askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I haven't really had much time or intellectual energy to blog more general/coherent posts recently.  I have, however managed some posts over on my other blog.  Here's a quick summary of the last three posts;

Travelling Whilst Cyclothymic; In response to a comment on the blog, I offer some thoughts on how achievable backpacking is as a person with cyclothymia.  There are, I think, more things to consider - but it's all about planning strategies rather than writing it off entirely as an option.  I ended up recording an experience I don't think I've ever told anyone about which involves suicidal thoughts, 10 years ago, in a hotel room in Uruguay.

Well-being and Wank: All about trying to work through my reluctance to talk about 'well-being' or 'self care' and tracing some of that back to growing up working class and the work-ethic that comes with that.  There's a chip on my shoulder so big it trips me up.

Coming Out: Continuing an earlier idea I'd explored on the blog, about the limits of mental health 'awareness' campaigns and the difference between stigma and lack-of-knowledge (the latter being something that can be corrected, the former being about way more complex issues than just lack of knowledge). In all: I have The Scepticism.

Replies always welcome - here or there - to discuss and develop these ideas.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
me in sunglasses with Gaudi's birdnest sculptures towering over me

I went to Barcelona for 3 days. It was good. Didn't get enough art galleries in but I was with a friend, K, who doesn't really do them. We had a great time looking round Park Guell but missed out on getting up close and personal with the mosaic benches as the tickets had already sold out for day when we arrived at 10am. The 'birds nests' shown in picture, and the viaducts were especially pleasing. Lots of great architecture all around Barcelona, I really want to go back and spend all my time in galleries, and drinking wine.

Also had a brilliant time at the Picasso Museum which was really well curated - and gave me the opportunity to say "this work reminds me of Toulouse-Lautrec" to K, and then the next text note said "during this period, Picasso was heavily influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec" which got me an impressed "you said!" from K. It's almost like I go to galleries as often as I can!

I'd love to share more photos with you but Flickr apparently takes about 10 years to upload a photo? Given up after 5 tries on both wired and wireless connections.

Itchy feet will have to chill as no job prospects on horizon so that might be last trip for some time.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 There's a lot I want to say about my holiday but there are so many different voices which I want to use to tell the story I am struggling to know where to begin.

The first couple of days I was suffering a throat & mouth infection, a bit of a cold and the tail end of this cycle's depressive period - it didn't make for the best start to my trip, or incline me to feel anything terribly positive about Budapest.  Like Santiago in Chile, Wellington in New Zealand and Montevideo in Uruguay it will forever be 'a place where I was depressed' and, because of the nature of travelling, cause and effect get jumbled up in your memory and I can't really rustle up any positives. Being the beginning of the trip it was also the point at which I felt most acutely alone - since 2004 I have only ever left the country with Ali so this was the first time in my adult life I had ever been anywhere single, and it takes more getting used to that you might expect; for me at least.  I'm sad to say as well that tail-end depression and poor physical health meant I wasn't up to a day in the thermal spa baths which Budapest is quite well known for.  Having seen photos of the baths I feel I might have missed out a bit there but, like [not going] swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura in New Zealand, I'll just have to chalk it up to hindsight being 20:20 and let it go.

Soon enough though we met up with our Intrepid group and it was time to leave Budapest by train (which was supposed to be direct - just 5.5 hours - only the track had flooded, so we were rerouted by bus, then 2 more trains, so it took more like 7 adventurous hours) and head to Osijek in Croatia.  Osijek was a lovely place but I can't disentangle anything I did or saw in Osijek and nearby Vukovar from the accompanying stories of our tour guide Igor.  He was a few years older than me and slept in a basement for 6 months whilst his city was shelled.  He also took us to Vukovar, the hospital museum and the Memorial Centre a few miles out of town near the site of the mass grave and shared with us, by saying very little indeed, something of the feeling an hopes of the people of Vukovar today and Croatia at large.  It was a challenging period of the trip to be sure.

