Since returning from our year long global adventure, to say our feet have been itchy, at times to the point of unbearability, is a total under statement. Despite the many wonderful things about being back home in Yorkshire we have often talked about our next big trip which will be the Americas, north to south and east to west. It’s just always been a question of when and how, not if. So whenever the lure would call, Patrick and I agreed that we would take stock and decide whether or not to get the backpacks out again after a wedding in early October, 2 years after we set off on the trip.
It was agreed. If nothing significant was starting to happen in my broadcasting career and nothing new on the horizon for Pat by the time of the wedding, we’d go again. Other travellers we met during the trip often talked about how after travelling we would change and would always be travellers afterwards; how settling back in could be really hard. At times it has been so, but in other ways it’s been an amazingly easy year. The story of how so many things suddenly came together in the weeks leading up the wedding would seem like a ridiculously corny script if it weren’t true.
A wedding with a twist…..
But first, the wedding in question is such a great story. A few weeks before we set off, friend of over 20 years, Neena, an unmarried Muslim friend in her 40s joined us at the Saltaire Festival. Neena, Pat and I sat in the curry tent whilst Neena stoically talked about how she had accepted that she would be single for the rest of her life, that her job and friends were enough, and that she was OK about that.
Then she would start talking about this white policeman, Kevin, she had met at work. They were becoming very friendly, sharing many interests, not least that both of them are originally from East Africa. “He’s obviously not interested in me in that way” she lamented.
You need to know that Neena is stunning, both inside and out, so we both very much doubted this as we learned more about how their friendship had developed. Indeed, both Pat and I felt that all the signs were very encouraging. Often Pat takes a different view to me when girlfriends tell us about blokes but not this time, so I decided to be direct. “You have to look at this from his view point” I told her. “He’s a community police officer in an area that’s had community cohesion problems. You are a senior Muslim woman. If he asks you out, and he’s wrong, and you complain, he could lose his job. You are going to have to be the one who opens the door”.
We helped compose a text to him which was duly sent. He responded immediately and it all famously moved on from there, progress reported to us over the following year via skype as we travelled around the world.
The wedding was amazing – a real fusion of Asian and Western weddings. Five days of partying, which culminated in a Muslim nikkar which happened in a very typical English style wedding set up and venue. Me and Pat have always claimed the wedding. Our success in giving Neena and Kevin’s relationship the nudge it needed is not our only success when it comes to advising mates on relationships. When we sit and think about jobs we could do anywhere in the world we regularly ponder on the idea of online his’n’hers relationship advice 😀
Its not been all work and no play……
Despite putting off the decision about another huge trip, temporary relief for the itchiness was found throughout the year since our return.
Pat has never been much of a spender but it’s totally true that travelling has totally changed my habits. I’m far less materialistic and no longer want to surround myself with stuff. I am happy to keep wearing the same clothes and only a few pairs of shoes; actually I can no longer cope with heels at all! Yet another ‘how traveling has changed our life’ cliché means we can easily live on far less money, and what spare money we have got has been happily spent on trips. Cheap coach journeys are a piece of cake; after 22 hours up the USA west coast, what’s 4 hours to London. We’ve been lucky enough to have holiday jaunts to Scarborough (UK 7 out of 10), Bristol and Bath (UK 7 out of 10), Birmingham day out (good day but the coach got a tyre blow out on the motorway bak), London (8 out of 10) , Eastbourne and the English south coast (UK 9 out of 10 as the weather, the flat we stayed in and the company was amazing).
We’ve also made it out of the UK twice – to Tenerife and Copenhagen.
A typical English holiday…..
Being in Tenerife took us straight back to our travelling days. Easily spending days doing nothing, sleeping a lot, loving the sunshine, walking everywhere and exploring the area in a fearless way we didn’t know how to do before travelling. We watch a Spanish La Liga 3 football match. We love how uncommercialised it is. An old man has a stall near the turnstiles where he was running a raffle with a prize of some local fresh fruits. But to be honest the standard was not much better than the many appallingly interminable English division 3 (or League 1) games we had to suffer at Elland Road in recent years (I told you life was hard before we went travelling!)
