Travel

Farewell 30s

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This week I passed my Masters Degree in Television and Radio Scriptwriting.

It has taken two years and eight months of hard work, tight deadlines but to be totally honest I enjoyed every minute of it so much that it never felt like I was studying at that level.

Having a passion for storytelling and writing, it meant that I had a reason to sit at my laptop for hours on end, buy different coloured writing books to make notes on and spend a ridiculous amount of money on text books.

It is also a good excuse to binge watch fabulous television shows where I’m merely analysing how the storyline runs, how characters conflict etc.

The MA is also a fitting way to say farewell to what has been the best decade of my life so far.

I turn the big 4-0 in September and I’m already trying to think of things I need to plan on completing in my forties. How on earth can I match the past decade in terms of developing as a person?

I don’t recognise me as a thirty year old. Back then my life was all about getting through every day and not suffering with another panic attack, or a bout of depression. Anxiety and low self-esteem were part of my character back in 2004.

I was in an unfulfilling job and seemed to be afraid a lot of the time. Don’t ask me what I was afraid of – perhaps just living? One things for sure I felt stuck in a rut and the only focus in my life were my young children and husband.

Family is of course important but I also felt like I needed more in my life.

Then I had one of those life changing conversations with a work colleague.

I’d always wanted to study for a degree. My colleague had studied for her degree with the Open University when she was a single mother. She was then an Early Years Advisory Teacher, who ended up getting a job in the Grand Cayman islands training their teachers. She encouraged me to study with the Open University too.

“I’ll be 35 by the time I get a degree” I’d wailed to her, to which her response was just the response I needed. “You’ll be 35 anyway – you can either be 35 and with a degree or 35 and without one”.

That moment right there changed my life forever. The person I am sitting on my sofa typing this blog post is not the same person contemplating her future on her 30th birthday.

I graduated as an undergraduate in BA (Hons) Humanities with Media Studies in July 2009, age 34 (combining credits).

I will graduate in July 2014, age 39 with a Masters in Television and Radio Scriptwriting.

I learnt to swim age 33 years old. I can still remember my boys faces when I dived in the swimming pool in Spain and swam under the water with them (instead of my usual clinging to the side).20130821_140843

I went on a Fear of Flying course age 34, my first flight as an adult and since then have travelled to USA, Canada, Spain, Portugal, France, Menorca, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Amsterdam and Ireland.

From being paralysed in fear at talking to groups of people, I now present a weekly entertainment show on my local community radio station.

I have a fulfilling job working for a university in Media City where I get to help students on a daily basis. A complete career change for me leaving local government finance to move into Higher Education (wouldn’t have been possible without the degree).

It really has been a metamorphosis of character for me in the past decade and it both worries and excites me at the prospect of the next decade.

Will it be as exciting? Is there anything else I should do to improve my life? Or is this the decade where I should just chill out and appreciate life in general, enjoy the extra time now the children are getting bigger and swim in as many oceans as I can?

One thing is for sure. I’m a firm believer that there are key moments in your life and you can either choose to ignore them, or embrace them and make those changes.

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Reflections from the April A-Z Challenge

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I’d like to thank the team that put together this challenge. There were a heck of a lot of people signed up to this and I’d spend several hours each day just reading different blogs which interested me, all through the @AprilA-Z

The reason I decided to take on this blogging challenge in April was mainly to keep me focused and writing each day throughout  the month. I had surgery at the beginning of April so knew that I would be off work for a number of weeks. Having the challenge to focus on each day really did keep me from feeling too sorry for myself whilst I was recovering from surgery.

I decided to have one theme throughout the challenge which was New York City. I visited New York City for the first time last summer. Talk about a dream come true for me, the city lived up to everything I imagined it would be and much more. Since returning home I couldn’t quite bring myself to blog about it as I didn’t think I could do it justice in one blog post.

After all visiting such a city rich in culture and attractions could never be fully written about in one blog post, so doing it in 26 blog posts was even better.

The challenge and the theme also gave me the excuse to go through all of my 1,500 photographs and select my favourites to display with my post for the day..

Thinking about what to blog about each day was something I really enjoyed too. I’d kept a notebook of each day while I was in NYC so I kept referring to that and reliving my wonderful five days.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to recover from surgery, and as I’m an active person I knew I had to do something to keep my spirits up. This blog challenge certainly did that, as it made sure I did the thing I enjoy doing each day which is writing. Even bed-bound I still managed to get on the laptop and post every day.

