Eating the Elephant

So one of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to get into Public Speaking…

I kind of achieved that goal when I started working for the University as a Student Ambassador and began running workshops with High School kids. The thing is though, to be completely honest with you, running workshops with school kids on Journalism and Public Relations was always in my comfort zone.

Then, an opportunity came up when I was asked to run a workshop at #ONEWorldSummit in Melbourne. A group of highly motivated, inspired youth leaders makes an awesome audience and I was instantly excited… but also instantly nervous. I took this as a good sign.

I was initially asked to speak on Project Management. “Sure”, I thought, “I run lots of little projects, I manage my time effectively and can organise a team through from initiation of an idea to it’s execution”, but something just wasn’t right. This audience are changemakers, I want to inspire them.

I just so happened to be given a Book…

The book was called “How to Eat an Elephant” and it was about making little changes to your daily habits and routine to become healthier and more mindful. I thought the idea was great – to take this massive and somewhat arbitrary vision of “becoming more healthy and mindful”, and breaking it down into manageable chunks to actually get going and take the steps which will get you closer to the goal. I started to think that this applied to all big goals in life, and the reason we often get stumped on a goal and can talk about it but find it hard to take action is that it seems so bloody big. I’m pretty confident all of us have at some point or another been faced with a vision or a problem to which our initial response is “Where do I even begin?!”

So I Changed My Angle, to Tackling the Elephant

I have taken some of the most useful theories, concepts and exercises which I have come across that have helped myself and others close to me break our goals into manageable chunks. The following presentation should have enough information on it to be useful even if you weren’t in the workshop, and my details are in the opening and closing slides if you would like any further information. You can also contact me here.

 

It’s one thing to care and be passionate about a cause or a goal, it’s another thing to actually figure out how to tackle it, much like ‘eating an elephant’. In This workshop on effectiveness, we’ll be breaking down the huge goals and passions we have into manageable chunks. A number of exercises and activities inspired by awesome change makers around the world, focusing on your own goals, will have you looking more analytically at your vision, your thinking and your actions. You’ll leave ready to take that first or next step towards achieving your dream and making change!

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30 Day Yoga Challenge

So since the Marathon 3 months ago I really haven’t exercised much at all. My body took a long time to properly recover and I have found tenderness to the ligaments on the outside of my knees, I don’t want to push my body to injury by working it too hard after such an intense experience.

I’m maintaining health by walking a lot, and being mindful of what I’m eating and drinking. I’m not satisfied though. It’s not the exercise I miss per se, and I’m thrilled with the shape I’m in; I think it’s the structure of training which I miss, the endorphins, the routine, and yeah – the challenge (along with the sense of accomplishment).

Settling back in to Australian life from a UK Winter I’m seeing people exercising everywhere. The weather’s great and we are living in Saint Kilda; quite a funky, fit, lifestyle focused community. However if I’m not ready to start running again and without wanting to spend ridiculous fees on a gym membership, what can I do?
 

 
My boyfriend Marcus joined a local Yoga club, which offers multiple varieties of Yoga practices, from the calm and relaxed Yin Yang, to the more intense and heated Hot Flow yoga (and a few fitting somewhere in between). I had tried Bikram yoga in the UK last year and have to say I was quite unenchanted. But hearing Marcus talking about this yoga club, the casual friendliness and welcoming nature of both the teachers and the other students, and the variety of practices on offer I decided to join for their new member introductory offer: $35 for 30 days.

Now, I have heard of the 30 day challenges. Friends of mine in the UK had done so with the Bikram yoga, and the thought entered my head. Could I do it? Should I do it? Would it be good to do it?

It played around in my mind, and I realised there was no reason not to give it a try. The first yoga class I attended the first day was great. My only other reference point being Bikram, the warm but gentle and relaxed slow flow yoga was a wonderful surprise. I looked at what class I could take the next day… The only times I could attend were hot Yoga classes. Now whilst not as intense a practice as Bikram, the room is still warmed to about 40 degrees celcius, and being their most popular classes, the rooms are packed with lovely sweaty people. I took the class the next day and did not enjoy it in the slightest. My breathing was sharp and I found it almost impossible not to breath through the mouth, and I found my self dizzy and lightheaded. However I made it through, and, whether you want to call it out of foolishness, or dedication to my self-appointed challenge, signed up for the same style class the next day (today).
 
