Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pre-lance Planne(u)r

In Fife, in another life

I started this blog in September 2010 as a self-indulgent travel journal, a means to let anyone who cared know what I was getting up to, so I didn't feel obligated to join a social network or something, and as a way to keep myself sane during the more emotionally confusing and stressful times. It's succeeded admirably.

Before this blog, my only means of expressing these feelings, whims and frustrations was in the form of Word documents written for my own benefit and saved to my hard drive. There's also the angst-ridden emails to the few people I feel comfortable talking about deeper feelings with, whether they want to hear it or not. This practice is still alive and well, but as a ruthless minimalist I occasionally go through my old emails and annihilate any that I feel don't serve a practical function, so all that girl trouble is hopefully lost forever (unless Oliver still has a load of incriminating stuff from me).

So, for the sake of historical context, here are extracts from some of those documents written in the months leading up to September 2010, offering an insight into my changing mindset, the reasons I left Scotland and my original travel 'plans,' back when I clearly had no idea what travelling involved. I just read it through and it's probably the most pointless and boring post I've ever done, but as an origin story it's at least better than those Star Wars prequels.

18th June 2010

Before the Edinburgh Fringe brought me some comic relief in August, I don't think I did anything in the summer of 2010 apart from work, sleep, work and, in extreme circumstances when my body demanded it and I forced myself to take a break from work, eat. Taking on a few hours of freelance work per day in addition to normal office hours seemed like a good idea at the time, but it can't have been the foundation of a happy existence if we read between the lines of a practical list I made on 18 June titled 'Sort it out.'

This provisional timetable suggests moving into a new flat in Edinburgh to live by myself for six months before moving to London, for no reason other than a change of location and a fresh start, I guess. I'd also very briefly looked up flat prices in Bristol and Cardiff - I'm not sure why those places specifically as I don't have any connections or feelings about them, having never visited. Maybe I wrote about them for work and started believing my own propaganda?

These were all ideas of places to unpack and carry on, with no suggestion of travelling for fun. Most of my friends had moved away already and I felt the Edinburgh phase of my three-year life-cycles was reaching its natural end.

4th July 2010

By July I'd evidently learned (or been reminded) about the opportunity of teaching English abroad, according to a document from 4 July titled 'What would be good?' (no messing around with those titles):

I will definitely go for this TEFL thing. Currently thinking TEFL Scotland for convenience, depending how quickly they could set me up somewhere.

Ideal plan:

1) Get passport
2) Sign up for TEFL 20 hour course, last weekend of July
3) Get that certificate in August, start looking for jobs starting 1 October
4) Quit [company] ready to set off in October

There are no reasons not to do this. I definitely have to get out of Edinburgh over the next few months and this is a good opportunity. Teaching would be okay too.

Got to love the enthusiasm of that last sentence! It suggests I was already having some doubts about whether teaching was really for me (SPOILER ALERT: it wasn't).

Japan was the only place I thought about teaching for a while, evidenced by another document from July containing the first version of my visual mnemonic for learning Japanese numbers, showing that it wasn't some daft joke but my genuine, successful attempt to drill those numbers into my mind. It's just a shame that technique doesn't work for any other aspect of language at all. I also got out some books from the library about visiting and living in Japan and dealing with culture shock, which I discovered after finally going there in 2012 to be mostly bullshit.

31st July - 1st August 2010

Perhaps because it was the first thing of note I'd done for months, I wrote an account of the TEFL Scotland weekend course I took to get the most basic certificate possible. My plans also changed to favour Europe over Asia, based on discussions with the tutor. I was serious about this teaching thing:

TEFL Scotland course was 'edifying' - or rather, useful and informative. Will be applying for jobs tomorrow.

I'm now thinking of teaching in Germany - I know the language a bit and it'll be a lot easier. Japan might be pushing myself needlessly. Rural Germany would be best, of course, especially if the place has a Sesselbahn. But everyone seems to love Berlin don't they? Yeah, that could be good too. Not Frankfurt though; that sounds boring. And not, Jesus, Koblenz.

Reasons to leave Edinburgh: tedium, death, boredom, fear, annoyance, grievance, worry, flat issues.

Sexy co-workers may have been another unrealistic motivator

During the next couple of weeks I sent literally countless emails to teaching academies in Japan and South Korea with my CV now proudly boasting a 20-hour TEFL course and no practical teaching experience whatsoever. They were literally countless because I've long since deleted them out of shame, so I can only speculate and have nothing to show you. If they'd replied and I'd taken them up on an offer, I doubt I would have had such a good time over the past three years. I've met a lot of English teachers, and they're not a lot like me.

It was around this time that an overwhelmingly significant Skype conversation in the office with all-round saviour Oliver (we'll be hearing more about him - a popular recurring character I hire every so often to boost the ratings) opened my naively closed mind by suggesting I didn't need to find a replacement for the day job, but could just live off the freelance work I was already doing in my 'free' time and already earning more from than the office job. It made so much sense. I immediately forgot about teaching or finding any other kind of work placement abroad, I already had my ideal career.