My blog traffic increased throughout the month and I picked up about thirty new followers which was a welcome surprise.

I do enjoy blog challenges, now the difficult part is trying to keep up with interesting blog entries throughout the year.

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Zoo as in Central Park Zoo

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Z is for Zoo

MY NEW YORK ADVENTURE A-Z BLOGGING CHALLENGE

Only in America would you find a zoo in a park. Okay, I admit I haven’t actually checked if that is correct or if there are more zoos in parks.

What I do know is in the North West of England we have Chester Zoo (not in a park) and Blackpool Zoo (not in a park).

In New York, they have a children’s zoo in a park. That park being Central Park. Admittedly they can afford the space for a park given how vast Central Park is.

I was very grateful for this distraction so my son could visit the zoo with his dad, while I went off on a Mad Men tour.

That’s it folks. Z is the final day in this April A-Z Challenge.

It’s been a hoot.

Thanks for reading.

The photograph below is me by the fountain in the opening credits of Friends, I think I was trying to be Jennifer Aniston plus 30 pounds!!!

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World Trade Center

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W is for World Trade Center

MY NEW YORK ADVENTURE A-Z BLOGGING CHALLENGE

Not many people will visit New York City without paying a visit to the World Trade Center.

After all it is now boasting a brand new building which has added to the iconic skyline, filling a gap where those twin towers left a space.IMG_4848

A trip to the 9/11 memorial is also a must-visit spot if not for anything else but to pay respects to all of those who lost their lives on that fateful day in 2001.

I would also recommend visiting St Pauls Chapel located at 209 Broadway between Fulton and Vesey Streets in Lower Manhattan.

The Chapel’s rear faces the east side of the World Trade Center site and when the towers collapsed it served as a place of rest and refuge for the recovery workers who were at the World Trade Center site.

It is a miracle that the Chapel survived the impact of the towers collapsing. For eight months hundreds of volunteers worked 12 hour shifts around the clock. It served as a resting place for the New York Fire Department staff, police, construction working and others, and these volunteers provided meals, beds and general care for these workers.

Inside the Chapel you can view the impromptu memorials that the Americans brought to this site. Photographs, teddy bears, posters, letters and prayers which were all displayed on the railings outside, are now on display for the general public.

I was particularly choked by a pair of boots that one of the firefighters left. He had taken another pair to wear while rescuing people, and never returned for them.IMG_4828

A beautiful tribute to everybody who was affected by the events of 9/11.

There also rests the remains of tree roots outside of the chapel which also survived the trauma.

Walking around the site, seeing all of these memorials still made it feel surreal to me.

It didn’t quite sink in that I was standing at the site where thirteen years ago those images that I watched on television actually happened.

Even as I stood next to the foundations of the twin towers, trying to imagine what it must have been like to be part of that day was difficult. Luckily I won’t be haunted by those images like hundreds of New Yorkers are.

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A is for Airways

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MY NEW YORK ADVENTURE A-Z CHALLENGE 2014

Or to be more precise British Airways, who were my airline of choice when booking the flights to New York City last year.

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I have already blogged about just how scared I used to be about flying – resulting in never holidaying abroad and getting off two aeroplanes a number of years ago and spoiling family holidays.

Thanks to British Airways and their life-changing Fear of Flying course I was able to cross the Atlantic Ocean last summer and finally visit the one place in the world that I wanted to see more than anything.

New York City.

It was a no-brainer when booking the flights. Although slightly more expensive than other airlines, this didn’t matter to me as I knew that flying with BA meant that I would be looked after throughout the whole flight. If I got nervous I could just tell them that I’d done their course and felt confident that they would look after me.

I flew the eight hours on a Boeing 747 which was my first experience of not only flying long-haul, but also flying on a jumbo. Wow! What a bird.2013-08-03 10.40.28

The eight-hour flight flew by (literally) and I spent a lot of the time walking up and down the plane stretching my back, and looking quite scary to my fellow passengers as I just had the biggest grin on my face for the entire time.

Spoilt for choice with the entertainment system, I had the choice of watching movies, TV shows or listening to music. I watched Les Miserables, Song for Marion and a couple of episodes of Girls. It was impossible to sleep as I was too excited about my destination.

Every few hours we were served snacks, then a main meal following by another hot sandwich. Drinks were available whenever we wanted, and this was in the cheap seats too.

The best part ever for me was as soon as the plane was on the ground and the flight attendant came on the radio to say the words I had longed to hear “Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to New York’s John.F.Kennedy Airport”. The adventure was about to begin.