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I woke up feeling great this morning, and even quite keen for the class, despite last night’s experience. I’m not sure whether it was the change in attitude, a different teacher, or a little bit of practise the last couple of days, but today’s lesson was 100 times better. I was more relaxed, more comfortable, and found my breathing very deep and natural.

My skin is also looking amazing, and a lot of muscular tension in my body is already starting to ease.

If this is somewhat due to 3 days in a row of yoga practise I can only imagine what a month will do!

So I’m in it for the long haul. I’m interested in noticing any changes in my body, mind, skin, and sleep patterns and will report back at the end of the 30 day challenge, hopefully victorious!
 
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An Ability to Make the Impossible, Possible

Have you ever wondered how far belief can take a person? We live in a society of labels. Of Men and Women, of Rich and Poor, of Black and White, of Gay and Straight, of Disabled and Abled. Although none of these labels define who we are as people, they frame the way that other people, and society as a whole, view and treat us. So what can we do? We can challenge these labels, and break free of the constraints that these social constructs place upon us.
 

Meet Martyn

Martyn Sibley is a 30 year old guy living independently in London. He has a beautiful fiance, has earned a Masters degree, drives a car and has travelled as far as Australia. He has SCUBA dived and runs his own business… He also happens to have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Diagnosed since birth, Martyn cannot walk, shower by himself, or lift anything heavier than a book.

As someone who has never let a label restrict his dreams, Martyn, in his own words, has decided that his goal in life is to “inspire, inform and change the world around disability issues.” and is leading by example.


Childhood

SMA is a genetic condition, meaning that Martyn has had it since birth. He’s never walked or known any other way of life. Despite this there has still been a share of the hard times, times where in comparison to friends and society he’s realised he’s different and has had to come to terms with his disability.

As a young child it was hard knowing I wouldn’t play football for my beloved Tottenham. As a teenager it was hard to party, meet girls and imagine a great career.

Fortunately, Martyn got through these negative phases and found a way to see his disability as something to be overcome, rather than a restraint. He has developed into an adult who never sees a brick wall, only an obstacle, and loves his life and the people he shares it with.
 



Blood Ties

Family and friends are important to all of us, but for Martyn, the most facilitating thing his family have done is to look through his disability, and only see him.

Ever since I can remember my family, friends and colleagues never saw my disability. Of course they’ve had to help me, do things differently, and be aware. They’ve just done what was necessary and off we went.

Martyn’s mum in particular was a very strong, positive and encouraging influence in his life.
 

She found my flying the nest difficult because of our bond, but she’s a big reason why I’m so out there and happy now.

Making the Impossible, Possible

Because of his upbringing and support from family, Martyn has always lived with an attitude of making things possible; Where others would look upon his condition and shake their heads, Martyn nods and always finds a way. It was his decision to start blogging however, that truly refined this stance on life.

I was at a Fundraising conference for my work with the disability charity Scope, and I attended a social media workshop. A guy called AJ Leon spoke about telling your story, building a community and making a call to action. He also spoke of living a life of purpose.

This struck a chord with Martyn, and he really took Leon’s advice to heart. Ever since, he has written, posted pictures and recorded videos on his website, www.martynsibley.com. By not only continuing to do the things in life Martyn loves and cares about, but by also blogging about his journey and experiences, he has realised that he has found his life’s purpose; Changing the world through inspiring others to make their dreams possible too.
 



The Beginning Of Many Adventures

Living with SMA has made every major life event more complicated for Martyn. Going to University meant he had to grow accustomed to strangers doing his personal care and travelling to Australia meant funding PAs, getting on an aeroplane with a wheelchair and exploring new terrains. The complications Martyn faced on these adventures didn’t stop him. Instead, the more challenges he overcame, the more he believed was possible and the more he realised that so much could be done to improve the accessibility of everyday tasks for those in need.

