Day 8: First panic and a trip to Barmouth

Last night I felt homesick and just wanted to go home to our bunnies and get back to work. Which is kind of unexpected as I don’t think I have ever come to the end of a holiday eager to get back to the daily grind. Maybe it’s because I have no structure to go back to? Now that my free time is here, maybe I’m rueing the annoying 9-5.30 framework that made sense of my day and gave me things like school nights and weekends and the Christmas break to look forward to.

I also had the anxious realisation that I may finally have to more than just talk about my own ideas and dreams down the pub. Rejection and failure is not something I’m used to in my job of 30 years but I can surely expect a fair bit of that when building stuff of my own.

So there was a sleepless night and I’m sure there will be many more as things start, change, and bring both new horizons and new risks.

It rained through the night and all the way to lunchtime so I finished my book. (I wonder if I subconsciously took The Snowden Files because of our Snowdonia trip.) Given assumed NSA/CGHQ surveillance of Jo Public’s comms, it’s definitely given me an appetite to look more into cyber security if only to regain some sense of self-control and to brush up on information/data literacy.

This afternoon we drove down the valley to Barmouth. I remember vividly going on the waltzers there as a child of nine or 10. I remember thinking: “Wow! A funfair and it’s at the seaside. Best thing ever!” Amazingly the waltzers ride is still there. These days I’d rather jump in a quarry lake than go on a sick-making centrifugal fun ride, but walking along the Barmouth Bridge viaduct was cool. That’s your 40s for you.

Day 7: A wild swim and a very long walk

 

A tunnel to the Blue Lake
Dripping wet tunnel to the Blue Lake

Switchover day as we shifted to Dolgellau, taking in a wild swim in the Blue Lake (aka Golwern Slate Quarry). I’ve never done a wild swim in the UK but I have read some of Roger Deakin’s inspiring Waterlog and the idea of navigating through an old mining tunnel to get to the lake was too Indiana Jones to resist. So in I jumped. Pete, of course, had the camera…

Fi swims!

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The water temperature was as breathtaking as the vivid blue lake with vertical walls all around but I managed to swim across, trying not to think of the rumoured 90ft depth. Once out, my skin started to burn, not unpleasantly. I’m adding this to my #microadventures list. A challenge for me but nothing compared with those people who jump from high ledges 50ft down into the deep.

On a different kind of high, I set out to walk part of the 10-mile Mawddach Trail, along the wide estuary from Dolgellau down to Barmouth. The legs gave up around 6.5 miles in but I’m quite chuffed I made it that far and really enjoyed the changing estuary scenery, which was almost lunar in the sunshine.

Mawddach Estuary

Arthog
Mawddach Trail at Arthog
mawddach-trail
The trail was converted from an old railway track that was closed down after nationalisation

Now chilling with a sauvignon and a pie. Stay classy Dolgellau.

Day 6: A lake, a pitch and a ponder

The main thing I want to do on this sabbatical break is get fit. I’ve tried to deal with my sedentary ills by variously using a stand-up desk, a stepper at my stand-up desk and a rebounder on screen breaks but, in short (and excuse my French), I’m f*^ked if I spend the next 10 years sitting and typing for eight hours a day. As the physio said about my tech neck: “You need to look at lifestyle change.” Which is a real bummer when you love what you do.

So today was a bit of a fitness test. We walked six miles on a round trip to the Bearded Lake, near Aberdovey, but it was a hard six miles of ranging Welsh hills. The views kept me going but today was a 22,500-step day according to my Fitbit surveillance. I’m always amazed that our hills and mountains are full of superfit oldies by the way. I hope to become one of them some day. In the meantime, here was the end prize…

The Bearded Lake
The Bearded Lake (is a long way away)

Accompanied by a slightly pained expression…

Me at Bearded Lake
So happy to be sitting down

In other sab-news, I applied for author Jojo Moyes writer’s retreat, using her Suffolk cottage for a week to kick-start a writing project. I’m 99% sure I won’t get an offer as she’ll be swamped but here was my application, subject line “A pitch from a procrastinator”:

Hi Jojo

I’m sure you’ll be inundated with entries so to get straight to the point, I’m a journalist-turned-blogger with 50+ travel diaries that I would like to see if I can turn into ‘something’.

I started doing this in January and produced a single chapter before RSI got the better of me – it’s impossible to edit all day and write all night when you have physical limitations and sore arms. Last week, however, I was let go from a long contract and I’m now free to write for myself.

