That Girl On The Beach

Two or three years ago whilst I was living near Bondi Beach, on some mornings I would get up early before work and go for a jog on the sand, which is roughly a kilometre in length. Every morning I would jog down to the sand in my trainers, take them off and then run barefoot back and forth across the yellow grains. I would take in the sunrise whilst I ran, and if I was up early enough I could catch it appear for the first time over the horizon, beyond the Tasman sea. I never tired of seeing that sight. The same could not be said of my knees as my bare feet pounded the hard sand near the water’s edge.

What a gift it has been to call this city home for the past five years, I am truly blessed, though it has never felt ‘easy’ here. I moved in with a woman when I arrived and was not ready for the relationship, we were not right for each other, and in retrospect I realise I was awful to her. I have long longed to apologise. I was homesick and lonely. I made new friends, but I wasn’t happy enough in myself to show them my best self. I lost my enthusiasm for my work. I lived in a mouldy apartment that made me sick, and then I moved into a new apartment and got bitten by something in my sleep, which made me even sicker. The four years since have been a hazy blur of faking being ok and working out how to get better. Fighting to heal. The past two or so of which have been documented in this blog. Whilst the symptoms were largely physical, I realise now how much of the underlying cause was mental, and dare I say it, spiritual.

But what a blessing this city has been. I cannot really do it justice. People typically move away from home to find an adventure or to run away from something. I look back and realise that I ran away only to find more suffering, to be less comfortable, and subsequently extended my suffering to the point of not being able to go on living as I was. To wake myself up from the nightmarish dream in which I slumbered. Sydney is undeniably a beautiful city, one of the best, one of the shiniest and sunniest, a land of opportunity, full of beautiful people, excellent coffee, excellent food and some of the dreamiest beaches in the world. It captures the heart of nearly everyone who comes here. It captured mine, and then proceeded to lock it into a pit of darkness.

Two or three years ago, I think three, perhaps late summer, it was before this blog commenced in June 2018, I digress. Let’s just say it was ‘a while back’. I was running on Bondi beach one morning before heading to work. It was early, the sun was just coming up, I was barefoot and listening to some music, probably trance, probably an Above & Beyond podcast or album, it usually is if I’m running. Anyway, I was running, not much else going on, ‘one foot in front of the other and repeat’ kind of deal. Knowing my brain, I was probably riddled with rumination and over-thinking. Running usually went like this for me, I’d run harder and harder, faster and faster, as if trying to outrun the evil demon in my mind that was rarely nice to me. I’d run as hard as I could, until I was so exhausted that I would collapse on to the sand and find a moment of brief respite in that silent exhaustion. The way I attacked a run was a metaphor for how I attacked life. Distracted. Exhausted. Without style. Without grace.

How many people exercise in pain like this? Looking around I reckon it’s like Donald Trump supporters – a large silent majority. I watch people when they run these days, they usually have this scrunched up face of pain or stern concentration. I can see them in the same battle I used to spend my runs locked in. It’s the same thing in yoga classes, and spin classes, and bodypump exercises. Some people seem to go to yoga with the intention of sweating themselves into such a state of exhaustion that they’ll fall into a much-needed sleepy peace in the shavasana at the end. Nearly everyone looks so damn serious. Knowing what I know about yoga now, it’s tragic to behold. It’s meant to be fun, like a dance, but tt’s like their faces say:

“I’m concentrating so damn hard here on finding peace that I have no time for fun. This is not meant to be fun. Finding peace is serious business, I have to sweat or I fail.”

I look at these faces, either stressed, miserable or distant like a zombie’s, as they race past me in the park, or hold a Warrior 2 on the mat, and I feel for them, I really do. I remember what that used to feel like. Occasionally I slip back into that state, but I’m much better at noticing when it happens and then finding my way back out. Much better. It used to feel like I was working damn hard to feel something, but I felt nothing. To prove something, but I proved nothing. To find something that was missing, but I only found more nothing. What was I missing? What are so many of us missing?

That morning on the sand, lost deep in my world of own crap, as my run neared the Southern end of the beach, I approached a girl dancing. As I methodically planted one foot in front of another and panted with misplaced exertion, I ran towards what appeared to be an angel. She twirled, and swirled, and leapt, and swept her hands and feet in circles and lines with a beauty and a grace that to be honest, dear reader, I had no idea what to do with. She glowed in that early morning light. I could see she had her earphones in and was clearly dancing to music whilst bringing her joyous expression of life to that cold hard sand down by the waters edge. We made eye contact for a moment as I ran past and she smiled a smile I will never forget. It was so pure, so beautiful, so full of joy, so happy and loving that I simply could not handle it. My mind went blank. I stopped running shortly after as I had run out of sand, I looked back and watched her for a moment, mesmerised, as she continued to dance.

I realise now, looking back, that it was a pivotal moment for me. She sparked something inside of me, that girl on the beach. She had something I didn’t know I was longing for. Freedom. Love. And I didn’t recognise it in the moment, in fact I don’t think I really fully recognised it until I sat down and started to type this today. Grace.

That girl on the beach was grace appearing in my life at the exact moment that she needed to appear. Grace has continued to appear in my life since, with increasing frequency as time progresses. Katie dragging me to Sydney was grace. The spider biting me in my sleep was grace. The former flatmate, Mathilde, who introduced me to the ecstatic dance that led to this blog was grace. The four days spent with Tony Robbins was grace. The two decades of romantic disappointment was grace. Finding myself in Thailand at that yoga retreat, studying under David, was grace. The woman I have been relentlessly pulled towards for the past year, but whom has always kept me at arm’s length, is grace. My campervan, Vinnie, breaking down and thus forcing me back to Australia was grace, I needed to come back here to find what I was looking for. All along. It was grace. All of it. That was what I was missing, and yet it was there right in front of me the whole time.

My entire life has happened exactly as it was meant to. How incredibly freeing. And my response? Gratitude. Gratitude for all the shit; the sadness; the anger; the fear; the confusion; the suffering; the pain. And all the good stuff of course; the family; the friends; the laughs; the shared experiences; the love; the challenges; the smiles; and the physical touches, and wonderment. And Awe. Look around. Be awed by the world around you. It is terrible, and yet it is awesome. Yin and Yang.

Gratitude. Gratitude for all of it.

A week ago I danced on my own in the park near to where I live, beautiful spiritual music filling my ears, looking every bit the lunatic. I span around and around as I became the music. I twirled, and swirled, and leapt, and swept my arms in circles and lines. My entire being was filled with feelings of love and freedom and connection. I channeled that girl on the beach. With grace.

I smile a lot these days, I smile for no reason other than to be alive. I don’t need anything special to be happy. I have nothing to prove. Nothing to fear. My body demands I take care of it with basic whole foods, plenty of water, sleep and exercise and time and space (yoga/meditation). It’s taken me a long time to get here, and I know the path is never ending, but that death is simply a return home. I smile because I am grateful. Grateful for it all. Grateful for this experience of life, for the grace that I feel within my being, and shows up in my life. It has been so hard, so long, so lonely, so awfully confusing, and yet so magical, mysterious and wonderful in equal measure.

I recognise the look on the faces as I walk past people and smile at them now. People in cities are weirded out by strangers who smile at them. They look back confused, or perturbed, they avert their gaze, turn their heads to their friends, or their phones. They react as I once did to that girl on the beach, it is too much for them to make sense of so they turn from it. I have often longed to leave the darkness of the cities this year and retreat to the light of nature’s sanctuary, but something has kept me where I am, and now I know why.

I no longer despair when people turn from my smile, for I know a smile is all it takes. The seed is sown with that smile. A smile lights up the world. It is part of why those damn masks are so insidious and you won’t catch me wearing one. Like that girl on the beach I am going to do my part in healing this world, one smile, one twirl, one swirl, one blog, or Instagram post at a time. The anger and sadness within me grows weaker with each passing day, the darkness of the world affects me less, and with each spurt of growth I become more assured of my purpose here. It is the same purpose we all have. To light it up. To take each other’s hands and guide each other home, together, with love, to Graceland.

I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Paul Simon, Graceland

This truly is the most incredible life, the most incredible experience. The world we inhabit may be currently filled with darkness, but where there is darkness there must also be light. The darkness is no match for the light. It never was, and it never will be. The pain is here to guide us towards the light, and I will shine my torch of love into every dark place I can find.

Together, we shall walk each other home, with style, with grace.

Amazing grace. That saved a wretch like me.

Love,

Christopher

How does this happen? I sit down to write and an hour later out pops 2000 words. Are these words even mine? What is ‘mine’? Nothing. It is all ours.

If you would like to work with me because you’re suffering or stuck in a rut and can’t see a way out, then head over to my business page at www.mindbodyquantumhealing.com for details on what I do and how to contact me.

Don’t Play Their Game. Play Your Game.

‘Self Analysis’ and ‘Self Improvement’ is a mug’s game.  Let me say this.  Don’t do it.  Unless you need to, or really want to.  Just don’t do it.

But by the same token, if you’re anything like me and have an inkling that there is more to life, a stirring inside of you that wants to know more, that deep down knows there is more.  A part of you that doesn’t feel quite content, an emptiness that persists no matter what you try, or buy, or fuck, no matter where you go, who you meet, or what you experience.  If you’re like that, like me, then you have no option.  Welcome to the game.  Welcome to hell.

If you have that sensation, I know that sensation.  It starts out as a gentle gnawing, and so you try, and buy, and travel, and fuck some more, but the gnawing persists.  Slowly it grows into something less gentle, more aggravating, like a persistent ache that never really goes away, even when you stop noticing it for a short period.  Maybe you throw yourself into a new project, or a new relationship, or set a new goal and throw everything you have into that instead.