Flying a plane over Stone Henge and SCUBA diving in Tenerife was awesome. However some days getting out of bed, accessing a local cafe and seeing a gig is made difficult by our still inaccessible world. Luckily I love a challenge and get a buzz from showing the world what is possible. We need to ensure the basics aren’t so tough and include everyone in everything.

From John O’Groats to Lands End

Following the blogs, the projects and travels a few things came together. Martyn, and his fiance Kasia, supported a Polish project where a lady went 2500km by wheelchair. At the time he was also an ambassador for Britain’s Personal Best and so Martyn decided that putting together their own version of the project made sense.
 

 

Following a couple of frantic months of logistics, PR and sponsorship planning; Martyn and Kasia headed to John O’Groats on September 4th 2013.

You can see the videos and pictures on my blog, but needless to say it was amazing! With Kasia on her bike, me in my wheelchair, the sites of Scotland and dramas of breakdowns in Bristol – we had it all. The media coverage and funds for our charities was fantastic too.

It was the day after Martyn returned from Lands End that I met him at the Britain’s Personal Best reception. The chair still covered in mud and Martyn and Kasia clearly exhausted, you couldn’t ignore the excitement on their faces of having conquered yet another challenge.


The Road Still to Come

In the coming months Martyn’s doing an accessibility review at Center Parcs, a Social Sector exchange in Tokyo, 3 months in the Catalan and a month in Poland. “That should keep me busy.” he added, before I asked him to tell me where he can see the future taking him more long term.

In general I’d love to be a dad, travel South America, write the novel I’m planning and basically have fun!

Overall, I’m living my life by my principles, educating society, inspiring disabled people and leaving a dent in the universe. I just want people to live their life by their own principles, and leave their own dent!

Meeting Martyn has been incredible. His passion and determination to live life to the max and to help facilitate others in their goals, whatever they may be, has been an inspiration. It has also been a reminder that whilst anything is possible, we all need to pull together as a community, and society, to help others achieve their dreams.

5 Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Marathon

If you told me last NYE that I would be crossing the finish line of a 26.2 mile race by the end of the year I probably would have laughed at you. At the very least I would have asked how many glasses of bubbly you’d had and whether maybe you needed to slow down. I hadn’t run 6 miles before, let alone 26. To me, a marathon was always something only the fittest of crazy fit people do, an abstract distance, and an elusive concept that “normal” people could run it. But, with only 3 months of training, I did, and there is a lot that I learnt, not just from the race, but from the whole 3 months, which has changed the way I view life, and will face future goals and challenges.


#1: Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is defined by what you believe you can or cannot do with ease of mind. Day to day, most of your activities are within your comfort zone, and it’s when we are asked (or forced) to step outside this self-defined zone that we feel nervous. In saying this, if you had never done anything which made you nervous, how many opportunities would you have missed, how many people would you never have met, places would you not have gone and how many things would you not have experienced? It’s only by undertaking these challenges which make us nervous that we can broaden our comfort zone, and therefore open ourselves to even greater experiences and challenges. Running a Marathon was definitely out of my comfort zone, but by training for it, and completing it I not only feel amazing in my accomplishment, but I’ve been given a point of comparison for other challenges. Now, when faced with something scary all I need to say to myself is “Well hey, I’ve run a Marathon, how hard can this be?”

Achieving something outside your self-defined limits not only forces you to broaden these limits, but gives you a powerful belief that anything is possible.

#2: Always Have a Plan, and Stick With It

When you have a whopping challenge in front of you, it can feel very overwhelming, incomprehensible, or impossible to achieve. The only way to combat this is by breaking the challenge up into smaller, achievable pieces or goals, by making a plan and by measuring your progress. When I signed up for the Marathon I knew I could run 6 miles. I couldn’t just continue jogging, hoping that in 3 months time I could bump this number up to 26, I had to follow a training plan which gave me a slow and steady increase in the intensity and duration of my running. I found a training plan which catered for 5 different fitness levels, picked the one 2nd to the left, and followed it (almost) to a T. Tracking all of my runs, speeds, distances and how I felt on completion to monitor my progress also helped me improve, keep on track, and gain a sense of accomplishment.



