Why I Don’t Volunteer Anymore

I have an extensive CV in volunteering – or at least trying to. But somehow things have never stuck in the long term, and recently I’ve been trying to figure out why that might be. After combing through my volunteering history, I’m starting to see something of a pattern, and I’m going to try to put it out here. Because sometimes you can attempt things, but for various reasons they just don’t pan out and these things tend to accumulate over time. I’ve already written about this in a blog post a few years ago but this time I have the advantage (?) of more experience and perhaps a better ability to see a pattern.
(I would’ve volunteered at school but I thought I had to invest all my time in my school work in case that got compromised – turns out it made no difference in my success or lack thereof upon graduation…)

Local Charity Store, 2005-2006
I enjoyed volunteering here at first, it wasn’t overly busy, I learned some new skills and I got to choose the music for the store. But I made the mistake of trying to find paid work elsewhere which I didn’t last long with because they kept picking on me to talk more and I quit out of stress, then I was made to treat going to the place like a full-time job “for the routine”, so I decided I had to look for a more full-time thing so that I wouldn’t keep being made to go somewhere for the sake of going.

National Volunteering Organisation, 2006-2007
It started out promisingly, getting a grounding in filming, photography and graphic design. It felt like a team effort and like we were bonding over something. It also occurred to me for the first time that I could actually learn some practical and transferable skills for the future. The first few months I felt like it was all going somewhere, but at some point it all started to feel aimless and like they were just struggling to find stuff for us to do. I had no idea how much my lack of initiative would affect my ability to self-start activities and I just kept waiting to be given things to do. I ended up spending most of my time IM’ing people and hanging out on MySpace (!!!) for which I was told off by the supervisor because it meant I wasn’t being productive (even though I hadn’t been given anything to do…), so it started to feel like a chore. I didn’t even know what skills to learn, or even if I did know, what to apply them to or where to take them in the future, so it all just trailed off. My placement was about to end soon and I started to panic in case I was forced to do an autism-specific course again which I’d found really unhelpful and patronising as they had far less of an idea of what autistic people are actually like back then than they do now (seemingly we can only do menial jobs and can’t be expected to aim very high in life…), so I scoured the internet looking for alternatives. That’s when I saw a course that might actually get me into uni (which I’d been desperate to do but had given up on by then) so I quit the placement, losing the few skills I’d learned before long. On my last day I remember being asked what I was still doing there.

September 2007-March 2009
I tried to volunteer with a gardening project at uni, but because I wasn’t given direct instructions and supervision I struggled, and because of health problems I couldn’t keep up with the digging. I ended up saying sorry but I can’t do this anymore. They said they “weren’t surprised” to see me go. I then volunteered at a bookstore in Canterbury, I can’t remember how that ended but somehow it did and I volunteered at a local charity store instead, which I actually liked but my condition (both mental and physical at the time) affected what I was able to do.
I also tried to volunteer at a homeless shelter but I went in for my induction and instantly felt intimidated, being stared at by lots of strange men, and not really being given specific guidance on what to do, and also fearing that I’d be thought badly of if I mentioned my intimidation, so I didn’t go back again.
Upon returning to Glasgow I rejoined the Glasgow branch of the charity store, which went ok at first but the manager who I liked stopped spending as much time there, leaving someone in charge who really took the job seriously, to the point that nothing I did was quite up to standard, so I ended up quitting.

September 2009 
I tried to start a book group, only got one session going then it fell apart somehow…

A Local Interest Library, Jan 2013

I applied to join a local special interest organisation, and volunteered to help catalogue things in their library. I came in for one session to do so, and then offered to write for their magazine. They said they would “be in touch to let me know” on both counts, I followed up with a request for an update and I was told the same. I never heard from them again.

Art Library, Jan-March 2013
I applied for a voluntary librarian position at an art library it seemed to go ok at first, I transcribed some handwritten material and was looking forward to becoming more involved, and although it was difficult to make small talk with the people there I tried to be nice and polite. At first they set days for me to come in but before long I had to keep asking if it was ok to come in, to which they said ok as if it didn’t really matter either way, then day they said they didn’t need me anymore and that they’d “let me know” if they needed me to come back. Not long after I saw that they’d put out an ad for the position from which I’d just been let go. Hint taken.

One of my better volunteering activities took place around now, doing social media work for a vegan website. I learned some basic SEO skills (which I’m *trying* to keep in my mind as they’re actually needed right now) and also got to add something to my CV, although I’ve found that with most of my placements I’ve struggled to know how to keep a good thing going.

City Specialist Library, June 2013-Sept 2014
I got a volunteering placement at a special interest library (one of few things I’m very interested in), which started out promisingly, and it would later help me secure my position in my MSc a year later. It was interesting at first but then it started to become quite disorganised, I never had a secure and quiet place in which to work and it was always as if they were just finding random stuff for me to do for the sake of it, and I wanted to feel as if I had a sense of purpose and actually belonged there. I kept up attendance for a year until I started my MSc then I didn’t feel like I was needed there anymore.

Local Historical Centre, April 2014
I applied to be a volunteer at a local museum and archive site, stating specifically that I wanted to have a research role rather than a tour guide one, because I felt it would be better suited to my skills.
I ticked the boxes for things I’d be happy to do, assured that I would have a mentor under which to work, but instead I was merely shown to a freezing basement room then invited to just start sifting through the mountains of documents, seemingly to no purpose. I was left entirely on my own the whole time with no supervision. I tried this for a few sessions but when I left on the last day, everyone else was chatting away near the entrance, as they were all tour guides and got along, and I tried to announce that I was leaving for the day. Instead of asking when it would be ok for me to come back in, they just said “bye then” and I took that as a sign that I was no longer welcome and they didn’t need me.

General re-entry into volunteering, May 2016 
I actually based my travel plans around this one, which particularly pisses me off even now.
I was told by my then support worker that they’d make a special effort to get me back into volunteering due to all the difficulties I’d had hanging onto placements, and signed me up for a taster session. The first one was for gardening, which I would have liked if it weren’t for being afraid of hurting the worms in the soil with the spades and forks, which I had a hard time explaining. Then there was a cycling track for disabled people but due to personal issues at the time, I was very upset at the time and couldn’t concentrate properly. I ended up dropping out of the final sessions but had no-one to talk about as to why this ended up happening. Ended up feeling angry and cheated that it had turned out to be such an anticlimax and that I actually thought it would make a difference.

