The Countdown

So it begins, the real countdown. Although I have known for a good while now of my own intentions to work abroad, only now does it feel truly tangible. Whilst specific events along the way have really nailed home the resounding fact of my impending departure from the rolling countryside of Good Old Blighty, such as booking my flight. It is with the fast approaching deadline of my flight date that has encouraged the butterflies to take up permanent residence in the pit of my stomach.

As this date draws ever closer, the swirling cocktail of trepidation and unbridled excitement grows ever stronger, progressing from a gentle Sunday afternoon mock-tail to a dizzying 48-hour shot filled binge. But there remains a lot to do. Ranging from packing, and finding something to pack in, to informing Her Majesty’s finest Tax Agents I will be leaving the country. (Whilst maintaining my National Insurance payments, something I would largely recommend.) The list of jobs seems almost never ending. Not to mention I have to gut my room, as my parents are already planning to transform it into God knows what. Which arguably you could say they are more than entitled to. But you do get the feeling they want to ship you off asap.

Now, back on point, how would most logical people attempt to tackle this unruly list of requirements? A to-do list I here you say, a fine choice! But what is that? I hear others screaming flow charts, calendars and reminders on your phones. All prime examples of a profound sense of organisation. Me on the other hand, leaving everything to the last minute and hoping all goes to plan seems to spring to mind. A fool proof method that has always got me where I need to go, with everything I have always needed-ish. Time for a change perhaps? Luckily, due to the duration of my travels I will be able to pick up anything I have missed, so in some sense I can breathe a sigh of relief, assuming I don’t forget my visa of course. If I were to create a to-do list what would it consist of? Lets have a think:

  1. Purchase, or otherwise acquire a suitcase or two.
  2. Place items in said suitcase(s): a toothbrush, pyjamas, Mr.Teddy and an assortment of reading materials.
  3. Inform HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) of my intention to leave, as well as letting the Student Finance Company know the same thing.
  4. Remove any sign I lived in my parents house.
  5. Convert my savings into Yuan.
  6. Go to the Airport.

A pretty comprehensive list I do believe. Although I have no doubt I am missing something of the up most importance … damn you brain!

Celestial Bodies – Full Moon, Half Moon, an Almost Total Eclipse

An eclipse is always a marvel. A true reminder of our place in the universe and our place in our solar system. The movement of these monumental celestial bodies, something we have no hope of effecting, is nothing if not humbling.

I have always found them utterly fascinating and a little magical. The 20th of March (2015) was no different. To the roaring back drop of crying disappointment experienced by many, I was granted a fourth row seat in a dark and crowded theatre behind an audience of giants.

Eclipse 20th March 2015
Eclipse 20th March 2015

I too was faced with an unyielding blanket of shifting grey, except for one small difference, a brilliant scar of white light indicating that the sun was in fact out there. My eyes were fixed to that dazzling scar. Occasionally I was rewarded with a break, a chance to see an event I had been hotly anticipating. Ecstatic is how I’d have described myself, if anyone had asked, elated, even overwhelmed. Through a little break in the sky I was able to witness one of nature’s greatest shows.

It is events such as these that challenge and inspire me, force me to question. The next awe inspiring event is happening sooner than you might think, the 15th of April to be exact: http://www.iflscience.com/space/total-lunar-eclipse-tetrad-begins-april-15 . Perhaps this time we’ll all get a better view.

Auctioned

image

Have you ever been auctioned? Yes, you. I have. Now,  you’ll have to bear with me, whether due to the erosion of time, or the deep repression of my memory, the details are a little hazy.

It must have been at least a year or more ago, when I was convinced by a good friend that placing myself up for auction, all be it for a charity, would be a good idea. Admittedly, to begin with, I found myself rather reluctant, but I slowly began to warm to the idea, after all what was the worst that could happened? It could even turn out to be fun!

The auction itself was ideally placed around valentine’s day, or so I believe it was. The premise was a modest one, each volunteer (male or female) was to be sold for a date, with a voucher for a resturant of the prospective couple’s choosing. As previously mentioned it was undertaken in the name of a good caused, although that cause escapes me now. It was run by a group of friendly and charming girls, perhaps aiding in my final decision to take part. The venue was to be the Student’s Union on what promised to be a busy night. The stage was set. Butterflies had all but set in.

As the evening in question drew closer, me and a few of the guys that had also agreed to take part headed to the Union before hand, for a little dutch courage and a game of pool. I remember an overwhelming sense of trepidation sweeping over me as the beginning of the auction was announced. To my great dismay it was I whom was named to go first.

What lay before me could only be described as bleak. Unfortunately due to the starting time the Union was far from packed and the abundance of guys in attendance, littered with a sprinkling of girls, didn’t entirely fill me with confidence. As it so happened, things were only going to get worse.