I can do this at home, of course, but the big advantage for me personally in getting away is that I’m answerable to someone (you)! All my creative writing has been done when I am producing a piece of work for a reason – a course, a teacher, a deadline. Otherwise life, DIY, our two bunnies, and other procrastination opportunities get in the way.

I’d also love to talk to you about how to go from a 1000-word feature journalist or 600-word blogger to 80,000 words. I’m not sure I have the mentality. And how do you switch off the editing instinct to rewrite before you’ve barely started?

So those are my weaknesses and my hopes.

Thank you for offering your cottage.

So that happened today. We’ll see. Those travel diaries aren’t going to transform themselves.

In other news – oh the irony of sabbatical leave – I received another work offer involving online sub-editing training. This is based on a course I ran a few years ago. Thanks SEO from 2012. Now what to do? I’m supposed to be on a break.

looking ahead
Thinking, thinking…

Day 5: Edward Snowden and crab racing

A heavy mist enveloped Aberdovey until lunchtime (or was it cloud? – we are currently located up a very steep hill) – so the morning was spent doing something I’ve been looking forward to for ages: reading books. Editing words on a computer screen all day means the last thing I want to do at night is read more words. But now…

The Snowden Files
I spy… Edward Snowden

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding was a birthday gift a year ago. As a former journalist, I was fascinated as much by how the scoop played out as much as the content of the story. The Citizenfour documentary delivered Snowden’s story in real-time, with the actual source and the actual journalists up there on screen. It offered an unprecendented insight into the state of the world’s cybersecurity and surveillance, but also what it’s like to be the journalists given the biggest story of their career. You should see it if you haven’t already. The book is filling out some of the gaps and has me equally gripped. (I also have a cybersecurity course lined up.)

Crab
“Help me!”

A world away from espionage, we found ourselves caught up in crab racing this afternoon. I had no idea this was a thing.

A father and twenty-something daughter team had crammed their bucket full of crabs caught using a raw bacon lure. About 30 crabs were then dumped on the sand where they were to race at high speed into the sea. The middle-aged father seemed hugely disappointed that the near-suffocated beasties were barely moving and we were soon involved in a rescue mission to help the crabs return to the Dyfi estuary. Why do humans do what they do?

aberdovey beach
Just us and the seaweed

Aberdovey developed as a seaside resort in Victorian times but, heading into October, it is pleasantly deserted. Apart from mad crabbers and a few dog walkers we had the long, wide, dune-rimmed beach to ourselves. Hot walkers feet cooled in the incoming tide and then escaped to the hinterlands, across the dunes, over a golf course and train tracks, and finally to the pub.

mini dune
World of sand

Day 3: I do like Mondays

Monday has always been manic on the work front but I wake up on day three of sabbatical leave with an empty day ahead and a bright idea. My dreaming brain has obviously been stewing over recent conversations, especially mentoring for girls and young teens, and helping them sort their heads out. I’ve also been thinking about how I coped when things fell apart, as they did in 2001 and 2008, and what got me through. And these two things have somehow come together to form an idea that scales beyond a school talk. Even better, it won’t cost too much. Just a bit of research, copywriting and design is all that is required. I’ll say no more for now.

That was just the start of a day full of positive signs and feeling kind of exhilarated that I can now act on my ideas rather than filing them away for some future time for action.

There were also three offers of freelance work throughout the day, one potentially with a semi-famous person (no name dropping – yet); a call for submissions to my old degree course in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton; and a suggestion to apply for an author’s offer of a free writer’s retreat (along with a thousand others I’m sure).

This afternoon I was actually free to visit BOM, where Pete is a fellow. A contingent of Indonesians were visiting to discuss opportunities to collaborate in helping women’s empowerment in Indonesia through tech. So, of course, I went in all excited to practise my Indonesian, brushing up on such relevant vocab as artist (seniman), surveillance culture (budaya pengawasan) and ‘sorry, I’ve forgotten my Indonesian’ (Maaf, saya lupa Indonesian saya). They, of course, spoke perfect English and we had a good conversation about art and politics and AI and oppression. Who knows there may even be future connections and *jumps the gun totally* a chance to revisit Bandung and Yogyakarta, two of my favourite places in Java.