A National Library, April-June 2016
I started volunteering with the a national library, the first couple of times it went ok as I was mostly doing data transcription but the last time I went I was expected to move around the library doing odd jobs here and there. I turned up late this time because I was still stressed from the personal issues which had taken place not long before, and the bright lights and creaking floorboards made me feel really conspicuous and I ended up leaving early. It was deemed to be a good idea that I not return again, at least for the time being, and I dared not go back again because I felt like I had made such a bad impression. I think they just didn’t think I wanted to be there but I really did, I just wanted to be less visible.

A City Theatre, September 2016 (a few hours long)
I was offered an interview for a disability-specific volunteering role at a theatre outside the city centre, I never liked to feel like I was taking advantage or making excuses for a disability but I wasn’t having much luck elsewhere so I tried to take advantage this time. I went in for one photography session, again feeling self-conscious and overwhelmed by how busy it was and the bright lights, but thought I did a good job with the photography. After that they told me that I didn’t need to come back in as they’d found “professionals” to take my place.
I also tried to volunteer with what I thought was a local vegan kitchen/organisation but it turned out to be something else. I still tried to roll with it and took photos of the setting up and food prep like they’d asked me to, although I was uncomfortable with the non-vegan stuff. I did my best though, and thought I’d be asked to do more events but they never asked me to.

International Library (remote), Feb 2017
On Twitter I saw an open invitation from a US library and archive centre to transcribe some of their manuscripts and documents, which I would’ve loved to do. One day I went onto the site to have a go, but found that virtually everything had already been done. I checked back a few more times with the same result, so I didn’t know what else to do. I might still have a go at the Voynich Manuscript at some point though, if I have time…

 

**********

I guess it was round about this time that I gave up on the idea of volunteering altogether – twelve solid years of trying, not too bad IMO – especially as most volunteering placements require you to either work in a store (which I’d already done and probably wouldn’t feel up to doing again) or interacting directly face to face with the public (again which I tried a few times but realised was extremely difficult for me to do for extended periods of time), so I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve tried and that perhaps writing is the only thing I’ll ever really be good at, and I only get paid for a very small percentage of that right now. And nope – in case it comes as any surprise – I haven’t earned a single penny for this website…

But I think personally, what is notable about the particular examples of volunteering I’ve outlined above, is that one would normally expect such placements to be entirely “in line” with someone who likes alone time, to research things of interest, and generally to put what skills they have to good use. Being terrible at very pro-social placements would not surprise me in the least; what has surprised me, however, is that I have struggled even in such placements where I honestly thought I would excel and find my “niche” after years of trying.

These placements do not include the numerous unpaid writing assignments I’ve undertaken since my (first) graduation, as a certain amount of unpaid work is to be expected in that field of work until you develop a sufficient portfolio in order to command a paycheck. (Often one is expected to continue to work for free indefinitely but that’s a story for another time.) This sort of thing was done to a specific end, in order to further my career, if you can call it one. Nor am I going to include the times spent volunteering with animal sanctuaries, with which I’ve had very mixed experiences. That is something I’d do more often but as I can’t drive I’ve been unable to make it a regular thing.

Thus sums up my experiences volunteering, and generally trying to make the world a better place, in the best way I can. Looking back, I’m now almost entirely convinced that despite my work ethic and desire to learn new skills and better myself (and the world around me), my lack of ability to keep up small talk and network with the “right people” were all responsible for my being let go from positions and replaced with those who were more “their kind of people”, unless I’m strongly mistaken. In addition, my difficulties in planning and initiating multi-step and long-term activities, coupled with a lack of effective mentoring (with the exception of one or two), meant that I failed to fulfil whatever potential I might’ve had once. This has resulted in a long line of sporadic and short-lived volunteering stints which never really went anywhere.

**********

Advertisements

The weird world of executive dysfunction

Articles like this one have started to click with me in a way that few others do. It has inspired me to do something of a stream-of-consciousness-style ramble on the issue of executive function. Or executive dysfunction.
**********
I’ve written about my tendency to procrastinate in at least a couple of my blog posts, which from a cursory glance in the wider “blogosphere”, seems to be a trait which is almost fashionable to “fess up to” these days. A specific level of hipster-ironic “I so can’t even right now (but actually I can and in fact have proven that I can merely by writing this article to my huge social media fanbase AND have been paid with my very own by-line on a trendy website like Buzzfeed about how much I like tattoos and drinking tea (and drinking the latest speciality locally grown tattooed tea brewed in a shed in the back garden)…” is almost, in my view, the thing to humble-brag about and come off as quirky, and even endearing.
Far be it from me to remotely judge the capabilities and difficulties of someone else upon the basis of an online article, but sometimes I can’t help wondering how much of it is mere self-depreciation, or even just the glorification of the “meh” attitude to life. The “too cool to care, or at least appear to” attitude which can be found in ample supply in digital publications like Vice. I realise I might be encroaching upon hypocritical territory here  -I am after all writing a blog post about essentially the same phenomenon – but when you “honestly can’t even and I’ve no idea why even after all this time and it’s not getting any easier as time goes on and it’s driving me slowly but surely insane” then… well, that can be harder to articulate, and to differentiate from the multiple claims of “I can’t even” which seem to be so popular now.
 296ed64a53c8c78ee598a892ca0a8140(Image courtesy of pinterest.net – well what do you know, there is such a thing as tattooed tea. Or at least tattoos of tea.)
**********
It’s ridiculous how long it’s taken me to realise just how big a problem this has been for me throughout life. Had I known that this was a DEFINING characteristic of autism, rather than merely written off as a co-morbidity lurking in the shadows of other more well-known symptoms – many of which don’t even apply to me – then perhaps I could have recognised a major part of myself and dealt with it appropriately a lot earlier on, rather than wondering why the hell I was being likened to Rain Man or little boys who are obsessed with train timetables and just having it all… not connect with me.
(I’m going to write a blog post, at some point when I’m able, about my long and complicated relationship with the whole “label” of what is currently known as “high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome” – I’m still not fully comfortable openly identifying with it in *every* situation, but that would take a fair amount of explanation which would take a while.)
I wasn’t like that – I was just a normal girl, albeit quite awkward and reclusive and desperate to fit in, with a lazy and stubborn streak who just needed to get her shit together like everyone else and then everything would be fine.
Who turned into, as one tends to do, into a normal woman, albeit quite awkward and reclusive and not-quite-so-desperate-but-would-still-find-it-nice to fit in, with a lazy and stubborn streak who just needs to get her shit together like everyone else and then everything will be fine.
Right?
Right…?
Hello…?
digitalcamerapics016copy