Thank you British Airways.

If I never travel anywhere again I will always treasure my adventures in the USA and Canada last summer.

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Fear of Flying – Part 2

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I cannot thank British Airways flying without fear course enough for educating people like me in the mechanics of flying.

It was very reassuring that I wasn’t the only person with such an intense fear as the class of a hundred people was full. They educate you with the statistics of how safe flying is, the mechanics of how the plane manages to get off the ground in the first place and stay in the sky. I knew that I was much safer being on a plane than I was being in a car. During the flight there is commentary about every single sound, sensation and experience that passengers feel when they are flying. I felt confident that the next “real” flight I would experience would be a nerve wracking one, but that the safety wouldn’t be an issue for me.

Given how incredibly scared I was at the prospect of getting on a plane I also had a series of hypnotherapy sessions which I found also really helped me in coping with my feelings of anxiety. Overcoming that fear was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and ten years ago I would have laughed at anybody who suggested that I would stop taking holidays to Wales.

In the years that have followed I have flown to Dublin, Barcelona, Paris, Menorca, Portugal, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Munich, Nice and Rome. I’ve seen a lot of places, experienced different cultures and can quite honestly say that I am richer in life because of the travelling.
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However, I still hadn’t made it to New York yet, or managed to fly past three and a half hours. The flying was becoming comfortable but I knew that I had to step it up and do a long haul flight.

I don’t do things by halves that’s for sure. An offer came at the start of this year for a holiday to the USA and Canada with family. I immediately felt nervous about the flight, and doubted whether I could sit in one place for so many hours with only my thoughts to drive me to panic. The only way that I would get on a long haul flight would be if the first flight was New York bound. This was in our budget so it was something to look forward to.

Anyone who is scared of flying will sympathise with how anal you can get when booking these things. I must have spent hours looking at the routes to New York from Manchester. I would then look to see which size planes they were, and which seats were available. Crazy I know, but a lot of the fear is about staying in control so I needed to control all aspects of this. It wasn’t like flying to Portugal where I knew I would be airborne for only a few hours.

Thank goodness that British Airways (my saviours again) allow you to view the aircraft type, the seating arrangements and give you control of most aspects of the journey. Back in April 2013, I finally booked the tickets. First stop London Heathrow, then to New York, then a short flight from Boston to Toronto, then a long flight from Toronto to Vancouver and finally flying home to London from Vancouver which was the longest flight.

I didn’t really think about the flying in the coming months. I was getting so excited about going to New York that it was merely a means to get from A to B – right? Wrong. The anxiety that I had experienced a few times when I first started to fly kicked in again. It was horrendous and I couldn’t seem to shake it off. What should have been an exciting build up to the holiday of a lifetime was turning into a nightmare – although I would have welcomed a nightmare as I sure as hell wasn’t able to sleep much.

Again though this was the product of my visualisations and the fact that I couldn’t ever imagine myself in Times Square or seeing the Statue of Liberty. Only a brave person could get on a plane and be up in the air for eight hours, I’m not that brave!

The week leading up to the flight I was a nervous wreck. Thankfully my mind was preoccupied with work and a script idea to try not to think about the eight hour flight that was imminent. I got really cross with myself given that I have flown so many times in the past five years, so I know what to expect, I knew I would be fine but for some reason it was really was a huge anxiety with it being long haul. I visited my hypnotherapist again for a top up session and downloaded his mp3 onto my iphone so I could at least listen to him should I have feelings of panic on the plane. After all, keeping calm for three hours is a lot different than eight hours.

The night before the flight I ensured that I had a bag full of activities to keep me occupied. My ipad was loaded with some movies and TV shows that I could rely on to entertain me should the inflight entertainment be dull. Wordsearch, audiobooks, kindle with a selection of easy reading chick lits, notebook and an elastic band. Anybody reading who suffers with panic attacks will know that distraction is a key thing for getting through an anxiety attack. For me flicking the elastic band when it is on my hand firstly takes my mind off the feelings, plus it’s a non-verbal signal to my other half that he may need to distract me.

First flight was a short one from Manchester to London Heathrow. Apart from the ham and cheese snacks smelling vile and making me heave this flight, although bumpy was fine. It was only forty minutes long – a walk in the park.
On arrival at Heathrow passengers on long haul transfer to another terminal by tram. At this point my levels of fear were increasing and I recall saying to my husband “No matter what happens, you get on the plane and make sure @#### has a fantastic holiday (@#### is my youngest child).

