Saturday, 27 June 2009

She Says - Tempus fugit...

And so does time fly when you’re having fun? Well, it certainly flies when you’re packing your life up, trying to sell everything and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!! I certainly wouldn’t call it fun though, in fact it’s been incredibly stressful. I think I’ve managed to run the full gamet of my emotions over the last 3 weeks, and I’m quite convinced it’s nothing to do with the anti-malarial tablets!!! In fact, the only emotion I haven’t reached has been utmost teary despair, which is surprising as I usually hit that when dealing with stuff like this! I’ve come close, but managed to stay upbeat and realise the problems we’re going through are not the end of the world and as our neighbour said – ‘in 2 weeks’ time you won’t care about all of this’. He’s very right, and it has helped me get through!!

So these last few weeks have been difficult and not at all smooth sailing as we hoped. We thought we’d be sorting out last things, easily selling stuff and have plenty of time to focus on trip preparation. About the only thing that has really gone right is that we haven’t had a major argument!! Considering all the stress, that’s pretty amazing and bears well for the next 2 years or so. Once I got the last of my work completed, I was able to leave that behind and focus on clearing out the house. I have to admit to feeling guilty about being glad I’m not dealing with certain aspects of my job anymore!! I guess we all feel glad when we no longer have to deal with difficult situations, but I still feel guilty. For the first 2 weeks, I focussed heavily on getting rid of everything possible. I can’t believe how difficult it has been! You’d think that in this economic climate people would be crying out for good secondhand furniture, but no. We have in the last week managed to shift a few more large items (bed/mattress, 2 bookshelves, TV) but the rest is off to charity on Monday. We’ve been using all the free ad websites we can (Gumtree, Preloved, Free-ads, etc) to do this – Gumtree has given the best response rate. However, the frustrating part has been people enquire then don’t respond again, or don’t show up when they say they will, or suddenly things fall through. We’ve managed to sell 3 items this way and that’s all. I have to say it’s been a waste of time, effort and stress on my behalf!! We ended up calling a few secondhand stores, one took a bookshelf and the other never showed for the sofabed, but there has been little interest really. What’s also strange is when we’ve done this before, people we know or work colleagues have been the best way to get rid of things – this has certainly been the case for a lot of our smaller stuff, but not the furniture. We’ve even had trouble giving stuff away! It’s unbelievable really. Is there some big difference between here and Oz, or is it just bad timing? Certain people we know have been incredibly generous – you know who you are, and thank you for all your support! What has been particularly frustrating is people not getting back to us – while I can accept that people we don’t know have no vested interest in talking to us, telling us they’re not interested or coming, etc, it has been very difficult to accept that from people we know. I know they have their own lives and own problems, but it’s frustrating to be stuffed around by people who are friends! It’s not behaviour I’m used to at all.

Getting rid of smaller stuff has been easier than furniture, and profitable. We had a leaving house/clear-us-out BBQ that was supposed to help us give stuff away to friends, eat all the freezer-food, and empty the house a bit. Unfortunately only 4 people came, and they generously took stuff and donated for it, but as we had everything packed up anyway, we packed the car for a car boot sale the next day. You won’t believe what people will buy at these things!! We managed to sell all our old bedding, kitchen items, rubbish bins, laundry racks, etc. Admittedly things were generally going for about 50 pence, but we managed to clear £73 that day!!! We brought home very little, which later went to friends, charity shop or rubbish. We’ve made a total of £266 in car boot sales – not bad for 4 days’ work!

Bike-wise, it’s been one problem and frustration followed by another for poor Xander. As noted, there were fuel-leakage problems that eventually got sorted. There were issues with luggage that have been sorted out – we now have two converted jerry cans as tank panniers and a new plastic-tube tent pannier. The spunky tank pod is completed, and all has been water-proofed and was set to go over a week ago. The tool kit has been organised and actually fits into both the holder we made for it and the toolbox! However, plenty of other things have gone wrong or needed adjusting, mostly annoying stuff and we’re glad it has happened now instead of when we’re on the road! In fact, we’re rather glad of the enforced 8 weeks in UK and Europe to help us get our feet and work out all the problems (we hope…).