From Osijek we moved onto Serbia and Novi Sad and, later, Belgrade.  Inhabitants of Novi Sad seemed to be living the life everyone in the UK dreams of - a walk through the park in the early evening saw teens, families and couples all interacting and enjoying the communal space - kids playing, adults talking, teens drinking/joking/courting.  I felt a real sense of longing for a life I decidedly don't have in the UK and one which may not even be possible here due to a difference in culture.  I also became acutely aware of the old catch; you go somewhere in the world and see people living the kind of life you want to have and you think "I could move here, I should move here!" and, if you're straight, you do.  If you're queer, you have to go away and research and find out if you'd be welcome to live that life with a same sex partner.  Sometimes, when you already feel a little blue, it makes the world seem a bit smaller, and a bit more hostile when you realise that sitting in the park with those people, doing the same things they are with the person you love is just not an option for you and yours.  Well, I say 'feel a little blue', perhaps the knowledge of how Belgrade's Pride parade went down a few years earlier was nagging at the back of my mind too.

Belgrade was a lot of fun, lots of drinks and it really marked the point at which a travelling-friendship was struck up between me and a couple of girls I was travelling with.  Something I found in Belgrade also was I began to enjoy travelling for what it is again - seeing new places with new people and experiencing snippets of life different from your own. In Budapest I really didn't feel that was something I could appreciate anymore so it was like welcoming an old friend back - or reopening a part of myself.  It's difficult to express but something did click for me in Belgrade.

From Belgrade it was another border crossing into Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sarajevo which quickly proved to be my favourite stop of the trip.  Helped, in no small part, by running into Angelina Jolie on my first night there!!  She was at the Sarajevo film festival with Brad and I just happened to be passing the theatre as she arrived (to a welcome from a small crowd, all of whom were screaming violently!) so I got to scream my heart out, feel my pulse race and generally go "OH MY GOD!" with excitement.  Bosnia was also the point at which I rediscovered my absolute love of smoking - no small coincidence that it was in Bosnia I think given it's the only country I've been to where you can smoke on the train!  Happily, cigarettes are dirt cheap in the Balkans - particularly in Bosnia - so I could gradually kill myself without breaking the bank.  

There are a lot of really complex emotions I have about Sarajevo and even before I arrived I felt a real connection with the city - of the same kind I feel for Brighton - which only strengthened after 3 nights there.  After going on a tour of the city and hearing about the Turkish builders/invaders etc etc and the older history we went on a trip to the Sarajevo tunnel and passed along Sniper Alley.  Our guide was just 2 years older than me and described a little of his experiences and memories during the siege - which feel oddly personal so I won't recount them here.  Suffice to say, never has war felt so close to home, so personal, so real.  Our last night in Sarajevo was spent in the company of one of the aforementioned girls and our trip leader, a Slovakian by the name of Tomi.  We went to a Latin Dance club and got a sense for the legendary spirit of Sarajevo's nightlife.  I missed Sarajevo the moment we left - still do, in fact.  

From Sarajevo we took a trip to Mostar which coincided with the competition day for the unlikely national sport - bridge diving.  Me and two of the girls set up in a cafe overlooking the bridge and drank beer in the shade as mad buggers threw themselves headlong into the almost-too-shallow river.  The very best part of the visit to Mostar was that it meant a 7 hour round trip travelling through the breathtaking Bosnian countryside.  It was like nothing I knew existed in Europe and absolutely revealed to me the motivations behind all the wistful "Oh I went there when it was Yugoslavia, it was beautiful"'s I had been hearing before I went away.

By the time we got to the Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro for our one night stopover our small group of 7 was firmly in the travelling mentality with absurd in-jokes and catchphrases - I felt as though I'd recaptured some of the best things about my previous travels back in 2007 and regained that calm, fulfilled, happy attitude which so few things really give me.  Travelling is like eating a really good meal after you've been hungry all day - completely satisfying, guilt free and, above all, necessary.  Except all that connects to how my brain feels when I move from new place to new place every few days, not my stomach.