Achievement.  If I just achieve that thing I want then this gnawing, this aching, this discomfort will go away and I’ll be content then.  Then I’ll be happy.

Now, I realise that a lot of people go through their lives not feeling this way.  They are blissfully happy with their lot.  They have enough and they feel enough, and life is contented goodness.  This piece, and to be honest, probably this entire blog, is not for them.  A part of me envies that contented state such people so easily slip into.  For me, life has been a tale of working to achieve stuff that would hopefully make me happy.  Except nothing I ever tried, or bought, or fucked really made me happy.  Not in the long run.  It only ever provided temporary respite.  And then I was back looking around for something else to try, buy or fuck, to scratch that itch that always reappeared.

Self analysis.  Gawd!

So much of self improvement work appears to be goal-orientated.  Develop these new skills, achieve this inner state, or realise this ambition and you will be improved, a winner, time to feel happy and content.  Utter tosh.  That’s just the same old bullshit approach as buying a new pair of shoes or finding someone cute to get naked with.

I realised something today, whilst out for a walk with someone cute who I’d like to get naked with.  As we walked and talked I found myself talking about where I’d like to get to with my new ‘career’ as a meditation guide and trauma healer.  Later we talked, albeit briefly, about my 9-5 job.  You know, the one I spend the majority of my waking hours on, the one that actually pays the bills.  I looked to swiftly move the conversation away from that topic, fearing I’d bore her to tears, but she seemed genuinely interested.  I realised that in the process of pushing so much energy into the development of what I hope to be my future career, I have been pulling myself out of enjoying the present moments spent on the job that pays the bills.  Yes it may not be my ‘passion project’, but it’s a good job, with variety, and autonomy, and excellent people to work with, a supportive culture, free TimTams, and a healthy pay packet each month.

In my drive for spiritual growth, for enlightenment, I have been neglecting the very thing that I preach.  When I engage fully in the present moment it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing.  I could be sitting in meditation, running through a park, writing an email, guiding someone through releasing their childhood traumas, engaging in a Zoom call or aggressively hitting a tennis ball back and forth with an opponent.  All of these activities are divinely enjoyable when I am present in them.  It’s only when I get pulled into the past or the future that my happiness, my contentment with life suffers.

I don’t need to achieve anything to be happy.  In the same way I can’t find peace in trying, buying or fucking, I don’t need to be a spiritual sage, a visionary or to heal the world.  I don’t need to achieve the final stage of enlightenment.  I don’t need to do anything except be present.  Being present frees me from the doubt, from the unfulfilled desires, from the pain, distraction, rumination and judgement.  Being present is enlightenment.

Being present is being like the dog off the leash running wild with the other unleashed dogs.  In fact it’s not like being a dog at all.  It’s a wolf.  Running wild with the wolves.  Who wouldn’t want to live life like that?

This is the most wonderful delusion of them all.  It is the most attainable of goals, and yet for so many it seems so completely out of reach.  All you have to do to be present is to give up.  To surrender.  To forgive the past and be grateful for the present.  I know this, and yet how easy it is to slip back into that age old delusion that goals, any goals, must be achieved.  That I must save others from their suffering.  That I must find a good woman to lay with.  Even when the new goals seem somewhat morally superior, it’s still the same old crock of shit.

The game is rigged.  The only way I win is by refusing to buy into the notion that I must win in order to win.  I’m not saying don’t play, but don’t play their game.  Just play your game.  This is life.  Spend the first half building something.  Spend the second half ripping it back down.

How utterly refreshing.  Game over.

Love,

Christopher

If you would like to work with me because you’re suffering or stuck in a rut and can’t see a way out, then head over to my business page at www.mindbodyquantumhealing.com for details on what I do and how to contact me.

 

 

Chris talks…. Our Love For Dogs

I penned this post months ago, but fearing widespread condemnation at the theme, I foldered it away in the drafts section and there it has remained, collecting dust ever since.

But then Covid happened and in the proceeding six weeks of solitude in my studio apartment I seem to have lost all sense of giving a damn about what anyone thinks of me.  I’ve gone full on big biz-conspiracy theorist, 5G, Anti-vaxx, and god knows what else.  If it’s accepted mainstream thinking, chances are I’ll have a go at it, it’s become something of a hobby.  A rare source of intrigue in this perpetual Groundhog Day.  It keeps me going.  I make no apologies.

Some months ago I stood around a central kitchen worktop conversing with three others on the subject of dogs, man’s (supposed) best friend.  As we conversed we came to the startling realisation that none of the four of us were massive dog fans.  One or two even went as far as to suggest an outright dislike of the furry fellas.  I say “startling” because this is unheard of.  Seriously, what were the chances of all four of us; white; middle-class; thirty-somethings; living in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs – turning out to NOT be dog people.  Staggering odds I’d suggest.

A number of individual reasons for our indifference were put forward as we delighted in our shared disdain;

“they stink when they’re wet”

“they’re needy”

“they’re only our friends because we enslave them” (Stockholm Syndrome anyone?)

“they slobber on your clothes”

“you have to walk them twice a day and literally pick up and carry their shit in a little black plastic bag”

“Those shit bags aren’t bags for life”

“they cost a fortune” – vet’s bills, pet food, doggy daycare, kennels whilst holidaying, replacing the ruined, gnawed, hair-covered sofa, etc.

“They take up more time than children”

“They bark all day when you leave them home alone and piss off the neighbours” (God forbid they protest their capitvity)

“A massive one chased me and knocked me over on the beach when I was very young and I’ve been slightly wary of them ever since” (admittedly this one was me)

When you start to break it down, the cons of dog ownership are plain for all to see, so why is it that so many of us live in such awe and wonder of our canine companions?  I referred to them as “man’s best friend” earlier in the post, but in reality, sat here in 2020, I think they should be re-labelled to ‘woman’s best friend’, on account of the obsession many members of the fairer sex appear to now have with Rover and co.  Now, before you howl at what could be perceived as the apparent sexism in that comment, let me explain.

Perhaps in bygone times when it was largely the men who tended to the land, and took their dogs with them to hunt and protect the crops and flocks from pests and predators – “man’s best friend” was a worthy and appropriate title.  But I’ve been observing reactions to dogs for some time now and have come to the conclusion that women, or at least a lot of women near where I live, are besotted with them.  Men, not so much.

Occasionally I take a friend’s beagle for a walk, and am always struck with how many young women gawk admiringly at my furry friend, smiling lovingly, occasionally reaching out to stroke Byron’s white and light brown fur.  It’s rare that the dudes give him even a glance.  It’s a cliche, but there’s a very obvious and compelling reason for why lonely, single dudes get a dog.

I almost crashed my car last year after a female companion squealed loudly and suddenly in my left ear. “What happened?!” I yelled, my eyes darting around my periphery trying to identify the unseen threat.

“OMG that dog over there is too fucking cute!”

“Are you eff’ing kidding me! What dog? I can’t even see a dog”

“It’s over there, in that park, the brown one, I think it’s a puppy”

Now, dear reader, this pup must have been at least 150m away, in a park, on the other side of the road, and despite the fact my vision is near 20/20, the aforementioned pooch was a mere brown blur to these eyes.  That didn’t matter to my companion, this was seemingly the highlight of her day, and me crashing my car was of secondary importance to a glimpse of a goddamn puppy.

None of my guy mates talk about wanting to get a dog, in fact I can only think of one that has a dog (he actually has two, and they’re massive great Rhodesian Ridgebacks saved from a rescue centre), but getting a dog often seems to be high up on the list of #lifegoals for the women I meet or know.

Which leads me to the question of where has this come from?  Besides those trained up to guide the poor of sight through the streets, sniff out a bag of Colombia’s finest, or locate a hidden explosive belt around the midriff of some poor deluded fool hellbent on self destruction, what exactly are dogs for in the 21st century?  Are they really man’s (or woman’s) best friend?  Are we desperately breeding more dogs so we can give them amazing lives?  Please.  No fucking chance.

I suspect that many of us are using dogs to medicate ourselves against the symptoms of loneliness and disconnection now rife throughout our Western societies? ….hmmmm. Are women perhaps more drawn to dogs because it fulfills a maternal yearning in them, in a developed world where the birth rate is dropping fast and many couples are choosing to delay starting a family, or simply avoiding having one altogether.  Men don’t need dogs by their side anymore, at least not in a functional capacity to help protect the tribe, or rounding up sheep on the farm, or keeping intruders off a property.  I’d argue that men’s need for a dog today is likely driven by loneliness.  And I say that having spent a weekend dog sitting earlier this year, it was definitely a less lonely with him by my side.

This is worth exploring at this time.  I suspect that #lockdown has led to a massive surge in demand for puppies and kittens.  As people have been sent home and told to stay home unless going for a walk, it’s understandable that having a dog to walk could seem appealing.  Walking around my suburb of Potts Point in Sydney, it is hard to walk further than 10m without coming into contact with a pooch, they’re everywhere.  Many of them pups.

At the back end of last year I spent three months in Thailand studying yoga and meditation.  In Thailand there are also lots of dogs, every establishment seems to have a dog, the beach I was staying on had at least 10 dogs in residence.  Here is what I noticed about the dogs in Thailand:

  1. None of them wear a collar
  2. They sleep outside
  3. They are allowed to go wherever, and do whatever they want
  4. They play, wrestle and occasionally swim
  5. They consider the road to be their highway
  6. They do not pay much attention to humans; tourists or locals
  7. The local people do not pay a huge amount of attention to them
  8. The local people most certainly do not yell “Come here Buster” twelve times on the trot, becoming increasingly irritated as their ‘possession’ does not behave as they expect – as I witnessed one dog owner do in a Sydney park last week.
  9. The Western tourists, somewhat pathetically, try to befriend these dogs, usually the cuter looking ones.  Invariably their attempts are futile.  The dogs simply don’t give AF.  They act more like very playful cats over there.