One thing that has worked well is selling the car. We had initially looked at selling through friends, but two potential sales fell through due to money and having to then sell the cars they already owned. One of the first people to ask about it then had her car vandalised, but we were asking too much for her. In a minor panic that we were leaving it too late to advertise, we offered it to her for a lower price but as Murphy would have it, she got offered a company car the day she was due to say yes or no!! So instead we advertised through Autotrader late last Saturday, as originally planned. We got 6 calls during Sunday (and another Monday), and after racing around the countryside visiting friends(including the one who bought our TV and DVD player) , we sold the car late Sunday night to the first viewer! (sold the bed on the same night, so it was a good night!) We got just a bit less than we really wanted for the car, so we’re happy. Of course, I’ve been stressed all week that it would all fall through, as they could not pick the car up till the weekend. If it fell through, we’d only have a few days to sell again, and our insurance runs out before we are due to leave the house! I almost felt I was suffering irrational anxiety that could have been related to the anti-malarial tablets, but with everything else that was stressing me last week, it’s not that irrational! But at least we knew responses would be good if we did have to readvertise. Anyway, last night our lovely little car was driven away by a girl who had her licence only 5 months and had just written off her last car….me, concerned??!!

This week has focussed on packing and trying to ignore the furniture we still have. Our boxes for Australia are almost all packed – we had to stop while we worked out exactly what we’re taking with us on the trip and pack what we don’t need. This included backing up our big laptop onto 3 external hard-drives, and getting all of that ready to pack. That also meant moving anything we needed for the trip onto the new mini-laptop. Of course, there were new frustrations to be had there, when the new mini external hard-drive decided to have a conniption, and various programs and things started misbehaving! Only this morning has Xander fixed up the GPS software, and the drive seems to be working again. We’ll have to be very careful with this while we travel! Friday’s trial run of packing the bike didn’t go as well as planned. We found that we are VERY squeezed for room, even with all the extra luggage space compared to previous trips. We were already concerned things like the new tripod would not fit, and until Xander decided to go buy a squashier camera bag, it was going to be sent back to Oz! We also decided to find smaller sleeping bag liners, as our current ones are too big (not comfort liners, but actually add an extra season of warmth to your bag). Basically we got to a certain point today where we could keep packing the shipping boxes – we’ll see how the real packing goes next week!

Tonight though we have to relax, as it’s our leaving drinks evening. Not sure how many people will be coming, as a number have said they’re not around or will only be there for a brief visit. It’ll be nice to get out of the house for a while, but we’re both feeling very pressed for time now! No aspect of the trip feels real, in fact half the time I feel like I’m talking out my arse and that it’s all a big farce! However, I’ve been through this before and it’s all due to my attention being focussed on packing and moving, rather than the trip. I feel horribly under-prepared for many aspects (what are border crossing procedures, where is best to get visas for each country and how long do visas last?) but I also know I have 2 weeks in the UK (and more in Europe) where I can work a lot of stuff out and still get reasonable internet access to do some planning!

We also managed to squeeze in a very quiet birthday for me early in the piece. After a recent foray to the movies left me horrified at how much we’d let ourselves spend (nearly £30 – that’s a day’s travel!!), we got an afternoon 2-for-1 deal and took our own snacks and drinks, making it far more enjoyable!! We also sold some gold jewellery and bought a few essential items, like maps for Africa! Nothing made the trip feel more real than the moment we walked out with those maps in our hands. The joy was short-lived with everything else we were dealing with, but those few minutes were great!!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

He says – Time is short.

It is only a week to go before we leave. I mean leave, like never again seen some people that we have known for about 4 years. I mean leave as in no longer live in the United Kingdom. I mean leave as in become homeless. I mean leave as in getting on a motorcycle and riding off into the distance. I mean leave as in leave our known world. I mean we are about to start on the greatest adventure of both of our lives, and neither of us have led sheltered lives.

