We’re trying and that’s OK!

Unless you’re an Instagram famous travel blogger (we can dream), it’s likely that your time on the road, in the skies and at sea will eventually come to an end. For me, and probably many other people, it felt like coming back down to earth with a BANG – like an aeroplane landing in stormy weather. Maybe you hadn’t thought about what you want to do next and, even if you have a plan, it’s easy to see why anything you do next is probably going to be just a teeny weenie little bit underwhelming compared to the previous chapter in your life. I actually had an idea of what I wanted to do next and I was excited about the future but life, as always, had a different plan which made the first few months after I came home much more difficult than most people would experience.

Over the last few months I have felt crushed by the pressure of expectations, of both the people around me and expectations I had placed upon myself. When I say people I’m referring to those family friends and distant relatives (we all know the ones) that see you occasionally and have enough interest in your life to feel like they deserve an opinion but they don’t actually know you very well at all. People accepted, even encouraged my aspirations to go travelling and, when I did, they were impressed by my adventures and interested in hearing the stories. But now that I’m back from travelling and working abroad and no longer have interesting stories to tell they’ve moved on to the dreaded question “So what are you doing now? Do you have a job yet?”. The general stance seems to be that I’m expected to walk straight into a ‘proper job’ and get on with my life but, as the many struggling graduates in our generation will tell you, that’s not as easy as it looks.

As much as I hate being asked this question, (every time I’m asked, it crushes my soul a little bit more) there are only a handful of people who have ever made me feel judged by my apparently inadequate answer. My family are supportive, as are the majority of other people I speak to, they offer advice suggest job openings they’ve seen recently or recount a story of either themselves or their own children struggling to find their path in life or taking a little longer to land a job. Unfortunately, it only takes a few judgers to really get inside your head, especially since society has been placing expectations upon us since the day we were born. Expectations have pushed me to the point where I talk negatively about my current situation. I’m working two part time jobs and one seasonal job as well as volunteering twelve hours a week. I’m trying, I’m gaining experience and skills for my future career and I should be proud of everything I have achieved so far, so why do I feel like I’ve somehow failed?

I can’t seem to get my head around why people are so quick to judge the lives of others when we all have different definitions of success! I’m taking all the opportunities I can to try and make it to where I want to be, I’m not there yet but as long as I’m not slobbing around on the sofa I should be allowed to enjoy the journey.

So to the people who make me feel judged I’d like to say: stop judging my life on the basis of your personal definition of success, please don’t make me feel like I’m doing something wrong just because I’m not meeting your own personal expectations. When your daughter graduates from university and doesn’t walk straight into a graduate job maybe you’ll finally realise how much pressure is put on students and graduates these days.

To society I’d like to say: Where do the expectations end? We need to change our view on the world and make the alternative routes through education and employment a respected choice and not view them as the option for people who have ‘failed’. We need to encourage children to enjoy art, drama, music and sport in schools and not tell them they’re not clever if they don’t excel at traditionally ‘academic subjects’.

And to anyone who feels like they’re in a similar situation to me: We’re trying and we’re learning and that’s ok. As long as the journey makes us happy we should feel successful so don’t let the judgemental types bring you down. This video really helped to pick me up when I was feeling down I hope this helps you too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPmRmz7ySCg

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The Harry Potter Tour of Yorkshire

My friend Millie, who I met while being an Elf in Lapland last year, is quite possibly the world’s biggest Harry Potter fan. Whoa that’s a bold claim, I know, but she’s unquestionably the biggest Harry Potter fan that I’ve ever met! Since there are quite a few Harry Potter filming locations in Yorkshire and the North East, Millie’s visit to Scarborough was the perfect opportunity to do some Harry Potter inspired sightseeing in an effort to prove to her that The North is better than The South.

The Harry Potter tour of Yorkshire began before Millie had even arrived in Scarborough, when she changed trains at York railway station. The scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone set in ‘Kings Cross’ railway station, where Hagrid gives Harry his ticket for the Hogwarts Express was actually filmed on the bridge in York railway station. It makes sense when you think about it, as York is all round a much prettier old fashioned looking station than Kings Cross and you can see why it was chosen as the perfect filming location for such an iconic part of Harry’s journey to becoming a wizard. Even considering the older parts of Kings Cross and its appearance before modernisation in 2007, it’s a bigger, more streamlined looking station and a far less quaint location than York. The scene wouldn’t have had the same effect if Harry had been given his e-ticket next to a lift on a glass and steel walkway.

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I obviously didn’t take this photo myself, credit to Warner Brothers for this bit of movie gold.

Although strictly not a filming location, as Diagon Alley was built as a set (which you can visit at the Studio Tour), there is a street in York called The Shambles, which could easily pass for Diagon Alley with its little old higgledy piggledy Tudor style buildings. Unfortunately, you can’t buy an owl or a nimbus 2000 in any of the quaint little shops and there and there isn’t even a bookshop (they’re really missing a trick there) but you can buy any flavour of fudge you could ever imagine and even pick up a wand for a reasonable price, although Ollivander won’t be there to help make your choice.

