluating the love for each toy and whether it could either go in the bin or to the charity shop.

After what seemed like an eternity and three bin bags later, I moved my old chest of drawers into her room (replacing her untidy toy box bookshelf) and placed all of the loved items in each drawer, the room looking tidy and minimalist.

We then proceeded back downstairs and I asked her where she was on the minimalism for children chart and she said she was happy and she was Kid B…

A Rough Guide to Happiness…

Ask people what do they really want out of life and the response from the majority will be that first and foremost they want to be happy.

Beyond that initial claim and things start to become more diverse, a lot more subjective. How we all achieve and measure our own happiness is quite rightly a personal thing and there is neither a magic formula nor a percentage barometer to measure whether one is in a nirvana state of mind.

happy

I sat down in front of the Apple TV after work on Friday and once again found an interesting documentary on Netflix called Happy, which had some real thought provoking moments and dovetailed in nicely to my new minimalist approach to life.

According to research, a study has found that around fifty percent of our happiness levels are from our genetic code, so for each and every half of us, our parents dictated at a biological level whether they passed on happy or unhappy genes to us (though I’m sure they were not thinking of that at the time, just their own, immediate and intimate “happy ending”).

Some people often speak of others in not so pleasant terms that folks who are grumpy or negative or psychotic are not “wired up” in the same way as others, so on reflection (although those words should not be used) there is some truth in that.

Imagine if you will that our happiness is a workman’s vertical spirit level, when the bubble is on the line, everything is normal and in balance. There are several mood related neurotransmitters generated by the brain which have a positive or negative effect on our “spirit” level. Serotonin is one (who can ever mistake that chocolate rush for something else) but the main one is Dopamine.

serotonin-and-dopamine

When Dopamine is generated in higher doses, the body reacts in a positive way and our pleasure centre creates a sense of happiness. Conversely, if not enough Dopamine is created, then the pleasure centre shuts up shop for the day so negative and depressive states of mind occur, and in extreme Dopamine lows, suicidal thoughts (when mixed with other factors).

Dopamine is created in naturally occurring higher doses when we experience positive variety or new things, be it from meeting new people, new exercise regimes or by travelling. We can also unnaturally temporarily increase those levels via other means (like drugs and alcohol) but what transpires after the hit is a real low when coming down, the spirit bubble falls way below the equilibrium point, and feelings of unhappiness return until either the body re-adjusts itself or the vicious cycle starts again, ad nausea.

Of the remaining fifty percent of happiness level, ten percent is attributed to our present circumstances (what we earn, where we live, our social status, our current health condition) and forty percent is attributed to intentional activities (actions we choose to do).

So it’s easy to see that with the right balance of a good genetic code, amiable social circumstances and varied / new experiences that folks would be naturally happy. It is also easy to see why those whose family have been troubled with a poor biological code who live under difficult circumstances and only run around the same track every day become depressed and seek out ways to alleviate their experience by turning to synthetics and chemicals.

No one person is excluded from the calculation above. In the current Western society, many folks presume that the happiest people must be the ones with the most money, the nicest houses and the best jobs. Not so.

Jim Carrey once said “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.

People are largely extrinsic or intrinsic when it comes to goals and life objectives. Those who have extrinsic goals focus in on money, self-image and social status, whereas those with intrinsic goals focus on personal growth, good relationships and a desire to do things for others.

There is no doubt that money and the availability of resources has an important part to play in everyday life, but beyond a certain point having more money and more things beyond the basics adds no value in terms of happiness.

Japan is a country I have never visited before (and I kicked myself for not going over there when I lived in Malaysia) but there is no doubt that it is by far one of the most diverse places in the world; it is both the happiest and saddest place on planet earth.

Take Tokyo, a highly extrinsic city which focuses mainly on money, image and status and breeds a culture of working until you drop and is quite literally working some of its people to death, so beyond the bright city lights a very sad and depressive place to live for some (not all) of its populace.

elderly_japanese_couple

In stark contrast take Okinawa, a highly intrinsic island which focuses almost solely on a sense of community and an ethos of human and spiritual connectivity with a wanting to do things as a collective and to do so for others and with it so much happiness. They live long and happy lives and it is the place on earth which houses the most centenarians.

It’s clear that when individuals are fuelled by ego and extrinsic values that unhappiness follows.

It’s also clear that everybody has to deal with adversity from time to time but in football terms, the happier and intrinsic people have improved levels of “bouncebackability” and return back to the centre line on the spirit level a lot quicker.

Society’s primary aim should be to produce a long and happy life for all of its citizens (not just the privileged few), but sadly in today’s climate it instead peddles such extrinsic values on the masses as this generates more income for the coffers and the rich get richer (though ironically and ultimately no happier).

So we can we do to become happier? I’ve revisited some of my old books and come up with a neo-Buddhist approach for happiness, a rework / take on the Eight Fold Path:

1. Right Diet: The right balance of all the things you are meant to eat, in the right quantity to the right amount of calories for you, everything in moderation.

2. Right Exercise: The right amount of aerobic exercise, the right stresses and strains (nothing too excessive or unnatural).