The day by day and week by week changes were gradual enough that I could always complete them, but as the weeks went by I found myself running 8 miles with ease, then 10 miles, then a half marathon, then 18 miles. The plan also makes you accountable for achieving your goal. If you set out a plan you know whether you are on track or not, and you are accountable to sticking with it, indeed you pretty much have to stick with it to achieve the final goal. If I wasn’t following the training plan I can close to guarantee I would not have been out running almost every day, doing intervals or running up and down hills off my own motivation.

A plan helps you break down a seemingly un-achievable goal into achievable stages, and holds you accountable for staying on track.

#3: Make Yourself Accountable, Publicly

It’s one thing to make yourself accountable to yourself, but one of my biggest motivations, was making myself accountable publicly. As humans we are proud creatures, and enjoy others seeing us in a certain way; we hate to be seen as failures, some of us more than others. Myself, I like to be good at things, I like to be acknowledged for what I’m good at, and I’m very stubborn. By telling family and friends that I was training for a Marathon I was suddenly accountable to everyone else. People were asking about training, how I was going, and how long I had until the race, which gave me the extra motivation to keep training, to prove that I could do it. It also meant I had a great support network with whom I could share my progress and achievements.

Giving Up is a lot harder when you have public expectations you want to reach, and something you want to prove to yourself, and the people you care about.

#4: Want to Achieve The Goal; Give Yourself a Why

You need to WANT to achieve the goals you set yourself, otherwise you will have no personal investment in achieving them, and no motivation. When faced with goals or challenges an easy way to make sure you want to achieve them is to ask a very easy question; Why? Once you have answered “why” you have untapped what makes you tick, and become emotionally invested in achieving your goals. I wouldn’t have said I wanted to run for 5 hours in the middle of an English winter through ankle deep mud and puddles, but I signed up for it anyway. Why? Because it wasn’t just running for 5 hours, it was running a “Marathon”, something understood by society as a pinnacle of athletic fitness and achievement. Because by training up to that goal I was increasing my fitness to a level I had never had before. Because it would get me out of the house and exercising more than I had been, and get me into better shape and feeling better than I had in years. Because it was an achievement that not many other people can say they have done and if I could do it, I knew my confidence would increase in other areas of my life.
 
When I reached about 20 miles, my body was telling me to stop. I was cold, fatigued, I had cramps in the arch of my foot which would spasm on every step, but I kept going. I kept going because I kept thinking of my “why”. Without the why I would have quitted, probably long before the race, but almost definitely during it, the why gave me the will power to trump the pain and the messages my body was sending me to stop, and allowed me to cross that finish line.
For everyone else on that course that day there would have been 1000 different “Why?s”, it doesn’t matter what they were, but every single person would have had one, and that would have been what kept them running too.

When faced with achieving something, ask yourself why you want to achieve it, The why will be your emotional fuel to keep going, the why will be your willpower.

#5: Don’t Over-think, Be open to new challenges and take opportunities.

Sometimes people get stuck with a tunnel vision view of their future. There’s nothing wrong with long term goals, but there are problems with having blinkers on, shielding you from all the shiny things in your periphery. If an opportunity comes up that you weren’t expecting, be open to taking it, even if it steers you slightly away from that long and steady path you were following.



Re-evaluate your goals and your path often and see if that’s still where you want to be travelling, or if making a change and taking on a new challenge may be what you need. I wasn’t planning on running a Marathon, but when my boss asked if I wanted to join him in it and my boyfriend said he’d be up for it with me, I signed up before I could talk myself out of it. By not over-thinking it, I had paid the entry fee and had decided to start training. After a few weeks I had found my “why” and had become invested in achieving the goal so much that even after my boyfriend had to pull out of training and the race after an injury, and my boss followed soon after I kept going. Even when the week before was pouring down rain, and the course on the day was drenched, I kept going, and I have completed something amazing. If I hadn’t been open to taking on a challenge I wasn’t expecting or if I had over-thought and reasoned myself out of it, I would have missed out on feeling as proud of myself as I have ever been.