One of the participants on the yoga course remarked that the Thai people were horrible to dogs.  I took umbrage with that comment.  Yes, the Thai people might not show huge amounts of affection towards to the dog population, but neither did they seek to enslave them, drag them around by a leash, lock them up inside on their own for hours on end, or yell at them to “come here”, “fetch”, “sit down”, “give a paw”, “be a good dog”, etc.  You get the picture…  Those Thai dogs looked pretty happy and healthy to me.  They were free to be dogs.  Free to be themselves.

Do we love our dogs in the West?  Like, truly love our dogs?  Real love is unconditional, but do we love our dogs purely for being, or is it because they show us tangible physical affection in a world increasingly disconnected and devoid of such affection?  A recent study of 20,000 Americans suggests that almost half (47%) of us admit to feeling lonely ‘on the reg’.  43% said they feel not just lonely, but ‘isolated’.  Gen Z (those born after 1995) is the loneliest generation ever to have lived (which is crazy scary given it’s commonly accepted that the easiest time to form connections and friendships is when we’re young, impressionable, open and free of adult responsibilities).  A study by the University of San Diego went even further and deduced that in fact, almost 75% of us are chronically lonely, which is amazing given how many are married, with children, and friends, and jobs that come with colleagues.  What’s going on?  (this is a question for another post), but what has this got to do with dogs?

I would argue that we do not love dogs, for in many cases we are using those dogs to feel better about ourselves, to medicate against our loneliness and isolation.  They give us company, and purpose, something to care for.  But it is not love, not unconditional love like they show us.  It is a love with a contract.  We expect them to show us unconditional love, but in return we treat them like pleasure slaves.

We turn a blind eye to the processed dry food we feed them meal after meal, removing their natural ability and desire to hunt out their next morsel.  We turn a blind eye to the man-made prisons we keep them in whilst we’re out at work, or the bar, or the dentist.  We turn a blind eye to the way we bark [pun intended] orders at them, or the restrictive collars and leashes we use to control their physical movements.  We pull them away from interacting with other dogs, or people, or even a sweet smelling lamp post.

We turn a blind eye to this abuse because these dogs make us feel loved, and worthwhile, maybe they even give us purpose, or at least a reason to get our arses off the couch and go for a walk.  But is this love?  If it is love then it is a warped type of contractual love.  I’m willing to clean up after you, take you for walks, feed you, pick up your shit, but in return you must be affectionate towards me, and obey my commands whilst simultaneously not mind your enforced dominion.

Something about this feels inherently fucked up to me.

Love should be given unconditionally, and abundantly, and without conditions.  Especially by parents.  Dog owners are essentially parents.  Due to the nature and laws of our societies in the West cannot allow dogs to truly be themselves, and as a result cannot give love to their dogs unconditionally, because that would mean allowing them to do what they want, and the law clearly prevents that.  The very term ‘dog owner’ makes me uncomfortable, it implies possession.  Love is about freedom, not possession.  The two cannot align, at least not in a healthy way.

Of course I’m stereotyping here and throwing all dog/dog-owner relationships into the same bucket, which of course is not the case, but it’s definitely a thing, and from what I have deduced it exists on a scale of ‘slightly warped’ to ‘really fucked up’.

Whilst we’re on this trail of questioning, let’s broach the subject of plucking young pups from their mothers. A practice completely normalised by our society, and yet what would be the resulting outcry if we stole away young human babies from their mothers once they had stopped breast feeding, to then re-home them with a family of wolves, despite the fact they already had a loving home and family?  It’s just weird that we consider this to be perfectly okay, and why do we think it’s okay? Because we’ve been conditioned by our society to think as such.  Welcome to the matrix.

There’s a documentary on Netflix called ‘Dominion’ on the subject of cow slavery, and it’s not the only film portraying such a message.  Vegan campaigners often use this argument as part of their case for doing away with animal husbandry, however I see no vegan campaigns to free the dog, supposedly our best friend in the animal kingdom.  It is apparently unacceptable for cows to roam freely in a field with other cows, munching on fresh grass and socialising with their bovine buddies, with a view to eventually ending the life of those cows to feed us, but at the same time it’s totally fine for us to stick a dog on its own inside all day, with no friends, eating what we choose for them, walking where we choose for them to walk.

How has this escaped debate?  Why is no one debating the ethics, or even the environmental impact of dog ownership?  I’ll tell you why, it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that we love our dogs, and the dogs love us.  We keep cows to feed us, we keep dogs to emotionally soothe us.  It’s much easier to give up meat and switch to that soy/pea-protein crap than it is to confront our own insecurities and loneliness.

I’m not telling anyone to get rid of their dogs, or even avoid owning dogs in the future, just as I’m not telling anyone to be a meat eater.  I actually love dogs, like I love all animals, even the ugly-looking ones, especially the ugly-looking ones.  You know when I really love dogs?  When I see groups of them off their leash, sniffing, chasing and play fighting each other in a park.  That’s true happiness there.  That’s how life should look. Some of the dogs I know are friendly, cute creatures because they’ve been trained to be that way, they are unknowing participants in a matrix also.

I am undoubtedly a cat person, I grew up with two little rockstar cats who I loved to bits.  You know what I loved most about them?  They did not give a fuck what I wanted, and they did exactly what they wanted.

Cats for the most part exist outside of the matrix, they see what is real and react accordingly.  So when a cat shows you love you know they mean it, because if they didn’t love you, they simply wouldn’t bother.  They’d just eat the meal you so kindly provided and piss off back out of the catflap.  When a dog person rolls their eyes at my admittance to being a ‘cat-man’, I don’t get angry anymore, I just feel sympathy, they’re just not strong enough to be a cat-person.  They need the dog.  That’s fine, but don’t tell me I’m weird because I value freedom above dominion.

Let the backlash begin.

Love,

Catman x

If you would like to work with me because you’re suffering or stuck in a rut and can’t see a way out, then head over to my business page at www.mindbodyquantumhealing.com for details on what I do and how to contact me.

 

 

 

Embracing The Panther Within

I’m laid out on the kingsize bed of my quaint bamboo-lined bungalow on the tropical Thai island of Koh Phangan.  It’s mid-afternoon, and the fierce morning sun has been replaced with an epic downpour accompanied by the odd crack of thunder.  After a month here, this is weather I have now grown accustomed to, quite unlike the mosquitos, which continue to be the bane of my existence.  The threat of getting wet is really quite immaterial compared to the threat of being eaten alive once the rain stops.  What’s more, since arriving I’ve witnessed two people come down with Dengue, and it does not look pretty.

I laid down on the bed and cracked open the laptop with the intention of doing my tax return (reminder for the Aussies reading – the deadline is the end of this month).  However, as I started watching ‘Stranger Things’ (the tax return can wait) I realised I wasn’t really watching it.  There was too much going on ‘upstairs’, I had a urge to write instead, so here it is.  I should warn you, it’s a bit of a weird one this one.  It’s shorter than some of the recent epics though, 6 minutes tops, you can do this.

In my last post (link here) I talked quite openly about how I learnt as a kid to keep my needs and desires to myself.  Since writing that post I’ve examined this pattern of mine, this behaviour, in some more detail.  The yoga course I’m attending at the moment is not so much how to perfect a headstand, but more on how to perfect the knowledge of yourself.  However, it turns out that perfecting the knowledge of yourself, and learning how to resolve some of the not-so-helpful character traits is a confronting, painful and surprisingly difficult task.  It has not been all fun and games by any stretch of the imagination.

This inability of mine to speak up, to vocalise my truth, to say what I’m thinking, or feeling has been ever present throughout my adult years, and oh so damaging to both my contentment with life and my confidence.  As a ten year old boy I decided that by doing things to please others, or to entertain them, to make them laugh, help them out, etc, it would mean I wasn’t a burden, and would ensure that they would like me enough to keep me around, and then I’d be happy because I’m loved.  How fucked up is that!  I laughed out loud just reading it back.  I realise now that this model was severely dysfunctional, with this model I was locked into a forever cycle of looking outwardly for happiness.  Rarely did my thought process work along the lines of “If I get what I want I’ll be happy/content, and therefore in a place where I’m capable of giving out the love to others”.  This is, it turns out, is the correct way.  Most of you probably already knew that, I think even I knew it, I just couldn’t ‘be it’.  Instead I was locked into a complex system of make believe contracts whereby if I did something I was expecting something (usually love and acceptance) back.  It’s so fucked up, I’m really sorry everyone.

HOWEVER….

I had major breakthrough this week.  Anyone who follows me on Instagram will have heard me babbling on about meditation.  I’ve done a lot of it this past month and shit has started to get real.  Last weekend I sat on a manic, heaving dancefloor and managed to find mental stillness whilst bare-chested and barefooted ravers banged against the wooden floorboods around me.  Two days ago during an aerial yoga class I laid down on the tiled floor, went to a breathing exercise and completely zoned out into bliss, whilst my fellow students swayed around in hammocks.  But it goes further than this, I’m no longer meditating just to relax, I’ve started to focus my thoughts on what it is I want from my life, with the aim of manifesting them into existence.  And now for the really crazy shit, following a deeply moving spiritual experience on something called a soundbed (it needs its own post, I’ll come back to it) I have started to feel the presence of a number of animals who are part of who I am.  They represent my strengths, and who I am within my subconscious once you strip away the conditioning I put in place over two decades ago.