Actual footage of me trying to get something done

In fact issues with executive (dys)function are often not even mentioned at all, and if they are, it’s just within a few words, “cannot complete tasks on time”, etc, with zero elaboration as to WHY this might be, the implication being that it’s just one more mysterious tragic failing of the autistic persona, which one need not delve any deeper into – as if there is simply no depth to even be found within.
We Just Cannot Do Things Like Others Can.
Such a pity I know… but what can you do eh? *sigh of resignation*
move-along-people-nothing-to-see-here-move-along
(Image courtesy of memegenerator.net website)
**********
It’s basically the reason I take a really long time to do seemingly simple things, why I find it very difficult to prioritise tasks, and often why I’ll find excuses to avoid them completely. It can take me several days, weeks, months, and even years to do things which need not take up that much time. I’ll KNOW what I need to do, in a very broad sense, but actually putting things into action in an effective way, to the point of completion, is something else. I’m trying to accept this aspect of myself more these days, to try not to see myself as just slow, lazy, lacking in initiative, etc… but I still see myself that way. I still feel very much like a lazy and ineffective individual merely in need of a good kick up the arse, and often feel like punishing myself accordingly, resenting myself for not even being entirely sure whether I *can’t* or whether I *won’t* do any given thing. I’ve been told repeatedly by many in life that I’m just not trying. As if I’m CHOOSING to constantly flounder and struggle with the simplest things in life.
**********
This might sound ridiculously petty but one of the quotes I hate most in the world is the one by Yoda:
download
 (Image courtesy of starwarsbloggers.wordpress.com fansite)
Yoda may be a tiny wise green creature, widely revered throughout the Galaxy Far Far Away, and much of the other stuff he says is very spot on, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree in this instance.
In my humble opinion, there is a metric fuck-ton of “try” involved with pretty much everything in life. And what makes things even worse is when you ARE trying *in your own way* but cannot prove to others that you are, you just know, somewhere, that you’re doing things to the best of your ability. At least you think you are. Some of the time.
Then you’re told – informed, rather – with the sheer self-assurance of their own knowledge that only a barely qualified so-called professional government employee can convey, that you’re Not Trying. That is a truly maddening experience which can take its toll over the course of time.
Simply being told, in a bright and blase tone, to “get on with it” or “have a word” or “be productive!” just isn’t enough in isolation, without a solid plan with clearly outlined steps in a rational sequence in place.
It’s becoming something of a challenge to remind myself, constantly, that perhaps it’s down to a particular wiring of the brain that causes me, and many others, to approach tasks, and indeed life in general, in a different way. It’s still a work in progress trying to find a way to function in a world not designed for you.
**********
(I realise there is probably a certain degree of contradiction in the fact that I even managed to compose this semi-coherent ramble-ette in the first place. Although it just sort of happened – I was going to write a social media post about the article which inspired this train of thought, but then it just sort of took on a life of its own.)

Getting Back To Nature

It takes me a ridiculously long time to post here, and I’m becoming more aware that it takes me a ridiculously long time to do absolutely anything now. For a long time I had no idea why this would be the case, considering that blogging is meant to be “what I do”, but then again if you don’t have anything to blog about then it becomes harder to blog about just… nothing. Well some might be able to manage it but I only ever want to blog if I feel like I have something worth saying.

After returning back home from Israel I relapsed, with a startling ease, into my default “do nothing but worry about everything” lifestyle, which usually involves… doing nothing. At least on the surface. However I had it in the back of my mind, the entire time, to try to keep up the momentum that I had built up over my most recent excursion, before I became too stuck in my “routine” (more on that on a post soon to come), and it occurred to me that I had not yet used a tent I’d had for ages and was going spare.

Spring + good weather + tent + free time – full-time-job – anything else to do = camping

Also, I wanted – or rather needed – to get back to nature.

**********

A few weeks ago I went camping in Arran alone for the first time. That is to say, I went to Arran alone for the first time and I went camping alone for the first time. Despite making an effort to travel more – which more often than not means going it alone – these two things I had never once done alone before then, so it was another experience to try, in order to see if I wanted to repeat it in the future. Having initially been thwarted by a ferry already departing when I was about to board (because apparently you cannot arrive less than fifteen minutes before departure) I summoned up my motivation, with some effort, to try again and three days later I finally made it to the ferry – and to Arran – this time.

20170507_151946

The ferry which wouldn’t let me on. I got on one a few days later.

Opting for the same campsite I stayed at the last time, due to it being conveniently located for someone who doesn’t drive, I was sure that it would be a relatively painless first-solo-camping experience. Above all, I was there to go walking, take photos, and generally reconnect with all the things I tend to miss out on when holed up in my home much of the time. It made sense to do this in a place which already held good memories for me.

Setting up pitch was a doddle, with my tent being one of those pop-open ones (flimsy as hell but far more novice-friendly), and I immediately got to appreciate one of the known highlights of staying at that particular campsite: the resident deer community.

20170510_195559

20170510_204546

20170510_195450

There is something quite special about getting so close to a typically reclusive species, but of course their appearance at the precise moment I arrived, in the mid-evening, indicated that it was already getting late. Not necessarily too late for a quick hike, given the lengthening of the days, but on account of the relatively infrequent bus service, too late for me to do anything except wander to the nearest pub to charge my devices (electrical outlets were only available for tent-residing guests during the day for some reason) and planning the route for the “main” hike the next day. Then it was during the walk back along the virtually deserted road both to the pub, and then back to the campsite, that I was able to take full advantage of my camera and get some of my best yet shots of the twilight and of the moon; (note the words “best yet”, still plenty of room to improve…)

That night, however, would be one of the coldest I’ve known, not on account of the weather itself which was relatively mild, but due to the specific location of the campsite – which acts as the opposite of a suntrap in the evening – and the aforementioned flimsiness of the tent. I suppose it was one of those experiences which they call “character-building” but in any case eventually it became daylight, first marked by the snuffling and munching of the deer just a few inches away outside. I actually feared, one more than one occasion, that they would try and trample onto me, confused by the colour of my tent blending in so well, but I did sign up for interacting with nature so…

It was the original plan to do at least one “proper” hike, from the choice of downloadable routes on my hiking app, but of course to do anything of the kind I would need the phone it was downloaded onto to have sufficient power (I came of age just when technology started to overtake the traditional paper map, and I never learned orienteering) so it was that the entire morning was spent merely charging my phone at the local distillery cafe. This would definitively narrow down the number of routes I could do to definitely one, and *maybe* two at a big stretch. I chose the one which I could access from where I was already, a route which took you from Lochranza round the tip of the north of the island, towards the Cock of Arran (yes that’s really its name) which would make for some impressive scenery along the way.