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Goathland station serves a small village on the North York Moors Railway line and was the filming location of Hogsmeade station in Harry Potter. The station still looks almost exactly the same as it appears in the films and muggles are able to travel to and from Hogsmeade on a steam train but there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the Hogwarts Express. There’s not much in Goathland apart from the station, some wild sheep, a few shops and a pub. The village doesn’t seem to have much interest in the fact that Harry Potter was filmed there. Just like the shambles, the shopkeepers are really missing a trick. The shops all sell Heartbeat (an old British TV drama) memorabilia but only one of the shops stocked any Harry Potter related things. As Millie said, the village doesn’t look much like Hogsmeade but they could definitely attract more tourism than they’re probably getting from Heartbeat by stocking a few more Harry Potter related products and getting Butterbeer on tap in t’pub. You won’t find a Honeydukes or Zonko’s in Goathland but a trip on the steam train makes for a great day out and you can pretend you’ve travelled to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express!

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Millie, a Hufflepuff in her natural habitat.

 

Other nearby Harry Potter filming locations include:

Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was used for exterior shots of Hogwarts Castle in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Durham Cathedral was used for filming some of the corridor and classroom scenes, as well as exterior courtyard shots in the earlier films.

Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales is one of Harry and Hermione’s camping spots while they are on the run in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Find out how Millie and I met and read my adventures of being an Elf in Lapland:

https://couragenerugitpastoujours.wordpress.com/category/lapland/

INDIA: One Year On

It’s been a year since I travelled to India with Stepping Stones Ministries to stay at their Children’s home in West Bengal and I think it’s about time I share the final story that I never told! Coincidentally, a few days ago I saw Richard, our team leader and founder of Stepping Stones. Richard had just returned from a trip to India to officially open the new girls’ home which was under construction while we were there last year, so I can also update you on what Stepping Stones have been doing in the last year!

Our final few days in India were mainly spent in Jharkhand, the poorest state in India, where we visited some remote villages and gave a health workshop to young mothers. The day we visited the village for the health workshop and accidentally gatecrashed a wedding turned out to be my favourite day of the entire trip because, even though the villagers were living in extreme poverty, they were really happy. There was only one man in the village who could speak any English but if there’s one thing I learned from this trip it’s that you don’t need a shared language to be able to communicate. While some members of the team were doing their health workshop with the women of the village, Tom was playing cricket with some of the children using a piece of wood and a mango seed and Lucy, Anna and I were having a dance lesson with the older girls. I wrote about this in more detail in a post last year but since it’s my favourite memory and ties in with the end of the trip I couldn’t resist mentioning it again – you can read more about the trip to Jharkhand in this previous blog post: http://bit.ly/2mI2Qwg.

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Pancake Day Flipping and Skipping

In Scarborough, Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is more commonly referred to as Skipping Day. On the afternoon of Shrove Tuesday, when the pancake bell has been rung by the mayor, people flock to Scarborough’s South Bay to take part in long-rope skipping, pancake races and games on the beach, a tradition which has taken place in Scarborough for over 100 years. So today, as well as eating pancakes for breakfast, I’ve been down at South Bay along with the rest of the town, since Scarborough folk like to earn their pancakes by vigorously exercising all afternoon.

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People along Foreshore Road watching the pancake races and children playing on the beach.

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Foreshore Road filling up with skippers.

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The Geordie Starfish

I’m sure that anyone who has ever worked with children will agree that the nice, quiet and polite children are rarely the ones you remember. Instead we remember the annoying children, the ones who misbehave, the ones that make us laugh, the ones with interesting or outgoing personalities and the ones who gives us a reason to remember them. Out of the hundreds of children I met whilst working as an elf in Lapland I can only remember a handful of them in some way and I could count on one hand the number of names I could match to those memories but, while my memories of most of the children fade into a blur of blue and red snowsuits, there are a select few children and moments that I will never forget.

I will always remember the first child I met outside of Santa’s cabin in the Finnish wilderness. Snowflake and I were inside the cabin debating which of us should greet the first family when the reindeer drawn sleigh appeared from amongst the snow covered trees outside the cabin. Being the closest elf to the door of the cabin, Santa asked me to go outside and greet the first child. I stepped outside to meet the quiet seven year old boy. He was an only child and had come to visit Santa with his mum and dad. His name was unusual but I can clearly remember it. That little boy is the only quiet and polite child I can really remember meeting. It’s not that he was the only nice child who visited Santa last year, it’s just that the nice children, unfortunately, aren’t very memorable and they all blur into one on the nice list. That one nice child stands out in my memory because his family were the first guests that I met on MY first day as Santa’s little helper and that’s a memory I will always cherish.

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Ten Things I Learned in Lapland

It’s been exactly a year since I boarded the plane and embarked on my arctic adventure of being one of Santa’s elves in Lapland. My friends and I have been reminiscing a lot recently and I thought I’d share ten of the things I learned whilst living in the Arctic Circle. Some are useful tips, some are interesting facts and some are just funny or random things you’d only find out if you’d been living in a tiny isolated village during winter in the Arctic Circle.