When presented with an opportunity that’s not part of the grand plan, be open about taking it on. Don’t overthinking it, just do it.


It has been an amazing journey, a hard one but also rewarding one. I have grown as a person, I have developed physically and emotionally, learnt so much about myself and I’ve already decided to sign up for the Melbourne Marathon in October to reach a new goal of 4 hours, 30 minutes. To that, you can hold me accountable.

Zero Waste Heroes

There are 5.8 million people in the UK living in poverty right now. Yet each day, over 14 million meals are thrown out by the food industry – enough to eradicate hunger in the UK entirely.

Several weeks ago at Britain’s Personal Best I met Lotti, a women who, along with a wonderful team at PlanZheroes, is on a mission to do exactly that. This is her story.




Lotti’s Story:

As children, Lotti and her sisters’ home life was very comfortable. Her parents were Austrian Aristocrats and they lived on a large estate in Slovenia, until World War II shook the continent, changing their lives forever.

“Duty and serving your neighbour were of great importance to my parents. When I was 17 years old, I was sent to become a nurse in the Second World War. I nursed for three years in the German army.”

After the end of the war in 1949, her family’s estates were taken by the communists and Lotti and her sisters found themselves penniless in Italy, without a home and without their Mother who had died in 1945.

Never having had to enter a kitchen before, let alone prepare a meal, the girls didn’t know how to cook and had no money to buy food.

“It was awful to see my younger sisters so hungry. At that time my Father sent them to school with an empty military-style lunch container. After the school lunch they would empty all the left overs from the other school children’s plates to reheat and eat at night. We all chewed sunflower seeds. My sisters often cried.”

Lotti managed to get a job at the British military hospital in Trieste. She would take porridge oats home and a large hard ball of Horlicks which they made last for as long as they could. With her newfound appreciation of hunger, Lotti began to organise distribution of leftovers from the ward to the hungry who queued at the back entrance to the hospital, it made no sense to her that it should go to waste when people were in need.

In 1947 Lotti married an Englishman and moved to London. Although leaving the post-war hardships behind, to this day she retains her fear of hunger.

“I am never without food when I go out, even if I am just going to the post office.”

img credit: Chris Devers


Greatly affected by the amount of food waste in the modern world, Lotti can’t understand how so many people still go hungry.

It was with London Citizens that she found fellow enthusiasts with whom she could establish PlanZheroes in 2010. In 2011 the project was recognised by the Greater London Auhority and Lotti was voted a London Leader.

The Problem:

In the UK each year, the retail sector alone produces an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of food waste. Add to this an estimated 600,000 tonnes of food-waste from the hospitality sector, about two-thirds of which could have been eaten with better management, and you get 2.2 million tonnes of food being thrown out per year, the equivalent weight of 14 million meals per day!

PlanZheroes estimate one third of this waste is surplus food; food still in consumable condition but isn’t or cannot be sold. Why then, is it not given away?

“My research showed that food businesses were only too willing to donate but did not know how.”

The Solution:

PlanZheroes’’ action plan and underlying idea is rooted in a simple principle: Community.

What PlanZheroes have facilitated is a platform where food outlets and small charities and community groups can connect via an interactive map, together reducing surplus waste, and helping those in need.

“We believe there is always somewhere a food business can donate their surplus food so it can be distributed to those nearby who need it.”

As of today, 150 donors, including caterers, bakers and hotels, are solidly linked to a similar numbers of recipients, ranging from church charities, school breakfast clubs and soup kitchens, sharing food, which would otherwise be headed straight for the bin.

All PlanZheroes members are volunteers, helping to spread stories of success and possibilities to inspire more businesses and charities to connect with one another. At present the team are working on producing a new map and mobile app, making it easier to find where and when food becomes available. They’re also working on a way to quantify the food offered to monitor and measure impact on waste prevention and social change, health and wellbeing.

