I think we all get lost along the way sometimes. Well if you put yourself out there and take risks you do. If you don’t there is a fair chance you never found yourself in the first place. If you are this person, and your life has always been safe and predictable, you probably should stop reading now as this will just sound like a load of meaningless crap to you. Thankfully I believe most people takes risks somewhere along the road, in whatever shape and form they manifest so please read on.
My life has always had change, and risk, and chaos really in it. From the age of two, back in 1969 when my parents put us on a boat bound for New Zealand opening my young eyes to the wonders of the world for the first time as we made our way slowly around the globe, stopping at exotic locations like Tahiti along the way, life was about change. You could say I was too young to remember, and you’re right, I don’t remember, but even at that age we take in the world around us, and especially at that age change can have a profound effect upon on our psychology. I know this because as a young boy growing up in New Zealand I had an unusual sense of awareness of the rest of the world, feelings only fortified when we returned to England 5 years later. That journey I do remember, from beautiful beaches of Fiji, and the slow surreal journey of the Panama Canal, to the calm endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean and wild storms of the North Atlantic. By the time I was seven I had circumnavigated the planet by boat, not alone, but you get my drift. How’s that for change? But these were not my risks, they were taken by my parents, but it sort of hard coded me for life, and once I was old enough I was grabbing a rucksack and spending my summers sleeping on the beaches of the Greek islands and the like.
Then after one such trip I ended up in hospital, having had a really nasty car crash. Take my advice, don’t go head to head with a combine harvester, it hurts. I was in a coma for a short time, then in a hospital bed for quite a bit longer, but like all things in life, it can be a positive, and it was the catalyst I needed to start making more extensive travel plans, and within months of getting straight, I was off. My brother and I bought an old Bedford van and headed off for Europe and the world. I remember one guy we knew said we’d be back in 6 weeks, I traveled for 9 years. I didn’t get everywhere, but I saw enough of the world to eventually get lost in it.
When I say lost, I mean you have to harden and adapt, learn to survive alone for long periods of time, in places where no one can speak English. You see so much pain and hardship, genuine suffering, that sits alongside the beauty and adventure. Too much change, over too long a time without any grounding in life changes you as a person. Eventually you become someone that even you don’t even recognise anymore. And that was exactly what happened. Then one day, having stopped for a few months to earn some cash, I found my wife and settled down in London and it all just stopped. If I’d thought travelling for nearly a decade had got me lost, living in a city, having a career was far worse.
It was not all bad of course, I had a really good time along the way, a lot of groups of friends came and went, constant change, never one to stay too long in a job, I moved around, earning more money, but caught up in a relationship that was increasingly destructive, we never seemed to get ahead. And then we had kids, two fabulous little boys, one after the other, and for a while things settled. Then my wife started to get ill, and even now I can’t say why really, I suppose it was a mixture of a lot of things of which I was one. Life can do that, it can take perfectly healthy people and screw them up with the responsibility and stress and all the package that comes with working at a city pace.
It wasn’t just my wife, I became lost in jobs that held no meaning for me. Working had always been a means to an end, but for years it had just been life. If you want to succeed you get pulled into a nightmare or working long hours. No one directly asks you to do so, but the jobs just demand it, and your employers just expect it because that’s what working in the city is all about. My standard day was about 10 -11 days, often 12-14 hours with evening calls and matching up your pattern with offices overseas. Then one day you can’t do it anymore, and having had their moneys worth and knowing you are not on the ‘team’ anymore, they spit you out, find any reason to get rid of you and all the hard work just disappears with the friends you thought you once had. It happened to me, and I tried new roles, but as soon as they realise you are going to put your family first, that’s it, the beginning of the end. So with this going on, and my wife’s illness and a our ever deteriorating relationship, we separated, and I took the boys. And so a new phase started in my life.
Now, a single parent, trying to bring up two boys whilst holding down a full time job, with the stress of trying to pay for full-time childcare, to have someone look after my kids whilst I was out all hours working. I mean that’s a really hard way to live. The guilt of not being there, and the stress of trying to make the money work all the time, of keeping things balanced. Travelling two hours to work and back again bolted onto the working day, I was spending more than I was earning, and any money we had made when we sold our house was dwindling away. So I just stopped working and took some time to get back to managing the boys and their behavior and all of the serious parent stuff. Funnily enough you end up better off when you aren’t working, part of the irony of this world I have learnt.
It’s not in me to not work, so as soon as I was back on top of things, I found another job, at less money, but really close to home, and of course the boys had started school (30 hours of free childcare a week!!) and suddenly I had it a bit more balanced and the stress had bit by bit started to fall away. It’s taken some time, but I think I’m on top of things now. Well the balance is there anyway. But that’s just logistics.
In August the boys and I went to Crete, and whilst there, I got it into my head to climb a mountain, something I used to do a lot before marriage and city life. Sitting on top of that mountain looking out on the world, it reminded me of who I once was. So when I came home I started to find ways to claw time back for myself, early morning bike rides when the kids go to their Mums, odd hours spent writing in coffee shops. Things I always enjoyed doing, with a few little lifestyle changes as well thrown in for luck, just little steps to being a healthier person, something I always was before all this began. You know, between the ages of 17 and 19 I ran every night for two years, without fail. Snow, rain it didn’t matter. I just had this drive inside me, and now I’m starting to feel very much like that again. It’s not being healthy again, but really just the ability to notice the beauty in the world around me. Something I have always done, enjoyed, but it’s almost like there has been a barrier there for so very long, as if I was looking in from outside on my own life. I could see things, but the emotion has been separated from the event.
But this morning I was cycling along the Thames from Hampton to Kingston, towards the end of a bike ride through the most intensely beautiful sunrise. Two swans were swimming toward me through the gentle mist that lay on the water’s surface, and they stopped just in front of me, and one rose up to dance and twist as the mist turned from light blue to pink in the early morning sun, a light so unreal I felt as if I was in a dream, and I nearly cried it was so beautiful, and I realised that I wasn’t looking in anymore, it was me just seeing the beauty of the world with all its exquisite perfection, and for that moment I was so very, very happy. It has taken some time, but I really am starting to be me again.
We take a journey through life, and the hardest thing to retain is who we really are. The world asks so many questions of you, none of which we are prepared for the answer. I don’t think you can ever really finish the journey until you remember that person you really are. Now I have two children who look to me for love and security and to give a perspective on a life that is ever so complicated, and the person I trust to do this most is the real me, that person who has lived and learned but still remembers where they came from. Because that is what we all need, reality. I am so glad I have found my way back.
Please have a look at my photo blog taken in Bushy Park the day I was inspired to write this piece.