1. iPhones don’t do well in cold weather, the same goes for your fancy pants cameras with changeable lenses. In the cold, anything with a battery will lose power very quickly so if you’re on your way to meet Santa keep your phone in a pocket close to your body to keep it warm rather than checking your tinder matches.

2. The ice in Lapland isn’t actually slippy unless the temperature rises to above -5c and snow falls as sleet or icy rain. The powdery snow in Lapland is normally very dry so, when the roads are ploughed leaving behind a sheet of ice, you may expect it to be slippery but 90% of the time you can run across the road in ugg boots and shorts without fear of falling over.

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New York City

I can’t believe how indecisive the weather is here, as I’m sitting here writing this post about an insanely hot day last week it’s actually SNOWING outside. Granted that it’s the first (unusually early) snowfall of the year here and the temperature is still above freezing so it’s not going to be sticking around for long but still, I did not pack for such unpredictable weather! It’s not just that the weather has changed quickly, it’s that it’s so variable jumping from warm to cool all over the place like a frog that’s had too much coffee.

The second I stepped off the train in the city I found myself in a tourist attraction – Grand Central station – one of the few sights in the city that I had not previously visited (my parents aren’t the type to visit a train station just for the perfect photograph). I’m the sort of person who would have walked the length of Manhattan just to say I’d been in Grand Central but, thankfully, it was already part of my itinerary and I felt less of a tourist while taking my obligatory photo since I had actually arrived on a train. It was a scorching hot day in New York but although the mercury was hitting higher temperatures than I had experienced all summer back in England (28c/82f) it was not hot weather for the average New Yorker. You could clearly pick out the tourists as the ones wearing shorts (I was not grouped into this category since I had strictly packed for autumn in Connecticut and not a week in the Caribbean). I don’t usually like city sightseeing in warm weather, however, the heat was actually surprisingly bearable and even pleasant in the shade of the tall buildings combined with a pleasant breeze.

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Blog’s First Birthday

It’s been one whole year since I published my very first blog post and my blog has turned into more than I ever thought that it could be. I started this blog as a diary for myself as a way of preserving my memories so I could look back and remember all of the amazing things that I’ve done over the last year. I wanted to publish my stories on a blog so that my friends and family could see what I was up to, I never imagined that people who didn’t know me would read, like and comment on my stories and even follow me and my adventures. I’m so grateful to everyone who takes the time to read my blog posts and show an interest in my adventures.

I’ve had an amazing year, I’ve visited beautiful places, done some incredible things and met so many inspiring people. I’ve seen the northern lights and I’ve driven a snowmobile. I’ve been stuck up to my waist in snow, I got frost nip and I met the real Santa Claus! I travelled to a new continent and swam in the Indian Ocean. I saw a wild monkey, learned a traditional Santali dance and ate so much breakfast curry. I’ve gone from temperatures as low as -42c to as high as +42c and done so much more in between but most importantly I’ve made amazing friends that I will never forget.

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Hudson Valley

The Hudson River, although most commonly associated with New York City, actually originates up in the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York, near the Canadian border, and flows through the Hudson Valley. In Poughkeepsie, NY there is a walkway over the Hudson River which has amazing views over the river and the surrounding area. At 2063 metres long (1.2 miles), it is the longest footbridge in the world and was considered an engineering marvel at the time of its opening as a railway bridge in 1889. The railway bridge was in use until 1974, it was restored and reopened as a footbridge in 2009.

Even when visiting on a beautifully warm autumn afternoon, in the middle of the bridge at 65 metres above the water level there was a strong refreshing breeze which left some incredible knots in my hair! If you plan on doing this walk during the winter come well prepared in your finest arctic expedition outfits! The walkway is a popular spot for charity and fundraising events. On the day that we visited the walkway there were hundreds of people doing a sponsored walk to raise money for ALS research which gave the bridge a lively atmosphere for our 2.4 mile walk.

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View from the Walkway

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Hello Autumn

Autumn is my favourite season of the year.  It’s the season of cinnamon, gingerbread and pumpkin spiced lattes. It’s the season where the crisp leaves start falling from the trees and the air smells of smoke. Smoky air in any other season would feel wrong, your first though might be ‘what’s burning’ and I don’t mean the smell of burned sausages on the barbeque. I was out searching for conkers today and the air smelled of smoke, the nice kind of bonfire smell. In the height of summer it might have been too overpowering a smell but in the crisp air the bonfire smell was comforting and warming, creating that autumnal feeling for the first time this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually find any conkers, apparently I was too late. All that had been left behind by the greedy squirrel or competitive school child were empty shells. I was never much of a conker player when I was younger but I used to love running through crunchy leaves on the way to school in the morning. The satisfaction that comes with crunching a good crisp leaf is on a par with popping bubble wrap and if we all did it more often there would probably be a little less stress and anger in the world.

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