Image Courtesy of Greg Funell


Lotti’s Personal Best:

The journey’s well on the way and Lotti is determined to reach her Personal Best Goal; To engage 90 volunteers and to help inspire and build 900 connections between businesses and charities before her 90th birthday next year. I have complete faith in Lotti’s pledge, and I hope this post will raise some awareness to inspire more zero waste heroes.

There is 2.2 million tonnes of food going to waste each year… but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Interested in learning more about PlanZheroes, signing up or volunteering? Click here.

Hundreds of Skinheads

This morning my creative writing class ventured into the depths of unknown territory… the Patcher’s Lodge Retirement home. The idea was that over lovely cups of tea and bikkies we would be joined by some of the residents and hear their stories, which we would then use as inspiration for some creative pieces we could later perform for them.

However, upon arriving at the lodge, it would seem that almost none of the residents been told to come and join us, so our lecturer obtained permission for us to go and knock on a couple of doors, and see if anyone was interested.

Leaving my voice recorder and belongings in the lounge, thinking I’d be returning in no time I took the elevator to the first floor and, feeling a little uneasy, I knocked on door number 5… no answer… I started to head back to the lifts but figured I should give number 6 a go while I was there.

I knocked.

Coming.

I waited.

Coming.

Louder still

COME IN!

Oh, he’d said “come in”… I wasn’t sure whether I should enter or not but he knew someone was there, it would have been rude to walk away.

Opening the door and stepping into the flat my first impression was… Beige…

The door into the living area was open and I could see an elderly man, whom I soon learnt was named Rob, propped in a recliner couch facing the telly. I headed in and noticed he wore a yellow t-shirt on which a few crumbs had fallen from his breakfast toast. He was almost bald with a few whisps of hair sprouting from his head and had huge, black-rimmed square glasses propped on his nose.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude and shout at you, but I can’t get to the door”

My gaze travelled to his legs, mostly hidden under a red checkered blanket, but I could tell they were small and withered, and at any rate hadn’t been used in a long time.

He wouldn’t be coming back down to the lounge with me then. But I was there, and had interrupted him, I thought I may as well find out if he had any stories he wanted to tell me.

“That’s okay, I’m a creative writing student from the University of Brighton, we’re here this morning to speak with some of you, hear any stories you’d like to share with us and then use it as a starting point for some work. I wondered if you’d be interesting in having a chat with me?”

“Oh yes, I don’t mind you staying for a moment at all!” The man’s face had brightened and he gestured to an empty arm-chair.

I took a seat.

Without needing much prompting, he launched into his story.

“One of the most memorable stories I have is that I was once in a Musical” he started.

“I used to be in musicals as well!” I responded quickly, glad for this initial common ground. He chuckled to himself and continued to talk.

Living in East London and donning boots with his jeans rolled up and a clean shaven head, Rob passed as your typical skinhead of the 60’s, however, Rob had always had an affiliation with the Salvation Army. Members of the Church had devised a musical to raise money, and Rob was happy to be involved.

The story was about members of the church and a group of up-to-no-good skinheads who they managed to get on to the straight and narrow, the leader of this group being an ugly blighter named Freddie the Dip. When the roles were being selected each person in turn shook their heads at the mention of Freddie and said, “No, I don’t think that one’s for me”, until Rob’s mate piped up:

“Rob here’ll do Freddie, it’s a perfect fit, and with the mug that Rob’s got, he won’t need no make-up or nothing!”

Rob was laughing at the memory and I couldn’t help but laugh too. Here was an old man, bed bound, who had a fantastic sense of humour, especially if he was at the brunt end of the joke. In fact, later in the conversation he said it himself,

“When you’re home bound and immobile, or crippled by an illness, laughing doesn’t take it away, but it makes it easier.”

I could see the joy that Rob was getting from telling me these stories, and I was under the impression there were a few more where that one came from, so I decided to stay a little longer and see what else he had to say.