3. Right Community: The right selection of family and friends, surround yourself with the right amount of people on the basis it’s quality not quantity.

4. Right Things: The right amount of things to own, make sure that each item has a purpose and a value to you.

5. Right Hobbies: The right activities which keep those Dopamine levels up, seek out new and meaningful experiences.

6: Right Attitude: The right way to be and the right way to act around and towards others, commit to acts of random kindness on a regular basis.

7. Right Goals: The right things to achieve and the right way to achieve them.

8. Right Priorities: The right order in which to do things and not to forget which things are always important and take precedent.

And above all, don’t worry, be happy!

Minimalism and how to value things…

After what seems like decades of being submersed and trapped inside the capitalist / commercialist paradigm, I came up for air this weekend and it smelled good.

I was flicking through Netflix on Friday and as usual found little substance in the movie section, so I headed on over to the documentary section and found a programme which caught my attention called “Everything That Remains” fronted by a pair of Amercican hipsters who go by the name of The Minimalists.

Although a little self-centred at times, a lot of what they said (not neccessarily in the manner in which they said it) made total sense. Less is most definitely more. However, minimalism it seems, is not without a sense of irony as our hipsters friends try to sell us their library of written materials in an effort to “unminimalise” our bookshelves. 

I read “Faithlessly Religionless” by Timber Hawkeye on the long haul to Cape Town recently and whilst I was somewhat disappointed by the way in which the book was written (again rather self-centred for a modern Buddhist and the overuse of exclamation marks also grated after a while), one thing I did take away was his sound approach towards simple living or minimalism.

Here we had a man who worked in corporate America, a man trapped inside a machine who wanted to get out, a man surrounded by things he did not need. Whilst his next steps were admirable in leaving his life and possessions behind on the mainland, heading out to a gregarious lifestyle of sorts in Hawaii, as a single man with no committments it was a relatively easy thing to do, not much hope of a man with a wife and three children in following those footsteps quite as easily (not that I would want to either, well not just yet).

My main take away however was simplicity. He left behind his gizmos, gadgets and wardrobes full of clothes and reduced the amount of things he owned and travelled with to a more manageable and mobile level.

I have over the past seven months lived out of a suitcase (and a very large suitcase at that), travelling to several exciting and exotic locations for both business and pleasure. It was after getting back on the bathroom scales which displayed a particularly woeful number that I realised that entropy was back with a vengeance. There was no structure in my diet, there was no structure in the things I owned, there was no structure in my wardrobe. Chaos was once again reigning supreme but at least I had been able to stand back this time and acknowledge that disorder had made an unsavory reappearance.

I was both willing and able to change, starting off with the diet. My eldest offspring treats his body like a machine, his motto is “calories in vs calories out, try not to think about how good the food tastes, know that you can pretty much eat what you want as long as you have a set calorie limit”. Whilst no doubt that is flawless logic, knowing in advance what and when to eat requires thought process and planning so I began to adopt a minimalistic approach to breakfast and lunch. Every morning I eat low fat yoghurt with granola, every lunch time I eat a bowl of bran plus a banana, and my evening meal can have the variety the mind seeks to satisfy the wants of the needy limbic system.

My minimalistic meal approach very quickly reaped rewards and the seven kilograms I had gained during the previous seven months of travelling were literally flushed down the pan (very literally in Cape Town after suffering a particularly nasty bout of seasonal gastritis). 

It does become easy after a while, removing the noise from within for craving something different to eat helps to free up time for other activities, there is no pondering at the fridge as the majority of the food is predetermined, there is no anxiety over cravings after a while as the mindset towards food changes. What we give away in terms of palatte pleasure we take back in calorie reduction and more importantly time saved.

Still, there was more to do, a lot more. I opened both of my wardrobes and saw yet more disorder, not only were the clothes spewing from all angles, half of the clothes I did have I never wore. So again taking the minimalist approach, I took a scythe to the lot. I decided that five was a good number (it seemed to work well for the Jacksons and Enid Blyton) and that everything I owned should be reduced to five. Two large refuse sacks later, the law of five reigned supreme; five casual shirts, five formal shirts, five ties, five white t-shirts, five black t-shirts, five jumpers, five jackets, five jeans, five shorts, five (times two) socks, five (times two) pants and five shoes. I followed this up with five gizmos (Kindle, iPhone, SmartWatch, Wireless Headphones and Wired Headphones) and five (times three) books, so I now only possess ninety things. Ninety things sounds like a lot but from where I started from it is a big improvement. Not only has the local charity shop benefitted from the cathartic clothes purge, but I now get back the decison time back to do other things; when in work choose one of the five shirts, when not in work choose a black or white t-shirt with jeans.

Once again the noise of choice has gone, and with it comes real value. I am already starting to really cherish the few items I have in my possession. Going forward, I no longer need to buy anything new, anything which will break that rule of five simply will not be purchased, except to simply cycle out the items I have with replicas when the old ones become dysfunctional.

There is a lot to be said for minimalist living, it gives back time, it gives back money and gives a sense of real value in those things we do possess…