WTF are you talking about, Chris?  I hear ya, this shit is so far out of my comfort zone, so far into the realm of the hippy, alternative world that I can’t quite work out how I’m able to be sat on this bed writing about it, but well, if you throw yourself into a two month-long spiritual retreat I figure it’s inevitable that some weird stuff is going to happen.  And weird stuff is definitely happening, and it’s fucking cool.

So back to the animals, I was sat in meditation last night before I headed out to a reggae bar, and the panther, my feminine spirit animal came to me again.  Her message was simple:

“Express yourself, Chris.  Embrace the openness. Do not be scared.”

This big black cat is magic.  She is sleek and sultry, her muscular body sways with confidence as she moves, and she has these dark yellow eyes that could pierce your soul.  When she looked at me yesterday and told me her message, the eyes were so powerful that I could not deny her. I haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that this predatory feline now lives (or has always lived) deep in my subconscious, and I am learning how to bring her out in to the world.  When she departed I was left with the image of a face and I knew what I had to do.

I had something in the back of my mind that I’ve been wanting to say to someone for a quite a while, it’s been gnawing away at me, but for the past six months or so I’ve found myself repressing the urge to say it, for the reasons explained at the start of this post.  After the panther left and I came back to the real world I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to send a message to this person, but here I was back in the realm of consciousness and all the old patterns were screaming at me to shut up and not cause a fuss.  I took my phone out half a dozen times but kept putting it back in my pocket.  I steeled myself, closed my eyes, the panther image was strong in my mind, and I just did it.

And then something amazing happened, something else that had been bothering me came into my focus, so I whipped out my phone and addressed that issue too.

The outcome of either action was not exactly as I had hoped, but something even bigger happened as a result.

1) I realised that I needed to say what I wanted to say six months ago, so it was bloody good, albeit painful lesson that I needed to learn.  When you want something, or someone, go for it, don’t hesitate.

But even more powerfully:

2)  Despite the disappointing outcomes I felt good, and strong.  I had expected my ego to be a little bit broken by the failure, but instead I felt empowered and healed.  By embracing my feminine I found myself feeling more masculine.  Strange huh..  I had finally spoken up for what I believed, and what I wanted, and despite not getting it, I came at it from a place of strength and love, and rather than feeling knocked back by the outcomes I feel more confident that the next time I will succeed.

Put yourself out there.  Dare to Dream.

Footnote:

I know some of you may be thinking it, but no, I am not losing the plot.  I am feeling, and thinking the best I have ever felt or thought.

This post is a tad left field.  I get it.  If I myself was reading this five weeks ago I will have also likely been saying “huh?”.  Talking to spirit animals, manifestation, soundbeds, it all sounds very ‘woo woo’.  It is woo woo, but speaking from newfound experience there’s definitely something to all of this.  Try to see past the ‘woo woo-ness’ and understand that the subconscious is an extremely powerful tool, but if your subconscious has been incorrectly programmed it needs some magic to put it right.  Turns out that for me, closing my eyes, quietening my mind and then having conversations with imaginary animals seems to work.  Find what works for you.  Tony Robbins is a good start if you can’t swan off into the jungle for two months.

 

 

Chris Talks…. The Nonsense That Is Sunscreen

I’m currently in Barcelona, and it’s raining, so what better time to bring up the topic of sun protection.

I’m going to just say this: Sunblock is one of the cruelest jokes that has been played on an unsuspecting population, seemingly globally.  The sale of suncream/sunscreen/sunblock has been pushed onto us through a campaign of fear mongering, with the goal being commercial gain.  Who wins from the creation of a fear of the sun?  The companies producing sunblock and the taxman who claims VAT receipts from those sales.  Who loses?  Us.  On multiple counts.

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Eh?! Chris, what are you talking about?  Keep reading.. I’ve been wanting to discuss this for some time now, but I needed to test the theory out on myself before I went ahead and started recommending to all of you out there.  But before I dive head long into this subject I’ll provide a bit of personal background.

As a twenty-four year old man I will always remember my first day in Ibiza. Accompanied by two mates, we checked into a budget two star hotel in the not-so-classy resort town of San Antonio.  We dumped our bags, donned our swimming shorts and headed to the pool.  Upon removal of my T-shirt I will never forget the words that came from a Scouse pleb sat on the poolside table next to us:

“Fucking hell, mate, you are the whitest motherfucker I’ve ever seen”

I’d always been aware that I was quite a fair-skinned human up to that point, my face and arms have always been adorned by freckles, but I’d never experienced much in the way of external commentary on the fact before, and certainly not in the derogatory fashion in which this came my way.  I’d always been told my freckles were cute, if anything I was proud of my complexion.  When I meet people who have freckly faces these days I’m often quick to point out how much I like them.  For some reason this chump’s comment drove a dagger into my seemingly fallible confidence, and for years after, everytime the sun came out I found myself on a ridiculous and futile campaign of attempted tanning.

This campaign invariably looked like this:

  • Go on holiday to a hot place
  • Lie out in the sun
  • Attempt to judge when I’d had enough, apply sunscreen and then lie out in the sun some more

Sometimes I got lucky and timed it right, but at others I got it terribly wrong and burnt to a reddened crisp, enduring two to three days of discomfort at best, downright agony at worst.  After years of failed campaigns, I changed my tactic to one of proactive self defence, and I started applying factor 30+ sunscreen before I went out in the sun.  And then I’d lie out in the sun for hours on end, safe in the knowledge that I was protected.  Except I’d always miss a bit and end up with ridiculous white finger marks across my torso, or a patchy red streak across my middle back where my stretching, straining hands couldn’t reach.  On more than one occasion I forgot to do my face and ended up looking like a red tomato on a white spear of fancy asparagus.

After years of trying I simply could never get it right, after I moved to Australia I upped my campaign of smearing on the lotion in the face of outrageous UV levels and constant reminders from Aussies to “slip, slop, slap”.  For the most part this ensured I stayed close to my baseline of ghostly white, but occasionally the sunscreen wouldn’t work, overpowered by the scorching Antipodean rays it just failed and I burnt worse than ever.  In short, I was in a never ending game of cat and mouse with the giant fiery ball in our sky, and she always seemed to be winning.  Either I was smearing myself in toxic goo, or I was burning my epidermis clean off.

So what changed?  EVERYTHING changed.  Midway through last year I stumbled across the madass writings and recordings of an outlandish American Neurosurgeon called Jack Kruse.  Jack talks about many topics, but the overarching theme is that we must try, as hard as we may, to return to our ancestral ways.  His early works and theories talk about the sun, light, and diet a lot.  Today it is estimated that on average, in the West, we now spend 90% of our time indoors.  Jack is quick to point out that this is not normal, nor natural for human beings, whom for millions of years have lived predominantly outside.  Jack argues that the various types of light which we receive from the sun are important in modulating the human body’s systems; hormonal, circulatory, neurological, nervous, etc.  If you go back far enough the realise that all of the modern religions were founded on one basic concept, that the sun is god.  The sun brings the light, it brings the new day, and as winter wraps up and spring emerges, it brings life, both plant and animal.  Without the sun this solar system we call home is nothing, and our planet would become a cold, dark lump of rock and ice.

Yet here we are in the 21st century, and us white folk are literally quivering in our boots at the thought of being outside in the sun’s beautiful healing rays. The corporate wankstains, driven by the corporate need to increase revenue and turn a profit, have effectively, and successfully campaigned for decades to create a culture of fear when it comes to getting outside and soaking up some UV.  I’ve just been back in Ibiza last week with a group of mates, and was aghast to see a fellow fair-skinned mate applying the sunscreen before we even left the hotel room to go down to the pool.  Here he is, an office worker, living in England where (Surprise!) the sun ain’t that common or strong, with his best opportunity in months to get a massive dose of vitamin D, yet he’s been so brainwashed by the overriding theme of “THE SUN IS BAD FOR YOU”, that he won’t even contemplate going out at 10am without cream on, when it’s not very strong, or even remotely damaging.  I didn’t put it on me even once.  I don’t carry any with me.  This is what prompted me to write this post.

Last October, as Aussie winter turned into Aussie summer (As a Brit I can’t quite work out when Spring is), and spurred on by what I had learned from Jack, I made the conscious decision to forgo all sunscreen.  What proceeded has blown my mind.  For seven months through the hot season I sat out on my sun-scorched balcony. I laid out on Bondi beach, I frolicked in the Tasman sea, I walked in Sydney’s parks, and then I also spent two weeks floating around in the Philippines. You know how many times I applied sunscreen in that year-long period?  Once.  You know how many times I got burnt?  Twice.

On one particularly hot day in the Philippines, towards the back end of the trip, I had been out in the sun for quite a while, and the opportunity for shade was lacking.  This is the only time I have thought this in the past year, but it felt prudent to spread some cream on my face.  My face flushed red shortly after applying it, and the next day it was still red.  The second time was last week, I fell asleep on the top deck of the ferry from Ibiza to Barcelona, exhausted from a night of raving my tits off and zero sleep.  I slept for four hours in the blazing midday sun, and my nose received a minor case of sunburn, which was gone after three days.

I have not developed some incredible olive skin complexion, I am still fair and freckled, and I still turn pink after a prolonged sun exposure, but what happens next is that I feel no sunburn, no pain, no itchiness, my skin just turns slightly darker, and a few more freckles appear.  It’s crazy!  Before I was in a cycle of apply, stay white, burn, peel.  That cycle has seemingly been broken.  But how?