Another similarity to our travels was that we also had a wonderful day and evening with an old friend thanks to Facebook. Mark and I worked together many years ago at Bradford Council; he now lives with his wife Karen on the island and is a professional photographer. We agreed we would meet in a car park and spend a day exploring the island. Siting waiting nervously for him to arrive, not sure if I would recognise Mark after so many years or if we would get on, it was just like how it was on the big trip. Of course, these fears were unfounded and we really clicked again straight away. Mark takes us to all the best spots – up Mount Teidi, to small towns and the capital, around the island. Karen and Mark cook us a fab evening meal and we spend a great evening sitting in the Spanish twilight drinking red wine and putting the world to rights.
Foul and abusive language…..
Sadly, despite our backpacking pedigree, we slip into ‘English package holiday maker in Spain behaviour’ a little too easily. Pat goes in search of full English breakfast fry-ups and fish and chip suppers from the main proper chippy; I research afternoon tea and scones. One night we decide to go to The Railway Tavern weekly quiz. We should have known better.
One of our favourite badly written signs in a public place has always been a sign that appeared at Elland Road football stadium a few years ago. “Foul and abusive languages will not be tolerated.” So which languages would that be then? English? French? Latin? Maybe English living in Spain….?
Of course the Railway Tavern is a proper English pub. Man City photos are all around. The Landlord is a northerner, we assume a Manc. Looking round at the punters we could have easily been in a working man’s club. We are by far the youngest in the bar. The telly shows EastEnders (brill for me) then turns over for Corrie (good for Pat). Of course, despite wishing we could make new friends no one talks to us.
The quiz duly starts. We’re doing OK on the first couple of rounds, or at least not bad for a team of 2. Then the final lot of questions before the break. One of them is “In what year did The Commons get its first non white MP?”. We should have realised when the quizmaster takes the piss out of this Asian bloke who comes in to sell some snacks that things were not boding well. The break comes and he asks if anyone needs questions repeated. He repeats the MP question then decides to give everyone an additional clue. “So just to be clear non white means a P**i or a blackie”. Me and Pat look at each other with looks of incredulation on our faces. Did we just hear what we thought we heard?. It’s repeated again so yes we did. We look around. No-one else seems to have responded or to be bothered. We get up and stomp out. Patrick wishes he’d said “what like me?” to the room. But sadly our complaints are only be heard by the passing drunks as we walk home back along the seafront.
We had a great week, but Tenerife itself didn’t score so high for us. 9 out of 10 for weather in early March and the time with Mark and Karen, but only about 4 for the place.
When we set off I was honestly sweating it about how I would last without TV. I gave myself lots of talkings to. Eastenders would be quick to pick up. Casualty ditto. I managed to download all unwatched episodes of The Paradise on the little 2 day stopover we had in London between Turkey and India. We could catch a few episodes of Homeland Series 2 on counterfeit DVDs in Thailand. I would even buy the Downton Abbey Christmas Special on iTunes and would watch it in late Feb on a bunk in a 18 bed hostel room in Saigon, Vietnam, knowing what was coming as my sister-in-law had put a spoiler on Facebook. “Oh No, not Matthew”. But I would have to live without the last series of Borgen, my favourite Danish programme. Its main character is Birgitte Nyborg, mythical Danish Prime Minister and my girl crush, all filmed in Copenhagen and at its majestic parliament building. Back in the UK I would watch back to back episodes to the point where I was truly bereft when it finished. So a trip to Copenhagen, to The Borgen, and to cross the astonishing Øresund Bridge which spans 8km between Copenhagen and Malmö in Sweden was a must.
We took our mums as a treat for them. My mum travelled to Leeds and we would drive to Manchester airport and meet Pat’s mum there. We may be seasoned travellers but I’m not sure my beautiful mother, Bridget, felt it was a treat when me and Pat had one of our usual pre flight arguments on the way over. Pat was being rubbish about sorting out arrangements and plans; I was being really critical and shouty with him for this, resentful that once again I had had to do all the organising. After a terrible time sorting out our parking pickup and a big row, we finally made it through check-in. Pat’s also beautiful mum, Lois, is no where to be seen. Turns out that Pat doesn’t even have her most recent mobile phone number and he’d just vaguely arranged to meet in the airport at some point before the flight. I’m furious with him. “Did you agree EXACTLY where to meet?” No. “Did you ask her to keep the phone turned on?” No. “Did you agree back-up plans in case either of us were late?”. No. We agree to go through security and passport control and hope Lois does the same and just heads to the plane. I am so furious I cant speak. Of course security is a nightmare and Manchester seems to have rules that no other airport we have been through in the last couple of years has. I am mortified that I, seasoned traveller, get in a pickle with my liquids. My mood only improves when we get through security and the duty free shop and see Lois sitting patiently, and very relaxed waiting for us, phone turned off.