It was expected that each volunteer would introduced themselves and provide the audience with one interesting fact about themselves. Nerves overcame me, being a naturally shy guy as it is, I coughed, spluttered and mumbled my name, which was followed by a barely audible fact. Not for the first time that evening, I was to be rescued. One of the girls hosting the event thankfully took the microphone from me and repeated what I had attempted to say.

“Let’s open the bidding at £5” she then gleefully stated. Silence … nothing but abject silence except, ofcourse, for the proverbial tumbleweed dutifully making its way from one side of the room to the other. There I was standing in front of a smallish crowd partly laughing, partly crying unsure what to do. This continued for some time, the deafening silence punctuated only by the hosts desperatley trying to rally some bids … one bid … anything. Their efforts it seemed were all in vain, until after what seemed like an eternity had passed, one man on a table not too far from me slowly raised his hand, pledging his £5. My saviour! (He later explained he had no interest in a date, but felt someone had to put an end to my ordeal.)

I sprung free from my shackles, as if I had been freed from a prison, quickly scurrying back to the saftey of my friends. Laughing the entire way, I was to be met with cheers and high fives. Yes it was pretty horrendous, but all the while it was a pretty unique experience and a hilarious one at that. The girls later approached me, offering their thanks and reasons as to why it didn’t go so well; the size of the crowd, it was early in the night etc. Reasons I gratefully lapped up.

If I could do it again I would. It’s important to put yourself out there, give these things a try and laugh them off, after all, what’s the worst that could happen? Right?

My Next Adventure!

It is official! This May I will be flying halfway around the world to China, more specifically Shanghai, to teach English for a year. To say that I am both nervous and excited is just a bit of an understatement. After all there is only so much reading can prepare you for, and it is a fair old distance from home.

But enough of all that, how did I get to this point I hear you ask? The process (so far) has been fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. After graduating from university I decided I would embark upon a year (or more) abroad, you know to expand my horizons, find myself, discover what I want to do with the rest of my life and experience the world etc. Shanghai was always pretty up there on my shortlist of places to go, aided, of course, by the current residency of my aunt and uncle. It’s a pretty nifty way to visit some family, wouldn’t you agree? Locale settled, next I simply applied to Eastland Recruiting, who put me in touch with Kid Castle in Shanghai, a few interviews here and there and what do you know, I had a job offer. Oh and there was the small matter of doing a 120 hour TEFL course, we must not forget about that.

Now the teaching part, why teaching? Well that decision was a little less straightforward, although it hardly constituted the need for words like complicated, perplexing or perhaps difficult, if difficult could indeed apply at all. I was faced with that aged old question: What am I going to do next/with my life? Depending upon how dramatic you feel. The answer to which, is never a simple or an easy one. I had, once or twice before, considered the noble profession of teaching, shaping the young minds of the future. But I could never bring myself to commit. Now I am presented with the perfect opportunity to test myself and test whether teaching is for me, or more accurately, if I’ll be any good at it. Other than that I have always been more academically minded and I have, more often than not, assisted or tried to assist anyone who has asked me with English and essays and all such wonderful things. It is just in my nature to try to help (maybe a little too much at times).

So here I am, convinced my future, no, my destiny lies in wait in the East …. watch this space!

Are You Feeling Small Yet?

I often sit, pondering the great mysteries of life, such as: what happens to us after we die? Do you pour the water or milk first, when making tea? Why do cats reach the lofty heights of YouTube stardom? But, more often than not, these conundrums pale in the face of perhaps the most important puzzle. Are we alone in the universe?

NASA have recently released a 1.5 billion pixel image of the Andromeda Galaxy (2.5 million light-years away), taken by the Hubble Telescope. The image itself is outstanding, if not mesmerizing, spanning a region of 40,000 light years. Astonishingly the image does not cover the entire galaxy itself! Such a scale is difficult to comprehend. Such a scale, therefore, begs the question, if it does not demand it, are we alone? To which the answer must simply be no, no we cannot be alone. Statistically, it seems incomprehensible, but even attempting to understand how we could be the only ones, it is difficult to put into words. That we alone reside in the vast darkness punctuated by small blips of light, how could that be possible?  Have we been cursed by the random but precise paradigms of creation? Despite probability and all the maths humanity could muster, are we destined to roam this void alone? The Milky Way and Andromeda remain two galaxies in well … a soup galaxies.

    Picture from: http://www.iflscience.com/space/spectacular-new-hubble-image-universe

Hubble’s picture of the universe (as seen above) shows just that. Equally both the Milky Way and Andromeda house billions of stars, orbited by countless plants, many of which sit in ‘habitable zones’. We may never met or see another race or civilisation, humanity may burn itself out by then, Earth may not be able to support us long enough, or some cataclysmic event may occur. But to assume we are alone is a narrow minded outlook bred by our seeming position of dominance in our known universe. We may never be able to truly comprehend or wrap our minds around this fundamental question. But I say, we cannot be alone.