I think the answer to this is mult-faceted:

  • Skin health: Sunscreen is not good for your skin, and neither are all the other nonsense creams and potions we apply to ourselves in this modern age.  I hypothesise that my skin is free to breathe and do it’s thing properly, which includes absorbing the sun’s rays in a healthy manner
  • Regular exposure: The Brits won’t like this one, but I honestly believe that getting outside and exposing as much of your skin to the UV light is powerfully healing, regardless of season.  At lunch time, if it’s dry I try to get to a park, I take my shoes and socks off, I roll my trousers up, and if I’m feeling it, take my shirt off.  For those in darker climes, I’m going to say something controversial, I don’t think sunbeds are the devil they’ve been made out to be.
  • Fear: I no longer approach being in the sun from a position of fear.  Instead I am grateful for the opportunity to be outside soaking it up.  The power of the mind is not to be understated.
  • Diet:  I’ve written in the past about my shift towards a predominantly meat-based diet.  I can’t claim this to be original thinking, Jack Kruse’s ramblings inspired me to experiment, but he claims that the low-inflammation state that a meat-heavy, plant-light diet creates, coupled with the insane levels of nutrients obtained from organ meats such as liver (which I eat regularly), enable the body, and primarily the skin, to function as it was meant to, to absorb the light from the sun and convert it to Vitamin D.  Who knows what other benefits it has that #science hasn’t yet figured out.

But there’s the thing, why would #science figure it out?  The studies are funded by the suncream companies, who have absolutely no interest in proving that their product is superfluous, or dare I say it, dangerous.

Final Word

I am not an idiot, I do not think I can lay out and bake in hot midday sun for hours upon end.  Instead, I am now in touch with my body, and I can tell when my skin has had enough sunlight.  When it sends me the signal I take note and move into the shade.  I also wear a wide-brimmed hat a lot of the time to protect my face.  I am not condoning long sun-baking sessions, but I am suggesting that maybe there is another way.  And applying sunscreen to babies?  Just no.  God no.

Footnote Rant

Whilst in the Philippines I spent 5 days and nights on a boat tour of paradise.  On this boat were two semi-famous Spanish actresses, both vegetarians.  Both who claimed to be revolted by the pig that was cooked on the spit on our final night.  And yet, both seemingly had no issue with covering their dark Hispanic skin in sunscreen before diving into the pristine waters home to incredible corals and fish.  How is not okay to eat a pig that has been raised humanely on a local farm, but it is okay to pollute the home of the stunning marine life.  I theorise that coupled with their dark complexions and some good quality meat in their diet there was zero need to smear that dross all over themselves and leach it into the water.   Christ, I wasn’t wearing any, but I did eat the pig, and it was Delicious!

Edit: a number of people messaged me to say this post is dangerous in its message, so I add this: It is only dangerous if you do not take responsibility for your own health. I am not a doctor, nor am I qualified to dish out health advice. The words above should be taken as a description of own experiences only. Doctors get it wrong sometimes, they only know what they know. Doctors told me I had arthritis when I was 24, and suspected Lupus when I was 25. At 27, chiropractors and osteopaths told me that my spine was degenerating and that I would need weekly treatment for the rest of my life. They were all wrong. Inflammation was the cause. Reduce the inflammation and eat the right nutrients, and you reduce the disease. If I had listened to the doctors and not experimented with my health on my own I dread to think where I would be physically and mentally right now.

Love,

Chris

 

 

 

Finding Joy On A Balearic Dance Floor

I raised my hands to the air, my feet sidestepping up and down, left and right, my hips gyrating, my pulse thumped through my veins, my senses were firing on all cylinders; seeing, hearing, feeling everything.  The bass line pounded through every cell of my being.  The crowd vibrated around me with the same ecstatic energy.  As a collective of thousands, each bouncing to the tantalising melodic beat, enthralled in the incredible visual displays above the DJ box, we knew we were witnessing something special.  I shout to a stranger next to me “HOW FUCKING GOOD IS THIS?!” He looks at me, drenched in sweat, his eyes slightly wild and yells back “MATE, THIS IS THE BEST I’VE EVER SEEN.  I guess he is forty, maybe slightly older, he’s quite a bit shorter than me, he has a Northern English accent, and he is in a state of rhythmic ecstasy.  I can tell this guy is a seasoned pro in the rave game, if he says it is that good, then it confirms what I’m already thinking, I don’t think I’ve seen better either.

It was our last night in Ibiza, me and five of my closest mates, some of whom I’ve known since we were slightly wary eleven year olds walking into Secondary school for our first day of being ‘bigger boys’.  This was our last night on the White Isle, we’d done all the raving we needed to do in the previous 48 hours, so instead we opted to head into Ibiza Town with four fellow Brits we had befriended at the hotel (4 of them, 6 of us, 9 of the 10 married, odd one out over here).

Ibiza town, if you haven’t been, is beautiful.  A medieval fort towers over its picturesque cobbled streets laden with buzzing tapas bars and boutique stores, which as per Spanish custom stay open seemingly all night.   We stood around a high table, guzzled Sangria and chomped down delicious Tapas.  I love the Med, for me, this is what it is all about.  Being with friends, old and new, on warm evenings, feasting, drinking, laughing.  A magician even came over at one point and produced some of the best magic I’ve ever witnessed that isn’t on a Dynamo YouTube vid.

Time flew past as the wine dwindled, the clock ticked way past midnight, and from somewhere came the suggestion that we step things up a notch and hit up Pacha, the legendary and oldest club in Ibiza.  We all had planes and boats to catch early the next morning, surely not?  Lads?  Really?  Fuck, we’re doing this aren’t we… Oh I’m in a cab.  Oh I’m in the club.  How did that happen?  Excellent.  Let’s fucking do this!

I’ve heard it claimed that Pacha is the original superclub, not just in Ibiza, but in the world.  It was built in 1973, and was designed to look like a farmhouse.  Let that sink in, it is a 46 year old night club.  It should, by the very nature of its age be shit, but let me assure you, it definitely is not shit.  It has charm and character in droves.  I absolutely love it. When you first walk in it should feel like a quaint old Spanish tapas restaurant, with white walls, tiled floors, and trinkets hanging on the walls.  Except it doesn’t, because when you walk in you get hit with the deepest baselines and the most dazzling lights.

I was dressed completely inappropriately for the venue, I had on chino shorts, a smartish short-sleeved shirt and canvas espadrilles with a very thin rubber sole.  You know, perfect attire for a nice civilised meal in the town square.

But none of any that above mattered on Sunday night.  A Bosnian DJ who goes by the name of Solomun was playing the entire night’s set, all 6 hours of it.  And fuck me, it was INSANELY GOOD.  It wasn’t even my type of music!  I love Trance music, music that builds layers upon layers, interjects the occasional melodic vocals, music that slows down unexpectedly to shock you into life, and then just as you get comfortable, explodes into massive bouts of heart-bursting euphoria.  That is my music of choice, but what this Bosnian nutjob was spinning on Sunday just blew my bloody head off.  I went off to google later to find out how to classify what it was that almost sent me over the edge and into Heaven.  Wikipedia states: “house music, but with deep, ultra funky basslines, euphoric melodies and emotionally charged vocals”.

To be honest with you, dear reader, classification of the genre doesn’t really matter, what matters, is that as I stood on that dancefloor at 6.30am, my clothes drenched in sweat and my shoes ruined, I looked up to the darkened roof of the club and felt nothing but exhausted, blissful, unadulterated joy.  We, the collective masses, gave that historic dancefloor everything it, and this incredible DJ deserved.  Together, the thousands of us pounded ourselves like madmen and women into a higher consciousness.  I don’t know, maybe I’m getting a tad carried away there, but as I sit here in the chill zone of a surprisingly swanky Barcelona hostel and reflect, four days on, I feel that something special happened on that dancefloor.  Part of me stood there as the night drew to a close and felt like exploding with joy.  I had this overwhelming sense that the joy was within me.  I didn’t need a dancefloor or a superstar DJ, or 3000 other ravers, or the best nightclub in the world to find this joy.  The joy was us, the people, a collective consciousness.

The joy is within all of us, sometimes we just need a little help reconnecting with it, and with each other.

Love,

Chris

 

 

Was #Vanlife All It Cracked Up To Be?

I’m currently sat in Taipei airport, waiting for my connecting flight to take me back to London, whilst listening to the relentless, seemingly never-ending PA announcements whining above me in Chinese.  With a heavy heart I flew out of Sydney last night, sad in the knowledge that I won’t be back for at least a couple of months, remorseful that I’ve left poor old Vinny holed up in a mechanic’s yard in a tiny rural town near the NSW/QLD border.  ‘Lucky’, the Indian mechanic with the scariest and stinkiest dog I’ve ever been repeatedly licked by, assured me he would take good care of him, but I still worry.