In the last month we have both left our jobs, and we have been working hard to get every thing done. The front panniers are finally sorted. It was a simple conversion of some small jerry cans that made it work. It was such a simple design and it works better then anything I have made to date. The original tent tube, died and I went tough a week of trying to repeated the jerry can success, but I failed miserably. Eventually I went back to the original PVC tube design, and the mach-two has worked better then I though it could.

We have started “testing” Larium © chemophylaxis malaria pills, the test was suggested as there are some side effects of this drug that can cause problems. Physical side effect include: stomach upset, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, hair loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, insomnia, strange dreams, or lightheadedness. With a few more serious ones including fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat, seizures, muscle pain, loss of coordination, numbness and tingling of hands or feet, vision changes. The box goes on to describe the psychological side effects occur: unexplained anxiety, mood changes, depression, hallucinations, restlessness, confusion, and of course death. Well In truth we both have most side effects (obviously not the very last one ..geesh..some know who you are!). However we had these “symptoms” well before we took the pills and if anything the box’s list of horrors has had more effects then the drugs themselves. In many ways I was hopping for some of the more interesting effects. I have never had a hallucination, but am all too familiar with anxiety, mood changes, restlessness, and confusion. It does make me wonder if it was a good idea testing a medication during a time of such utter panic, as the last weeks before a trip like this.

We have gone though the motions of clearing our lives of stuff. However it seems that we still have a plethora of material positions that will do nothing but get dusty and cost us money for the next two years.

We have had a “Come and say bye, and clear out the house“ BBQ. Sadly, the turnout was poor but a few good friends did come and were generous with both helping us clear items and donations. For this we thank them. There are people that we are leaving behind that we will miss and others that we will be glad to leave in the past. This is true for the UK as well. There are aspects of this small island that we will miss and others that I happy consign to the to past. To the ill gotten memories pile that is only visited on occasion.

A short time ago, the 2009 HUBB was being held, unfortunately we did not have the time to join them. We did however pop in for the Friday night to see some friend and even make some new ones. As always the people in attendance we welcoming and for the first time in a year, I was able to speak to people with out the inevitable questions. Why? Are you really going by bike? I guess it is just roads then? How do you carry stuff? And of course my favourite Oh you mean like E. and C.? It was nice talking about the trip with people that understand and know. The result was that the trip has never felt more real then it did last week. We have had guide books for several months now and although we have both been reading them, somehow these books have not made it real, we have maps, and this made it feel real for a short while. But it was the HUBB that made it the most real. This is the place that about a year ago changed our lives. This is the place that has inspired me and many others to follow our dreams. Thank you!

It has not all been smooth sailing, the bike has come together well, albeit a few months behind schedule. We have done the car boot sale thing, we have someone who has put a deposit down on the car (we are waiting for collection and hand over). We have sold nigh on £300.00 of crap, junk, tosh many hundreds of pounds on stuff that is not to be described as above. We have tried to sell our furniture and it is not going, despite the ridiculous prices we are asking. I have a better understanding of why customer service people are less then happy people. Some of the questions we have been asked are asinine to say the least. “Could I fit your sofa-bed in a small car” or “Will you deliver your TV to me 30 miles away, and give me a discount?”
So let me get this strait you want it cheaper and delivered… AH you must work for central wheels don’t you? But at least we have not been inundated with the requests that we give our stuff to an Indian charity, for the grace of god.
We still have lots to sort our and pack and ship and well we are not even close to ready but we have a week and we will make it (or we wont). Either way we leave in a week. We are leaving, but more I importantly we are entering a new world where we will be learning new things every day. We are leaving “Which is a kind of integrity, somewhere else. look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.” (1.207 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead- by T. Stoppard)

Sunday, 7 June 2009

She Says - Less than 4 weeks to go!