The app leading me up along the bay of Lochranza, many photos were taken and many sheep were seen, albeit not too pleased to be approached too readily, only being willing to give a wary stare.

20170511_122535

They know how to stare you down…

The northern coastline, at least alone the prescribed route, was quite low and right by the shore, and would lead to a beauty spot called Fairy Dell, where there was meant to be a cottage, then a climb up into the wooded area. Along the shore was where I noticed the features of the landscape seemingly unique to the area; the types of moss, flowers and rocks textured by the sea. It would turn out that I would only make it as far as the cottage, because my phone still managed to run out of power and I wasn’t quite confident enough to go climbing up somewhere I didn’t know with no other means of navigating.

Also, due to the lateness of my starting, it was starting to become more… populated. Which wasn’t exactly what I’d come here to seek out, judging from the expression I now reserve for just such an occurrence.

20170511_132824

Fairy Dell, Arran

20170605_140133

Camden, London

20170325_094656

Petra, Jordan

I’d come seeking total seclusion, but I suppose that if your plans are prone to being overthrown all too easily – say by being unable to gain a full phone charge until later in the day – then these things tend to happen. So doing my best to proceed as planned, it was in this picturesque little area I indulged my camera some more, and tried to figure out just what this Fairy Dell cottage was supposed to be, apart from a landmark on a walking route.

For one thing, there were two cottages: one white and one brown, although from the guide the white one was what they called Fairy Dell cottage. The brown one looked more like a regular hermit’s cottage by the sea. They each looked like a normal residence from the outside, albeit one from a traditional fairytale. According to local folklore, this is the area where fairies come to dance – and presumably, the cottage is where they go to put their feet up and have a drink when they’re tired of dancing (and of constant passers-by interfering with their dance) but when peering inside, the cottages seemed to serve as nothing more than storage space. So much for the magical illusion. But it was nice to pretend that it might still sometimes serve as an idyllic home for some kind of creature, human or otherwise…

Making the pragmatic realisation that, due to transport schedules, this would most likely be my “main” hike of the day, I doubled back on the route back to the campsite, meeting some more sheep along the way who were enjoying the local delicacy, the gorse:

Then it was time to think about sustenance, and also getting some kind of extra layer of material with which to survive the second night camping. Hitching a ride into Brodick (the main town on Arran) I stocked up on vegan supplies at the local store and, realising that I wouldn’t want to sit alone in a pub anyway, even if they did have something I could consume besides alcohol, I hitched a ride right back to the campsite, “squirrelling” my supplies in my tent (as I was once frequently accused of doing, by, as it happens, who I stayed at the campsite with the last time) and squeezing in one last hike. The sunset from this part of the island is a wonder to observe, especially in the summertime, and from this vantage point it would’ve been a crime not to at least try to immortalise it on camera.

The second night, rather than turning into a human popsicle, it was only the weight of my body which stopped the tent from flying off to another remote point in the western isles, and a middle-of-the-night trip to the loo was consumed with worry that the tent would not be there upon my return. Fortunately it was, and having been subjected to both low temperatures and high winds, unexpectedly, during my stay, I “treated” myself to a prompt departure back home.

However ill prepared I tend to be for these types of endeavour, I’m almost always glad afterwards that I at least made the effort to try. If nothing else it produces an amusing anecdote or two, and some images to add to my portfolio. As I’m in the (slow) process of developing a sideline in photography – with a view to becoming more of a “full-time” thing – I try to maximise the situations I wind up in which allow me to take advantage of the ability to practice. Although I’m not sure if I’ll camp again anytime soon though – it turns out that being able to drive is something of an underrated skill, so ubiquitous as it is now, and one that which becomes starkly apparently by its absence. Therefore when I choose a place to set up camp – literally and metaphorically – it has to be both within relatively easy reach of vegan food and have decent wifi.

These are things which I’m perhaps able to survive without for a time – but under my particular circumstances, not to thrive.

 

 

 

 My Foreign Volunteering Experience (well my most recent one)

After attending the TBEX conference in Jerusalem and going on a tour of Jordan, I started a week of volunteering, via an international volunteering organisation, at an animal shelter in Tel Aviv. Once I saw the ad online a few months ago – and saw that a private room (albeit at an extra cost) was available – that was it for me – I had to seize this opportunity. It was the perfect excuse to stay longer in the country, and to make a positive contribution.
I’d heard stories about the “hit and miss” nature of voluntourism, of volunteers paying through the nose to merely have a taster of a volunteering experience without actually making any real difference. I didn’t have a huge amount of money and wanted to be careful, but I also wanted to be open to experiences, as making the effort to do so had paid off before. I’d had a taste of volunteering abroad a year ago, at a vegan animal sanctuary called Pig Village, or by its other name, Jacob’s Ridge, in Spain, which was the perfect volunteering experience. I got to interact with lots of lovely rescue animals, join in with other volunteers mucking out in the sunshine, go for leisure trips in and around the area, camp out in a tent under the stars and enjoy copious amounts of vegan food every day. There was a certain amount to pay for the experience but it was more than worth it, and every penny was going towards the wellbeing and upkeep of the sanctuary. I believe in money well spent, and this was just such a case.
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This was one of my first impressions of the place and it only got better from there…