I learnt that he had travelled to the Middle East, Norway and all over the continent in his life, I learnt funny anecdotes about groups of skinheads he was involved with when he was younger, together we laughed over the clothes he used to wear, the mischief they got up to, and how he and his mates compare with young boys today. I learnt that in 1977 he’d left East London and moved to Hove with Kathleen, his late wife, who died after only 7 years of their marriage and I learnt that without Kathleen, and with no other family, Rob had focused his energy on his friends, the Salvation Army and helping others. He’d even worked as a carer for the elderly and those with Dementia, before he starting needing help himself.

He told me many stories of his involvement with the Salvation Army, emphasising how accepting they are as a Chuch, and how they reached out to others in ways beyond liturgy and preaching, not being a fan of that “nonsense” but rather of connecting with others, and helping those in need.

“It’s not about the religion” he told me. “It’s the people that matter.”

In Brighton Rob had become a member of the Salvation Army Congress, for which one of his mates, Paul, would take the mickey out of him.

“Why’d you go along to those things?” Paul would ask him.
“Why don’t you come along one day and find out?” Rob’d reply.

Paul did exactly that. Expecting some of the Church members to be a bit funny about Paul’s appearance, Rob was surprised at the amount of fuss over his friend. Paul was fussed over so much, that even if Rob wasn’t headed to the Church one day, Paul started to go without him.

“Do you know the song Hundreds and Thousands?” Rob asked me. I shook my head. “It’s a children’s song from the Church, but it’s a lovely little tune.”

He explained that the songs verses talked about all the thousands of flowers and birds and children in the world, ending with the phrase “God loves them as much as he loves me”.  A twinkle in his eye I could tell that this sweet story was headed somewhere interesting, so I help my tongue and let him continue.

Rob had created his own verse to this song in a pub once, when challenged by a mate to explain how the song was relevant to him and the others sitting around.

“Alright then, come up here and I’ll show you how it’s relevant to you” Rob replied, before breaking into a newly created verse which has since been sung by skinheads in roughened East London pubs, and in the Church alike, it was probably my favourite of the stories Rob told me today, the verse goes something like this.

“There are hundreds of skinheads, thousands, millions,
and yet their names are written God’s memory,
there are hundreds and thousands and millions of skinheads,
but God loves them as much as he loves me”.

On finishing the verse, Rob started to tear up. Apologising profusely, he wiped his eye. I stood up from the chair, grabbed his hand and asked if he was okay, letting him know that I would have to be on my way in a minute, but asked if there was anything I could do for him first. He apologised again and asked if I could make him a cup of tea before I left.

While the kettle boiled I heard him call to me from his chair.

Can you come again?” he asked me. “Your friends would be welcome too, girls or fellas I don’t mind, but please come again.

My heart ached. What saddened me the most was that this old man was all alone, he had been house-bound for 2 years, and had no one left. No family, no friends.

He had such wonderful stories, and had done some wonderful things in his life. He had donned the steel capped boots and roughed it out in East London in the 60s, he’d travelled to the middle east 3 times, been to Norway and all over the continent, had performed as Freddie the Dip in East London, married a beautiful woman and moved to Brighton, he had worked as a carer for the elderly and those suffering from Dementia, done amazing work with the Salvation Army and was now sitting in his flat, unable to move, reminiscing and laughing with a girl he had just met about the good old days. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, he just wanted some company, and a bit of a laugh.

“I’ll come again.” I promised, and I will. As an old man told me today, it’s people that matter.

 

Images attributed to: Vinoth Chandar and Paul Townsend
 

21st Birthmonth Part 4: “Not the End… Only the Beginning”

Following that Saturday of presents and bubbly and terrible dancing to amazing old music there were still things I had to look forward to in the last couple of weeks on my Birthmonth.
 
The Wednesday of the next week I returned home from a dental appointment to find my friend Nithya waiting for me at the front of my flat! Having had lunch with her the day of my flight to the UK she was one of the last friends I saw in Melbourne, and one I was very excited to see again. Only having met in August last year at a TEDx event, we met up a month later and Nithya had told me her story. Listening to her talk I remember thinking: “This woman is incredible!” She is passionate, intelligent, courageous, creative, funny, loving and humble and there are so many other amazing adjectives I could use to describe her but I’ll stick to those for now. Feeling very close to her after this first coffee date, we met up more regularly in the couple of months following before I flew over to the UK. Nithya is one of those friends you can talk to about anything, who doesn’t judge you, who actually listens – without just thinking about when she can jump in and have her two pence worth. We both have shared so much of ourselves, our pasts, our presents our hopes and dreams with one another in such a short space of time that I feel like I have known her a lot longer than I have.
 