Me and Pat make up and sit next to each other on the plane, for once we ask for a window seat (I like an aisle seat). Good luck is shining on us and our seats are on the left hand side of the plane. The flight is very short and after less than 2 hours the plane starts its decent into Copenhagen. The airport is right next to the Bridge and as the plane curves in to land we get the best we will have of this amazing piece of civil engineering.
Airbnb introduce us to Jesper, a teacher, and his beautiful 3 bed apartment; he even picks us up at the airport. We spend 3 fabulous days there, wandering around soaking up the atmosphere of this amazing city. Me and Pat take it totally in our stride and the mums enjoy how relaxed we are by being in a new strange city. We walk around the streets and visit plenty of coffee shops. We take a boat trip and see the city from the sea.
We get the bus to the freetown of Christiania, an old army base in the centre of Copenhagen which for the last 20 years or so has been turned into an anarchist area which has tried to declare UDI from Denmark. It has its own flag; red with three dots for the three ‘i’s in its name. For a few kroner each we take a tour around with an old hippy, his white beard and fingers nicotine stained yellow from the roll-ups he chained smoked throughout the tour. Mum was offered a ride in trailer he pulled around on his bike. She was a trooper about the fact that it was wet and she got soaked. Christiania now has to pay rates and rent to the city authorities and as a result loads of businesses have been bought in to bring in income.
It looks exactly as I imaged it would. Run down old buildings that look very cold to me with lots of make-shift repairs and grafitti and slogans painted on the outside. We travel down the world famous ‘Pusher Street’, the main drag in Freetown where cameras are banned as certain self-explanatory and still illegal activity might be caught on film. We go to the store, a huge warehouse full of recyled materials people can use to make things or fix their buildings. Its crammed with everything from bits of wood and metals to old TVs and other furniture. We pass houses with curtains made from re-used pieces of fabric, and buildings converted into flats. Communal areas from make shift cinema space to a temple building. We by cakes from the famous Sunshine Bakery which is open 24 hours a day. Honestly, they are the best cakes I have ever eaten. I love Christiania.
Me and Pat laugh at all the young backpackers in Copenhagen Central Station on their way to the Roskilde festival that weekend, remembering our backpacks. I think smugly of my lovely little pink trolley case I’ve bought on this trip and how comfy our bed at Jesper’s place is.
We visit the highly recommended Danish Architecture Centre. One of the highlights of the trip was finding a copy of one of my father’s most successful books – Understanding Modern Architecture. My mother actually wrote much of this book jointly with him. I couldn’t have been prouder of them both.
I was so relaxed about arrangements I left it too late for us to get a tour around the inside of the Parliament. Déjà vu Pearl Harbor US Arizona tour, Yosemite camping, Meekon river cruise, Washington DC buildings. My nonchalance would hit a high the day of our trip across the Bridge to Malmö. Our last day we pack up, lock the flat and deposit our cases in the Central Station to pick up before we get the train to the airport that evening. Another similarity to our big trip, mates on Facebook had given us top travel advice, Rich in Ledbury saying to go across the Bridge by bus not train because you don’t actually see it from the train. Cases and all our valuables locked up we head to the bus stop.
The bus arrives and I see people getting out their passports. Like Visa’s on our big trip which I often left till the last minute because I just forgot at times we would need them, it just hadn’t occurred to me we might need documentation. After all we were going into another country. We have no choice but to brave it out without passports. I spend the hour long journey so scared, my heart pounding. As always when I’m terrified and stressed out I cannot talk, I just have to sit silently in my own prison of fear and misery. Thanks to my own mentalism (as Pat would describe it) I don’t pay any attention at all to the Bridge. Once again am so thankful that we got such a good view on the plane. As the bus leaves the bridge and into Malmö, I breathe a sigh of relief. No customs. No officials either as the bus pulls up at its final stop next to some pubic toilets in the city centre. I make up for the stress of the journey by buying lots of Swedish cakes to eat.