Then something happened to me when I saw the aeroplane at the gate. I looked at the sign which gave the flight detail and that it said NEW YORK, and I got incredibly excited. Oh my goodness I was about to fly to New York.

New York! This was what all of this hypnotherapy and tackling the fear was all about – New York. “Do one thing every day that scares you” is an affirmation that I live by. Today was no different, except I was heading to Lady Liberty and the Big Apple.

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So I did. Once on board the fear went away altogether when I saw how huge the plane was. Not the most leg space considering we would be sitting for eight hours but there was plenty of room to walk around and do you know what? That flight went by so quickly. At one point I wrote in my notebook a reminder to myself that I felt calm, the flight was smooth and I shouldn’t be afraid of the trip back to the UK in three weeks’ time.

For the trip I flew six times including three long hauls, and coming home from Vancouver I experienced my first real turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean which occurred when my son and I were queuing for the toilet. We were knocked off our feet and managed to stagger back to our seats, but it didn’t phase me at all. I won’t be a prisoner to my fear, and being able to visit different countries and build memories and adventures makes it all worth while.

My travel blogs will be following this post in due course.

Thanks to British Airways for not only delivering their Flying without Fear courses, but for always being courteous and professional to all of their passengers, even the nervous ones.

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Fear of Flying – Part 1

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fear of lfyingApparently one in ten of the population suffer with aero-phobia, also known as fear of flying. Fear of flying is mainly linked to the fear of aeroplanes or other problems such as panic attacks and claustrophobia. Sufferers have in increase to anxiety and panic attacks at the thought of flying.

I am one of these people and I want to share my experiences with whoever is reading this post.

People suffering with fear of flying commonly fall into one of two groups. The first group are people who fear an “internal loss of control”. For such individuals, their fear of flying stems from a fear that they will lose control of their emotions during flight and therefore embarrass themselves in front of fellow passengers. These people may express concern about suffering a panic attack, loss of control of bodily functions or become hysterical. For others, the fear is associated with external factors such as turbulence, bad weather or a fault with the aeroplane.

I suffered with both of those factors. Like many people my childhood didn’t involve any air travel. I vaguely remember a family holiday to Spain when I was five, but since then nothing. At the age of twenty I began suffering with panic attacks which at one point were so crippling that I wouldn’t leave the flat that I lived in, and if I did I had to be accompanied by my boyfriend. Flying was something we had discussed when talking about holidays, but I knew how terrified I was when a panic attack happened at home, let alone at 36,000 feet with hundreds of other people.

So, then came the holidays to Devon, Cornwall and Wales because I couldn’t even begin to imagine that I would ever be brave enough to fly anywhere in the world. Maybe one day I would wake up and be brave enough to see Paris and New York (the two places on my list of places to visit before I die).

With parents who are very nervous travellers, perhaps this was a lot to do with my psychological barrier into the whole flying thing. If my parents were scared then there must be something to really be fearful of? In a space of three years, I did try to be brave and booked two holidays but ended up for the first holiday having a panic attack at boarding and not being able to proceed onto the aircraft. The second time I didn’t even get to the airport. The latter was in 2003. That was my last attempt (in my mind). I would forever be a regular at Haven, St Ives and Ilfracombe.

That was until August 2006 when my eldest son who was ten at the time went to the USA with his granddad. I recall standing on the aviation viewing car park at Manchester Airport crying as I was worried that if anything happened overseas I couldn’t get to him.
And you know those moments in your life when you will meet someone, or have a conversation with another person that will change your life forever? Well I’ve had a couple in my life and this was one of them. I was sitting in a board meeting at work when for some reason myself and a senior colleague were talking and I told him about my son being in America, my fear of flying etc. His wife had the same fear and he recommended to try the hypnotherapist that helped his wife.

At that moment I decided that not only would I try a hypnotherapist to help with the fear of panic/flying but I would also book onto a Fear of Flying course. The only person I told about this was my best friend at the time, because if I didn’t go through with the flight that was part of the course then nobody would know any better.

Let me tell you that flying was the biggest worry in my life. It took so much courage and guts to get on that plane for that course. Right up until the moment I boarded I didn’t think I would go through with it. Firstly, because I didn’t think I was that brave a person and secondly because I couldn’t ever visualise myself looking out of a window at 36,000 feet and seeing the world below.

In the end it was only 19,000 feet as we flew to the Isle of Man. That moment, right there when I sat on the runway shaking and just wanting it all to be over was the moment that my life changed forever.
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