Sunday, 17 November 2013

9 1/2 things I've learned from the past 12 months.

On 16th Nov 2012 I left full time permanent employment to launch into the next phase of our new life, full time freelance with no safety net of regular employment so, was I four parts bonkers afterall?  Here's what I've learned in the past 12 months.

1. Your fortunes can change on the ping of an email.  Over the past 12 months I've had emails cancelling courses, slashing budgets, offering me life changing writing commissions, inviting me to take part in daring adventures and telling me about a huge tax rebate.  Turns out the last one was spam (which I twigged before I clicked) but it was a nice feeling for 30 seconds.  The only time I get a good news from HMRC and it's fake.  Figures.
Do stuff that scares you.

2.  You can live off a lot less than you think you can.  Mortgage, heating and food were our priorities and everything else was a luxury.  Less meat and more vegetables makes a meal go a lot further and is probably a lot healthier too.  Nights out were a distant memory and fish and chips on expenses were the highlight of many a week.

3.  Say "yes" to things even if they scare you.  When people asked if I could do something that would take me way outside my comfort zone my response has always been to say "yes" and then work out how to do it.  Once you've committed to doing something it focuses the mind and you invariably figure it out.  Steve has said that "I'll think of something" should be put on my headstone. (I've since learned that Richard Branson says the same thing, so I'm in good company!)

4.  Don't underestimate what you can achieve.  A year ago I expected to be making my money from delivering training courses which would fund my writing habit.  Turns out now I earn most of my money from writing with 2 - 3 training days a month topping up the coffers.  I am utterly delighted about this as it's more than I ever dared to dream for.  I clearly need bigger dreams.

Random badger photo, because he's lovely.
5.  Keep plugging away.  There have been many days when I've wondered if it's all worth it and a few where I've thought of packing it all in and scanning the local job pages.  I keep the grim stuff away from the blog because a) it doesn't makes pleasant reading and b) there are millions of people dealing with stuff way worse than the stresses I have and that's what keeps me going.  I look around at the people who love and support me, count my blessings and get back on the horse.  (Though this is usually preceded by tears of frustration and a few large glasses of wine.)

6.  Stay focused on your own plan.  I learned this from watching the Olympics where athlete after athlete said in interviews that their key to success was keeping focused on their own performance rather than worrying about what everyone else was doing.  Keep an eye on other folks and learn from them if you need to but don't get distracted by whatever it is they're up to; you'll have enough on your plate achieving your own goals without worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Don't know who wrote this. Happy
to credit if anyone can help.
7.  Celebrate the small stuff.  Don't keep waiting for the big contracts to land before you do the happy dance, get excited about the small things too - it all adds up and before you know it you'll be happy dancing all over the place.  I've even had a quick shimmy along the aisles in Asda much to Steve's despair.

8.  It's OK to take a day off occasionally.  When you work for yourself there's a temptation to work every hour god sends but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Beth a very grouchy girl.  The world will not end if you take 1 day off.  The smart phone and the lap top both have "off" buttons and it's important to know where they are.  Finding your own "off" button however is an entirely different matter and I'm still not 100% sure where mine is.

9.  Keep your sense of humour.  This above all else is essential. We have been let down, rained on, almost conned, covered in mud, terrified, ignored and frustrated over the past 12 months though admittedly not usually all on the same day.  The ability to laugh at yourself and find the absurd in every situation will do wonders for your stress levels and confuse everyone around you.

9 1/2 And lastly, just half a lesson here as it's one we've always tried to live our life by, and no-one says it better then this man...

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

More than just a war memorial

Great Gable & Styhead Tarn

June 8th 1924 is an important date in any mountain enthusiasts diary, it is the day that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were last seen alive as they headed towards the summit of Everest.  At around 12:50pm they were sighted by Noel Odell as two tiny specks moving upwards before the clouds blew across obscuring them from view and transporting them into the realms of folklore.  No definitive evidence has ever been found to prove whether they made it to the summit or not and most members of the outdoors community have an opinion on the matter one way or another.

Great Gable. My 1st ever view of it.
June 8th 1924 is also important for another reason rather closer to home.  As Mallory and Irvine fought for survival on Everest 80 members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club (FRCC) unveiled a plaque on the summit of Great Gable commemorating their members who had died during World War I.  By all accounts it was a typical British June day, the rain was pouring and the wind was howling, but the weather abated long enough for a short service to take place allowing those assembled to unveil the plaque and pay their respects.

One of the most prominent members of the FRCC present on the Great Gable was Geoffrey Winthrop Young, a writer, poet and mountain climber who had been a close friend and mentor to George Mallory.  This was his first climb since losing his leg during the war and obviously at that point he had no idea about the tragic events unfolding on the other side of the world.

But the FRCC did far more than simply unveil a plaque.  Following the Great War they purchased 3000 acres of land in the area and handed the title deeds over to the National Trust to commemorate the lives of those that had died.  The exact map of the area purchased and more details of the ceremony that day can be found here.

Every year on Remembrance Sunday hundreds of people gather at the memorial on the summit of Great Gable to pay their respects and remember those who have died in conflicts around the world.  I'm afraid I'm not a fan of crowds so we decided to pay our own quiet a few days early on a glorious November day.

We took the regular route from Seathwaite up to Styhead tarn over Greenhow Knotts, from there we followed the path alongside Kern Knotts to the summit before dropping back down via Windy Gap and Aaron Slack and then the adventurous/ boggy/ what were we thinking Taylorgill Force route back to the farm. It was a perfect, crisp autumn morning and the views from the summit were a who's who of the Lake District fells.

One of the things I love most about the fells is that, for a while at least, I feel as if I am far removed from the craziness of modern life.  There's no reception on my mobile phone, I can't see any office blocks and the endless views take my mind away from my day to day worries.  When I'm on top of a fell I find it blissfully hard to remember what it's like being crammed into a rush hour tube train, never mind trying to imagine what it must have been like to be terrified and freezing in a rat infested trench.

The whole point of memorials is to make us remember because as soon as we forget then there's a danger we'll start making the same mistakes all over again, so I tried to find some statistics that should stick in the mind, I think these should do it:
Great Gable from Wast Water

  • 995,939 British soldiers were killed during WW1
  • During the course of the war that's an average of over 600 men every single day
  • Most of the men killed were aged under 30 and many were as young as 18
  • Boys younger than that are known to have lied to sign up & subsequently died
  • Across all the nations involved over 16.5 million soldiers died, that's over 10,500 every day

Because of its history this memorial on top of a 450 million year old mountain in the middle of the Lake District will, for me, always be so much more than just a war memorial.  Wars have claimed the lives of countless millions over the centuries and hundreds, probably thousands, of others have died like Mallory & Irvine, pushing the bounds of human endurance and exploration.

Yes it's a place for sober reflection to remember those who have gone before, but it's also a place to look around at the breathtaking scenery and be thankful that you're alive and free to enjoy it. Life is spectacular, fragile and very, very short so try to make the most of every single moment and always try to have fun, even if you're stuck on a fell in a howling storm; just fix your mind on the hot bath at the end and try to smile as the rain drips off the end of your nose. (And if you ever happen to bump into me on a cold wet fell cursing as I stumble along in the pouring rain, please feel free to remind me of this blog.)

Update Nov 2021: I recently discovered this wonderful piece, written by my Grandad when he was in his late 20s. It describes Armistice Day 1935 in the factory where he worked.