I’m not quite sure I can say the same about my most recent experience. In terms of how much I spent, and in being unsure precisely where that money ended up going – not in what type of volunteering I did, that’s for sure. I always like to interact meaningfully with animals wherever possible and I got such a chance on this occasion.
I did have one or two tiny niggling doubts in the beginning, but the prospect of caring for animals in a place I’ve always wanted to visit was enough of a lure, and being able to do it for just a week was ideal, so that I could see how I liked it before potentially extending the placement. Those niggling doubts began to increase slightly as the significant and non-refundable down payment was made, only for communication to become intermittently mixed up and confused, with different people emailing me through different threads asking for forms which I’d already said several times that I’d sent. A couple of other niggles made themselves known when the travel insurance – included in the price – turned out to basically not cover anyone taking medication. For anything. This essentially rendered the insurance useless, leaving the only outstanding cost being for the price of accommodation for a week. Then the single supplement was quoted, and shortly after, quoted as being even higher – $300 higher – than a dorm room. But this was one thing which I simply could not compromise on – I needed my own room, especially for an entire week of what would most likely be hard but enjoyable volunteering.
Because everything was non-refundable at this stage, I tried to be optimistic and give the benefit of the doubt. I thought, well for that amount of money they’ve probably got a very integrated and involving placement lined up for me. With everything paid up, and hoping for the best, I embarked upon my trip proper, first going to Europe, then to Jerusalem for my conference, then undertaking a three day tour with Abraham Hostels, where I was staying. Then came the induction day, where I’d be joining my fellow volunteers and having a fun day in the city (or one more fun day in the city, in my case) but it was at this meeting that the volunteer coordinator informed me that I was the only one on the placement. I found this very jarring, as it was entirely unexpected, but what made it even more awkward was the still-standing offer to show me round the city, and at this stage my reluctance to be entirely responsible for conversing with someone at this stage in my travels won out as I was pretty damned tired by that stage in my travelling, and  I was also reeling from the disappointment that I’d have no other volunteers with whom to share the experience, as this was a big part of the reason I’d wanted to volunteer in the first place. So I ended up having another aimless wander in the steadily growing heat of the day, first to Damascus Gate, then back for lunch at a veggie cafe, trying to figure out how to best proceed with the placement now that things were very different from what I was expecting.
They say to expect the unexpected – presumably, I’m thinking, as in, a challenge during the programme, an animal which perhaps needs more intensive care than the others, for example, a challenge which I’d try to rise to. But this here – this sudden… what could only be described as a very expensive awkward situation, was truly unexpected. The type of unexpected which I had most certainly not been expecting. However, after a day spent alone, reflecting upon the situation, I decided to take a deep breath and approach it with a good attitude. I thought, when I get to the shelter, I’ll be taken good care of, it won’t matter, surely, that I’m the only one on my placement, I’ll be absorbed into the fabric of the place regardless. I was looking forward to meeting the animals and getting to show them some much-needed care and attention.
The next day, we travelled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to check in to my hostel, and the co-ordinator asked if I wanted to volunteer that day and to be shown around the place. This was something I was definitely up for doing, as I felt that an induction to the organisation was a good start. But it was the phrasing of it as a question – as an option – which puzzled me. The co-ordinator told me that some people choose not to volunteer on the first day and, considering I had only a week on the placement, I found this extremely odd. Why wouldn’t anyone want to go ahead with the induction and tour of the facility? I found it hard to believe that others would willingly forgo a crucial part of their training, especially when they’d paid a fair amount to be there…
**********
We reached the animal shelter and there, the co-ordinator introduced me to the receptionist, one other person (who I never saw again afterwards) and pointed to a guy outside saying I could ask him questions about the animals if I had any. It was at this point that I’d assumed that at least one of the staff members would chip in and start talking to me directly, building a supervisor-volunteer relationship and showing me around the place themselves. But communication would be extremely sparse for the rest of my time volunteering there. I would end up talking to almost no-one else who worked there, and I’ve no idea why, even now. I was then asked to fill in a form ticking the boxes for things I wanted to do, including dog walking, caring for the cats (and other animals), admin, etc. I wanted to appear as flexible as possible.
20170402_133525

One of the dog kennels at the centre

The co-ordinator showed me the main area where the animals were kept and said that I could pick a dog to walk, for twenty minutes, on the leash the entire time. Any dog. Out of like a million. All the dogs started barking manically, desperate to be taken out for a bit of fresh air and exercise. I started welling up inside as I saw and heard the dogs who wanted so little, but so badly. They all looked so imploringly at me, and most of them seemed friendly, if excitable. I could scarcely choose one. We went into the kennel to choose a dog which the co-ordinator recommended, and it was then it was pointed out to me that some of the signs on the kennels were warnings, saying not to take this or that dog out for a walk that day, that they were likely to bite, to treat with extra care or caution. The warnings were entirely in the local language. I expressed my concern that I wouldn’t be able to understand the warnings but the co-ordinator told me to ask a member of staff if I didn’t understand anything. I was worried about how unprepared I’d I’d most definitely have taken the time to learn more of the language had I known how crucial it would be.
Now to take one of the dogs out for a walk. This was the part which I did genuinely enjoy. The overwhelming excitement of the dog I chose to take out for a walk gave me a feeling of joy and satisfaction which I rarely experience, in such concentrated levels, anymore. Saying hello to the dog was fun, having them sniff me out and wonder who I was, if I was worth getting to know. We’d have twenty minutes of fun together, for which I was all game.
So I chose a nice friendly seeming dog and we went for a wander around the yard. The coordinator also chose one and wandered out of sight from me, basically leaving me to it. When encountering another dog walker and their dog, the two dogs started getting very excitable and, before long, difficult to manage. They got their leashes tangled up and I tried to call for help but it took quite a long time for any assistance to arrive. I didn’t know how to manage dogs in this situation, whether to allow them to play fight or not, as I was unable to understand the specific requirements of the dog due to those requirements being written in a different language. But I was told by the co-ordinator, regardless, when I finally got their attention, that I was “doing fine” and when I expressed concern at not knowing what to do, they simply said that I just had  “spend time” with the dogs. Well in theory, spend time with all the animals, but this was going to turn out to be a very dog-based placement for me.
This was a wonderful arrangement in theory, and something I genuinely wanted to do, but due to the circumstances- that I had flown (literally) VERY far outside my comfort zone, taken a major leap of faith and paid a lot of my savings just to come here – it seemed all so… Lacking in structure. 
At this point I’d like to give credit where it’s due. The shelter where I was placed clearly does the very best it can for its animals and is a much needed asset to the city, and indeed the country, for the work it does. It tries to rehome every animal it possibly can, cares for the animals it cannot yet rehome, and relies heavily upon volunteers to give the animals companionship. I certainly felt the sheer weight of emotional expectation, through the intense gaze of each dog in each kennel, the moment I set foot in the place. However, this ambiguity of expectation was, for me, precisely the problem. The very thing which the volunteer co-ordinator, in particular, seemed to be “selling” to me as the main advantage of the placement – its easy-going, laissez-faire, “come when you want to it doesn’t matter either way” nature – which felt entirely misplaced to me. 
Basically I felt that far too much was left entirely up to me, when my predominant expectation, gathering from what I’d learned from the volunteering material I’d been given, was to prepare for a more structured experience. I was certainly no expert in what those vulnerable animals needed (besides a bit of company every now and again) – I’ve interacted plenty with dogs in the past, but not ones with highly volatile and unpredictable natures who, for all I know, could start mauling me if I didn’t know the local lingo for “sit!”, “stay!” or “down!”, where not even Google translate could come to my aid, as there was no app, as far as I could find, which would aid phonetic pronunciation with languages which have an entirely different alphabet structure to the Roman one.
Of course, there is every possibility that this is simply the Tel Aviv attitude. It is renowned worldwide for its laid-back party atmosphere, and perhaps that extends to every facet of life here.