As I sit here, bleary-eyed, hopelessly knackered, but unable to sleep because of those fucking armrests on the departure gate chairs, I’ve found some time to further (and deliriously) reflect on #vanlife.  In my last post (link here) I may have inadvertently painted the nomadic lifestyle in a somewhat glamorous light.  I realise this, because a substantial number of people messaged me to say that it sounded like a fantastic lifestyle, or how they were envious of my newfound freedom.  As such, I think it’s only right that I provide a balanced perspective by sharing a few of the downsides that I observed living this way:

A) As anyone who grew up in a large family with only one bathroom in the house knows, there is nothing good about waking up and not having access to a toilet.  Living in a van which does not have a toilet, and occasionally parking on streets with no public toilets is not ideal.  As a man, number ones aren’t such an issue, but number twos are a universal issue when it comes to WC unavailability.  Number twos don’t care if you’re a man, a woman or something in between, it’s all inclusive. #needapotty #oraspade

B) Public toilets.  Nuff said. #wipethatseat #waywardspray

C) I mentioned this in one of my Instagram stories; one night I woke up the sound of stones landing on the roof of the van.  These ‘stones’ continued to rain down on me for a good half an hour before I gave up on getting back to sleep and opted to park up elsewhere.  It goes without saying, but having a possum shit on your tin roof top in the middle of the night is less than ideal.  #possumshithappens #faeceslikerocks

D) Dating and sex – Okay, so let’s be honest, I’m not really in a dating ‘space’ at the moment; I’ve been living in a tiny van, moving from place to place, and now embarking on a two month trip to Europe, it’s not exactly conducive to developing anything romantic.  It’s not something I’m giving much thought. #celibatenomad

E) So what about something more ‘casual’?  That van is barely big enough to sleep me, sure you could squeeze another person in there, but it’s mighty snug, and the mattress is not exactly premium comfort.  It’s also a van with bouncy suspension, so if someone’s getting ‘jiggy wid it’ inside, anyone walking past outside will know about it.  Neither of these are necessarily showstoppers, but it is worth considering when you’re staying on a campsite populated almost exclusively by the over 65s, or trying not to get caught illegally camping on the road by the police. #slidetotheleft #slidetotheright #crisscross

F) Further to point ‘D’ above; 90% of the people I’ve met have been over 65.  I’m all for appreciating the beauty, grace and wisdom of an older woman, but come on, that’s pushing it.  #cougartown #denturesnogs

G) There is only so much canned fish a man can take.  I quite enjoy mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, even anchovies, but there’s definitely a limit!  Also not conducive to points ‘D, E or F’ above. #fishyaftertaste #giveusakiss

H) I lose stuff constantly, I swear I spent half of my #vanlife month looking for stuff, if it wasn’t my wallet, it was swimming shorts, or book, or the potato peeler.  It’s incredible really, I’m an organised person and haven’t lost my wallet since a drunken night in 2003 (touch wood), but there is something about living in a tiny van that makes it nigh on impossible to keep track of where you put stuff down.  #scatterbrain #thosepotatoeswontpeelthemselves

I) Closely linked to ‘F’ above; Car keys – I constantly fret about losing the key to the van, as not only would I lose access to my vehicle, I’d lose access to my home.  I reckon I check my pockets to make sure I’ve got the key at least 60 times a day.  In a life largely without stress, it’s probably one of the most stressful aspects. #whereisthebloodykey #rightwhereyouleftit

J) The authorities don’t want you living free and simple on the street.  It’s simple really, if you’re not holed up in a concrete box (aka apartment, house, etc), you’re a nuisance that the powers that be would rather stamp out.  Society has definitely created a model that says “you should live this way, only this way, any other way is unacceptable and we will not allow it”.  It’s been quite eye-opening, and to be honest, a little scary.  The old timers hark back to the ‘good ol days’, the time when you could park up pretty much anywhere and people would treat you with warm and welcoming neighbourly friendship, not distrust.  I’ve met a few people who live full time in vans, and the message is always the same; they love the lifestyle, but they feel persecuted.  It seems the authorities don’t want slightly tatty vans sat in prime spots, with their inhabitants crawling out in the mornings to brush their teeth whilst surveying the sunrise, the dirty travelling scoundrels.  I found it quite sad to hear the stories.  #blamethejobsworths #justpaytherentandshutup

K) If you sleep in your vehicle in public spaces in Queensland, Australia – you are breaking the law.  Granted it’s not widely enforced, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive a criminal record for doing so, but the fact remains the same, you are a dirty criminal and an outlier of society if you choose to live this way.  Late one night I had a council official wake me up by banging on the side of the van and shining a torch in through the windows.  I played dead and waited for them to go away.  In the morning I woke up to a warning that I would receive a fine for $667 if I was caught sleeping in my vehicle.  Actual WTF – I’m not hurting anyone, causing any disturbance or leaviny any trace I was even there – why is this a punishable offence?  #bigbrotherishere  #orwelliannightmare

L) Isolation – I touched on this in my last post – living solo in a van you’re essentially on your own for at least 90% of the time.  I’ve been surprisingly okay with this, I’d even go as far as saying I’ve loved the solitude, turns out I am great company.  Or at least I think so.  BUT, as I entered my third week of the trip I definitely started to feel occasional pangs of loneliness.  I’ve traveled on my own in the past, but such trips have been shorter in duration, or involved hostels, tours and expeditions that meant long stretches of being sociable.  I’ve had the fortune of meeting up with friends along the way on this trip, which has kept me sane, but long term it’s definitely not enough, I know myself to know that I need way more community and interaction in my life than this lifestyle can offer. #oohvanfriends #whereforartthou

M) When your car breaks down you get towed to a garage and then head home, hopefully with a replacement courtesy vehicle.  When your van breaks down, as Vinny did, you lose your vehicle and your home.  It’s very inconvenient to say the least. #getwellsoonvin #Iwillbebackfor you

N) Here’s the kicker… ambition.  I’ve probably glamourised #vanlife in my instagram posts, and yes, it is a steady stream of golden beaches, epic sunsets, national parks, wildlife, bbqs, and early nights.  It is a VERY instagram-friendly experience.  There is a rich sense of freedom to be had from living this way, and I’ve loved every minute, HOWEVER, it is a very distinct form of freedom.  It’s the type of freedom that says ” I can do whatever I want to do”, but in reality that means you wind up doing very little, mostly just satisfying your most basic human needs.  Trust me I know, I’ve done remarkably little this past month.  I think to be truly free you need to work hard at it.  I’ll explain this a bit further: to have the freedom to play a musical instrument really well; in the way that Elton John can play the piano; or Phil Collins can play the drums, you have to place restrictions on yourself to obtain such freedom.  You have to spend thousands of hours practicing that instrument before it becomes second nature.  The same could be said for financial freedom – in order to obtain financial freedom, unless you get lucky on the lottery or inherit a large wad of cash, you’re gonna have to work bloody hard to achieve it.  Maslow’s famed ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ places self-actualisation at the very top.  A painter must paint, a singer must sing, a teacher must teach, a doctor must save lives, etc.  Now I guess a #vanlifer may place living in a van as the thing that realises their life’s ambitions, but I’m not sure that’s me.  Personally I know that I could not spend the next 40 years living in a van and then lay on my death bed and state “well, I gave it the best crack that I could”, there has to be more. #vanlifeisnotforlife #gimmegimmegimmemore

In summary, it’s been bloody great.  #Vanlife is perfect if you’re in need of a long break to check out for a while and reset.  I only did a month long stint, but I could definitely go for a longer period and adequately maintain my sanity.  You ease into the slower pace after a while, and start to appreciate things you would normally ignore.  I have spent hours watching bird politics as they fight for territory and protect their own, this lifestyle provides you with something that many of us are short of: time.  With the increased allowance of time you suddenly have the space necessary to truly observe the incredible world that surrounds us.  It’s a wonderful thing and I loved this aspect of the trip, it’s second only to my newfound love affair with the sun #offtosleeponthefloor #cantwaitforaproperbed

Lessons From Life On The Road: #Vanlife

As anyone who follows me on Instagram will testify; I have positively loved living the past few weeks in and alongside ‘Vinny’ the van, as the two of us have toured up the East Coast of Australia.  I bought Vinny a few months back, from an English couple desperate to sell as their flight back to the UK loomed closer, and as a result got a sweet deal on the purchase price.  I’d been toying with the idea of doing some internal travel within Australia for a while, and with my contract at work coming to an end, I discovered I had little to almost no enthusiasm in my soul for starting another.  So I took the plunge and stumped up the dollars, Vinny was mine.  ‘Vinny’ is a 2008 model Mitsubishi Express, with a punchy 2.4 litre petrol engine, worrying amounts of rust, a fairly patchy service history, blacked out windows, and a plucky heart of gold.  He’s been converted to include a smallish double bed (yes my feet hang off the end), a limited, but sufficiently stocked kitchen, a second battery, and most importantly a small fridge/cooler that keeps my meat and butter chilled (because #carnivore).  When it comes to humans, I’m attracted to women, but this dude is just my type, and I’m happy to say we are great together.

We set off from Sydney three and a half weeks ago, speeding quickly up the East coast in a desperate attempt to reach warmer nights as quickly as possible.  This is the first thing I learned on my trip:

  1. Sleeping inside a metal tin box, with zero insulation and zero heating, in central New South Wales during the middle of winter is a testing affair.  As anyone who lives in, or has visited during this period will testify, it can get surprisingly cold.  Really fucking cold.  On my second or third night I slept in a farmer’s field about 10 miles or so west of the coastal fringe.   The day had been sunny and beautifully warm, and as the sun started to set I cooked up my dinner, by 6pm it was dark, noticeably cooler, and time for bed.  Yep I now go to bed at 6pm. No I don’t care, yes it’s great. So I changed into a T-shirt and shorts, snuggled into my blanket, fired up the laptop and settled in for some back-to-back episodes of Breaking Bad.  After two episodes (circa 8pm) I fell asleep warm and toasty, and positively loving #vanlife.  Around 1am I woke up and could not feel my face.  Not in the Robin Thicke way.  My face was stone cold, and my body was not doing much better.  I was instantly questioning my love for #vanlife as I groggily pulled two more blankets over me, one covering my entire head.  Eventually I warmed up just enough to fall asleep again.  For all of about 20 minutes.  Starved of oxygen, I must have thrown the blanket off my head in my sleep, and was rapidly losing heat again.   It was not a great night, and I spent the next day driving for 4 hours, determined to get a bit closer to the equator to avoid a repeat.  I also bought a hat.