Amazingly, it’s somehow now the start of June and we’ve barely got a month till we leave the house and hit the road! And just as I was writing that, I’ve heard the joyous strains of “It’s alive!” (to quote old Frankenstein movies) from Xander as he’s fired up Anubis for the first time in months!! It’s been an ongoing torment, one thing going wrong after another, down to finally putting petrol into the new tank yesterday only to find a leak! That got repaired but had to sit for 24 hours, so now Xander has finally got the whole bike together again! Now it’s tense test of the electrical system, making sure all the repairs and adjustments that have taken place over the last few months have worked and the whole thing isn’t just going to catch fire!!

So now we’ve both officially finished work – Xander a week ago, and me yesterday as I was running my favourite event about how to track and identify signs of mammals at our site at Muckley Corner Common. A rather sad and momentous occasion, where we trapped mammals for the first time (2 wood mice) and I had to say goodbye to some of the wonderful volunteers that I’ve worked with over the last 18 months at the site, plus others I have been involved with over the last 2 years. After saying goodbyes for the last few weeks, I’ve been very good at holding back tears, but not yesterday. Leaving Muckley Corner Common behind is the hardest thing about leaving, as it’s a site I’ve worked hard on, with a brilliant Friends Group and wonderful people to work with. More than that, it’s a site where we’ve seen real change, how people can make a difference with just a few hours of hard work, how good partnerships create excellent results. It’s the one thing I can really pick out of my 2 years at the council and say I’m absolutely proud of, that I made a difference to. I only wish I could have stayed to see the next 2 years of planned works, to see how the site evolves and how the Friends Group evolves too.

So I’ve finished work? Well, sort of. I still have to pop in for a couple of hours tomorrow to finish up some filing that didn’t get done, and return a heap of equipment. But do I feel like I’ve finished? No, absolutely not. The hardest part has been disconnecting from everything and handing over my projects to my boss. I’m very lucky to love my job and believe in what I’m doing, and that’s a hard thing to walk away from. As much as I’ve tried over the last two weeks to drop actual work and focus on filing, sorting, writing lists of useful things to know & how I’ve done certain things (like running an event or a contract), and getting rid of the thousands of emails (saving only what’s really needed!), I’ve still been working. I guess it didn’t help that my final act was an event too! But letting go when you don’t want to is a very difficult thing to do. I’ve not reached the point that I usually reach where I just get annoyed and want to really get away from the job – only a few times have I thought “I’m glad I’ll not have to deal with that anymore”, and of course the lure and excitement for the travel sometimes overrides wanting to deal with work! But I know that once I finally walk away tomorrow that it will be over. I’m trying not to be sad, but it’s not easy.

We’re into full pack-up mode now. Furniture and bits & pieces have been sold so far through sending lists around friends and work. We’ve got rid of a few things, but not big items like the bed and sofabed/couch. Next step is to start advertising properly. We did 2 car boot sales last weekend that netted us £193.40 in profit. We were pretty amazed. Half of that was from £20-30 items, but a fair bit was from £3 or less junk! It’s a fascinating study of human behaviour and psychology, the car boot sale. People buy or look at stuff that surprise you, people don’t buy what would seem to be perfect for them, the search pattern that seems to run through people’s assessment of what’s on your stall and what they are willing to pay for items is very interesting. Our own behaviour of reducing prices on things that aren’t going, and trying to disconnect from our possessions and flog them cheaply is also fascinating! Another aspect to the psychology is weather – tons of people out last weekend because we’ve had at least a week of warm sunny weather – I know, in Britain!!! We were very lucky that our planned double-boot-sale weekend was granted such nice weather, as this weekend has been absolutely dismal and the car boot crowds drop in bad weather. I think someone could do a really interesting PhD on car boot sale psychology...