**********

In between my all too brief stints of volunteering, I made the most of exploring Tel Aviv – at least the the greatest extent as was possible while afraid of trying to navigate the local transport system and also with it starting to grow too hot to do too much walking around, as is my usual method of transportation. The problem was that, now that I had rather more spare time than I was expecting, contrary to what one might expect, I actually had far less of an idea of what to do with that time, so much of it was spent aimlessly wandering. Granted, there are far worse places to wander in.

There was definitely a particular ambience about the place, which seemed to finely stride the line between relaxed and frantic, between calm and chaos. It was a marked contrast to Jerusalem, where every second or third person on the street is dressed in traditional Jewish clothing – the young people were pretty much all in the same types of beach-ready clothing you would find in any other cosmopolitan Mediterranean city. Two primary motives were at the forefront of my mind: culture, and vegan cuisine. This search took me through the main market street, which made me realise that I’m probably no longer cut out for marketplaces (and haggling), given the sheer throngs which began to build up as the day went on.

**********

I went in later that day on my own and there was no-one at reception, where I was told I could leave my bag for security, as there were no lockers in the place. I then reluctantly left my bag in a cupboard by the main door (very insecure) and started walking a few of the dogs. I supposed, then, that this was basically the idea – clocking in and winging it. So I determined to make the most of the dogs’ company. One dog in particular I tried to take out walking, as s/he seemed very happy at the prospect of being let outside, but when I entered the kennel, s/he immediately changed his/her demeanour, quivering on the spot, as if terrified of me. After a minute or so of attempted coaxing, I decided the dog wasn’t ready to go out that day. So I tried another one, who seemed far more confident, and it was before long that I realised how different each dog was personality-wise, despite being confined to a shelter and having endured an unknown past. There were shy dogs and outgoing dogs and active dogs and chilled dogs who just wanted to chew acorns while I stood at their side. Every single one of the dogs simply wanted to be happy and to do what came naturally, to be themselves just for a little while. It was always difficult to choose a dog but I just tried to choose one which looked both physically manageable and the most keen to go outside.
20170330_091005

The entrance to the centre

20170330_100330

Too nervous to go out for a walk that day 😦

However, conversing with the other volunteers was an entirely different issue. The other volunteers were all entirely local, and my lack of local language skills was beginning to become painfully apparent, and embarrassing. When the dogs would inevitably start to sniff one another, occasionally escalating into play fighting (and a couple of times, real fighting), this would also, inevitably, bring their respective walkers together for that time. The few volunteers who spoke to me did so in their language, and my sense of social inadequacy was all the more heightened as I had to, repeatedly, ask if they spoke English. I feared that, in their view, I was that typical “entitled foreigner who expects everyone to speak their language without every bothering to learn the local ways of life” – which, I guess in a way I was, but certainly not intentionally. Had I been more aware of the localised, almost grassroots-feeling nature of the organisation, I’d have invested a good few weeks, at least, in a crash course in the language. I always do like to learn the language of any place I’ll be going but, as my levels of concentration are so poor these days I really need to know, in advance, whether it’ll be worth the time and effort (and most likely money) I end up putting in.
I went in the next day, and then the next day, and it was much the same – but again I got the overwhelming feeling that there was just somehow MORE I could, and should, be doing. I was still struggling to choose which dogs to walk, knowing that every single one of them deserved love and affection and companionship and, simply, a reliable friendly face. I realised that this, in itself, was the very thing which I would have appreciated more structure in place in order to cope with – the emotional aspect of the role. Especially being the sole foreign volunteer in a land where I only knew a few words of the language.

 

However, just like the previous time, the animals were what it was all about for me. The same dog who trembled at my approach the day before was confident enough to come out for a walk and, amid bouts of random howling at nothing in particular, liked to gaze out at the greenery outside…

Then there was this little fella here who just wanted to chillax…

20170331_121650

… and yet another dog who seemed to like nothing more than munching on one of the acorns the entire time. I wonder if the acorn tree has some magical properties or something?

 

It was then that I also wondered if maybe I was the one whose expectations were somehow different to what they were supposed to be. Whether I merely needed to check my privilege, pull it together and carry on, whether I was just inventing things to be bothered about, like I tend to do. But I felt compelled to say something, in order to take as much advantage of the opportunity I’d been given as possible.

I emailed the volunteer co-ordinator after one of those days, outlining my concerns, saying that I was becoming increasingly embarrassed that I couldn’t speak the language, that I was expecting them to be more prepared for international volunteers such as myself, that there was no-one at reception when I got there. They agreed to come in with me the next day, promising to resolve the issues, and what happened was that they approached the reception with me, and said something to the same person they’d introduced me to before. And not even in English this time. It was then that, with a sinking feeling, I realised that I was not getting across whatever it was that, deep down, I felt was out of place. And it was then, at the risk of coming across as extremely rude, that I said that I’d be fine just taking it from there on my own. This was the best I could do from then on.

In between these stints I continued to wander aimlessly around Tel Aviv, admiring the overwhelming amount of both cats and graffiti which was to be found everywhere. I even attempted to go for a swim in the sea a couple of times, both times thwarted by how shockingly cold it was, considering how hot the area around the sea was becoming, so I settled for paddling. I began to grow increasingly frustrated with both the almost-anarchic style of driving and the constant pavement cycling, having bikes veering up rapidly in front and behind you all the time. It made walking around a more “jumpy” experience than I would have liked, and somewhat detracted from the otherwise relaxed vibe. I went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art, the old town of Jaffa and the only vegan cafe which was open on the Sabbath (which is a big thing in Israel), and the photography opportunities were once again ripe:

Although right here I have to ask something:

20170401_165310

What –

20170331_141940

– is with all –

20170403_111352

– the graffiti?