This is how I've spent 85% of the last two and a half years

17th August 2010

Excited, optimistic and with a newfound feeling of freedom that's never gone away, my lists and notes to myself became full of possibilities, as long as those possibilities were in Europe rather than those terrifyingly far-off places - Japan seemed too far-off to conceive of if I wouldn't be working there, what if something went wrong? The most important thing, I apparently decided, was to set a theme for my journeys. What would be the point of going places if I wasn't also following a pre-defined storyline?:

Too much choice is a good thing. Where shall I go? There would obviously have to be some kind of narrative arc.

Climate Chaser
Edinburgh to Norway/Sweden, working down through Denmark, Berlin, Black Forest, Venice/Rome in time for Christmas.
Lots of train travel, the Norway/Sweden bit would be more isolated.

Train- and bus-only tour. Edinburgh to London, Eurostar to Brussels/Bruges, Brussels to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Berlin, Berlin to Black Forest, Black Forest to Venice, Rome for Christmas.

From the Athens of the North to the Athens
Plane from Edinburgh to Athens, then not sure what.
Too far by rail, and nowhere interesting nearby. This would be a stand-alone part of the tour.
Could follow to Rome, Venice then train to Germany.

Finally I think to ask myself:

Where do I actually want to go?

Athens<>Greek islands
Brussels/Bruges>Amsterdam>Berlin>countryside Germany

Florence, five weeks later. I got there in the end

As I thought about it more I realised I was too restless for the Eurostar stuff and skipped straight to Italy, which I rushed through in less than two weeks before spending a similar time in Greece and then leaving Europe for good. Compared to my more laid-back travels since, that seems overly hasty in retrospect - but not as hasty as this 'plan,' proposed just a month before my eventual flight:

Idea I

Start small, and minimise planes
Sat 18 Sep
Edinburgh>London: work on train
See London
Stay London hostel

Sun 19 Sep
Eurostar to Brussels: work on train
See Brussels
Stay Brussels hostel

Mon 20 Sep
Brussels>Bruges bus/train
Bruges>Brussels>Amsterdam or Bruges>Amsterdam
See Amsterdam
Stay Amsterdam hostel

Tue 21 Sep
See Amsterdam
Stay Berlin for a while

Rest of Sep
Work and live in Berlin
Work and live in German countryside

Venice, Verona, Florence, Rome

What kind of insane time management is that? It looks like I was thinking in strictly practical terms, without the obligation to take photos or write a blog that I'd have now when I visit somewhere new. And without the more pressing obligation to, I don't know, actually enjoy myself and not go mad from exhaustion. Thank God I planned some downtime in Berlin and the countryside before heading to Italy, though looking at that timetable I'd only left the 'Rest of Sep' after the 21st for that, which as the rhyme tells you is an ungenerous nine days. I didn't have a clue.

20th August 2010

Here's an unrelated photo from August of the time some of us got pissed before work on Oliver's last day. He had the sense to leave a month earlier than me. Look at me with my boring Coke - is that really a guy who's opened his mind to the possibility of a life on the road? I'd be gone in less than a month.

22nd August 2010

When the Edinburgh Fringe arrived, I had the excuse to get out a lot more and even took a couple of days off work - imagine actually using some of your annual leave rather than quitting just before it expires so you get to cash it in instead (I did that with the previous job too). I went to plenty of shows as usual, ranging from ace to bloody terrible as usual (Herring, Ince, Lee, Munnery, some Aussie knob with a flipchart, loads of free stuff), but I know the date me and Oliver went to see the Collings and Herrin Podcast recorded because they put it on their website. We both received verbal abuse.

For curators of Dave's appearances in the Richard Herring canon, you should also check out the DVD The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace, where my much younger self is abused around the 26-minute mark, and Richard Herring's Edinburgh Fringe Podcast #22 from August 2012, where I get accused of sleeping my way around Asia and having lost my virginity to a 45-year-old woman. Almost completely ridiculous. I wasn't even in the continent to defend myself.

26th August 2010

A final remnant from this scrapbook from around the time I booked my flight to Venice and my accommodation there, as well as beds in Florence and Naples, train tickets across Italy and a ferry ticket to Greece. Deciding that wasn't enough unnecessary forward planning for one month, I also asked a travel community forum:

Despite not exactly playing hard to get, I didn't get any replies. It didn't happen.

18th September 2010

This is where we came in.


  1. Replies
    1. It was a double and single we shoved together to spoil ourselves. The photo wasn't set up, I just realised how definitive it was and wanted it for the record. Biscuits are ace.

    2. You have inspired me to turn my entire office space into a giant bed. Soft play workplace!

    3. It's a shame that the Brass Monkey got rid of their massive bed room. It was the main reason I went there.