Anyway, enough of the crap similes and metaphors.  After a fitful night's sleep in the sparse dormitories in Ostrog it was time to catch a bus south to Kotor, on the coast.  Kotor was definitely when "too many tourists for my taste" began which was quite a difference to earlier experiences where locals in Osijek and Vukovar said hello and excitedly congratulated our guide Igor on showing tourists round again.  Rebuilding in both towns is terribly slow so the prospect of tourist spending seems quite welcome.  Kotor, whilst charming, pretty and inexpensive did not set me alight.  There was a local festival on - dancing and music, all aimed at local families so at 9pm, when the heat of the day had passed, well rested children and their parents came out to the old town to shout, cheer and sing.  Completely charming and a pleasing slice of life which was decidedly different from the UK.  

Our final trip onwards was back into Croatia and to tourist-mecca, Dubrovnik.  It is a lovely town/city and worth a visit but we dispatched with the tourist necessaries in a few of hours and moved on to eating, drinking an finding a local-swimming spot.  With the sort of desperation for enjoyment that only the last night of a holiday can bring I found myself once again with the aforementioned girl and trip leader Tomi, going for a midnight dip in the sea.  It sort of makes me sweat with humiliation when I look back on it because the beach was far from deserted and more people than I care to imagine must have seen us make a naked dash from beach to sea (and my subsequent vomiting after we got out and dried off) but I can at least comfort myself with the knowledge I'll never see any of them again.  Hopefully.


This break really did rejuvenate me and reawakened things in me that I thought were lost or dead with regards to a passion for travel.  There are so many small moments or realisation or admiration that there are neither time nor words to recount here but which are firmly locked in me now. I hope I have the opportunity to return to Sarajevo again - more so than anywhere else I visited. I do find myself slipping inexorably back towards a place where I feel an acute sense of isolation and, short of packing up my backpack again and fleeing this country for good, I am not immediately sure how to mediate that.

Holidays

Aug. 7th, 2011 10:15 pm
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Got back from my whirlwind tour of the Balkans yesterday, took in an astonishing 5 countries and fell thoroughly in love with Bosnia Herzegovina. 

It was a superb trip and worth every penny - although my bank balance is looking rather sad now - from doing the hokey cokey on the Montenegrin/Croatian border to skinny dipping in Dubrovnik at midnight it was basically the perfect trip.  Hopefully the person I know from work who I travelled with thinks so too and I didn't annoy him too much!!!

There are lots of photos on facebook already if I know you on there, there will be a proper post about it later but for now its time for a gratuitous, narcissistic picture post!  My new favourite picture of me, taken in an incredibly ornate Cathedral in Northern Croatia;

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I was nothing,” said Nutt.
“How can you say you were nothing?” said Glenda.
“I was nothing,” said Nutt. “I knew nothing, I understood nothing, I had no understanding, I had no skill-“
“But that doesn’t mean someone is worthless,” said Glenda firmly
“It does,” said Nutt. “But it does not mean they are bad. I was worthless.”
Glenda had a feeling they were working from two different dictionaries, “What does worth mean , Mister Nutt?”
“It means that you leave the world better than when you found it,” said Nutt.

Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett
 

I keep going over this extract in my mind. I think because it hits on something very key in how I think and how I look at the world.

As with a lot of characterisation in Pratchett, Mister Nutt's preoccupation with gaining worth is initially approached with humour and gradually becomes key to the understanding we have of him as a character and, as in this case, leaves you with a shadow of that character in your mind that cannot be shaken off. I think it is also important to note that Mister Nutt is an orc - a violent murderous uncivilised beast with claws and the ability to bend the rules of the world around him - except through concerted effort and a deep seated desire to accumulate worth he suppresses these 'innate' instincts; he tries, in short, to be better than is expected of him and to be the best he can be, however hard that might be to achieve. Dealt with by anyone but Pratchett in any context than the discworld such a characterisation and motivation would be sickeningly saccharine, but I think it manages to be much more astute than that.

But this wasn't meant to be a book review.

I am still jolly unhappy (I enjoy the English language which made that construction possible). And I am still taking things to heart that other people might say I shouldn't - but I am and I feel justified in beating myself up over them. With this in mind, it strikes me that in order to succeed in this rejuvenation of the self and my life I must focus, like Mister Nutt, on the most effective way to accumulate worth.