 
She was in the UK to attend a symposium in Lincoln where she presented a paper, “Women, Nature and Bharatanatyam: Ecofeminism and the performance of Indian classical Dance” and then spent some time catching up with old friends from when she studied here, and, luckily, found a couple of days to spend time with me!
 
We spent the time enjoying cream tea in one of my favourite vintage tea rooms, strolling through the lanes, enjoying the pavilion gardens and the Brighton Museum and Gallery and generally enjoying catching up and having the same wonderful conversations we always enjoyed in Melbourne. Although sad to say goodbye on the Friday, it was only goodbye for another 6 months when we can pick up where we left off, back in Melbourne town.
 

That day that she left I was being whisked away with Marcus on a surprise birthday adventure my Dad and Step-mum (who I believe was mostly responsible) had organised for us. Boarding the train I found out we were headed to Rye, although it wasn’t until we actually got off the train an hour and a half later that I realised exactly where we were… we were in one of England’s most preserved, old towns… and I’m talking cobble stone streets, no chain coffee stores or supermarkets in sight, and beautiful, beautiful buildings dating back to the early centuries of the last millennium! Goggling at the surroundings and half expecting a horse and cart to come trotting towards us, we made our way to our home for the night… England’s oldest inn… the Mermaid, rebuilt – 1420.
 

 
Entering the front door we were greeted by a porter who took us to our room and proceeded to show us our fire exit… an original secret passageway in the form of a fake bookcase! We were not supposed to use it except in case of emergency… but we couldn’t help ourselves from opening it up and taking a squizz behind into the narrow stairwell with a lantern hanging from the ceiling; I was in love with this town, this inn, and maybe a little too much with the bookcase. We spent the afternoon strolling the town, looking at antiques and enjoying a pint (no half pints for this young lady) before heading back to the room to play some good old-fashioned backgammon and chess before Dinner.

Dinner deserves a paragraph for itself; Being only served by footmen (obviously no maids are to be seen in the dining hall) we enjoyed AA Rosette awarded cuisine. I myself selected March Beef Carpaccio, followed by a trio of lamb (I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of the liver… but I’ll try anything once!), followed by a delectably sweet Rhubarb soufflé. All went down splendidly with a bottle of red and good conversation followed by retuning to our huge, heavenly bed. The next morning I was devastated to leave. I truly felt I had been transported back in time, and was quite content with the change in lifestyle, but Alas! Like Cinderella and her magic spell, we had a check-out time and no fairy godmother was going to extend our stay for us.
 

 

We had a few hours before our train back to the present so we took a countryside stroll through the sheep paddocks to the nearest Town, Camber, and walked barefoot along a lovely beach. Returning to Rye we went for tea before luncheon at a lovely seafood restaurant where I ordered some (delicious) oysters and we had ourselves some fish before hurrying to catch the train.

Arriving back in Brighton was like arriving in an alternate universe. It had been amazing to escape the city life, even if it was for just a night.

Almost at the end of my Birthmonth I still had a visit from Cate, a Melbourne Uni friend to look forward to, and her arrival on Friday was lovely. I showed her the sights in Brighton, we enjoyed cream tea, had fun playing the amusements on the pier and wandering the lanes before a necessary dinner of some good bangers and mash at our local and then heading out for Stonelove rock and roll at one of the clubs by the sea.
 

 
It was amazing to have seen some Melbourne friends again, and all of September had been an incredible reminder of how many amazing people I have in my life and what they mean to me, and me to them. We had some great adventures, and I can honestly say that although the Birthmonth is behind me, I’m going to carry the happiness, excitement and fun into all the months ahead.