Day 26: London leaving lunch

Visiting that London for a farewell lunch with work colleagues and a catch-up at the agency I freelance for (or rather freelanced for). It’s been nearly four weeks but I feel I haven’t actually started my sabbatical yet. Been too busy lancing my travel boil (sorry).

Pictures now up from Wales and Italy.

Now very ready to get on with other things. November will be all about creative writing and getting a bit fitter.

Day 24: Florence, Fat Fluffs and a farewell

I think I fell a little bit in love with Italy last week despite its October chills. Florence, the Cinque Terre and Pisa photos are to be uploaded but here are three of them, starting with the classic shot of Vernazza, which only those walking the steep trails from Monterosso get to take. (My calves still hurt five days on.)

One of my favourite snaps from Florence – amid the Renaissance sculptures and statues – was this golden man casually riding a giant golden sea turtle. Well played Flo! Perfectly positioned amusing incongruity.

Finally, there’s only one shot you need to take in Pisa, and we just about made it after a storm stuffed up our train back from Monterosso to Pisa Airport. It’s not the greatest shot but it’s a shot. Conclusion: it’s very leany.

It’s good to be back and get on with life though. Today was part work and part checking up on our bunnies who are going through a bonding with other rabbits at Fat Fluffs rescue and sanctuary. There was a quad, now down to a trio after Bert at the back there started pushing his weight around. Hopefully we can pick them up on Wednesday. Bunminster and Joy grooming each other is a massive breakthrough; new bun Hayley is obviously providing the right balance for harmony. (That or Bert stress-bonded them all together.)

A carvery lunch with the family was next as we wished bon voyage to my niece Hannah who is jetting off to Australia in a couple of weeks to start her working holiday visa year. This is something that I did back in 1999 and I have to say it changed my life. It’s great to see her stepping out into her own big adventure.

Finally I had an hour-long feed and cuddle with my new great nephew Matthew, who we are still counting in weeks-old. Yes, he chucked milk down me and yes it was great.

There are always many things in the world to worry about, particularly right now, but these are the lovely things and I have many reasons to feel blessed today.

Day 15: Trip prep

Get diazepam repeat prescription and load up hypnotherapy help on phone for fear of flying, borrow map and phrasebook from neighbours, double-check cheap airlines small print on bag policies, print maps from airport to hotels, and train times for onward travel, pack accordingly to list made in 1994, write note to self for the early morning to bring chargers, quick brag on social media, and I’m off.


Day 13: Rita, RSI and recovery

Lunch with an 86-year-old birthday girl, Rita, who can barely walk due to leg inflammation and support strapping makes one truly appreciate one’s own mobility and relative youth. This sabbatical is more than anything a screen break; it’s about getting physically healthier after years of being a human guinea-pig for the incoming computer generation.

My story is that I got RSI in my neck and right arm in the early 90s, following 12-hour days as part of the launch team on a new weekly TV mag in the deregulated TV listings market. I was off work for a year at the age of 23, and so were half the listings department. Another year part-time and then, after discovering Alexander Technique, I was able to return to full-time work again. The injury is something I’ve had to manage ever since. Overwork, bad posture, long hours, few breaks, clicky-work (data/content migrations) are all triggers. Last year after six months of a sore neck, the physio said there was nothing more they could do but to look at lifestyle change.

And so here I am. It’s going to be interesting to see how much of the stiffness, aches and pains I can reverse. And maybe I won’t have to wear glasses all day either. We’ll see (what I did there).

Day 12: Humming of the bird

Busy day for not very nice reasons but then a lovely visit from my long-time curly chum and sambista, Carinya, who is writing up a storm over on her Guyana blog, the Humming of the Bird. Go read it.

We took her on a guided tour of Stirchley’s junior hipsterville-ification after an old-school Stirchley balti. To your right is the community bakery and cookery school, to your left the carpet shop gorilla, here is Drums International and its sister guitar shop the Music Exchange. There is the former Belgian consulate.

But nothing beat stumbling upon a chamber music performance in the P Cafe followed by a cosy cider in the rammed Wild Cat Tap micropub next door. We didn’t even get as far as the Bike Foundry and Stirchley Wines.

Stirchley – more hipster than Moseley right now.

Day 11: Fat Fluffs, mentoring and Tories in town

Rabbits are both social creatures and vicious furballs of hate so they must go through a bonding process in order to be ‘friends’; sort of like a supervised date. The excellent and knowledgable Fat Fluffs charity is going to attempt a double couple bonding with our male and female, who hate each other, followed by a group bonding. So with a bit of luck we may soon be looking after four rescue bunnies not just two. Busy times ahead.

I then did my first bit of mentoring in an effort to give something back and make use of my industry knowledge. I met with a young female graduate who wants to break into writing/publishing. Explaining what I do as a ‘words person’ (for want of a better title) was quite exhausting as we rambled from training options to journalism, blogging, content marketing, social media marketing and self-publishing. Hopefully useful info for someone just starting out but it’s a radically different world of publishing now from when I first started (and computers were only just coming in). There are fewer traditional routes in but also many more opportunities to get started. And little careers advice, it seems.

I guess I learnt from articulating things that most of my work in the past seven years has come from embracing new technology and tools, teaching myself new stuff, blogging that process, being semi-good at SEO, then sharing what I’ve learnt both as a trainer and in the workplace. I may have been a digital content editor/strategist by title but more often than not I was also chief explainer to new online publishers. Freelancers have to be self-starters and lifelong learners – and never more so than now.

The evening ended with a nice dinner catchup with an old comics pal from my London days. He’s now a local councillor and was up for the Tory party conference, which has rolled into town this week. It could have been a nightmare but fortunately the closest we got to talking politics was today’s Breakfast/Brexit gaffe. So all was well across the dinner table divide.

Day 10: What does taking a sabbatical mean?

I’m still working with two other clients so it was a busy day back at my desk, writing, editing and figuring out a Q4 content plan of attack.

Some say that a sabbatical should be a complete break but I enjoy my work and it keeps my hand in, as the phrase goes, as well as keeping me afloat financially. To get a bit more clarity on what taking a sabbatical can achieve, I’m hopefully meeting Sam Underwood this week. Sam inspired me with his sabbatical a few years ago, and I’ll be asking him questions like:

  • should I take new work on while on sabbatical?
  • how do I cope with all the change?
  • how do I avoid drifting and losing self-confidence?
  • should I be prescriptive and plan my time constructively or actually take a break and leave room for new things to happen?
  • how did his sabbatical plan work out for him and would he do anything differently now?

A while back I canvassed Facebook friends asking: Has anyone I know taken a sabbatical? What did you do/learn/gain? They had:

  • travelled
  • learnt a language
  • learnt to build dry stone walls (when else!)
  • wrote a book
  • ended a long-term relationship
  • more or less reinvented themselves

Despite some of the negatives, there didn’t seem to be any regrets.

A few months later, I also asked what friends would do if they had a few weeks’ free time in which to do something challenging. They said:

  • finish writing up research/book
  • organise the house
  • volunteer
  • take an iconic train journey or long boat ride (longboat ride?)
  • learn or do something new – yachting or gliding lessons, belly dancing or busking
  • long-distance hike or cycle
  • yoga retreat

In fact, I have plans for pretty much all of the above. And more. I’m not sure how to fit it all in or how to prioritise – or do I just make the sabbatical longer? Questions, questions, ideas, and more questions.