Today has been a day full of possibilities on many fronts. But on a simple level, I’m also enjoying being able to go out, off the cuff, for a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich at Cherry Reds with Pete. That is one of the real luxuries of not being a slave to the lunch hour grind.

tea-and-bacon-sandwich pete-fi-cherry-red

Day 2: Is it a sabbatical if it’s the weekend?

Day two of my sabbatical was partly spent wielding an axe in order to get some knobbly tree and rose roots out of the ground. Heavy physical work and I’m very much enjoying being a tank girl not a microserf. Also, I moved rubble from A to B.

As it’s a Sunday I still feel as if I have a week of work ahead of me so I guess it hasn’t sunk in yet that my life has radically changed.

(In other news, I seem to have volunteered to test out my sister’s yoga lessons. She is in her second year of training and needs a putz willing volunteer to practise on. Have also reconnected with a few people through comments and responses so it’s Saul Goodman.)

Day 1: End of an era – so what comes next?

Getting off the treadmill.
Getting off the treadmill.

After coming to the end, yesterday, of the longest freelance booking I’ve ever had (seven and a quarter years to be precise), I had a vague idea that I might blog every day for 30 days. Just to document, y’know, the end of an era and a major change of life. And because that’s what a blogger/diarist/writer does.

It’s a bit like being thrown off the merry-go-round – although not at full speed as this has been coming since February – but there is a very definite stop. And after such a long ride I’m not quite ready to get back on another carousel just yet.

In fact there are a few things that have been on hold since 2009, and since getting my notice I’ve spent the summer putting together some plans.

There’s a list (isn’t there always?) on Workflowy that is now up to at least a hundred items long. Some are obvious (oh how I have missed my travels); some enforced (time to get fit and undo some of the damage caused by my sedentary job); some are random challenges or things I want to learn (be a cool backwards skater, learn 2000 words of Indonesian); and some are about giving back (becoming a mentor, trainer, speaker,  or perhaps just a better friend).

I also have the beginnings of a list of people I want to meet and talk to and listen to, and invitations to coffee/tea have started to go out. After years of solitary working from home, I’m looking forward to making new connections and getting out there again.

Many people have inspired me to go on this new journey: Sam Underwood, who gave a PechaKucha talk on his intended sabbatical a few years back; Pete, who has been on his own journey to full-time artist; my mum, who launched a new fundraising career in her 60s; Paul Murphy, the Belfast/Brum musician and activist, who died earlier this year after a life extremely well lived.

Google Cardboard
Looking into the future.

Then there’s Helga Henry, Liz Dexter, Nora Young (Morley), John Popham, Justina Hart, Jackie Pieterick and Candi Miller for their inspiring work and projects; those unnamed people who’ve been through or are currently going through such hardships that it’s amazing they even get up in the mornings; and close long-time friends who, even today, still managed to come up with a few new ideas that may have me volunteering to talk at schools about working in the media and how to be your own boss.

Basically I’m all ears. Who knows what may happen?

So, yeah, day one of blogging for myself and putting some stuff out there. There are many plans, this is one of them.

Microadventure #3: Bodyboarding weekend in Cornwall

Tl;dr: unfit middle-aged Brummie woman with lifelong surfing obsession fulfils dream by not standing up on board.
fiona cullinan bodyboarding

The challenge has always been to surf. It’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember fuelled by seeing early skateboarding films in the ’70s. Then came movies such as Big Wednesday, The Endless Summer, Blue Crush, Lords of Dogtown and the oh-so-quotable Point Break. I even read books: Andrew Martin’s cult classic Walking on Water was particularly inspiring as (like Keanu in PB) a fellow journalist gets the ultimate assignment – he’ll be paid to go surfing, in Hawaii, for The Times. ‘Awesome.’

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Harkive – how I listened to music on 19 July 2016

I’ve been meaning to do the annual Harkive project and this year I’ll finally got around to it, albeit a couple of days late. Here is it:

I work from home. I generally wait for a bit of editing work to come in that I can do ‘with my eyes shut’, which allows me to have my ears open. Around 10.30am a piece on Brexit (the 50th this week) comes in and, to take the pain away, I flip on the mini amplifier that sits amid a bookshelf of comics in the home office. I like its little neon-blue glow – and its ironic surreptitiousness, given the racket it can make.

ampNext step I alt-click on my laptop’s sound icon. This brings up a drop-down menu of where I want the music to play. Thanks to the husband (family tech support) we can play music via wifi in most rooms of the house. I click on ‘Office’ and then open Spotify.

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