When you’re living in a movable home though, this is the beauty of it; too cold, drive to somewhere warm, if you don’t like where you have pitched up, you just stick it in first gear and off you go.  Hunter gatherer tribes knew this, they were nomads for this very reason, we’d travel to where the food was and where we could get warm.  It’s in our DNA.  Packing up and moving on has seen me stay (albeit often illegally, ssshhhhh) in some incredible spots.  Without doubt one of the highlights was Broadwater National Park, a few hours south of the NSW-Queensland border. 

I parked up in a deserted carpark, cooked some kind of weird-but-not-bad-tasting curry thing, and then proceeded to eat the curry thing whilst being watched by two cautious wallabies, and four not so cautious roosters, who were probably more entertaining viewing than Walter White.  They bobbed their heads marching about, trying to stay close to the alpha male, having mini fall outs and pecking fights as they fell over each over in trying to do so.  Turns out that chickens are nasty little fuckers, I don’t feel so bad about eating them anymore. 

After I ate, I strolled along an equally deserted beach and started singing ‘Against All Odds’ by Phil Collins, at full volume, because, well no one else was there to judge, and my heart felt alive.  It was an odd choice of song in retrospect.  I walked in one direction and sang Phil Collins for a solid twenty minutes, and then I turned around and walked back in the other direction singing Simply Red.  By the time I got back to the van it was dark, and for the first time I felt wary of being alone.  The roosters and wallabies had retreated into the bush to call it a night, and so I did the same, tucked myself into a sleeping bag, covered myself with three blankets (wasn’t making that mistake again), put on my newly purchased wool beanie, locked Vinny’s doors and settled in for a episode or two of BB.  This is the second thing I learned:

2. When travelling alone it becomes normal to talk to animals.  This is going to sound mental, or  maybe it won’t, after all I see people talking to dogs every damn day, but…. I’ve definitely grown an increased affinity for nature since starting the trip.  I’ve always been a fan of getting out and being amongst the natural world (or ‘in the elements’, as my mate Dan would say), but in the past three weeks I feel like I’ve developed something of a bond to it, or her, her being mother nature.  I have spent hours mesmerised by the waves, and watching the leaves of the tree flutter in the breeze. 

I have gone to bed and risen with the sun, saying goodnight and good morning to the fiery ball on most days.  However, most pronounced is all the inane chatting I’ve done with the birds, cows, horses, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, bugs, slugs and pretty much anything else that has a pulse and doesn’t immediately run or fly away.  A bit like my approach to dating some might say. 

If you had recorded some of the one-way conversations I have had with these creatures and played them to the authorities there’s a good chance my next adventure would be in a institution. BUT, it never felt crazy, it felt like the most normal and human thing to do.

2a) Also make sure you’ve got something to watch/read.  Breaking Bad (and Love Island #soznotsoz) has kept me sane.  My meditation practice is not sufficiently developed at this stage to keep my mind content.

However, animal interactions cannot replace human ones, especially not for a raging extrovert like myself, so here is lesson three:

3.  Once you get out of the cities, people are soooo freakin’ nice!  I’ve written (but not yet published) another one of my thought pieces looking at this topic in more detail, but let me say this; I have been astounded at just how friendly people have been.  Myself, personally, I’ve always been pretty comfortable talking to strangers, but invariably it’s me that has to go looking for, and instigate such interactions.  On this trip, however, I can’t get away from them.  Literally, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to a) cook, and b) eat breakfast without being interrupted by some grey-haired fellow who wants to have a chat.  It’s great, I’ve loved this element of the trip, but for balance, let me also say this; when I’ve got a perfectly cooked Sirloin steak with steaming caramelised onions and fried eggs (because #carnivore) sat in front of me, the last thing I want to do is discuss last night’s Brisbane Broncos game with Brett, aged 67, whose wife then comes over to ask if she can have some steak too.  Might as well, Sheila, it’s going cold here.

Bugger off, Bretty boy, this one is mine

Which leads me to #4

4.  I’m no longer worried about getting old, I know I’ll be in my element in retirement as a ‘grey nomad’.  What a way to do it.  Chasing the sun, cooking up steaks and chatting lazily with fellow travellers and anyone else who will tolerate your dull conversation. How truly wonderful!  Don’t get me wrong, I love England, it is truly home after all, but any prospect of retirement in the UK has become immensely less appealing since this trip.  35 and talking of retirement…worrying.

However that leads me to #5

5.  I am a realist, I know I can’t live life like this long term, especially not alone, my brain is far too active for that, and my soul needs more human connection (clearly displayed by the way I started to document #vanlife in my instagram stories, chatting away to the camera, with the sole aim of connecting with others).  However, #vanlife has shown me something that regular 9-5 life punctuated with sporadic holidays has not: life is full of opportunity, you can do what you want with it.  I have very much lived my life within the confines of the ordinary, of what was expected of me by peers and family.  It wasn’t working for me.  I’m not saying I want to chuck my old life in the bin and start afresh as a wayward, directionless hippy living in a van, but I do want to explore for myself what a better life may look like.  A life that isn’t defined by the amount of money I earn or the apartment I live in, but rather by freedom and my ability to flourish.  Just this morning I had a chat with a lovely couple who have lived together in their beaten up old van for several years, they will pick fruit or take cleaning or bar jobs for a while to inject some cash and then take off again for long stints of walking on beaches, fishing, cycling, reading books, surfing and playing their musical instruments – which really sounds like a holiday to the rest of us, but for them it is 80% of their life.  What was really obvious was just how much time they spend together and how much they loved living. I know plenty of rich people who would struggle to say the same. It’s a challenging question, but is it better to live and love your life, own very little in the way of physical possessions, or is it better to work away at a job, in order to build a life you cherish so much you have to escape it 4-6 weeks a year with holidays.  I’m not naive, it’s obviously not that simple, but for millions of years this kind of life WAS ENOUGH for our kind.  It does raise some questions about my life choices to date (as if I needed more of that…lol).  I think if you have found a job that you consider your ‘calling’ then maybe it’s different.  I hear that people with a calling feel the desire to take a holiday from it far less than the rest of us mere mortals.  I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have not found my ‘calling’, and as a result this low stress, outdoorsy way of living is, at least on the surface, mega-appealing.  If nothing else the experience has encouraged me to go out and explore more of what life may have to offer.  Maybe, a calling is what I may find.  Maybe I don’t need a calling, I just need a life of freedom and human connection.  Deep…

Finally…

6.  The sun.  Fucking hell! I love the sun.  Like, next level newfound respect for that orange ball in the sky.  When you spend five days a week inside, devoid of its pleasures, and then two days a week catching glimpses of it in between chores, social gatherings, looking after the kids, the gym and netflix binges – you kinda forget it’s there.  Living life predominantly outside, away from offices, apartments, and chores – the sun has become the be all and end all (albeit closely followed by meal times). 

Waking up every morning I have been giving thanks for it’s warming rays, and as it, and I go to bed, I give thanks again for all that it provided during the day.  On the one cloudy day I missed it immensely.  I have not once put on sunscreen on this trip (I don’t believe in that cancer-causing tripe any more), but I have laid out in the morning and late afternoon sun for hours on end, reading books, listening to podcasts, or simply doing nothing but enjoying the warm glow.  It is great, but worryingly, this is the aspect for me that will make going back to a corporate job really really bloody hard.  I’m no longer convinced that it’s a trade off I’m willing to make.  The way I feel right now, I want the sun in my life, way more than anything else.

I have ton of other lessons, but I don’t want to risk boring you so here’s a quick list to summarise #vanlife learnings:

  1.  Stay warm
  2. Connect with nature
  3. On the whole, people are lovely, if sometimes a bit dull.  Potential evidence suggests cities are alien habitats that may turn humans into aliens
  4. Grey nomads have it right
  5. Keeping up with the Joneses is a futile, pointless and empty way of approaching existence
  6. Soak up the sunshine.

Additional lessons:

7.  There are some REALLY overweight people in Australia.  I’d heard that Australia was one of the fattest nations on earth, but living in Bondi I never really believed it, until now.  Unbelievable XXXXXXXXXL scenes in regional towns outside of the metropolises.  I don’t know how someone creates a leg bigger than your average torso, but it can be done, I’ve seen it, and it’s almost impressive.

8.  I can survive on $20 a day living in a van, if I’m tight with the budget and park on the side of the road rather than in a campsite. I have no idea how the Africans survive on $2, I guess they’re not eating grassfed ribeye steaks.  What kind of life is that? I have real sympathy for the poor bastards.

9.  Lots of people covert #vanlife.  I’ve had at least three people approach me to tell me that I’m living their dream in the past week.  Which was fine, but they could have waited until I’d finished my convo with the nearby magpie.  Kinda rude.

10. Washing your hair is a thing of the past, until you’re presented with a warm shower and some shampoo.  No lie, I went seven days without washing my hair, and four without even using soap on my body parts.  I was, however, swimming in the ocean at least once a day and having a rinse in the cold public showers.  I was fine with this until I came across a warm shower, at which point I realised just how fucking dirty I was.  I kinda like being dirty. Ewww.

11.  Surprisingly, as time spent living #vanlife went on, my desire to drink or do anything else that altered my mental state, even drinking coffee, declined.  I was unconscious of this, until I became conscious of it.  Having read books on addiction, I reason that as I started to enjoy life more, I found less reasons to escape it through drink or drugs.  Interesting…

12. Finally, try to avoid driving into the ditches on the sides of motorways. It can incur expensive towing charges to get back out.

Another mammoth post, apologies, I just can’t help myself, congrats if you made it to the end.