Malmö is really hot and lovely, but a tad dull if you ask me. We walk around and have a good look at the Twisted Tower. I don’t need to say it but of course, we don’t go up it. Why change the habit of a world trip.
Our time in Copenhagen is great and we love being with the mums. But ….. although it’s a really lovely place I’m not totally bowled over by it and I only award it about 6 out of 10 for a foreign destination. “Is it because so many of the Baltic cities look very similar, or just that we are very spoilt having seen so much of the world?” I ask Patrick. Like everywhere else we visited my benchmark is whether I would like to live there. Answer – a resounding no; I’m afraid that I would find it too quiet and just not lively enough for me. My fav cities of Bangkok and the best of all New York needn’t worry.
Having to live in between the trips……
Of course we do have to occasionally work between trips away (I’ve decided that’s the way to have a happy life) so between trips we knuckle down. And of course, our life bears no resemblance to the one we left behind.
Most obviously is that we haven’t gone back to our nice 3 bed house which is still rented out. Instead, we live far more cheaply, sharing someone else’s home, renting a room. I’ve had some pretty regular freelance consultancy work as well as getting paid for doing weekend roving reporting shifts on a local radio station, a perfect job. Crack of dawn starts on a Saturday are now routine. Pat stayed in a full time job which he didn’t like at all but bought in a regular, if fairly small, income. We’ve loved living with other people – with our mates and their children for the first 6 months; the last six in a house which at times feels wonderfully like a community centre.
Neither of us has been able to face the idea of a full time permanent job for the foreseeable. It’s like we have to maintain our freedom and still keep our options open. For us, self employment, short contracts and having a number of different irons in the fire is brilliant. The uncertainty of a life in areas like the media would have seemed to daunting before; now it feels like a perfect fit.
For me, though, the hardest thing coming back has been how some of my relationships and friendships have changed and are not the same anymore. A few things happened which make me realise that we’re just not on people’s radar in the way we used to be. I’ve spent many hours over the last year feeling pretty down, often tearful about lost or not so strong friendships. I tell one friend about this one night. He says it sounds like we don’t feel like we are part of a gang anymore. That sums it up. I spend more time with one group of friends which is ace and I love, but less with other friends who were the gang before the trip.
But overall, the gang of me and Patrick live a charmed life, and somehow things just fall into place around us. I credit the visualisation and meditation I still do after discovering it in India; Pat thinks this is nonsense. But things just seem to work out.
After our wonderful friends asking us to come and live with them and their beautiful children in the rented Vicarage in Kirkstall, we head into spring knowing we will need a new place to live as the tenancy will come to an end and they will move onto a new life in a Co-Housing Scheme in the South West. We don’t panic. Instead I start visualising a new place to live – affordable, in a great location, with all the mod cons we need (central heating, dish washer, instant hot water which was very sadly lacking from the Vicarage). I meditate daily, picturing me and Patrick sitting at a table eating breakfast bathed in light. One evening, randomly from an email list I had joined I hear about a house for rent. We don’t get it but we do get offered a room in the owners other house. The kitchen has huge bay windows which flood in light onto the kitchen table where I am sitting now typing this. We love the landlady Ursula and are so happy she asks us to move in. We have been here for 6 months now and love it.
Now for sorting out work….
A place to live sorted out I turn my meditations and visualisation to my broadcasting career – to getting more paid radio work, preferably presenting and not just reporting. I decide to take less consultancy work and concentrate on broadcasting. I’d applied for a national radio presenter scheme which I didn’t get onto and wasn’t being offered any new presenting which I’d hoped I might. I clearly needed to do something different.
So I employ a highly rated mentor to give me training and advice. He is brutal about what he thinks I need to alter, but also amazingly supportive, really bigs me up and I learn loads. I set off on a journey to change the way I speak so its easier on the ear on’t’radio. I get individual vocal coaching for speaking and learn to tilt my voice so its less quieter and warmer. I work really hard on improving my reporting at weekends and during the week I do as many volunteer shows as I can on BCB in Bradford to improve my skills.
But I struggle during my visualisations. I think about my ideal broadcasting job, assuming its as a radio presenter, but there’s this niggle that somehow its not just about radio, and when meditating this image of having my hair done as I practice scripts keeps coming into my mind. Something just doesn’t sit right.