Not that I’m complaining, quite the opposite. I’ve just never seen the streets used so much as a creative canvas anywhere else I’ve been. Or maybe I’ve just been to all the wrong parts of town…

I attended the centre a couple more times – missing a day (which was extremely guilt-inducing) because I felt, that day, that the stress I would experience from all the disorganisation (and the embarrassment at allowing that stress to become so visible to everyone there) would do more harm than good for the dogs, who rely so much on the company. That’s not even to address the fact that I was supposed to be doing more than walking the dogs. I was supposed to be looking after the other animals there too, but it looked like there was now zero chance of that happening. It seemed as though I was not going to have the chance to talk to anyone, or exchange more than a few words which were something other than a mumbled “I’m sorry I don’t speak the language”, as I continued the rest of the placement not knowing a single person’s name. Or rather, I was told the name of one person who I wouldn’t see again.

Perhaps selfishly, I wanted to feel slightly different than all the hundreds of times I’d signed up for a volunteering placement at home. I wanted to feel something just… more, for making the effort to do such a thing – which I could never quite articulate. In a way, the placement itself had an all too familiar feel, and perhaps I was partially projecting that feeling from those times before, when I’d ended up feeling equally disappointed in my inability to make a meaningful contribution, but either way I’ll never know for sure.
After spending a bit of extra time bidding the dogs goodbye, trying to imprint their faces and their personalities upon my mind for posterity (there was no chance of me doing so with all their names as only one of their names was ever disclosed to me), I took a few photos of the place, walked inside, retrieved my bag, signed out, and walked out of the building for the last time.

20170403_190309

**********
I’ve had some time to reflect on this whole thing, and am still trying to figure out whether I was taken in by a voluntourism corporation, requesting a disproportionate fee in order to do relatively little and leave pretty much everything up to me; whether I was unlucky with the timing, and that if I’d had more of a sense of “community” with fellow volunteers, that I’d have been able to better replicate the positive experience of something like Pig Village a year ago; whether I simply had the wrong attitude, and that I didn’t know how lucky I was to be there and to play such a fleeting role in the lives of the animals, that I should have just shut up and kept my niggles to myself and proceeded with a smile.
Or whether I had, for the millionth time in my life, fallen prey to my own AS, struggling with the “unexpected unexpected”, rather than the Unexpected Which I Had Already Been Expecting, with being entirely responsible for my own schedule, with being entirely in charge of making the experience. Assuming I’d manage far more easily than I ever tend to actually do.
Whether it was a case of being the right place – but the wrong placement – for me.
In any case, it’s been another experience, another “thing I’ve done”, which I can add to my list of things I’ve tried at some point in my life. A thing which has given me pause for thought many a time since coming home, turning over and over in my mind, examining from every angle, wondering how I managed to end up feeling this way about something which was meant to be positive Yet Again.
It makes me wonder how I’d cope with future volunteering – which has become an accidental hallmark of my life, in such a way as it does when you do reliably secure regular employment for quite a long time. Volunteering, by its definition, means giving up one’s time for a good cause, and to, incidentally, gain something which does not have monetary value. But again circumstances have a far bigger role to play than one might assume. If I’d approached this placement – and indeed any of my other placements in the past – with the attitude which, in retrospect, I can now say I should’ve done, I cannot help wondering if I’d had “The Experience” which I hear and read so many travellers, on so many blogs, proclaim to be the best thing they’d ever done. To have been, for all the right reasons, unforgettable. To actually rely on being welcomed back at the place at some point in the future.
Such experiences for me are rare, to the point of being uncertain that any of them even exist, even the ones which I consider to be the most positive. Even placements which I look fondly upon now give me the vaguely uneasy feeling that there was some aspect, some detail, which I neglected to notice at the time, which was all too apparent to anyone else there.
Now I am no longer convinced of the benefits of voluntourism. Volunteers whose skills really are badly needed will usually either have their food and accommodation paid for them or even be given a living wage, and of course I was under no illusions that I was going to make such a significant difference in my short time volunteering. I most definitely wasn’t expecting to be paid for my piffling contribution, or anything. I’ve since read and watched material online of the potential harm that voluntourism can do if done wrong, that it is not uncommon for young people on their gap year (who at least, unlike me, have the excuse of being too young to know any better) to look for a “gap year with a difference”, to add a little something extra to their CV. Volunteering abroad is very “in” right now, as the guilt of complacency and affluence, which many middle class westerners have begun to feel en masse, has begun to set in. Thus the perfect marriage of the holiday, and of benevolent contribution, was born. People will pay extortionate amounts of money in order to be placed in a situation which one would normally assume would require those with some amount of expertise. People are let loose in classrooms of children, a run-down village, a parched landscape, a wildlife sanctuary, and basically left to improvise. Some of these people even recall being told that once they are gone, their work is simply undone, as if it never happened, until the next batch of people come in to do the exact same thing. The sheer weight of emotional responsibility to their charges was in direct inverse correlation to the amount of actual skills and experience required for the position.
If the potential volunteer is anything like me, the sheer investment made before even travelling to the place raises a certain amount of expectation, lending the impression that more will be expected of me than your “average” stint of volunteering. However, the odds are most likely that the potential volunteer is not like me, that they simply want to go on a holiday with a feel-good-factor thrown in. Not a bad intention, for sure, everyone wants to feel like they’re doing something good while feeling good all at once. I certainly do. I still do. Yet one has to carefully weigh up exactly what they want to do, and the consequences of that desire, in as far as they can anticipate those consequences reaching.
I want to volunteer with animals again. I want to make a much better impression the next time round than I did this time. But I will have to better manage myself, check myself, prepare myself for the unforeseen nuances of reality. For how things actually tend to be. I will have to try to expect the “unexpected unexpected” next time.