 

What it Means to be a Man on Love Island

In one of my first ever posts (link here) I questioned the idea of modern masculinity, and lamented the fact that much of it seemed to focused on how much cashish you have in the bank, how big your biceps are, how many women you’ve slept with, and how much beer you can sink in a single sitting without toppling over and falling into the gutter of broken dreams.

This is something I’ve pondered a lot over the past year of writing, and it was brought back into my focus by an episode of Love Island UK that I watched last night (episode 21 FYI).  The brazen, and let’s be honest, somewhat frighteningly frisky, Maura looked on in shock as her chosen ‘Hideaway’ bedmate for the night, Tom, chauvinistically declared to the rest of the boys:

“It will be interesting to see if she’s all talk or not”

Oh Tom.  After Maura’s endless stream of provocative chat and innuendo, we were all thinking it, but don’t bloody say it, to a group of lads, in a house you can’t leave, which is surrounded by cameras and microphones, whilst the person in question is within earshot.  Silly, silly boy.

Maura’s response was typically blunt, and brutally fantastic.  In no uncertain terms, Tom was told to “go f**k himself”, she was clearly no longer feeling frisky, and that was seemingly the end of that.  He was five seconds away from getting what he desired, and blew it, in favour of showing off to his new mates.  It was a spectacular display of self-sabotage.  Most of us have witnessed someone blow it before, but not like this, on the screen, in front of millions.  It was a beautiful mix of being both hilarious and painful to watch.

So what will we take from this? (For starters let’s ignore the fact that I’m watching this voyeuristic trash despite being 35 years old and supposedly educated) I’m sure Maura will be fine, she’s got undeniable spirit, a potty mouth, comedic timing and good looks.  I’m fairly sure she’s my favourite character on the show.  And Tom?  He’s young, he’s also good looking (obviously, they all are), but from what I can tell he lacks a bit of self-confidence.  One obvious mistake he made: there is a big difference between someone talking about sex, and wanting to have sex with you.  Seduction is rarely that simple.  I’ve learnt that the hard way.  Multiple times.  Hopefully he will too.  However, the thing that struck me most about the whole situation was Tom’s desire to impress the other men, that comment he made was solely designed to big himself up in their eyes, it certainly wasn’t meant for Maura’s ears.  I’m not judging too harshly, I get it, we all do this to some extent.  He’s not a monster, he’s a red-blooded male who was riding the crest of a Maura-shaped wave.  He certainly wasn’t thinking logically, he was trying to be funny.  Since the dawn of time men have lost their minds, and their game, trying to woo women.  The old adage of “try, try, and try again” is only approach that works when it comes to chatting up the opposite sex.

In this villa, how much money you have and how much beer you can drink don’t count for much, given everything is paid for, and alcohol is rationed.  They have no control over what they do, or where they go, so there is little room for leadership or spontaneity.  They all have rippling physiques, and so I would argue that the primary tool available to most of these chaps to assert their masculinity – is their ability to pull a woman.  Admittedly there are tiny alternative opportunities; like how hard they can punch Tommy Fury’s (brother of Tyson) open palms; or how fast they can swim the length of the pool whilst keeping a bucket hat on.  However, it seems to me, in this situation, that the most obvious method for these men to prove themselves to be men, is by winning the woman they fancy.  It is a corrupt, fabricated  system, designed to create drama like the one seen on episode 21.  I have some sympathy for Tom here, he was bragging about getting the girl, sure it was premature, naive, and crass, and it also reduced the fiery and extremely likeable Maura to a sexual object to be conquered, BUT it was exactly what the producers of the show sent him in to do.  Yes he made a mistake, yes he turned her off, but I also think he genuinely likes her.  That point should not be ignored in the furore of his laddish bravado. IMHO.

My sister text me last night to say her MVP on the show was Curtis, and I understand the appeal.  Somewhat effeminate professional ballroom dancer, Curtis, is a wise, yet flamboyant head on relatively young shoulders.  It is obvious that the other household guests really rely on his council and wisdom.  You wouldn’t describe Curtis as particularly ‘masculine’, but he coupled up with the slightly ‘challenging’ Amy early on in the process, and so hasn’t needed to prove anything in that arena.  Instead, he adds value with his purpose in the house, which is clear; he is the stable foundation upon which the others lean in times of uncertainty.  He may be camp AF, his sexuality has doubt been questioned on sofas across the land, but he’s also a leader.  For the others, I’m not sure how else they are supposed to express their manliness.  If swimming the length of a tiny pool in the quickest time, whilst keeping a hat on your head, is the way to prove you’re the man, then I’m closing down the blog, cancelling my gym membership and off to buy some speedos.

This piece is not really about a young man on a British reality TV show making an error of judgement, it’s about what it means to be a man, in 2019.  But there are some similarities, which I’ll explore in a part two.

To be continued.

Footnote: You may have noticed the blog has a new name, and a new URL.  I’m toying around with some new ideas as I approach a period of doing something different with my life.  The old www.redesigningmybestself.com url will continue to function for a while.  Watch this space.

 

Filler in Manila

I kept my social media entries to a minimum whilst I was away in the Philippines recently, but those on their Instagram game will have seen a couple of stories and posts, enough to know that I was essentially floating around in paradise, eating copious amounts of fried fish, roasted pork and partially developed duck embryos, straight out of the shell.  Delicious.  Those mere glimpses only told a fraction of the story, however.  Fortunately, I also spent a shit load of time writing notes on my experiences, and so here marks the start of my documenting them.

The Philippines as a holiday destination, and more specifically, Tao Philippines Expeditions as a bucket list item, came on to my radar five or six years ago.  I read about the expeditions in a Sunday travel supplement, subsequently checked out the website, and have positioned it at the top of my list ever since.  The model is simple, you jump aboard a specially customised boat and for five days and four nights you drift from island to island, snorkeling, eating and exploring remote beaches during the day, whilst spending the nights feasting, eating and drinking in small camps of handmade bamboo huts.  Simple? yes.  Wonderful? YES. More on that later.

I landed in Manila on my first day and spent the night in a small serviced apartment near the airport.  I wasn’t particularly keen to explore the city, I just wanted a base prior to boarding an internal flight to Coron the next day.  That said, the serviced apartment was tiny, the TV offered up little of interest, and I hadn’t got stuck into a book yet, so I  ventured out to eat.  What was for dinner?  Mini burger patties that tasted completely unlike beef, but came with a side of butter; chicken livers sauteed in some strange brown sauce; and fried eggs.  Not delicious, but not bad.  Oh and there was a side of white rice, which as I came to discover throughout the trip, is standard with all meals in the Philippines.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner all come with a massive bowl of white rice on the side.  I’m one of those Keto wankers though, so I wasn’t touching it.

I spent my morning in Manila walking around, looking at pretty much nothing.  There was a gargantuan shopping centre, all the shops inside were closed, except McDonalds, Starbucks and KFC, which had opened its doors at 4am…. Who the fuck is eating KFC at 4am?  Well, it turns out that at 8am, pretty much everyone is.  The place was heaving.    The other noticeable thing was the number of cyclists out on the road on this sunny Saturday morning, thousands of them.  All in Lycra, all with expensive road bikes, mostly men, and mostly sporting small pot bellies (see comments re: rice and KFC).  And so I spent my morning in Manila dodging overweight middle aged dudes on bicycles, and drinking water, tons of water, because it was freakin’ hot, at 8am.  I live in Sydney, I thought I was equipped for it.  I wasn’t.

I got back to my cosy (read: cramped) apartment, donned a fresh t-shirt, threw on my backpack and headed to the domestic terminal.  Here’s a tip, if you go to Manila – download an app called ‘Grab’, it’s their version of Uber.  My ride from the airport to my apartment in a private taxi cost 1200 pesos (circa $25 USD), my ride to airport from my apartment with Grab cost 150 pesos ($3).  I checked in my bag, ordered a cardboard pot of slow cooked beef (I think it was beef) and settled down into one of those massage chairs that you pop a few coins in and get your calves massaged.  I underestimated the chair.  Inadvertently I’d just booked myself a thirty minute full body massage.  It chucked me, ungraciously, into a horizontal position and proceeded to throw me about like a gimp, the chair my leather clad dominatrix.  Except it was faux leather, and it was about 30 degrees in the the small, crowded departure room.  I literally had to peel myself out of prone state after about 20 minutes when my flight was called to board.  Sweat poured from both armpits and the small of my back, slow cooked beef ran down the front of my shirt.  My back and calves, however, felt a million dollars.

The flight to Coron, a small island at the very North of the Palawan region was short and uneventful, the highlight, apart from changing my shirt in the toilets, was undoubtedly the views from the small window of turquoise waters and picturesque tropical islands.

Paradise was calling, I’d been wanting to come here for over six years, finally it was coming to fruition.  Thanks in no small part to a stockpile of British Airways airmiles, and the surprising willingness of my employer to let me take two weeks off despite the complete lack of days in my annual leave balance.

I landed in the small airport of Busuanga, it’s one of those airports that are so small that your hold baggage makes it to the carousel before you do, except there is no carousel, just a bit of floor where they dump the bags.  Love that.  I slung the red bag back onto my shoulders and headed off to find a transfer to my hotel.  Which took all of about 15 seconds. I walked out of the bag collection room and found myself outside surrounded by Filipino men with keys to Toyota minivans.  We agreed on a pricey $2 to take me on the 30 minute journey to where I needed to go.  Newsflash: The Philippines is cheap.

After dropping a number of other passengers at their hostels, we parked up outside mine.  It looked good, clean, friendly, away from the main strip and a bit ‘Western’.  I sat on a rock outside the front door and watched the tricycles speed past whilst some Dutch girls occupied the front desk attendant.  I breathed out a huge breath.  It was time to chill the fuck out.

Part two to follow..