A chance conversation……
So one Monday evening, after my regular singing class (one thing I just fell straight back into) we head to the local bar. I sit next to one of my singing friends Jane. Out of no where she tells me that the week before she went on a TV presenting course. She loved it and really sells it to me. Next day I check it out. There’s no more coming up in Leeds but it gets me thinking and it just feels like the right thing to do. Over my career I’ve spent a lot of time in TV studios doing recorded and live TV and I’ve given so many talks and speeches I can’t tell you. It’s time to finally become the TV presenter I’ve always dreamed of being.
I find a couple of courses in London that look great. Advice taken from 2 of my brothers about which one to choose I cash some premium bonds from our savings and splash out on a course. June and July (when not thinking about or getting excited about the Tour de France which will set off from Leeds Town Hall and travel around Yorkshire over one of the best weekends I can ever remember) is spent learning to speak differently, dieting like mad ready for the course and visualising a thin me meeting a TV executive who shakes my hand and tells me they are so happy I’m on board with them. My entire world becomes focused on working up to the course.
Another chance conversation…..
During this time Patrick is also pondering his future. He repeatedly tells me he dislikes his job – but not enough, I point out, to get off his backside and find another. Or even do something like go to college and get new skills. I repeatedly try and persuade him to try something new, expand his horizons. He agrees he should but doesn’t do anything about it.
One day we go for a walk and picnic. As we walk up the beautiful Leeds Liverpool Canal towards the fabulous ruins of Kirkstall Abbey I ask him what he wants to do if he gives up his job. “Nothing. I want to get paid for doing nothing. Basically I want to be a lazy sod” he says. “OK” I reply. “Not sure what job that is but if that’s what you want you’d better start working out how to make it happen.” We arrive at Kirkstall Abbey, eating our picnic on the grass, unexpectedly bumping into other friends. I decide to check Facebook. The Universe has answered our prayers. Someone I met at a friends party has advertised for extras for TVs and films. Its obvious. As an extra you literally get paid to do nothing for hours on end!
So this starts Pat on a quest to become a TV extra or ‘supporting artiste’ as he will laughingly tell mates. Not much happens for ages. Every so often I give him a push and he does a little more to make it happen. He gets some professional photos done which are amazing and he makes contacts with agencies. He continues in his job, leaving the house at 6.40 every morning, getting more and more resentful of the demands it makes on him for very little pay. I tell him to be strong, believing its just a question of waiting for a new opportunity to come along.
The nub of the issue…..
Anyone who has followed this blog will know that at the heart of the story that led to us going on our mid life crisis trip was our attempts to become parents; a couple of miscarriages and including an adoption process. Approved to adopt by a local authority in the May before we set off travelling, we felt so bruised by the approval process that we put the next stage – matching us with a child – on hold. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Whilst on the trip, every time I wrote for this blog I was completely conscious that our Social Worker and members of the adoption panel could be reading what I wrote. I would censure anything I wrote about emotions, arguments, feelings, children, knowing that it might be analysed by the adoption people and potentially used against us (rarely did I imagine it could be used in favour) as evidence that we were not suitable to adopt. This was not just me being paranoid or over-careful. For years we had lived with this hanging over us – knowing that other people were scrutinising everything about our lives, our pasts, our views, our responses to the world and then making unchallengeable judgments about whether they meant we should or shouldn’t be allowed to be parents. Even little things like trips to the doctors became fraught with anxiety. If we sought medical help for X would that count against us? Would it mean more reports and investigations? Every conversation with someone new, every decision had to thought through incase it became evidence to use against us. At the start of the process we were told they would check our social media.
I can honestly tell you that this is part of the unbearable pressure you have when applying to adopt. After a harrowing process which almost destroyed us individually and our marriage, we didn’t even really celebrate when we were approved. At the time it just felt like we had been found not guilty, not that something positive had happened.
That pressure didn’t go away even when we did. We knew we may return to a re-assessment to see if we were still judged to be OK to be adoptive parents. When I wrote or posted on our public Facebook, thousands of miles made no difference. Our lives were still not our own. One day I may write openly about our adoption approval process. For now, all you need to know is that this is the most honest I have been able to be in anything but private conversations with close friend and family.