 

Thoughts before my next travel update

It’s weird how I can go from “travelling 1000 miles for a few days” to “barely able to work up the will to leave the house” in such a short space of time. Right now the idea of doing what I did just a couple of weeks ago is unfathomable. But that’s what happens. I have to do things in “bursts”, seemingly, or not at all. It also probably makes me look like a big fat liar or, at the very least, disingenuous, to anyone I might need to convince, for whatever reason, that this is actually the “situation” with me. This inconsistency is, most likely, why I’d have difficulty holding down a “traditional” 9-5 job. For every day that I’d be able to go in and just “do the job”, there would be like three more when I’d have a hard enough time just picking an outfit which I wouldn’t feel stupid and foolish in. I dunno, maybe application forms and interviews make it all seem so much harder than it actually would be. I’ve certainly gone into many a public building and seen workers twiddling their thumbs looking bored and not exactly like the “enthusiastic and passionate go-getters who thrive on customer service” that every single job application seems to call for now. Even the ones which aren’t for a role in customer service. My current job, for example, I have to do in bursts. I spent a week or two actually doing the job, intermittently, but also an equal length of time working myself up to actually doing the job. Right now the idea of doing the project is freaking me out big time, even though I’ve already done it successfully twice before. It was the same with uni, I’d face *every* single essay and assignment with the same feeling of dread and certainty that it would never get done, even though it got done, somehow, every single time. Well *nearly* every single time, it was only on rare occasions that I just couldn’t get the thing done. But those bursts of energy, inspiration, creativity, are what I live for, at the end of the day. I continue to live in (vague) hope that that feeling – which is hard to describe – is just around the corner, waiting to pounce on me once again.

Other Things Besides Going To Prague

When trying to summarize the happenings since finishing uni four-five months ago, I went off on a bit of a tangent describing one particular thing I did about three months ago. The other things I did do, in rough order of their occurrence:

  • Go to Prague (with a whole post of its own below)
  • Become enamoured by the mental image of zipping along in Italy (or another pleasant climate) on a vespa, leading to my starting moped/scooter lessons in a bid for a bit more independence when getting from A to Z and indeed anywhere in between. “Lessons” was meant to be “lesson” but I was thwarted by factors such as heavy rain, losing control of the bike as a result of heavy rain and as a result losing a lot of confidence. Four lessons in and I have no certificate, and not sure I will ever get one. Resigned to walking for the foreseeable future.
  • Continue to watch my baby niece grow into a highly intelligent, observant and adorable little mini-person, and have helped with the odd feeding and nappy change in exchange for some emphatic babbling and the warm glow of being a first-time auntie.
  • Undertake more volunteering, albeit exclusively remote. One project is editing and proofreading books for a digital library, another is writing reviews for a comic website, another is researching and editing biographies for a Nobel Prize website.
  • Read biographies in my own time: “Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl” by Carrie Brownstein (Slater-Kinney/Portlandia), recounting the life of a rock/indie musician back in the 90s Seattle grunge era, among the first musical eras I can remember from the first time and so which carries some resonance. “The Motorcycle Diaries”, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara (re-reading) recounting the time in the early life of a guerilla revolutionary figure when on a road trip in 50s South America, a time which is less familiar but an urge to get on a fast-moving vehicle and go on an adventure. Both of these I would suggest to anyone who wants a kick up the arse to start something, whatever that may be, of their own.

The things which I did not do, in rough order of non-occurrence:

  • Gain a paid job so that I could earn a bit extra and have a daily routine more closely resembling that of a normal person.
  • Write a novel/poem/short story which is actually presentable or worth reading.
  • Secure a mentorship from an author I highly admire in order to counter the lack of initiative I seem to have when it comes to writing.
  • Adequately prepare myself for the prospect of turning 30, or complete all the things one should reasonably expect to have done by 30.

So it turns out that no matter how much procrastination you do (and how much of the procrastination monkey you invoke) the age of 30 still comes for you. Damn. Whether reading the biographies of those who had already lived an adventure, and then some, by that age, or reading the social media of those who are lagging behind me in terms of age but light years ahead of me in terms of living a well-rounded life, one more worthy of a novel or at least a few seasons of a new Netflix programme.

One where you do The Thing instead of thinking about doing, and berate yourself for not doing, The Thing.

It would be nice to think that I’ll binge on all the Stuff I’ve Not Yet Done in order to feel like a more regular person in good time for blowing out the candles of the (vegan) birthday cake. But that might not happen, and is unlikely to happen. While this is under consideration, here is a photo of Edinburgh Castle. Because Edinburgh is a nice place.

IMAG0271

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graduate. Again.

Howdy ho,

Since my last post, mostly I’ve finished my dissertation, had it passed through the exam board, judged by the powers-that-be, and received confirmation that I now have a Master’s degree. Well, another one. It was incredibly hard going and I honestly – not even slightly humblebragging here – never thought it would get done. It just somehow… did get done. Failure failure seemed like distinct possibility and even now I can’t help wondering if they got it wrong and are just being extra-nice to me for some bizarre reason. But it looks like I’m a graduate once again, hence the post title.

After catching the last of the summer sun in the family “second home”, as shown here:

SAM_1191.JPG

The view is really quite something…

SAM_1189.JPG

His favourite place, along with any place where he can go swimming

My lovely sister took me out for a celebration, and took this rather scary photo of me:

12039731_10153570710835638_6856305728861178226_n (1)

The view is really quite something…

I did some more cat-sitting:

IMAG0140 (1)

The view is really quite something…

Then yesterday I went to see one of my favourite authors, Janice Galloway (Google if you don’t know the name), in conversation about a new release. 2015 certainly seems to be an interesting year for literature, if for nothing else on the culture scene, IMO. Being a major influence on my own writing, this was an important thing to go along to, not only due to also having a Scottish heritage but also having a narrative voice that I could almost hear inside my own brain, if I actually had the talent and motivation to scribble/type more often. This will likely lead to a review being done on here sometime in the near future.

The above, and also applying vehemently for jobs aside, that leaves quite a bit of spare time once again. Filling it in a productive way is now proving to be the next big challenge. There’s only so much “recovery time” I think I can plausibly take before needing to do something again. So:

  • There’s writing. There’s always writing. That now really goes without saying.
  • Doing something worthwhile. Volunteering, in the absence of something which actually pays money, because bad things are happening right now (and admittedly always are) and it would be the least anyone could do with time to spare.
  • Photography. Keep meaning to spruce up the photography page on this site and this would be a decent incentive.
  • Socialising. Still working on being better at being a “normal person” again after months shunning company while in Dissertation Mode. This may take a while.
  • Travelling. Plenty of time but little in the way of inspiration or direction.
  • Online dating. Some of which I’ve already done. More on that another time…

The nights are fair drawing in (again – why does this keep happening?!?) but the autumn sunsets this has brought have been rather impressive. Managed to snap one:

IMAG0143

The view is really quite something…