(This of course is my point of view and in no way reflects the views of NASA, or anyone other than myself for that matter)

For more information, and to see Hubble’s sharpest picture yet, look at these links below and enjoy:

NASA/Hubble: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1502/

IFLScience: http://www.iflscience.com/space/one-and-half-billion-pixels-andromedan-magnifcence

The Last Three Years

It is not important that my journey is understood, it is after all my journey.

 

The last three years have been turbulent, if not conflicted. But that is far from a bad thing. Fundamentally, my challenge has very much been insular.  The spectres that haunted me were hidden within myself; a level of depression and anxiety I was unaware of until I began to question myself.

 

University is traditionally an experience that changes people, developing independence, confidence and self-reliance. And to an extent, I have also been swept up in this metamorphosis. Receiving a serious knock before delving into a world of education, drinking and general shenanigans. I found myself suffering from a brief period or pretty intense depression. Picking myself up, I endeavored to drive forward, with an almost relentless desire to better myself. Although, this posed a set of unique challenges in itself.

 

Bettering yourself, its a melting pot of ambiguity. At that point in my life, it meant going to college, taking a course that would take me to university. Nowadays, its slightly more complex. Hitting the gym, for example, has been instrumental in the emergence of the ‘new me’. When I arrived at uni, I weighed a mere 9 stone. Now I am a much healthier 11 1/2 stone. In large part, I have to thank one of my closest friends, who tried to get me to train with him for over a year. At last I have, not given in, but taken a positive step to improve my quality of life, and I am massively grateful.  Forcing myself into situations that trigger my anxiety, another step, a much harder and more uncomfortable step. The aim being to overcome such anxieties. Situations that seem entirely natural to the majority of people,  that often leave me overwhelmed.

 

Depression, now, this is a battle I can confidently say I am winning. After a bout of counselling and with the support of my family and friends it is a looming spectre that stalks me to a much reduced degree. I would prefer to say no longer. But your mind can be a dark and dangerous place, especially when you are left to wonder its corridors alone. The scope of change I have undergone and undertaken is difficult to explain, as is the starting point.

 

It was a difficult decision, the prospect of reaching the summit seemed improbable, if not impossible. I had no conception of self-worth, other than one built upon supporting others. Something I still strive to do now, however, it doesn’t permeate through me to such an unhealthy level. I always saw myself as a man with broad shoulders. This definition became a remarkable burden I could not recognise until it was pointed out to me. After I began to shed this, I was struck with something akin to an identity crisis. What had been me, since I could remember, a state of mind that was rotting me from the inside out, was no more. So what was I? Letting go of strict definitions was the next step, just allowing myself to live without fitting into a predefined role. That took some time.

 

There were some serious dark moments along the way, far from the safety of my decrepit base camp. I had taken a sledgehammer to my internal belief system. I used to validate myself against how much I helped people. I didn’t deserve a good day, I didn’t deserve to be happy unless, in some way I had made someone else happy. The days following a day of, what at the time seemed selfish self-indulgence, were brutal at times. Breaking these barriers down, breaking myself down was crucial to rebuilding, constructing a stronger version of who I am.

 

My journey is far from over, I am a great distance from where I want to be. But my mentality, is being reconstructed upon a foundation of optimism and positivity. This foundation does shake from time to time, but these tests of strengths are important in ensuring stability. What I have written is just a snapshot of the last three years. I often find just writing and rambling one of the best ways of expressing myself and clearing my head.

 

 

Something to Write

So, as per, I have not written anything in a long time. But suddenly, at a completely unreasonable time of the night, the urge strikes me. This urge is utterly unbearable, yet I have nothing to write about.

And so it becomes, I write, but I write nothing. At least nothing of any importance, or of any interest.

 

There have been some changes to my life that I can mention. Border line life changing, in a sense, for myself at the very least. These may not seem big to anyone else. But no one else is me.

I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety, both to varying degrees. This is something I have been trying to combat, and it seems that I have taken to the battlefield with a measure of success. It started with little victories, harmless things, like making idle chat with cashiers. I know, hardly terrifying, but to me, it was close. It is a pretty uplifting experience to realise that what you have to say is not as worthless as you had always thought. So to that end, I guess this ramble is worth more than I may give it credit for.

Also, I’ve tried my very best to adopt a much more positive attitude to pretty much everything. Pessimism is not enjoyable, and, for the most part, is ultimately useless. It is a complete drain. I have found that once you get over the first hurdle, it require a lot more energy and effort to remain so negative. It seems the world, and the people in it, aren’t as against me as I once thought.

 

These are small revelations, but for me, they amount to something a whole lot more.