When we got back we decided to re-establish contact with our Social Worker to say hello. It took several phone calls and over 6 weeks to get an appointment to see her. Amongst other things she told us that before we could move on we would need to be in a stable long term home. Once again we left it don’t call us, we’ll call you, but Pat and I agreed we had to make a decision. We set ourselves a timescale of new year.
New Year came and we were no closer to a decision about whether or not to start the next process. Pat didn’t want to but didn’t feel able to say that to me. In the end we went to see a mediator. Not because we were arguing about it but because we just couldn’t make a final decision. We had one session and right at the end it became clear that that neither of us felt able to hand control of our lives back over to social workers. And so that meant not moving to the next stage of adoption and not being parents. Instead we decided to pursue work opportunities and enjoy the benefits of a childless lifestyle. Decision made, we both felt great. Returning home to the Vicarage our friend said we both looked years younger, “like a massive weight has just been lifted off your shoulders”. We didn’t tell the Social Worker though, just in case….
The ultimate childless lifestyle…..
And so we headed into 2014 full of excitement of what not having children could mean for us. No need for a big house, instead we can live and work wherever we want. (Its just a matter of time before we end up in a pad in New York :-)). We can go on holiday as much as possible. Choose to not do well paid consultancy work or give up a regular job in favour of self employed work in the media…
Fast forward to the summer and I head off to my TV presenting course. I take a massive suitcase having had a load of mates watching videos of me trying on all my clothes. I have the most brilliant 2 days and it confirms that I’m actually still really good at it. Of course, they tell me I am too quiet and need to be a bit more high octane. In a weekend I have to undo all the radio changes I’ve made over the last couple of months. I learn first hand how different radio is to TV.
The trainers spend ages with us about developing our brand and they tell me my brand is about things I wouldn’t have chosen to push; top of the list my Yorkshireness. I follow their advice – they are both top TV producers. They tell us the showreels we recorded on the course will be ready for the end of August. They give me great feedback and advise me to look at local options initially.
After the course me and Pat head off for a week on the South Coast. I eat so much I put on all the weight I’d lost before the course. We have a brilliant time. Pat thinks every day about whether he could just not go back to work after the holiday. Its not that he hates the actual work. “It’s just since the trip I just can’t take it seriously, working for a company to make more money.”
Whilst waiting for my showreel to arrive I talk to everyone I know who has media contacts to say its coming. I get a contact with the new local TV station for Leeds. I research them extensively, reading their bid to Ofcom for the franchise. They say they want to be “quirky, original, witty, colourful and challenging”. If that’s not me…….. I get a meeting, send my showreel and a load of programme ideas. Within a week I’m invited to meet the station boss. He offers me my own TV show, a weekly current affairs show which surprises me. “Will I have to change my image, my hair?” I ask. “Certainly not” he says. They want me because of my previous political and public sector experience in my previous life and because I’m not like your average current affairs presenter. The meeting ends with me standing up feeling pretty slim shaking hands with the station boss and him telling me how happy they are to have me on board.
Countdown to the wedding….
And so we find ourselves up to date. I book a week off to spend at Neena’s wedding and Autumn very quietly arrives. As the leaves start to fall off the trees, dates have been agreed for shooting the first episodes of my new TV show and a full diary of Saturday radio reporting shifts and occasional additional shifts are booked until new year.
Better still, things have also changed for Patrick in the last few weeks. He gets his first extra job – as an Iraqi Soldier in a Bollywood film. His job dilemma is sorted for him a he is made redundant at work. But luckily the same day a friend of mine tells me she needs someone to work for her doing dispatch and he starts a 2nd new strand for him – as a lipstick entrepreneur! I keep telling him time now to get in touch with his inner woman. 🙂
And of course, we receive one other vital email. At the start of October, out of the blue, the Social Worker finally catches up with us. We need to tell them one way or another – whether we want to go back into the system or whether they should rescind our status as approved adopters. We can avoid it no longer; we tell her to rescind. It’s the right decision but still it’s a very tough email to send.
And so 2 years to do the day that we left Bradford to head on our big trip, I set off across the Yorkshire Lancashire boarder to the wedding, both amazed but also strangely not at all surprised that the life and career changes we needed to see have come just as our travel decision deadline looms.
The big Americas trip will have to wait……..