I have been discussing with a colleague the possibility of us going travelling somewhere exciting this year - at the moment we're looking at a trip through Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia - Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.  There are lots of buts - right now I don't have a valid passport and the trip is costly.  We also don't know if we'd get along after 2 weeks travelling and not enough sleep.  But the prospect of travelling does throw up some questions, whilst I feel fulfilled after a trip, it is largely because I feel I have participated in the world and made strides toward educating myself in the diversity and variation of life on earth and met people - mostly other travellers - far outside the normal run of things.  But travel is categorically not about me making the world a better place or accumulating worth.

What to do then? I know I don't have it in me to make the big gestures, do the great deeds, save the world.  As an example, my friend who got kidnapped last year spent, after his release and subsequent repatriation, all his waking hours getting a new passport so he could fly straight back out to rejoin the convoy.  I could not do that - and that's ok, if we could all do that the world would be a very different place and the blockade of Gaza would have crumbled under sheer weight of numbers some time ago.  But how does one make a notable, measurable difference in the world when you can't make noticeable, measurable gestures?

I try always to treat everyone I come into contact with with respect and kindness, but I'm also a person and in a bad mood sometimes and paranoid sometimes and worn down by some people not subscribing to that philosophy, so that's never going to be a perfect score.  I try to be mindful of my actions and my choices in the world, to ensure the employment I undertake is not morally reprehensible by association or otherwise.  I eat ethically - choosing local produce whenever I can and abiding by a strict vegetarian diet.  These are all things people list and take comfort in - I've heard them do it - but in my attempt to overhaul my life and myself I keep coming back to the notion of worth and the sense of my own failure in that respect as the core of the thing I want to change.

I think there is something to be said for being in love and being romantically loved that allays ones fears of worthlessness; an absolute certainty that for one person at least your existence is of worth and value.  Which, I suppose, brings me neatly back round to my last post and the words of Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, namely, that we cannot act without a sense of our own value and we cannot achieve a sense of our own value without acting.

Itchy Soul

Nov. 10th, 2009 10:02 pm
askygoneonfire: Battered union flag cloth badge (November the 10th)

My backpack.  This thing was the closest thing I had to home for just over 6 months. I can't pick it up without feeling a rush of affection.  It's a bit battered, and a bit broken, and my union flag (centre photo/dw icon for this post) is almost completely destroyed, but I am not going to let go of it any time soon.

Travel invigorates my soul.  An incredible statement given I didn't leave the country until I was 14 and didn't go on a holiday longer than 10 days until I was 20.

Waking up somewhere new.  Kipping on a bus, in a dormitory, taking a tactical nap at an airport, hopping on a underground train somewhere when you're only 40% certain you are going in even slightly the right direction. Switching time zones every month - crossing the international date line and travelling backwards through time.  Seeing things so glorious, so huge, so awe inspiring that no words, no pictures, no amount of gushing could possibly convey to those back home what you got to see, what you got to experience.

It's been a long time since I left the country - a year ago now.  And nearly 6 months since I jumped in my car and drove up the country in search of adventure, or just a cold beer.

I get itchy feet.  Actually itchy feet does not sufficiently describe the feeling I get: my whole body, mind, soul longs for change, for motion. Craving new panoramas, new skies, new....newness.

I've been promising myself a trip since...forever.  And now, as I sit in a bed that isn't my own once again, I realise the urge to travel is not just a desire, it's an imperative.  My everything depends on this now, on finding something new, of seeing something different, something with the potential to change me.

Money is, and as ever remains the biggest problem.  I owe my almost-sister-in-law quite a bit of cash and I need around £1000 to do the 3 week trip I have in mind.  So I need a new job.  Or a pay rise.   These are achievable, I just need to remain motivated.

This is so utterly focused on me and what I need I can barely comprehend I am committing to this.  But commit I will.  This is the answer to the future I have been searching for.  This is the next step.  This is the first thing that makes sense.

It is glorious.

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askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
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