So the last month has been absorbed by things like ‘what can we get rid of now?’ and getting all our vaccinations sorted out. We started a test yesterday on the anti-malarial tablets we’ve decided to go with – mefloquine or Lariam. You take it once a week, so a lot less to carry and less expensive than Malarone, which has pretty much no side effects and we used for our world trip 10 years ago. Other options have been completely discounted – chloroquine suffers massive resistance everywhere, which is a shame because it’s very cheap! The only other option is doxycycline, an antibiotic, which for various reasons neither of us wants to touch, certainly not for 2 years of constant use! Mefloquine is reported to have bad psychological effects, which is why we’re testing it for a few weeks. However, it’s going to be difficult to know what is a side effect and what is just due to the trip! Direct from the patient information leaflet:
“unusual changes in your mood or behaviour, including: feeling worried or anxious, feeling depressed; feeling that people are against you; crying or wanting to cry for no reason; restlessness; new or worsening feelings of anger (aggression), forgetfulness, agitation, confusion, panic attacks; seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there (hallucinations); feeling that you want to kill yourself.”
OK, so a few don’t really count like wanting to kill ourselves, but we’ve both been going through a variety of these feelings lately and several are going to just get worse! Building up to a big trip like this leaves you feeling restless, agitated, worried and anxious - impatient to get everything dealt with and just hit the road, so you don’t have to keep dealing with the rubbish of packing up or work (or the feeling that your boss is out to get you like poor Xander!); worried that something is going to go wrong with the bike and it’s so close to departure date will we be able to get it all dealt with in time?; anger when something DOES go wrong; agitated because certain things can’t move forward till others are done. I’m feeling very down about leaving work and friends and people I know here and have worked with, I’m getting teary all the time, I’m worried we won’t have enough money for the trip, and I can’t seem to remember what I need to do, where I left something, or where I filed things at work! So as the next few weeks progress and we desperately try to get everything ready on the bike and everything else out of the house, make the last payments and receive last bits of money, we’re going to experience increasing amounts of certain behaviours noted as side effects!! It’s going to be interesting…

Preparation-wise, we’re getting closer. We’ve bought almost all the gear that we need e.g. new toiletry bag, hiking/everyday shoes, and things to turn out sleeping mats into rather comfy chairs, which will be much appreciated after days on the road when trying to keep this blog up-to-date! Xander has made a third attempt this week at making hard panniers to go on the tank, after concerns over size and safety of the last versions. These are converted jerry cans and seem to be coming along very well. He’s had to re-make the tent pannier after our current one suddenly decided to split. We still don’t know if we have enough room to put a pannier on the bike to carry our lovely new tripod, so it might be we have to stick with the brilliant but short Gorillapods (if you haven’t seen these, you’ve got to check them out! They grip onto anything and are nice and small, even the SLR cameras ones we’re using). Xander’s finally finished the very groovy tank box, or tank pod as he calls it, which gives us another lockable piece of luggage for everyday bits & pieces and food. We’ve also sewn a tarp to give us in-camp protection from either heat or rain, or just to make things feel a little more ‘homely’. Now if we can just be certain the bike is OK…..

We’ve had our shipping boxes delivered, which will be going home to my mum. Oh what fun it will be to pack those! Almost all our clothing is already in boxes or on the floor due to selling the clothes drawers, and same with a chunk of the DVDs. In some ways, it’s going to be very liberating – everything time I’ve packed before, I know I’m coming back or need to use things again straight away. This time we can get rid of so many things – why ship home socks and underwear you don’t need for 2 years? We’ll just buy new ones. While I’ll end up shipping back more than I really want to, between clothes that actually fit and books and things that aren’t worth throwing away and getting again, I’ll certainly be having a big clear out!

Speaking of which, I think it’s time I got started on some clearing out. We’re having the first of 2 leaving parties next weekend, the second just being drinks in Lichfield for all and sundry at the end of June. The first party will be an open house/BBQ/take-what-you-want event. We’ve known several people while we’ve been over here who have left. They have an evening where they just get people to take leftover food and alcohol and stuff to help empty the house. Thanks to these, we have things like vermouth, mulled wine spices, and a futon mattress! In our case, we’re also getting rid of a lot of household stuff, and hoping we might make some more money by either selling a few larger items or people leaving a donation if they wish for what they take. We’re at the point where we’re not sure if we have enough decent stuff to have another car boot sale (will decide after next weekend!) and whether to bother! So then it will be off to the charity shop to get of it all. While it feels a little early, we need to think about selling the car and that will limit our mobility, so the sooner stuff goes, the better!